OVERCOMING PESSIMISM & SELF-CRITICISM

canstockphoto15299774[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 5] By Audrey Berger, Ph.D.

“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”  Thomas A. Edison.

When things go badly for you, do you tend to blame yourself, and believe that things will probably continue to go badly for you in the future (i.e. think pessimistically)? Or, are you more likely to assume that it’s a temporary setback and that things will get better (i.e. think optimistically)? It should be obvious that these two different ways of thinking about difficulties are likely to promote very different emotional and behavioral responses. For example, when things go badly, those who think pessimistically typically respond with significant distress and anxiety, and may even experience feelings of defeat; those who think optimistically are likely to experience less distress and anxiety, and are apt to be more focused on how they can improve things as they go forward .

We now know that how we feel depends, to a large extent, on which information we attend to in a given situation, and how we interpret that information. Studies have shown that even though we each receive up to 11 million bits of information per second through our senses, our brains are only able to consciously process around 40 – 60 bits per second.  This means that we regularly miss vast amounts of information, and that we only attend to a sliver of reality. In recent years, psychologists have begun to recognize that emotional reactions can be changed by helping people to adjust where they focus their attention and how they interpret the meaning of an experience.

So, if you are prone to pessimistic thinking, and are susceptible to the resulting anxiety and distress, remember that there are almost certainly many alternative perspectives and interpretations that you are not considering, and that that both can be adjusted: you can change where you focus your attention, and find different ways to think about the information you select.

The first step is to try to become aware of what you’re thinking when things don’t go well; if you realize that you’re being self-critical and expecting that things will continue to go badly in the future, you can take action to shift to a more helpful perspective. It is not recommended that you try to simply suppress negative thoughts, because that may cause them to become even more powerful and persistent. But, there are strategies you can use to help you manage and modify any unrealistic pessimistic thinking. It is best to be prepared with some of these strategies, so you can quickly interrupt what could otherwise become a downward spiral of self-criticism and worry. What follows is a sampling of some strategies you can try.

REDIRECT THINKING: The simplest and fastest way to block ruminations is to distract yourself and refocus your attention onto a constructive and absorbing activity. Create a “rumination escape kit” ahead of time and keep it handy. In your kit, include anything that can serve as a healthy distraction that you can use to quickly shift your attention when needed. Simply interrupting the negative downward spiral is often enough to contain and even reverse it.  Negative emotions can sometimes provide clues about things that may need your attention, but rumination and negative downward spirals don’t benefit you. You can schedule a later time to think about/sort out the issue, in order to better address it; after scheduling a time when you will revisit the issue, use distraction to redirect your thoughts for now. The key here is to interrupt the rumination. But, if you have enough time , an effective and enduring way to shift your mindset is to challenge your negative ideas about the cause, meaning and implications of the negative event.

PRACTICE ARGUING AGAINST YOUR PESSIMISTIC AND SELF-CRITICAL BELIEFS:  Disputing your beliefs with evidence you have not been considering is the basic framework of this approach. Brainstorm as much evidence as you can to dispute your beliefs, and then identify more useful, but realistic, beliefs. Recognizing more benign or even positive ways of viewing the situation can significantly alter how you think and feel, as well as facilitate your ability to acknowledge and address issues that do need your attention. Sometimes it can help to imagine that your pessimistic beliefs are the assertions of someone else, rather than your own. We are often much better at fighting back when criticism and negative thinking comes from someone other than ourselves. To build your capacity to dispute your pessimistic beliefs, try writing them out, and write down evidence that you can use to dispute those beliefs.

SELF-COMPASSION JOURNAL:  Instead of arguing against self-critical beliefs, another alternative is to use self-compassion. When you are being self-critical, write down those thoughts and the feelings they provoke. Next, think of an imaginary friend who is kind, loving, accepting and compassionate, and write a letter to yourself about the situation from the perspective of this imaginary friend. Have your friend express love and support as s/he responds to your self-critical thoughts and painful feelings with acceptance and compassion. After writing the letter, leave it for a while, and then come back and read what you wrote, allowing yourself to really feel the love, support, compassion and acceptance expressed by your friend.

SELF-COMPASSION MANTRA: Another version of the self-compassion approach is to create a mantra that you can use whenever you are inclined to be self-critical. You can modify the language of the mantra, but the example provided by Kristin Neff (2011) is to repeat to yourself some version of the following phrases the moment you realize that you are being self-critical or feeling distressed: “I am having a very hard time right now.  Everyone feels this way sometimes. May I be kind to myself in this moment; may I give myself the compassion I need.”

MEDITATION AND RELAXATION TECHNIQUES: Meditation and relaxation strategies are also helpful, but they need to be practiced regularly. We will discuss the issue of meditation further in a future article in this series.

You may recall that last time we discussed how shifting from pessimism to optimism involves three elements: (1) cultivating realistic optimism, which we covered in the last article in this Happiness and Well-Being series; (2) neutralizing unrealistic pessimism, which we’ve addressed today; and (3) developing a growth mindset, which is so fundamental to optimism that we will focus exclusively on this issue next time.

