Better Healthy Mind
The problem with New Year’s resolutions, however, is that they’re so darn hard to keep.
We wake up on January 1st with the best of intentions, lots of energy, and even a well-laid plan to tackle it all.
By March, though, most of these goals are simply a distant memory.
Old habits return, and life goes on.
When we look at the psychology behind failed resolutions, there’s a few reasons why even the most practical of goals tend to bomb:
1. You’ve bitten off more than you can chew
Often when making resolutions we identify a major life theme that we want to change and take a broad, general approach to tackling it.
For example, saying that you’re going to “eat healthier” in the New Year is really abstract. Are you going to try a specific diet plan like Paleo? Are you simply going to swap out your morning bagel for fruit?
Big goals are great, but you have to pick somewhere to start.
2. A year is a long time
It’s human nature to evolve and shift our preferences over time as our surroundings and circumstances change. Add to that unexpected life changes.
Say you get laid off from your job after resolving to get to work by 8:30 every morning, or become bored with that exercise routine you committed to doing five days a week. The fact of the matter is, things change.
Committing to one resolution for an entire year — with no wiggle room for to evolve —doesn’t fit into how life really works.
3. You get caught up in the New Year hype
You’re more likely to break New Year’s resolutions than other goals because of the sheer pressure to make one even if you aren’t intrinsically motivated or ready to change.
It’s much easier to fall off the wagon quickly if your heart’s not in it.
4. You try doing too much, too soon
Most people, by the time they get to the end of the year, are totally burned out and don’t give themselves time to rest and rejuvenate heading into the New Year. If you start on an empty tank emotionally, physically, or mentally, it’s going to be hard to keep any goal.
Though sometimes hard to keep, in the end resolutions can make a big difference.
They can set the tone for your entire year ahead, and force you to get clear about taking steps to achieve new success.
The key lies in creating resolutions that promote self-growth and understanding in a structured way. So how can you cultivate passion and purpose that won’t leave you frustrated in a couple months?
Here are alternatives approaches that will help you improve your quality of life in the coming year:
Select a word to guide your year
Identify a word or mantra that maps back to a theme you’d like to focus on and weave into your daily life.
For example, if your word is “ease,” consider how you can create match your actions to the value of “ease”. How can simple tasks such as running errands feel less rushed or design your schedule to reduce stress?
Repeating this enough can help you invite new people, habits, and behaviors into your life that aligned with your values and the goals you seek to achieve.
Make use of micro-goals
Major goals can feel like they’re miles away. When we don’t achieve them in the (often unreasonable) time frame we expect, it can lead to feeling depressed, discouraged, and defeated. Motivation begets motivation, after all.
Start by setting mini-milestones that are reasonably attainable. You can measure your success against each of these, adjusting and gathering momentum as you go along.
Rather than making a huge resolution — say, to start a business in 2015 — break it down into smaller pieces: set up time to meet with mentors in January, write out a business plan in March, set up a website by July, and raise $10,000 by September. This way, you can measure your progress and celebrate each success as you achieve it. You’re avoiding feeling overwhelmed (starting a business is a huge deal) and have metrics to measure against as you go along.
Pick priorities for each area of your life
Similar to setting numerous smaller goals throughout the year, consider setting an individual resolution in each area of your life you’d like to improve upon — health, career, finances, and relationships.
You might commit to monthly dinners with your roommates for the “relationships” bucket, taking a new fitness class each month for the “health” bucket, and automatically transferring $150 to your IRA each month for your finances.
All of these are attainable goals, which can lead to huge differences in multiple areas of your life.
Bullet-proof your goals
Once you’ve decided on a goal, bolster it against the craziness of daily life. Think through possible scenarios that might come up that could derail you from your goal.
For example, say you want to live a healthier life by setting goals around diet and exercise, but you know you have work trips planned. You could defend your goal by researching restaurants beforehand, finding out if the hotel has your gym and working that into your schedule, etc.
You want to be defensively pessimistic and anticipate challenges before they come up the way, rather than being surprised when they inevitably appear and catch you off guard.
If you’re ready to approach this year differently and experience lasting transformation, get a printable goal-setting worksheet here.
Whether you’re resolving to leave your dead-end job, speak up more in meetings, or finally get started on the side projects you’ve been putting off, there’s one indisputable truth that’s impossible to ignore: change is hard.
Most of us are familiar with the cycle: You’re jazzed in January, only to find yourself derailed and demotivated within a few weeks. You beat yourself up for failing to achieve your full potential despite your best intentions.
But creating deep, lasting change is less about willpower and more about designing smart, effective goals.
Try this new method to set New Year’s resolutions that create real results.
Turn Resolutions Into Questions
Asking questions and then answering them — instead of making statements — is a more effective method for sticking to your promises, research finds.
Enter: The “Questolution”
Instead of pledging to start a business in the New Year, it would be more effective to ask, “How might I go about getting my first client?” or “What commitments might prevent me from going all in?”
This type of solution-oriented inquiry has been shown to produce consistent, significant changes in a variety of contexts from exercise and eating healthier to voting and gender stereotyping.
