Dr. James Huntington

Growing my self observation skills has definitely made me more productive. I have developed over recent years a much improved overall ability at compassionate, non-judging, and friendly self-observation.”

Dr. James Huntington is a licensed clinical psychologist with a particular expertise in treating adolescents and young adults. He graduated with a doctorate in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in 2001 and has worked in a range of settings, including both public and private practice. Dr. Huntington has spearheaded resiliency training in the DC area for over a decade. His groundbreaking work with adolescents and young adults draws from cutting-edge research in cognitive behavioral, family systems, and solution-focused therapy. In addition to counseling people from all walks of life as they battle anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and sexual identity issues, he has also helped successful men and women fine-tune their resiliency so they can flourish in today’s high-pressured social, academic, and occupational environments.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I remember a traveling companion on a long car ride from Brooklyn to Zion National Park telling me how she found me resilient. I was in my early 20’s, at the time, and we were all sharing ideas and telling stories to help keep us awake as we drove deeper and deeper into the moonlit American night. I distinctly remember feeling flattered by her comment and the idea just stuck with me. I have always been interested in adversity stories. What is it that makes some people survive, and even thrive, under adverse conditions? All through my life, and especially in my clinical practice, I am constantly reminded of, and fascinated by, the wide experience of being human; what makes people tick the way they do? Exploring the many ways that people think, do, and believe to make sense of themselves and the world – exploring resilience, in other words – just seems to me like the most natural and fascinating thing in the world to do.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day begins with disorienting thoughts usually that mark the transition from sleep and dreams into consciousness and wakefulness. I have always enjoyed an active dream life and it really is a fascinating first couple of moments to make that mental shift out of the landscape of what I am dreaming about and into the awareness of being awake and starting my day. Once awake, I find it helpful to visualize my day unfolding, the sequence of events and my role in each of them. On good days I meditate and swim before noon. But, that is my idealized version of myself and, honestly, less than half of the time do I live up to his standards. What keeps me productive and on track to meet my responsibilities for the day is, mostly, my relationship with my own thoughts. See my answer to question 5. Like anyone, I can procrastinate. I can daydream. I can become anxious and want to distract myself with pleasurable distractions. For me, a big distraction and time suck is channel surfing the news to get at stories from all sorts of different angles. However, I have worked at developing the capacity to have a slightly detached view of myself and what is going on around me. And, with that, I self-observe and talk to myself in a friendly manner to get back on track with whatever I am supposed to be doing.

In my line of work as a clinical psychologist, my daily and weekly schedules can become pretty higgledy-piggledy with client appointment times shifting around often. I have developed, I think, a fairly quick and flexible problem solving mind-set to accommodate my professional identity. I am also self-employed and without a boss and no time clock to punch and no one telling me what to do. But, because I love what I do, I keep doing what I do, and this keeps me being productive. It is not hard to become motivated to want to talk to people about what is bugging them and how they can get relief from their suffering.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I sleep on them. I go for walks. I brainstorm, writing stuff down for a few minutes, and then walk away from it. Only to pick it up later. (Note to self: I should do more of this, the “morning pages” technique of free writing and thinking, before I transition into “final and perfect” draft modes of being, which bring a lot of good thinking and writing to a grinding halt)

I also talk with friends. I have come to value and appreciate greatly those exchanges of talking with people in contrast to when we are talking at each other. And, I think we all know the difference between these two very different kinds of conversations. One is generally creative, inventive, and fun, engaged in mutual intellectual exploration while the other feels a lot like show and tell and just sharing what you each know. Finally, let’s go back to walking. Nietzsche said trust no thoughts born of cramped intestines. He was a big fan of long walks and robust physical activity to bring your body into motion to help stimulate the mind’s creativity.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Two trends that excite me come immediately to mind. One is a bit out of my field but fascinates me. In the domain of Western Medicine there is a growing paradigm shift now to look more for causes and not symptoms to explain an illness. This is called functional medicine. Take Alzheimer’s, for example. For decades, and right up until just recently, the prevailing wisdom was to look at the amyloid plaques and tangles as the cause of neurodegenerative decline in patient’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I remember losing an aunt to this illness in the ’80s and this is what we all were told and believed. You took drugs that were specifically targeted to wipe out the amyloid and, thus, clean up the plaque and tangles. Now, doctors have come to realize that the amyloid is, in fact, the body’s natural defense response to protect you from some other, more root, cause to the illness of Alzheimer’s. Just fascinating. The lenses to the medical model are shifting away from addressing symptoms and moving more toward looking for causes.