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS

Colman, J. (2012-10-16). Optimal functioning: A positive psychology handbook. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com
Fredrickson, B. (2009-01-27). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com
Goleman, Daniel (2011-04-12). The brain and emotional intelligence: New insights. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com
Halvorson, H. G. (2010-12-23). Succeed: How we can reach our goals. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com                                                                              
Neff, Kristin (2011-04-19). Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

If you haven’t yet read the first four posts in this series, read them now to learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness and Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness and Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                             Happiness and Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness and Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism

 

OVERCOMING PESSIMISM AND SELF-CRITICISM by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

Let go of self-criticism and discover self-compassion (It’s easier than you think!) by Guest Blogger Kristin Neff, PhD  

Self-compassion

“You’re so stupid! What a loser! You look like a total cow in those jeans!”

Would you talk this way to a friend – or even to a stranger for that matter? Of course not. (Or at least I hope not! If you do  please  don’t  invite  me  to  your next  dinner party!) Its natural for us to try to be kind to the people we care about in our lives. We let them know it’s okay to be human when they fail. We reassure them  of our respect and support when they’re feeling bad about themselves. We comfort them when they’re going through hard times. In other words, most of us are very good at being understanding, kind, and compassionate towards others.

But how many of us offer that kind of compassion to ourselves?

For the past decade or so I’ve been conducting research on self-compassion, and have found that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.

It makes sense. When our inner voice continually criticizes and berates us we end up feeling worthless, incompetent and insecure, and we often end up in negative cycles of self sabotage and self harm. However, when our inner voice plays the role of a supportive friend we can – when we notice some personal failing – feel safe and accepted enough to both see ourselves clearly and make the changes needed for us to be healthier and happier.

But what is self-compassion exactly? Drawing on the writings of various Buddhist scholars, I have defined self-compassion as having 3 main components:

(a) self-kindness

(b) a sense of common humanity

(c) mindfulness.

Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of taking a cold ‘stiff-upper-lip’ approach in times of suffering, self-kindness offers soothing and comfort to the self. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. It connects one’s own flawed condition to the shared human condition so that one can take greater perspective towards one’s personal shortcomings and difficulties. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life. The three together combine to create a self-compassionate frame of mind: a compassion that can be extended toward the self when suffering occurs through no fault of one’s own – when the external circumstances of life are simply too painful or difficult to bear – or else when our suffering stems from one’s own mistakes, failures or personal inadequacies.

Much of the research conducted on self-compassion has used the Self-Compassion Scale I created. If you want to test your own self-compassion level and find out if you need to start being kinder to yourself, go to: http://www.self-compassion.org/test_your_self-compassion_level.html

Once you’ve figured out how much or little self-compassion you have, you can start working on how to apply it, increase it, or get it in the first place. If you’re interested in doing so, you may also want to order my new book “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” which has dozens of exercise to increase self-compassion.

ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER KRISTIN NEFF:
Kristin Neff got her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1997 in the field of moral development. She then spent two years of post-doctoral study in the field of self-concept development at Denver University. Her current position is in the Human Development and Culture Program, Dept. of Educational Psychology, at the University of Texas at Austin.  She started at UT in 1999 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2006.
During Kristin’s last year of graduate school in 1997 she became interested in Buddhism, and has been practicing meditation in the Insight Meditation tradition ever since. While doing her post-doctoral work she decided to conduct research on self-compassion – a central construct in Buddhist psychology and one that had not yet been examined empirically.  The scale she created to measure self-compassion was published in 2003 and is now being used by hundreds of researchers worldwide.
In addition to her pioneering research into self-compassion, she has developed an 8-week program to teach self-compassion skills. The program, co-created with her colleague Chris Germer at Harvard University, is called Mindful Self-Compassion. She has a new book titled “Self-Compassion” that was published by William Morrow in April, 2011.
Kristin lives in the countryside in Elgin, Texas with her husband Rupert Isaacson – an author and human rights activist – and with her young son Rowan. She and her family were recently featured in the documentary and book called The Horse Boy.
[THANK YOU SO MUCH TO KRISTIN NEFF FOR THIS GREAT CONTRIBUTION TO THE TURNING POINT LIFE COACHING BLOG!] 
This article was originally published on March 18, 2011 on the Psychology Today website.

REWIRE YOUR BRAIN FOR HAPPINESS!

[Happiness & Well-Being, Part 3]   by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. –  Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures  that occur every day, than  in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom”  –  Benjamin Franklin  

Hardwiring HappinessCreating new happiness-increasing habits, which involves changing how we think and what we do, is the most powerful and enduring way to increase happiness and well-being. Many people believe that large activities are required to increase happiness; however, studies show that small but regular happiness-increasing activities are actually more helpful. Continue reading

DEVELOPING HAPPINESS HABITS

[Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2]  by Audrey Berger Ph.D. –  Life Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching

HAPPINESS HABITS CHECKLIST

“So what kind of reality do you want to create for yourself?” Tal Ben-Shahar

Not that long ago, scientists believed that we are born with all the neurons we will ever have, and that our brains are incapable of creating new neurons or developing further in any substantial way. But, in recent years, scientists have determined that we create new neurons throughout our lives, that injured neurons can repair themselves, and that new connections between neurons are routinely established. Thus, we now know that our brains are regularly being rebuilt, rewired and reorganized. This amazing process of on-going change in the brain is called neuroplasticity. Continue reading

CAN YOU MAKE YOURSELF HAPPIER?