Why It Works
A question is a puzzle. It prompts a psychological response. Once a question has been raised, the mind almost can’t help trying to solve or answer it.
By posing your resolution in the form of a question rather than a statement, you begin to engage with it. Your brain goes to work breaking down the problem, sequencing next steps, and creating a path to success.
Questions spark creative, flexible thinking. Embracing challenges with curiosity helps liberate you from a perfectionist mindset and worrying about the “right” way you “should” go about achieving your goals.
Questolutions For Success
Asking ambitious, yet actionable, questions can shift the way you think — and can serve as a catalyst to bring about change. They can help you get unstuck and rediscover momentum in your life or career.
Use the prompts below to create your own questolutions:
If you’re more of the journaling type, get a printable goal-setting worksheet here]]>
In theory this may not sound like a bad thing, but what if when you achieve that goal, life doesn’t really look or feel any different? For example, have you ever completed one project only to realize that there’s now even more to do, meaning you’re further from the work-life balance you so desperately crave? Others may relate to the confusing feeling of finally getting or a raise or promotion, only to remain haunted by anxiety and a sneaking sense of disillusionment.
This disconcerting let down has name. Commonly known as the arrival fallacy, it’s a psychological thought trap high-achievers are all too familiar with.
Here’s how the arrival fallacy works along with what you can do to counteract it and reach new heights of success.
The Arrival Fallacy: What It Is And How it Works
The arrival fallacy — a term introduced by positive psychology expert Tal Ben-Shahar in his book Happier — operates on the idea that in the process of working toward a goal, you come to expect that you will in fact reach it.
Anchoring on a future goal triggers reward centers in the brain, inducing a cognitively soothing effect. That feeling of accomplishment becomes part of your day-to-day identity. You readily adjust to this new state of being so much so that actually attaining a goal turns out to be less satisfying than expected.
While dedication to continuous personal improvement is admirable, it’s a slippery slope. When we get too caught up in future outcomes, we may attach to an unattainable illusion of perfection. We seek goal after goal, hoping something will make us happy, which reinforces a cycle of self-doubt and not feeling “good enough.”
Instead, it can develop into a cycle of searching for external things — accomplishments or material objects — to fulfill and complete us. There’s always new goals to take the place of those that have already been fulfilled. We go for bigger clients, seek larger raises or want to lose 15 pounds instead of five. We keep upping the ante.
Moreover, oftentimes once we reach the place where we thought we’d be happy, there’s new challenges and responsibilities to face. Getting a promotion may mean working longer hours, launching a side hustle involves constantly seeking new business and losing weight may incite jealousy among co-workers or mean fewer happy hours and fancy lunches, straining your networking strategy.
Steps to Overcoming the Most Common Goal-Setting Mistake
What the arrival fallacy teaches us is that although you may fill your life with evermore ambitious goals and projects, sometimes reaching these heights does not necessarily deliver happiness. Yes, as cliché as it sounds, it’s the journey not the destination that teaches lessons, reveals simple pleasures, brings new people into our lives and instills in us a genuine, internal sense of contentment.
All this isn’t to say that setting goals or shooting for success in a particular area of your career is a recipe for unhappiness or failure, rather it’s how you allow that goal to dictate your daily mood that can bring you down.
Striving for self-improvement is essential. Here’s how to do it in a healthy way that accelerates success.
Rediscover Your Mission
It can be easy to become so unshakably transfixed on achieving professional objectives such as banking a certain salary or earning a prestigious job title that your original purpose is forgotten. Mired in busywork and the daily ins and outs of your duties, you may lose sight of the bigger “why” that drives you. Without a sense of purpose, you climb the ladder of success with profound emptiness.
When this happens, dedicate intentional time to re-orient back to your mission. Take a day or two to refocus. You don’t have to travel anywhere. You can simulate a professional mini-retreat by asking yourself big questions like “What would I be doing if money wasn’t a problem?” or “When do I feel most alive?”
Through this internal exploration you may come to realize is what you covet more than a promotion or raise is the opportunity to make a meaningful impact, lead a team or simply feel more validated and appreciated at work.
Value The Process Over The End Result
In study after study, social scientists like Daniel Pink have found that external rewards and traditional financial incentives don’t improve employee performance. They may actually backfire, making it difficult for people to come up with creative solutions.
Instead research shows high achievement is the result of intrinsic drivers–that is, a desire to do something for inherent interests, self-fulfillment or enjoyment. Motivation increases when people have the desire to perfect their craft. Successful people enjoy the learning process and don’t mind when it continues beyond an expected time frame. They relish in the journey to mastery. They focus on the happiness cultivated along the path to a particular goal, not necessarily a material outcome.
Try savoring how satisfying closing a huge sale feels, how deeply loved and seen you feel when family take note of your accomplishments or appreciate the increased recognition your company is receiving in the industry.
Commit to a System
Setting an audacious goal–like publishing a book or launching a startup–can be a fantastic catalyst for change, but it’s not enough. You must commit to a process of taking action on a consistent basis.
