Ira Israel is a licensed psychotherapist, counselor, coach, NLP master practitioner, workshop facilitator, and author. He has helped thousands of filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists and creative people find or rejuvenate their purposes in life, undertake new endeavors, and have more supportive, compassionate, fulfilling relationships. Ira inspires and empowers people to create extraordinary lives full of positive relationships, love, artistic expression, authentic communications, thriving careers, and mental and emotional clarity.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut. I think my childhood was quite normal – I loved playing sports, I loved music. It was the early 1980s when I was in High School and it was a very exciting time – all of these bands (mostly from the UK) were emerging and I can remember hearing U2, The Cure, Simple Minds, New Order, and hundreds of other bands for the first time on FM radio (WLIR). The experience that threw my life into an unexpected direction was having my face blown off of my head, my femur shattered, and watching a mandrill a hole through my leg to pull my knee down from my hip by putting me into traction. I discuss it in this “How To Own Your Life” video.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
To be easier, to cultivate non-reactivity. A few years ago I was upset about an email I received from my publisher and a friend said, “Ira, is this the hill you want to die on???” So learning what is important and what is not worth getting upset about would have been nice to realize at an earlier age.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
As I write in my book, there are ebbs and flows in parenting styles. In some way, currently “the inmates are running the asylum” in our school system and in many homes in my area. I have heard of many children freaking out and threatening to call Child Protective Services (I’m half-joking) when their mothers take away their X-boxes or iPhones or iPads. Children have to learn that with privileges come responsibilities. Parenting is definitely the most difficult and most important job in the world and at the present moment, in my part of the universe, I have witnessed parents enabling their children’s poor choices and bad behavior.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Every human is responsible for finding what nourishes his or her soul. For me, it has always been music. For 25 years I LOVED rock concerts. Now I love going to see live performances of jazz and classical music. I also love paintings so visiting museums and galleries was a weekly event when I lived in Manhattan and Paris. So many writers, painters, and composers have wrestled with the “dark night of the soul.” Many of them learned how to sublimate their angst and turn it into beauty. That transformation has always interested me so I’ve traveled to thousands of museums, concert halls, and theaters to find spiritual mentors who can guide me on my journey and help me create beauty.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I live in a weird place where vultures are always hovering ready to swoop down when they feel they can make money off of you. I have found many yoga and meditation teachers to be some of the biggest hypocrites, liars, phonies, and charlatans (I only practice with teachers who offer classes by donation; yoga was designed to tame the ego so the people who have sexualized yoga on social media are openly contradicting themselves). I have a few close friends with whom I can be authentic and who accept me warts and all. So the biggest contributor to my success is to delineate between “friends” and “business acquaintances.” In my experience, many times when I have tried to do business with friends it ends up destroying the friendship so now I keep fairly strong boundaries and do not let hypocrites, liars, phonies, and charlatans even get close enough to try to sell me their snake oil.
What is your morning routine?
My cat Helen wakes me up without fail at sunrise. She’s relentless so whenever the sunlight starts to crack through the window I have 12 pounds of fur meowing loudly in my face and jumping around on my chest. I check a few things on the Internet to see if there were any overnight emergencies with patients and then I feed Helen, do some yoga and meditate. I usually write for around 2 hours, then try to exercise for an hour (ride my bike or jog) and then I usually see patients starting at noon.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
The only thing that correlates strongly with happiness is the quality of our interpersonal relations so I try to schedule lunches and dinners with friends as frequently as possible. I avoid penciling people in for an hour or squeezing in meetings back-to-back. Dinners are always open-ended and if we are having a lovely and enlightening discussion then I will chat all night. We are interdependent creatures and we need to connect in-person with other people as often as possible. In other words, put down your device and go throw a ball or have coffee with a friend. One hug equals one million Instagram LIKEs.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Consistency. In my book, I discuss “Congruence” (deciding who you want to be and the life you want to live and then engaging all of the tools to create that life) but your readers can think of it as personal integrity. It is a huge privilege to be able to decide how to structure your life, who you want to be, and how you want to conduct your relationships. Thus, you at least need the personal integrity to live up to whatever you decide and hopefully, you decide to choose love, compassion, and vulnerability over the hedonic treadmill of ego gratification.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
When I discovered Friedrich Nietzsche I was so blown away by his provocativeness that I signed up for a graduate program just so that I could sit for a year and study Western philosophy in general and Nietzsche in particular. His books gave me an entirely upside-down perspective on language, music, civilization, art, religion, consciousness, meaning… everything!
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
- “Either accept your life or change it; any other position is insane.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
- “We are not mad, we are human, we want to love, and someone must forgive us for the paths we take to love, for the paths are many and dark, and we are ardent and cruel in our journey.” ~ Leonard Cohen
- “Mirror neurons do not fire via text message.” ~ me