[Happiness & Well-Being Series, Part 1]  by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. – Life Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching

[This article is Part 1 in a recurring series entitled “Happiness & Well-Being.”  Look for future articles in this series by clicking on the “Happiness and Well-Being” topic category in the side bar.]

Happiness Word Cloud

“At every moment in my life I have a choice. Moments add up to a lifetime; choices add up to a life” Tal Ben-Shahar

Most of us believe that our happiness has a lot to do with our life circumstances, since that seems only logical. And, because of this belief, we often pursue happiness by trying to alter our circumstances. But, as counterintuitive as this may seem, researchers have concluded that only around 10% of our happiness can be attributed to our life circumstances (Lyubormirksy, 2007). Continue reading

LIVING WELL WITH CHRONIC MEDICAL ILLNESS – 8 Session Coaching Group

             ANNOUNCING: “LIVING WELL WITH CHRONIC MEDICAL ILLNESS”  –                                                         AN 8-SESSION COACHING GROUP

When you have a chronic medical illness, the changes you experience in your life can challenge your sense of who you are, diminish your quality of life and cause you to question what quality of life is possible for you now.

 But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

No matter how difficult your circumstances, it is always possible to find a way forward that will help to improve your quality of life.

In this group, you will have the opportunity to talk with other group members about what it’s like to live with chronic illness, yet the focus will be on more than  simply supporting each other, exchanging ideas and sharing stories.  You’ll also learn things psychologists have discovered about what helps people to live fulfilling lives, and you’ll complete exercises that will help you explore ways to apply that knowledge to your own life.

The goal of this group will be to help each member find alternate ways to live a fulfilling life, taking into account the many challenges created by chronic illness.

Since the group will meet via telephone  location and any mobility issues are not a concern. The group will meet twice a month for a total of 8 sessions. Meeting times will be decided on         the basis of group member availability.

If you’d like to learn more about this group and see if it’s right for you, please complete the contact form below.  If you’re  interested in the group, but can’t participate at this point in time, please submit the below form anyway, letting us know that you would like to be contacted when this group is offered in the future.

[sform id=’1347′]

GRATITUDE CHANGES EVERYTHING

by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.

Originally, Thanksgiving was intended to be  a day  for  contemplating  blessings  and expressing gratitude. But now the Thanksgiving  tradition  is  primarily  a  social event for families, focused on fun, food, football, and the anticipation of Black Friday sales. And, while some of the original aspects of the Thanksgiving holiday have been retained, including the tradition of family gatherings and the sharing  of a special  meal,  something significant appears to have been lost.  In modern  America,  thinking  about and acknowledging the blessings in our lives is no longer an important part of the Thanksgiving celebration or our daily lives.

Our addiction to abundance,  and the popularity of  hollow  self-indulgences,*  has ironically contributed to a notable increase in discontentment and self-absorption in our culture.  And, even  though  people  feel  happier  when  they  obtain  the  things  they  want,  it’s actually only a temporary shift, and it’s often followed  by the restless yearning to obtain more.**

Gratitude, on the other hand, helps us to recognize and appreciate what we already have, freeing us from the preoccupation with what we don’t have. Gratitude is about more than simply saying thank you. It’s about truly appreciating what’s good in your life, including those things that you take for granted. It turns out that regularly focusing on feelings of gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to increase happiness and well-being. Many studies have shown that gratitude increases life satisfaction, enhances  emotional  and  physical  resilience,  strengthens  relationships, helps to put life and challenges into perspective, reduces depression and stress, and helps us to move forward when we feel stuck.

So, this Thanksgiving, be sure to take some time to think about the blessings in your life, and if appropriate, use the opportunity of the Thanksgiving holiday to let those you love know that you consider them to be among those blessings. And, for those who dread Thanksgiving due to family tensions,  or  painful  memories  that  are  triggered,  gratitude  can  be  a  helpful  way  to manage the emotional challenges experienced at the holidays. Rather than just focusing on the distressing aspects of the family gathering, or distressing memories, try to think about what  you appreciate either in your  family  or  in  other  areas  of  your  life.  And,  don’t  reserve  the gratitude mindset just for Thanksgiving. If you make gratitude a permanent part of your life, you will experience its power as you reap the many benefits it brings. Below are some activities that can help you to do this.

1) GRATITUDE JOURNAL    

A simple but very powerful exercise is the gratitude journal. At the end of the day, write down three things that happened that day for which you feel grateful. The things you list don’t have to be big; they can either be small things you experienced during the day that you appreciate, or they can be bigger things in your life. Do this for at least a week, and if you begin to see benefits, continue to do it on a regular basis. You don’t necessarily have to continue to do this daily. This activity can be equally effective if done on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis, so do whatever fits best for you. Instead of making a list of items, you can also try writing more extensively about a particular thing/experience/relationship for which you are grateful.

2) GRATITUDE LETTER   

The gratitude letter is another powerful exercise that can help increase gratitude. This exercise involves writing a letter to someone who has had a significant positive impact on your life, but whom you have not formally thanked. It can be a mentor, grandparent, or anyone who has helped you in a meaningful way in your life. In your letter, describe what that individual did specifically that was helpful, and the impact it had on you. The length of the letter is unimportant, and it’s not absolutely necessary to send it in order for you to reap the benefits of doing this exercise. Assuming that you are willing to have your letter read by the individual about whom it is written, a really powerful addition to this exercise is to personally deliver the letter and read it to that person.