Start with the question, “What could I do daily that would guarantee a result and move me forward?” to design your habit system. If you’re an aspiring author, create a weekly writing schedule. If you’re an entrepreneur, devise standard operating procedures to streamline your efforts. Whatever it is, it has to be an action you can sustain over time.
Recognize that Success Is Fluid
Understand that metrics of success — whether related to career, fitness, love or whatever else — are fluid and dynamic. There is always a higher rung in the ladder and over time your targets change. The ideal career when you’re in your 20s may be a poor work-life fit by the time you turn 35.
Instead of prescribing to career milestones society dictates you should have reached by a certain age or salary bracket, keep your options open, define success on your own terms and embrace the many opportunities you encounter on along the way.
Rather than work to attain a “cure-all” end goal, it’s important to view life as a succession of practices that build a imperfect yet wonderful big picture. Greatness comes from years grit, effort and many stumbles along the way.
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Dive in and you’ll find blogs, websites, apps, op-eds, subreddits, consulting firms, podcasts, and scientific studies devoted to the art of efficiency.
Our obsession in modern society with doing more is rivaled only by our preoccupation with doing it harder, better, faster and stronger. We’re gunning the engines at max speed, cramming our work days full of tasks, then feeling guilty if we steal a quick second to call a friend or read a book for pure pleasure (gasp!).
Here’s the irony: compulsion over productivity can do more harm than good.
Addiction to productivity is a real thing—similar to a dependence on a substance or food— that leads to maladaptive behavior. Clinically speaking, addiction occurs when someone is engaged in behavior that’s pleasurable, but the continued use or act becomes compulsive to the point of interfering with normal life responsibilities (work, relationships, or health). To make matters worse, an addict may not be aware that his or her behavior is out of control.
If you think you’re sliding into an addiction to productivity, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
6 Signs You’re A Productivity Addict
Recognizing your preoccupation with productivity is the first step toward refreshing your approach to it. If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, that’s a good gauge that you’d do well to take your foot off the gas in your quest for powerhouse status.
But what to do next? Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:
Rewire Negative Self Talk
“You’ve got work to get done—of course you shouldn’t go out tonight!” Sound familiar? How about, “You’re not making this time useful—that’s why you haven’t been promoted yet.” The next time your inner critic slams you for not being good enough or working hard enough, talk back. Don’t let any thoughts run through your brain that you wouldn’t say out loud to your best friend.
Stop stuffing your to-do list out of guilt or a desire to please. Say ‘no’ to any new responsibility that doesn’t benefit your professional or personal growth or that you truly don’t have time for.
Stop Talking Big Game and Actually Take Action
It’s one thing to indulge in listicle after listicle of productivity tips or talk about the ambitious plans you have for your business, but at the end of the day, taking action is what counts. This also means resisting the urge to complain (or brag) about how slammed you are, no matter if it’s over Bloody Marys at brunch or in 140 characters on Twitter. Being productive in a healthy way means not needing validation for it.
Accept Downtime As Recharging Time.
Although you may feel like you’re wasting time if you’re not scratching something off your to-do list, the opposite is often true. Your most meaningful ideas may come in that one moment when you’re not distracted or triaging emails. Let your brain relax to refuel your attention and focus. The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin, in evaluating how to form healthy habits in her life made a commitment to never look at her smartphone whenever she’s walking somewhere in order to let herself free-think. Try it!
Embrace “Just In Time” Learning.
Maximizing your productivity often leads to unproductive multi-tasking. Instead, zero in and do one thing at a time. Consume only the information you need to accomplish the task at hand, which is known as “just in time learning.“ This approach encourages you to collect information only as you need it, rather than hoarding it and trying to learn a huge variety of things in-depth. If you’re working on launching your side hustle, that might mean focusing solely on learning sales skills to get your first paying client rather than diving into learning how to code an entire website and marketing funnel from scratch. There will come a time for that. But it’s not right now.
Of course, enjoying the feeling of being productive is not inherently shameful. There’s so much pressure all around us—on billboards, in movies, in our Facebook feeds, in overheard conversations at the gym—to turbo-charge our lives. We always have to be doing more, striving for more, offering more and doing it all faster. We feel like if we’re not up to snuff, then we’ll fall behind and never be able to catch up.
But what is it all for in the end?
Don’t lose sight of the truly important things in life. Relish peaceful moments in your day– from the smell of a freshly brewed mug of coffee to the warm sunlight that shines on your morning commute. As I like to say, don’t put off your life for work that can be done tomorrow.
You know how when you trip walking down the street, it feels like the entire cityscape of people is staring at you in amusement? Or when you’ve worn the same pair of pants three times in one week, you’re completely paranoid your colleagues are judging you for your lack of fashion sense (or cleanliness)? What about when you fumble over your words in a presentation, and then can’t stop thinking about how every person in the room now thinks you’re a terrible speaker?
As human beings with egos and an innate self-awareness of our own feelings, actions and thoughts, we tend to notice and greatly exaggerate our flaws while assuming everyone around us has a microscope focused on our faults, mistakes and slip-ups. In truth, other people don’t notice them nearly as much as we assume. Why? Because they’re too busy noticing and greatly exaggerating their own flaws!