Another trend I am seeing and also excited about is the growing interest in mindfulness and the emerging awareness of just how increasingly disconnected we are all becoming from one another by our technology and gadgets of connection. Patients complain to me how they no longer feel connected to others. Isn’t it ironic, don‘t you think? Yes it is, Alanis Morissette. Even though many of your lyrics in that song are actually just instances of coincidence….

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Growing my self observation skills has definitely made me more productive. I have developed over recent years a much improved overall ability at compassionate, non-judging, and friendly self-observation. “You don’t have to believe everything you think” is the one bumper sticker I have ever owned on my car. As a result, I can catch myself much more quickly with a “Hey, buddy, what is going on here?” when I observe myself getting off track and away from what I am supposed to be doing in the moment.

What advice would you give your younger self?

When I was 27 and starting graduate school in philosophy, I remember going to bars with younger friends, at the time, who were doing MBAs or other formal career tracks. I remember thinking there was a world of difference between our ages and our chosen fields of study. I remember clearly self-handicapping myself into thinking I was the major loser in the group in which no women would ever be interested. My advice to my younger self? I would tell myself the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, something to the effect: You wouldn’t worry what other people thought about you so much if you realized how infrequently they do.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I am empathic toward, and agree with, people who tell me they experience SAD, Seasonal Affect Disorder. And, I enjoy seeing their facial expressions change to puzzlement when I tell them how endless long hot summers just melt my brain and make me listless. And, it is only when the fall and winter finally come that I feel fully functioning and alive again.

Also, to the old adage about no atheists in foxholes, I vehemently disagree and I know that I am right. I have to believe that if I ever found myself in just such a destitute and god-forsaken circumstance it would be yet the zillionth instance or proof of God’s non-existence. No divine creator, who actually cared for us, would design the world in which we currently live. With attributes of infinite knowledge, infinite power, and infinite compassion this is really the best you got? Put me in a foxhole and I become an instant atheist, for sure.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

In my sessions, I have come to observe how patients usually take a slow, deep breath just before talking about a difficult matter. As biological organisms, we do this instinctively; at least once. I have worked to train myself to do this consciously and frequently. It helps.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I do not have a good answer to this question. I come from an academic background where the idea of marketing yourself and your business is viewed unseemly or inappropriate. I know that holding this out of date and misplaced belief is unhelpful and it has handicapped me in my efforts to grow my practice.

So, my best strategy, to date, in regard to growing my business has been probably having just enough horse sense to ask others for help about matters with which I am incompetent. I am a capable teacher and public speaker, so in terms of strategies to deploy moving forward, I should probably look for speaking engagements on resilience.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Indecisiveness and inaction. In Myers-Briggs world, I am more of an F than a T. Practically speaking, it means that I seek consensus on decision making and I wait too long before making decisions, which makes things drag on. For instance, I should have put an ad in “Psychology Today” a lot sooner than I did, I should have built a website sooner, and make business and referral cards sooner, and I should have hired an Internet reputation defender company sooner.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I am not a very materialistic person. I am not that interested in technology gadgets, cars or clothes. For myself, though, the best recent use of $100 dollars (and more) was on some new clothes at a Brooks Brothers online sales event. Whoop-De-Woo! Interpersonally, the best recent $67 spent was not asking my ex-wife (and good friend) to pay me back when she inadvertently used my credit card to pay for an Uber ride she took. Professionally, I am delighted that I bought two teenage clients the book The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and have engaged them both to read it with me.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

My all-time favorite book of fiction is Moby Dick. That book bears re-reading over several points of your life to draw from the wisdom of its pages. A recent and absolutely riveting work of fiction that I have read a few times through already is All The Light We Cannot See. It is an amazing story, on several levels, not the least of which it is about resilience. The resilience of a teenage blind French girl and an orphaned German boy against the huge backdrop of WWII. I write about this book in one of my Quora answers on resilience. Lastly, I recommend Dancing With Life by Phillip Moffitt. The best practical book I have read on applying the principles of Buddhism in a nuts and bolts examination of your own life.

What is your favorite quote?

I have several favorite quotations. But, this one I memorized early as a teenager, for some reason, and it goes something like this:

“In my younger and more vulnerable days, my father gave me a piece of advice that I have been turning over in my mind ever since. He said, son, whenever you feel like criticizing anyone just remember that not everyone has had the same opportunities and advantages that you have had. My father and I have never been particularly close, but we have always shared a special understanding.”

That is a paraphrase, but I think largely accurate. It is the opening lines to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.