3)  IMAGINE YOUR LIFE WITHOUT SOME OF YOUR BLESSINGS

An approach that can also facilitate gratitude and well-being is to think about what your life would be like without some of the blessings you have. As in the above exercises, it can help to write down your thoughts on this issue. This exercise is particularly powerful for couples that are  going  through  a  difficult  period.  It  can  also  be  useful  for  the  frustrations   sometimes experienced by of parents of teenagers.

4) TEACH GRATITUDE TO CHILDREN

Beyond  simply  teaching  children  good  manners,  parents  can  teach  children  a  gratitude mindset. Although this can done by teaching children about being grateful,  the example set by parents is even more important.

* Please note  that  self-care,  which  is  very  important  to  our  well-being,  is  very  different  from self-indulgence.

**  This statement refers to what’s likely to happen when people already have enough to be at least comfortable, and does not apply in the same way to those who are truly impoverished. However, the gratitude mindset is equally helpful for those who have enough and those who don’t.

melody-beattie-gratitude-quote-2

LEADING WITH YOUR STRENGTHS

[Happiness and Well-Being Series, Part 13]   by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.                                  “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies   within.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Would you be able to name your personal strengths if you were asked? Many people can’t, either because they take their own strengths for granted, or because they think of themselves primarily in terms of shortcomings. But, research has found that we benefit greatly when we’re able to recognize and embrace our own strengths. In fact, numerous studies have shown that regularly using our strengths can lead to enduring increases in happiness, well-being, life satisfaction, optimism, confidence, achievement, vitality and resilience, and can help to decrease stress and depression.

 LEARNING TO RECOGNIZE YOUR STRENGTHS

There are different ways you can begin to recognize (or recognize more of) your own strengths. For example, you can begin to clarify some of your top strengths by answering the following questions:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What fulfills you?
  • When are you at your best?
  • What motivates or energizes you?

There are also a number of assessment tools available to help identify your strengths. One  particularly useful assessment tool is called the VIA Character Strengths Survey. It measures 24  character strengths: creativity; curiosity; love of learning; perspective; judgment; bravery; persistence; honesty; zest; love; kindness; social intelligence; citizenship; fairness;  leadership; forgiveness; humility; prudence; self-control, gratitude; hope; humor; spirituality; appreciation of beauty and excellence. If you take the VIA survey, you’ll receive a personalized rank ordering of these 24 strengths. Your top 5 – 7  strengths are considered to be  your “signature” strengths –  i.e. the ones that come most naturally to you.

IDENTIFYING AND USING YOUR OWN CHARACTER STRENGTHS

I highly recommend that you complete the VIA Character Strengths Survey, so that you can learn to identify and further enhance your character strengths. It takes only 15 minutes, and it’s free.  Once you’re able to recognize and appreciate your signature strengths, you can make a point of using them to improve your life. Studies have found that people are “at their best” when they’re most able to use their signature strengths. What follows are some ideas for powerful activities that can help you to further develop your top strengths (or any of the other strengths that you’d like to augment):

  • AT YOUR BEST

    Write about a time when you were ‘at your best’ – i.e. when you acted in a way that you think reflects the best of who you are. It can be a time when you did something you felt good about, when you were successful in some way, and/or when you overcame some type of obstacle. It can be recent or something that happened a long time ago. (Of course, there may be many examples that would fit this description, and you can do this activity for as many of them as you like.) Review what you’ve written, and try to search for the strengths you demonstrated in that situation. You might be amazed at how moving and powerful this activity can be.

  • RECOGNIZE HOW YOU’VE USED YOUR SIGNATURE STRENGTHS IN DAILY LIFE

    Take a close look at your top 5 – 7 VIA character strengths, and think about other times/ways you have used them. Write down as many such instances as you can recall.  If you want, you can ask your friends and family for examples of when you have demonstrated some of these strengths.  Be sure to continue to call on those strengths regularly in the future.

  • USE YOUR SIGNATURE STRENGTHS IN A NEW WAY

    Take one of the signature strengths you have identified, and for a week, use that strength in a new way every day. Studies have found this exercise to be very powerful. Here are a few examples of things you can do: if creativity is a signature strength, choose an object in your home and find a new and unusual use for it, or take a class in some type of creative activity; if curiosity is a signature strength, attend a lecture on a topic about which you know nothing, or go to a restaurant that serves a type of cuisine you’ve never had; if perseverance is a signature strength, make a list of things to do, and do one thing from the list every day; if social intelligence is a signature strength, every day make someone feel at ease. These are only a small number of possible ways to use and increase character strengths. For more ideas, you can see Peterson’s more complete list (Peterson, 2006, p 159- 162). You can also find ideas at Via Character Strengths Blog.

  • USE YOUR STRENGTHS TO HELP WITH GOALS AND CHALLENGES

    Keep a list of your top 5 -7 strengths handy, and look at it frequently. Think about how you have used your strengths recently, and then consider how you can use your strengths going forward. Think about some goals you would like to pursue, and then think about how you might be able to use your strengths to facilitate progress toward your goals.