This strange phenomenon is what’s known in psychology circles as the spotlight effect. You’re the center of your own world, and everyone else is the center of his or her’s. If you’re someone who sets high standards for yourself, your errors probably feel really difficult to move past. You might play your mistake on an endless internal feedback loop like a cinematographer in the editing room. Or maybe you talk through every facet of it with your significant other, best friend, or a colleague — over and over until you’re making them crazy.
Why exactly are we so, literally, self-centered? In part, it’s due to something called anchoring and adjustment. We’re anchored in the world by our own experiences, and so we have trouble adjusting far enough away from those experiences to accurately assess how much others are paying attention to us.
Think of it this way: when the ship is anchored in port, it’s difficult to gauge the enormity of the rest of the ocean. Similarly, when you spill toothpaste on your shirt but are too late for work to change your outfit, you may go through the rest of your day so anchored in your personal experience of wearing a stained shirt that you can’t adjust to truly consider whether it registers in the viewpoint of others. In reality, people are consumed with their own lives and so far away from caring that you have a spot on your shirt.
The illusion of transparency is another cognitive phenomenon that contributes to the spotlight effect. We all have a tendency to overestimate the degree to which our own mental state is known by others. On the flip side, we also overestimate how well we know other people’s mental states. Because of the illusion of transparency, we assume that whenever we do something we think is dumb and cringe internally we believe that everyone around us can tell. We think we can gauge accurately what they’re thinking—that what we just did was dumb. Ergo: the spotlight effect.
Ok, so all the psych jargon aside, how do you squash feelings of self-consciousness or social anxiety brought on by the spotlight effect? Try these tried-and-true methods:
Apply The “So What?” Test
So what if the guy next to you on the subway is staring at your book cover in horror? So what if you’ve been walking around with your shirt buttoned one-button-off for an entire day? Think about it: what is honestly, really truly going to happen? What will it mean a few days, a week or a year from now? Nothing of consequence. You’ll survive!
Shift Your Focus From Internal Cues To External Cues
When the spotlight effect affects you most saliently, it’s because you’re convinced your internal cues of anxiety—sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, feeling of doom or dread—are noticeable to others and that they’ll therefore judge you even more harshly. It’s helpful to learn to slowly shift from thinking about internal cues to external ones. For example, are the faces of your colleagues really agape in horror when you screw up a line in your presentation? Is everyone in the park actually laughing at you when you take an awkward trip wearing a new pair of heels? Turn your attention to the physical evidence around you. You’ll find little to none that indicates the situation is as embarrassing as you think it is.
Put Yourself In Uncomfortable Situations
Another tactic to consider in learning to overcome the spotlight effect is placing yourself in purposely uncomfortable scenarios, like randomly requesting a percentage off your lunch order from a café. The more secure you become in awkward social situations and master your behavior in them, the more you’ll be able to resist the emotional impact of the spotlight effect and realize how little others fixate on you. For example, if you feel self-conscious asking the waiter for special changes to a dish, you may be afraid he’ll laugh at your request, decline, or at worst mock you. But he also may be more than happy to grant your request with no questions asked– and give you props for requesting. Either way, you’ll be surprised at how little he and your lunch buddies judge you for it and how quickly they move past it.
Double Your Efforts
Although it might seem counter-intuitive, sometimes it helps to actually be more grandiose rather than timid in your behavior when it comes to drawing less attention to yourself. Take a cue from acting coaches: the key to a convincing stage performance is to double everything from facial expressions to gestures to reactions. The effect is one of confidence and security, rather than the bald self-consciousness communicated by small, meek actions.
It’s normal to have moments of self-doubt. But thanks to the spotlight effect, our blunders often feel way more severe than they are in reality. Next time you’re struggling to move past a mistake, stop and remind yourself of the spotlight effect.
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One of the most significant generational differences between millennials and older members of the workforce is the contrasting mindset around career path.
Not so long ago, the average employee joined a company straight out of college, worked his or her way up from entry level to middle ground, and eventually joined the upper echelons of management, hardly stopping to give other employers a second glance. There was a much more linear development of career growth, which also included now-mythical concepts such as pensions and six weeks of accrued paid time off.
Career paths today are much less straightforward. What’s the longest you’ve stayed in the same role? If it’s no more than 2-4 years, you’re not alone. What about your bio on Twitter? You’ve probably listed multiple professional identifiers, as many millennials do. Do you have more than one business card? Maybe one for your full-time gig and one for your side hustle?
Whether it’s “actor/playwright/freelance writer,” “lawyer/journalist,” “copywriter/coder/career coach,” or some other hybrid combo, many m
Depression is a chronic condition that has a huge impact on an individual’s physical and mental health which inevitably impacts their QoL.
The WHOQOL Group define QoL as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live, and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.”
Due to this association between depression and a poor QoL, Schuch and colleagues decided to review research that has investigated this relationship in people with depression. Participants would need to have scored themselves on various physical and psychological domains including: activities of daily living, energy and fatigue, mobility pain and discomfort, work capacity, bodily image, feelings, self-esteem, learning and memory to name a few.
Pharmacological treatments aim to reduce the symptoms of depression, however there are still reports of impairment with regards to an individual’s QoL and the domains listed above. With the benefits of exercise shown in many studies the researchers reviewed several studies whereby exercise effects were analyzed against QoL domains. The individuals in these studies were adults with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) or dysthymia (a disorder within the depressive disorder spectrum). These people then took part in physical activity and a QoL assessment as part of the research, with their results compared to a non-active control group who completed the QoL assessment and suffered with depression.
The findings showed that those in the exercise group had improved physical and psychological domains and overall QoL. However such effects were not seen on social relationship and environment attributes.
When considering the control group there were no noticeable improvements on any domain or overall QoL. The lack of improvement for the control group and the improvement seen with the exercise group, suggests exercise is an effective strategy in improving the physical and psychological wellbeing of an individual who suffers from depression whilst also having benefits to their overall QoL.
Schuch and colleagues concluded by saying that this study shows the importance of not relying of pharmacological treatments as a sole treatment for depression. While there are clear benefits to pharmacological treatments, they are not sufficient as they don’t appear to improve QoL. This means that other strategies to combat low levels of QoL in people with depression are needed and here we can see exercise provides one.
The researchers suggested areas for improvement in future research within this area. They claimed there is a need for the design of exercise tests to be improved when examining the QoL of people with depression. This would help evaluate the impact of different exercise characteristics such as group or individualized sessions and sample characteristics such as gender and depression severity on the overall and domain QoL. Further comparisons with antidepressant medication in such research need to be made. This study appears online in the Psychiatry Research Journal.
Schuch, F, B., Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaume, S., Richards, J., Warde, P, B., Stubbs, B. 2016. Exercise improves physical and psychological quality of life in people with depression: A meta-analysis including the evaluation of control group response. Psychiatry Research, 241, 47-54.
The WHOQOL Group. 1995. The World Health Organization Quality of Life assessment (WHOQOL): position paper from the World Health Organization. Soc. Sci. Med. 41 (10), 1403–1409.]]>
Joanna had just put her infant son down for a nap. Her 3-year-old son was in his room, quietly playing with his toys. Whew, a chance for me to relax, she thought.
A little while later she thought she’d better check on her son. When she entered his room, her rage was instantaneous! She grabbed him by the arm; flung the crayons across the room; cursed him out and smacked his behind as hard as she could. What had her little guy done? He displayed his artistry all over the new wallpaper.
Now the 3-year-old was screaming hysterically, the baby was awakened and her 5-year-old would be arriving home from school any moment. “This is crazy,” she thought. “I used to be a sane, normal human being. How did I ever get into this nuttiness?”
“I love you.”
“I can’t stand you.”
“I’m so miserable.”
“I’m so sorry.”
This is the emotional roller coaster of love, anger, depression and guilt that makes up the daily existence of many parents, especially moms who are with their kids most of the day or who arrive home exhausted from work, with little patience to spare.
Yes, everyone knows that parenting is a tough job. Thus, no one — except one who has never been a parent — expects you not to lose your cool at times. But what if you don’t just get upset when your kid doesn’t listen to you, you blow a gasket. What if you don’t just raise your voice when your kid misbehaves, you rip into him.
Such intense feelings, which are more common than many realize, I call “normal crazy.” “Normal” because so many parents experience them. “Crazy” because somehow that nice, calm, reasonable adult finds that she or he (yes, it’s not only moms) has turned into a shrieking, screaming out-of-control loco.
If you experience these heavy emotions, it’s no use just stuffing them, denying them or hiding them so nobody — except your kids — know they’re there.
So what can you do?
I wish there were a magic formula I could give you that would change things for you right away. But I don’t. Why not? Because programming a computer is a piece of cake compared to programming your emotions while parenting. With a computer, you create your own little universe and then it does what you tell it to do. Great! With parenting, you create your own little universe and then your little ones do whatever spurs them on at the moment. Frustration!
So, is there nothing that one can do to quell one’s “normal crazy” emotions?
By far, focused psychotherapy is the best answer. And yet, so many people hesitate to even try it, thinking “who needs to know my darkest secrets; I’ve been doing just fine keeping everything to myself.”
Yet, once you find the courage to talk about it, you become open to learning more effective ways to handle your anger, your anxiety, your expectations, your need for control. In addition, you may not only learn more effective parenting and communication skills, you may also discover how to structure your day so that you create more adult time, more learning time, more alone time.
If intense emotions are getting the best of you, ignoring them may seem to be the best strategy, at first. But living a rose-colored lie works for only so long. In contrast, learning how to manage and express those pent-up emotions will set you free. Free to be a better parent. Free to be a better you.
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California in Riverside, gratitude boosts our happiness levels in a number of ways: by promoting the savoring of positive life experiences; by bolstering self-worth and self-esteem and thereby helping to cope with stress and trauma; by building social bonds and encouraging moral behavior; and by diminishing negative emotions and helping us adjust to new situations.