If we all did the things we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison    

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS

Biswas-Diener, Robert; Dean, Ben (2009-05-18). Positive psychology coaching: putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004) Character strengths and virtues: A handbook  New York. Oxford University Press.

Peterson, Christopher (2006-06-28). A primer in positive psychology (Oxford Positive Psychology Series) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002-10-02). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Seligman, Martin E. P. (2011-04-05). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Atria Books. Kindle Edition.          

VIA Character Strengths Blog:  http://www.viacharacter.org/blog/category/via-strengths-exercise/.

VIA Character Strengths Survey: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/                           

If you haven’t yet read the twelve previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness & Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                                       Happiness & Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                      Happiness & Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                                 Happiness & Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring                                                                                        Happiness & Well-Being, Part 8: Positive Reminiscence                                                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 9: Mindfulness                                                                                     Happiness & Well-Being, Part 10: Mindfulness II
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 11: Finding Flow                                                                                Happiness & Well-Being, Part 12: Making Life Choices

MAKING LIFE CHOICES

[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 12] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D

canstockphoto17494100

                    (c) www.canstockphoto.com

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” ~Alfred D. Souza                                             

Life is filled with difficult choices, and making decisions about long-term goals can be especially challenging.  When we select long-term goals, we generally try to choose the ones we think will make us happy. But, accurately predicting our happiness can be very difficult because no matter what strategies we use to try to sort out what we want, we’re susceptible to cognitive biases that can mislead us.  To minimize the influence of these biases, it’s helpful to understand how they can affect the decision-making process.

BIAS #1: SELECTIVELY FOCUSING ON THE MOST SALIENT FEATURE – Most of us are inclined to selectively focus on one salient feature of a choice we’re trying to make, while overlooking or minimizing other features. Although the element we emphasize may appear to be the most important feature, by approaching the decision in this manner we’re likely to be underestimating the effect other features will have. To reduce the impact of this bias, we need to step back to look at the bigger picture, and give some thought to how we feel about the features we may be minimizing.

BIAS #2: OVERESTIMATING THE LONG-TERM EFFECT ON OUR HAPPINESS – A subset of the focusing bias is the tendency to concentrate primarily on how we think we’ll be affected by a decision in the short run, even if we’ll be living with the decision for much longer. It’s important to remember that over time we adapt to change, and as we adapt, the intensity of whatever we’re feeling about that change diminishes. In order to learn more about what it might be like to live with this choice over time, it can be useful to talk with others who have experienced it on more than just a short-term basis.

BIAS #3: PUTTING TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS – All of us are susceptible to being influenced by external opinions and social pressures. Some of us may even trust the opinions of others more than our own. As mentioned above, it’s definitely a good idea to seek the input of others who may be able to offer us a different perspective, especially if they know us well and also if they have experience with the choice we’re considering.  But in the end, our own personality, values, strengths and interests should play a more prominent role in our decision than the opinions of others.

BIAS #4: TRYING TO MAKE THE “PERFECT” CHOICE – If we convince ourselves that there is a “perfect” choice, we’re likely to be disappointed. Further, those who look for perfection risk being caught in “analysis paralysis.” Instead of being immobilized by fear of making the wrong choice, we need to recognize that there is no perfect choice, and aim for a choice that’s “good enough.”

Beyond correcting for these cognitive biases, it’s important to remember what we’ve been discussing throughout this Happiness and Well-Being series: external factors account for only 10% of our happiness whereas the smaller choices that we regularly make account for up to 40% of our happiness (e.g. see Happiness and Well-Being, part 1).  We need to remain mindful of the fact that our happiness isn’t determined by making “perfect” decisions, and it isn’t a steady state.

Happiness has more to do with how we view and approach the opportunities and challenges in our life. It has more to do with making choices that are inherently rewarding for us, that add meaning to our life, and that honor our own values and strengths. And, it has more to do with cultivating significant social connections, with allowing ourselves to appreciate and enjoy the moment, with understanding what’s really important to us, and with being grateful for what we have. But, even knowing these things, the reality is that in the midst of dealing with the pressures and stresses we all experience, it’s easy to lose track of things that  give meaning to our lives, and instead end up focusing on things that don’t really matter in the long run.  We need to keep in mind that where we focus our attention influences not only the types of choices we make, but also significantly impacts our happiness and well-being. So, from time to time, it can be very useful for each of us to focus on the bigger picture and think about what truly matters. 

THE BIGGER PICTURE
Research on hospice patients offers a big picture perspective on the choices all of us make in life. Hospice workers interviewed their patients about the regrets they felt as they faced the end of their lives. The workers then summarized the top 5 regrets of their dying patients: (1) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard; (2) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends; (3) I wish I had let myself be happier; (4) I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self; (5) I wish I lived a life true to my dreams instead of what others expected of me.

You can see from these answers that when the hospice patients came face-to-face with their mortality, it changed their perspective about some of the life choices they had made. Like most of us, they probably took a lot in their lives for granted, lost sight of their real priorities in the face of the pressures and stresses in their lives, and placed undue importance on some things that didn’t really matter in the long run. Because they were willing to share this perspective with us, we have the advantage of being able to use their wisdom to think about our own choices as we go forward. So, put some real thought into what it is that you value and what gives your life meaning and purpose.  Then, try to honor and live out your values, and factor them into both the big and small choices in your life.