Gratitude has a number of physical health benefits as well. “Research suggests that individuals who are grateful in their daily lives actually report fewer stress-related health symptoms, including headaches, gastrointestinal (stomach) issues, chest pain, muscle aches, and appetite problems,” says Sheela Raja, PhD, an assistant professor and clinical psychologist in the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
But how do we get there? For some folks, gratitude is much easier than for others. I, for one, have to work really hard at it because my cup usually appears one-third full. With a few exercises, though, I can become a more grateful person and promote gratitude in my life, which brings many emotional and physical gifts.
1. Go Ahead and Compare
I constantly compare myself to people who are more productive than I am (have more energy and need less sleep), who go to a doctor once a year, and who are resilient to stress. “Why can’t I be like her?” I ask myself. And then I remember Helen Keller’s quote: “Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”
Her wisdom forces me to go back and remember all the people I know who can’t work at all because of their chronic illnesses, those with unsupportive spouses who don’t understand depression, and the folks I know who can’t afford a monthly pass to Bikram yoga or kale and dandelion greens to make smoothies. Suddenly, my jealousy has turned to gratitude.
2. Write Thank-You Letters
According to University of California at Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, PhD, a powerful exercise in cultivating gratitude is to compose a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life. Dr. Emmons, who also wrote Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, says the letter is especially powerful when you haven’t properly thanked the person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face-to-face. I do this as part of my holiday cards, especially to former professors or teachers who helped shape my future and inspired me in ways they might not know.
3. Keep a Gratitude Journal
According to Dr. Lyubomirsky, keeping a gratitude journal (in which you record all the things you have to be grateful for once a week) and other gratitude exercises can increase your energy, and relieve pain and fatigue. A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality documented a group of 90 undergraduate students. Divided into two groups, the first wrote about a positive experience each day for two minutes, and the second wrote about a control topic. Three months later, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses.
In my daily mood journal, I make a list of each day’s “little joys”: moments that I would fail to appreciate if I didn’t make myself record them, such as a gorgeous, 70-degree day in winter; a supply of dark chocolate; the feeling of exhilaration I have after completing a 90-minute class of Bikram yoga; and an afternoon with only one meltdown from my kids.
4. Ask Yourself These Four Questions
Byron Katie’s bestseller, Loving What Is, is helping me analyze my thinking in a way that is unique to the tools I’ve learned in other self-help books. I am much more aware of the stories I weave in my mind without much analysis as to whether or not they are true. You need to read the book to fully understand her process called “The Work,” but here’s the Reader’s Digest version:
For every problem you’re having, or every negative rumination you can’t let go of, ask yourself these four questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react when you think that thought? Who would you be without that thought?
You have to record the answers on paper for the exercise to be fully effective. After going through the process a few times, I realized the thoughts I had about certain people and events were causing the suffering I had, not the people and events themselves. This enables you to embrace those people and events with gratitude — to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, in general — because you know that they aren’t the problem. Your stories are.
5. Shift Your Language
According to Andrew Newberg, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman, words can literally change your brain. In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write, “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Positive words, like “peace” and “love,” can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our front lobes and promoting the cognitive functioning of the brain. They propel the motivational centers of the brain into action, explain the authors, and build resiliency.
Lately I’ve been trying to catch myself when profanity or something negative is about to come out of my mouth. I’m not all that good at this, but I definitely believe that words have power, and that by making a few subtle shifts in our language, we can promote gratitude and can generate better health for ourselves.
Service promotes gratitude more directly than any other path I know. Whenever I’m stuck in self-pity or depression, feeling personally victimized by the universe, the fastest way out of my head and into my heart is reaching out to someone who is in pain — especially similar pain. That’s the reason I created my online depression support groups Project Beyond Blue and Group Beyond Blue. For five years, I couldn’t get rid of debilitating death thoughts after experimenting with almost every therapy that both traditional and alternative medicine had to offer. By participating in a forum where folks are in more pain than I am — and where I can share my hard-earned insights and resources — I am made aware of the blessings in my life that I had forgotten or simply took for granted.
7. Hang With Positive People
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, including yourself.” Research confirms that. In one study conducted by Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler, PhD, of the University of California in San Diego, individuals who associated themselves with happy people were more likely to be happy themselves.
Another study by psychological scientists Gerald Haeffel, PhD, and Jennifer Hames of the University of Notre Dame, showed that risk factors for depression can actually be contagious when our social environments are in flux. So there’s a better shot of your becoming a more grateful, positive person if you surround yourself with grateful people.
8. Make a Gratitude Ritual
One family I know has a gratitude ritual every night at dinner. After prayers, each person goes around the table saying something positive that happened to him or her that day — one thing for which he or she is grateful. In our home, we’re lucky to get everyone seated without a meltdown, so I’ve filed this exercise for down the road a little — maybe after hormones are stabilized. But I thought it was a really nice way of cultivating gratitude as a family and teaching that value to non-hormonal kids.
9. Try a Loving-Kindness Meditation
In a landmark study published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, and her team showed that practicing seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased gratitude as well as a host of other positive emotions. The benefits intensified over time, producing a range of other health benefits: increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased symptoms of illness. Sociologist Christine Carter, PhD, with University of California Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, gives a nice overview of how to do a simple loving-kindness meditation in five minutes a day on her blog. She writes:
Join ProjectBeyondBlue.com, the new depression community.
Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.]]>
Venturing to the Last Frontier last week, I braced for Palinesque politics, rampaging moose, and brutal weather shrouded in Alaska darkness. While I was confident the scenery would dazzle, would the omnipresent snow and chill prove too much? Bundling up in my warmest fleeces, I could prepare for the foreboding weather. But mentally, well, we would see.
While pasty snowbirds descend on tropical destinations this holiday season, I ventured north — first to Sitka, Anchorage, and then Fairbanks. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. And, as my friends reminded me, bone-rattling cold and ice-coated roads.
Thumbing through a Lonely Planet guidebook is one thing; experiencing Alaska’s biting cold and dreary nights is entirely different. Stepping off the Anchorage flight, its darkness enveloped me. At 9:30 AM. Yes, this vacation would test my mental fortitude.
Growing up in Iowa, the interminable winters would induce an energy-drooping paralysis. Glancing outdoors at the wintry conditions, I would retreat into my cozy apartment. In these comfy confines, I would munch on corn chips, mindlessly surf the Internet, and — yes — succumb to depressive/anxious thoughts.
Would Alaska be different? And, if so, what lessons could I learn from the frozen tundra — assuming I could rouse myself from its dreary darkness.
In Alaska’s unforgiving winter, the sun is an endangered species. Hopscotching from Sitka to Anchorage to Fairbanks, its appearance was a mere rumor. Most days the sun would appear for an hour or two before beating a hasty retreat. Perhaps the sun, like me, just wanted to snuggle with a hot chocolate and good book. The only respite from the winter blues: a one-way ticket to the Lower 48. My return ticket, however, was a blustery week away.
As reality — like a winter storm — socked me in the face, I braced for Alaska’s cold bleakness. Warily eyeing the weather forecast, I wanted my vacation to consist of more than stale TV reruns and soggy pizza delivery. My strategy for survival and, yes, enjoyment in Alaska’s barren tundra: spend as much time as possible outside. Dubbing my strategy Northern Exposure, I emulated those hearty Alaskans draped in head to toe fleece. Waddling out of my hotel every morning — and, yes, bearing a striking resemblance to the Michelin Man, I greeted the dark winter with a shivering smile.
In contrast to my rental car, my mood did not capitulate to Alaska’s icy conditions. Here’s what helped me navigate Alaska’s impenetrable chill — tow truck sold separately:
From Anchorage to Albany and everywhere in between, old man winter has returned with a snarling vengeance. But just because old man winter has reared its winter fangs, it doesn’t mean that you have to act like an old man. So close the Internet browser, delete that Netflix account, and plan your own travel misadventure. Lonely Planet is a guidebook, not your life’s title.]]>
What is DBT?
DBT is a cognitive-behavioral approach that places its emphasis on the psychosocial aspects of treatment. DBT focuses on the synthesis of opposites as a cornerstone of its philosophy, the balancing of acceptance and change. DBT teaches clients four sets of behavior skills: mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.
Whether you struggle with mental health issues or not, everyone can benefit from these basic DBT skills. By incorporating them into your life you can learn to reduce overall stress, better manage your emotions and have a better overall quality of life.
Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment. This sounds easier said than done. Most of us spend time multi-tasking, allowing our thoughts to wonder to multiple topics, living in the present or the past.
So “what” do I do when to practice a mindfulness skill? Observe, describe, and participate fully in the present moment. For instance, if you are getting caught up in your thoughts or worries, take a moment to redirect your mind to your present moment. Maybe focus on your physical sensations, observing and experiencing them without thought or judgement.
So “how” do you practice mindfulness? Non-judgmentally, one-mindfully, and effectively. When I was first learning mindfulness (and often even today) my mind would wander to other topics, my to-do lists, things I was worried about etc. Then I would often judge myself saying, “I can’t believe I can’t just breathe for 60 seconds without distraction.” Mindfulness teaches self- compassion. To not judge. To allow ourselves to be imperfect. If my mind wanders, okay, I bring it back.
Practice not Perfection
Many of us have problems coping throughout the day. Some of this may be a result of our inability to see joy in things. Often in life we spend a lot of time focusing on how to fix what’s wrong, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Ultimately, reducing and addressing unhealthy behaviors and attitudes is great, but we have to build more positive ones to truly see how long-term results have improved our overall quality of life. Here are some suggestions to build pleasant activities:
One option you have to any problem is Radical Acceptance (Linehan, 1993). Radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not trying to change what is outside of your control. It is about accepting life as life is.
Fighting reality or avoiding reality heightens pain. Imagine for instance, you are sitting in traffic on your way to work. You have multiple options: You can get angry, yell, swear, let it ruin your day or you can use this as time for self-care, practice breathing skills, accepting that nothing you do will impact the traffic or change what time you arrive to work.
Another example: you get an email from your boss, subject line: Staff meeting this Friday. You think to yourself, “another staff meeting, I can’t believe this. I have way too much to do and these meetings are always a waste of time. Just a way for management to feel important.” Or you can think to yourself, “I’d prefer not to go and this is what it is. There is nothing I can do about it. Just breathe.”