ACTIVITY: SEEING THE BIGGER PICTURE IN YOUR OWN LIFE
Write a letter summarizing your life, your values and your accomplishments up until this point.

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(c) www.canstockphoto.com

  1. Of the things you’ve done, which are most meaningful to you?
  2. What memories bring you the most pleasure?
  3. As you think about what you want to put in the summary, what do you learn about your strengths, talents, interests, and values?
  4. Does thinking about these questions help you to recognize some things you might want to do (or do differently) as you go forward in your life?

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS
Biswas-Diener, R  & Dean, B (2009). Positive psychology coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Biswas-Diener, R. & Diener, E. (2010). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Wiley Publishing. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2013). The myths of happiness: What should make you happy, but doesn’t, what shouldn’t make you happy, but does. Penguin Group US. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Jane McGonigal “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfBpsV1Hwqs

 

If you haven’t yet read the eleven previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness & Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                                       Happiness & Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                      Happiness & Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                                 Happiness & Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring                                                                                        Happiness & Well-Being, Part 8: Positive Reminiscence                                                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 9: Mindfulness                                                                                     Happiness & Well-Being, Part 10: Mindfulness II
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 11: Finding Flow

FINDING “FLOW”

(c) www.canstockphoto.com

HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING [PART 11] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D

“I find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.”  ~ Thomas A. Edison

  • Do you ever get so absorbed in an activity that you lose track of time, and become oblivious to everything else? What types of activities affect you this way?

If you’re familiar with how it feels to be so completely immersed in an activity that everything else literally recedes from conscious awareness, then you have experienced what psychologists call “flow.” In a flow state (athletes sometimes refer to it as “being in the zone”), concentration is effortless and complete, giving rise to a sense of competence and control. Being in flow is the essence of being in the moment. And, studies have found that quality of life is substantially enhanced when people regularly spend time participating in activities where they experience flow.

It’s helpful to be able to identify which activities tend to promote flow experiences for you. If you think back over the years, you may recognize the presence of flow in a number of the activities you’ve enjoyed. Perhaps you’ve experienced flow during activities such as painting, playing an instrument, gardening,  running, cooking, playing video games, or any one of a large number of other solo activities. Maybe you’ve had flow experiences during dyadic cooperative, goal-oriented activities like intense conversations, two-person games such as chess, two-person physical activities such as dancing or golf, and so on. You may have had group flow experiences in situations where people were gathered together for activities such as team sports, band, choir, theater productions, rock concerts, work teams, brain-storming activities, drum circles, or any other goal-oriented group activity. It’s worth noting that participation in group flow activities stands out for many people as being among some of their most memorable experiences.

Though many people spend a lot of free time watching TV, flow isn’t likely to be experienced during passive leisure activities. While they can be enjoyable and relaxing in moderation, passive leisure activities don’t generally contribute much to overall happiness and well-being. In fact, contrary to what many people believe, spending a great deal of time in passive leisure activities is more likely to lead to boredom and dissatisfaction

NECESSARY CONDITIONS FOR FLOW

It’s possible to experience flow in almost any activity, provided the activity involves the synthesis of challenge and skill. According to Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who first introduced the concept in the 1960s, three of the primary conditions necessary for flow to occur are: (1) having a clear goal; (2) receiving direct and immediate feedback about progress toward that goal; and (3) achieving the correct balance between challenge and skill. The goal needs to be challenging but manageable, and very clearly defined. Since flow involves intense focus, it’s best to eliminate unnecessary distractions (e.g. cell phones, etc.) when you are taking on a challenge.

FINDING FLOW IS ABOUT FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE BETWEEN ANXIETY AND BOREDOM

Flow is especially gratifying when both the challenge and the skill level are high. However, if the challenge is too high relative the skill level, the activity will cause stress and anxiety. And, if the challenge is too low, it will lead to boredom. Flow can be found in the area that lies between anxiety and boredom.  For challenges that are too difficult, flow can be achieved by: (1) breaking the task into smaller, more manageable steps; and/or (2) by seeking training or assistance to help obtain the requisite skills. When the task is too simple, the way to achieve flow is to increase the complexity of the challenge by developing new and more interesting ways of approaching the task.

SOME SIMPLE WAYS TO GET MORE FLOW INTO YOUR LIFE

IDENTIFY YOUR PREFERRED FLOW ACTIVITIES: Based on the descriptions above, try to identify activities where you’ve experienced flow. Make a list of those activities, and make an effort to do them more often. If you find yourself becoming bored with an activity, you can increase the level of challenge so that you will be able to continue to experience flow. But, don’t increase the level of challenge too much, or it will cause you anxiety. When you find the right balance between boredom and anxiety, the activity should be quite enjoyable and you are likely to be in a flow state.

DEVELOP STRATEGIES FOR EXPERIENCING FLOW IN ROUTINE TASKS: When you have to do mundane, boring tasks (e.g. cleaning) you can generate a flow experience by simply incorporating an achievable challenge into the activity. In order to stay interested in the activity, the challenge should be slightly out of reach, so that you are always pursuing a manageable goal. For example, if you are cleaning and you wish to experience flow, you can challenge yourself to do the cleaning faster, or in a different manner than usual, such as using your non-dominant hand. If you are waiting for a bus or a doctor appointment, try setting a goal that you can work on while you wait, such as seeing how many words you can think of that begin with a particular letter.

SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS ON FLOW

The research on what facilitates flow has important implications for use of leisure time in general, and for people heading into retirement in particular. At a minimum, it suggests a need to add variety, challenge, and ideally meaning to leisure activities, especially if you are no longer working at a job.  Since studies have found that it’s rare for people to adopt new interests in retirement, it’s helpful to establish flow-inducing interests and activities before retirement, whenever possible.  But, if you’re in retirement and you haven’t yet established any flow-inducing hobbies, it’s never too late to make a point of identifying some and adding them to your life. In fact, no matter where you are in your life trajectory, finding ways to integrate healthy flow activities into your life is an easily accessible and powerful way to increase your happiness and well-being.

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS

Achor, S. (2013-09-10). Before happiness: The 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Colman, J. (2012-10-16). Optimal functioning: A positive psychology handbook. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Csikszentmihalyi, I. S. (Eds.). A life worth living: Contributions to positive psychology. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.). [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Goleman, Daniel (2011-04-12). The brain and emotional intelligence: New insights. More Than Sound LLC. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Goleman, Daniel (2013-10-08). Focus: The hidden driver of excellence. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Kotler, S. (2014-03-04). The rise of superman: Decoding the science of ultimate human performance. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

McGonigal, Kelly (2015-05-05). The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002-10-02). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

 

Happiness & Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                                       Happiness & Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                      Happiness & Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                                 Happiness & Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring                                                                                        Happiness & Well-Being, Part 8: Positive Reminiscence                                                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 9: Mindfulness                                                                                     Happiness & Well-Being, Part 10: Mindfulness II

 

PROCRASTINATION TIPS

TIPS TO STOP PROCRASTINATING

Do you tend to put off some of the things you need to get done? Most of us do, at least some of the time. Yet, we all know that putting things off doesn’t make them go away.  To  push  past  your  desire to procrastinate, try some of these tips:

  1. Stop badgering yourself. Many times people are their own worst critics. But mentally berating yourself only drives you deeper into guilt instead of spurring you to action. In fact, it’s been found that self-compassion actually helps to motivate people more than self-blame.
  2. Since we need to exert a certain amount of self-control to get ourselves to do things that we don’t want to do, keep in mind what we’ve learned in recent years about how to develop more self-control:  self-control, like a muscle, gets stronger with practice. So, the more you practice self-control, the less you will have to struggle to push past procrastination. At the same time, you don’t want to overdo it because your self-control “muscle” needs time to rest and recharge.
  3. Ask yourself what’s blocking you from doing what you need to do and then figure out how to address the issue that’s getting in your way. It could be that the task too big and you need to break it into smaller steps. Maybe you find the task boring and you need to develop a way to make it more interesting. Perhaps you need to get more organized before you can begin working on the task. Possibly you simply need to rest and allow your self-control “muscle” to recharge. Whatever your reason for procrastinating, approach the task in a way that will enable you to address your specific concern and move toward accomplishing your goal.
  4. Remind yourself of times in the past when you’ve successfully accomplished your goals, and think about what strategies were helpful in those situations. Try to apply those lessons now.
  5. If past experience indicates that a particular task is likely to be very difficult for you to accomplish, it may be helpful to  seek out additional information, learn new skills, or look for assistance. Don’t allow negative thoughts about the past to determine your present.
  6. Make a list of your reasons for wanting to accomplish this task. Write down: (1) how you will benefit by doing this; (2) how you imagine it will feel to have it finished; and (3) what negative things will happen if you don’t get this done.
  7. Go public with your goal, and have others hold you accountable. This has been shown to be a very helpful strategy for accomplishing goals.
  8. Eliminate temptations and distractions that can take your attention away from your task, such as the computer, TV, phone, etc. Instead, use those temptations as a reward for meeting the smaller goals you set.
  9. If you are truly struggling to get started, try to take just a small step. Doing even a small amount of the task can dramatically increase the likelihood that you will finish. The small amount you work on doesn’t even have to be the first step in the process either; it’s fine to skip ahead to a part that is less difficult for you to accomplish.

Finally, once you finish the job, think about what you helped you succeed and how you can apply that lesson in the future. And, be sure to take time to recognize your efforts and accomplishments.

UNLOCKING YOUR POTENTIAL

© mcarrel (www.canstockphoto.com)

THE KEY TO UNLOCKING YOUR POTENTIAL by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.

As we head into 2016, many of us think about how we didn’t accomplish some of our  goals in the past, and we wonder if things will be different this year. If this sounds like you, there is some really good news:  we now know that there’s a key  for unlocking your potential, and it’s something that anyone can learn how to do.  Studies have found that the  key to success  is to develop a growth mindset.

In order to develop a growth mindset, you will need to change how you think about yourself, your abilities and your potential. If you tend to believe that your intelligence, aptitude, or any other aspect of yourself is set in stone, then you probably believe that you can’t improve significantly no matter what you do. If you have this type of “fixed mindset,” you might brood over what you see as your shortcomings, and you may feel defeated in the face of setbacks and obstacles. Consequently, having a fixed mindset makes it more likely that you will give up on your goals and dreams.