Overall, all of us can benefit from becoming more aware of our thoughts and feelings and being centered in the present moment; engaging in more pleasurable activities, and accepting life on life’s terms. These skills will certainly lead to a happier and healthier life.
Linehan, M. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993]]>
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a disease. It is a neurological disorder in which the prefrontal cortex of the brain is under-functioning. Because the most common symptom of ADHD is hyperactivity, this is somewhat counterintuitive to what people think is going on. Stimulant medication works because it stimulates the part of the brain that is not functioning at the level it should be. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for impulse control, higher order thinking, social cues, memory, and emotional regulation. When the right neurotransmitters are not being released those responsibilities can fall by the wayside, leading to the ADHD symptoms we see. There is a very specific set of symptoms attached to ADHD, and a quick Google search for DSM V (5) ADHD symptoms will take you there.
Is there a test for ADHD?
No. It would be great if there was, but there just isn’t. However, there are several assessments that will tell you the likelihood your child has ADHD. The most well-known and commonly used is called the Conner’s Checklist. The parent and teacher each fill one out, the checklists are scored, then provided to the doctor. This checklist is considered to be pretty ironclad when determining likelihood of ADHD.
Couldn’t every child be diagnosed with ADHD?
Nope. This is another common misconception. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th version, lists very specific symptoms (too numerous to list here). The DSM also lays out what is known as diagnostic qualifiers. These qualifiers are in place to ensure that the disorder is not over-diagnosed. Here they are:
Why should I consider medication?
I had the privilege of speaking with a well-known pediatrician over the weekend and he shared some insight in working with ADHD over the past 20+ years. He is a proponent of ADHD medication and started by saying this. “If I told you your child’s body is not producing the insulin it should, as we see in diabetes, I would prescribe synthetic insulin and you wouldn’t hesitate to give it to him. If I diagnose your child with ADHD and tell you his brain is not producing the chemicals it should and I prescribe a stimulant medication, you would likely balk at the notion. What’s the difference? We know that low insulin can affect and change their mood, focus, and concentration. We want them to be who they truly are, not changed by their condition.” That struck me, as I had not thought of it that way before. Which is amazing when you consider that mental health is my job. He went to say that “stimulant medication is at least 80% effective when used for ADHD, making ADHD the most treatable disease we know of.” If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, or if your child’s school is recommending a doctor’s evaluation, then the symptoms are severe enough that they are affecting your child’s performance. If this is the case then they need help.
Won’t my child become addicted to the medicine or face horrible side effects?
The definition of addiction is that the substance must cause two things: tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance means you get used to the substance and require more of it to get the same effect. Withdrawal means you experience negative symptoms (stomach ache, headache, etc.) when you do not take the substance. ADHD medication has not been shown to cause either of these. Stimulant medication is in a person’s system for a set amount of hours, depending on the medication and the dosage. It does not last 24 hours a day, which means that if there were withdrawal symptoms they would be seen daily — and they are not. The most common side effect of stimulant medication, and this is not seen in every case, is decreased appetite. The doctor I spoke with this weekend went as far as to say, “There is no other class of medications for no other ailment that has fewer potential side effects and is as effective as stimulant medication.”
If medication is so effective, why would counseling help?
One of the most exciting findings in the field of neuroscience is the discovery that the brain is plastic — meaning it can be changed and grow based on our experiences and what we focus on. What does this have to do with ADHD and counseling? Everything. Working on focus and attention can actually rewire portions of the brain and help develop better skills for the future. A counselor can help to develop a set of coping skills and strategies aimed at improving attention and focus.]]>
So while most of the world will remember her as Princess Leia — the fierce, independent heroine in the original Star Wars movies — many people will remember her for her ability to give dignity to those living with the most debilitating silent disease — mental illness. As a champion for people with bipolar disorder and addiction, we remember her today along with millions of others.
Carrier Fisher, who died at her home on Tuesday morning after suffering from a heart attack on a flight back back home to Los Angeles from London on Friday. She was the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, but is best known for her starring role in the science-fiction movie, Star Wars, released in 1977 (as well as its two follow-on sequels).
Although first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 24, she didn’t come to accept the diagnosis until five years later. She blames her denial on her battles at the time with addiction (mainly cocaine throughout the early 1980s).
Given her popular presence on Twitter, it only seems fitting to turn to Twitter to get a glimpse of how well-loved she was — and how much she will be missed. The outpouring of well wishers on Twitter today has been overwhelming, and a tribute to the impact she’s had in helping defeat the discrimination and prejudice that comes with acknowledging one’s battle with a mental illness.
Here are a sample of a few of the tweets:
We loved Carrie Fisher and her strong, independent stance and outspokenness when it came to her life and how she dealt with addiction and bipolar disorder (keeping in mind she never thought her condition defined her). She will forever remain an important star in the ongoing battle to help people understand that mental illness is a condition just like any physical disease, so it’s not one to belittle, make fun of, or discriminate against.
Perhaps she said it best in her book, Wishful Drinking:
Here’s to you Carrie. May you rest in peace.
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