© yandscreators (www.canstockphoto.com)

Ironically, it turns out that to succeed,  it’s very important to give yourself permission to make mistakes and even to fail. Still more intriguing, studies have found that people who do give themselves permission to make mistakes are much less likely to end up actually making them. When you take on a challenge or begin something new, you should expect that you will make errors. Not only are mistakes acceptable, but they may be necessary to your ultimate success.

Instead of trying to do things well from the start, if you put your focus on learning and improving, you are less likely to feel anxious, overwhelmed or defeated. So, when you are working on something new, remind yourself that it will take time for you to get really comfortable with it, and that you will inevitably make mistakes along the way. When you do make mistakes, or encounter a setback, instead of putting yourself down, add the word “yet” to any negative things you are tempted to say to yourself. For example, “I’m not able to do this yet,” or “I don’t understand this yet.” Rather than trying to prove to yourself and others that you are smart enough, talented enough, or good enough, try to view the process of pursuing goals as an opportunity to learn new things and develop new skills.

If you run into difficulty while you are pursuing your goals, give yourself permission to ask for assistance. Rather than comparing yourself with others, focus attention on how you’re improving. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for what you have accomplished in the past (see “Stepping Stones to Success”). Remember to also give yourself credit for the things that go well now as you pursue your goals, including each small accomplishment along the way. (And, by the way, that includes giving yourself credit when you’re able tolerate making mistakes or when you’re willing to ask for help!)  Here’s to your growth and success in 2016 and beyond!

© michaklootwijk (www.canstockphoto.com)

 

If you want more information about cultivating a growth mindset,  you can take a         look at: http://blog.turningpointlifecoaching.com/developing-a-growth-mindset/

or you can read:                                                                                                                               Dweck, C. (2006) Mindset: The new psychology of success. NY: Balantine Books,

                                                             Stepping Stones to Success

As the new year approaches, you may be thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you hope to improve your life by  eliminating unhelpful habits and/or by establishing  new positive  habits.  While contemplating what you want to do in the coming year, you might find yourself thinking about resolutions you made but didn’t keep during the past year. Keep in mind that if you only focus on what you didn’t accomplish this past year,  you can end up feeling like you’re not good enough and you may even feel  like a failure.

Beginning a new year with a defeated mindset will only make it that much harder to reach new goals. Instead, focus on what worked well for you this past year and what you achieved. Then lay down more stepping stones.

A good place to begin is with a sense of gratitude. Ask yourself what has blessed your life: health, loving friends, a comfortable home, special family members, employment — you fill in the blank. Also, try to think about your blessings in context. Maybe your job doesn’t pay as much as you’d like, but you find your work fulfilling. Perhaps you’ve experienced some health struggles, but you feel good about the way you handled those challenges. You may not have tons of friends, but the ones you have are truly special. Your family may not live nearby, but you love each other and keep in touch regularly. Take some time to really savor these good things in your life.

canstockphoto29626029Focus as well on giving yourself credit for your own successes, large and small. Even if you didn’t meet all your goals this year,  it’s important to recognize and celebrate the things you did accomplish, and, give some thought to how you contributed to those accomplishments. Of the things you tried to accomplish, what went well?

Next, consider how you can build upon your blessings and your successes. Maybe you want to develop new ways to support your health, such as learning how to make healthy food choices that are also tasty, finding enjoyable ways to increase your activity level, and so forth.  Perhaps you can deepen your relationships by showing your appreciation to your friends and family.  Maybe you can make your work more satisfying by performing random acts of kindness at the office (who left that cookie tray in the break room?), or by finding creative ways to make the work more interesting. Whatever your goals now, you can consider how to develop new strategies, but you can also build upon elements of the strategies you’ve used before that worked well. No matter what you want to do, you can use the blessings and successes from this year to inspire and encourage yourself.

canstockphoto21501545Lastly, set reasonable, incremental goals. Think about your larger goals, and then break them down into smaller steps so you can experience a series of successes on the way to achieving the overall goal. For example, if you decide you want to develop a new exercise routine, but you haven’t exercised regularly in a long time, you can try to begin by walking 20 to 30 minutes 3 times a week, rather than trying to run for an hour daily. Then you can gradually  increase the amount you exercise, if that’s your larger goal. Remember to keep track of your progress, so you will be able to recognize what you are accomplishing and give yourself the credit you deserve.

The same applies to any resolution you set: use small, achievable goals towards your ultimate goals. As you reach your smaller goals, acknowledge and celebrate each accomplishment. You’ve earned it!

 

As you consider how you would like to build on your blessings and successes in the new year, keep in mind that…

       TURNING POINT LIFE COACHING CAN HELP YOU TO CREATE THE LIFE YOU WANT.     

                    SINCE COACHING IS EASILY DONE OVER THE PHONE, YOU CAN  RECEIVE A                                                                  COMPLIMENTARY COACHING CONSULTATION                                                        NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE             

                                                                             

                                                          

For more ideas about developing a “What Went Well” perspective as the new year approaches, you can also check out http://www.tworiverscoaching.com/blog/end-of-the-year-inspiration

MINDFULNESS II

silhouette composta da colori che medita

More Simple Ways To Practice Mindfulness                                                 [Happiness and Well-Being, Part 10] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.

“Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

A Review Of The Basics: As we discussed last time (Happiness and Well-Being, Part 9), mindfulness meditation is a specific way of paying close attention to moment-to-moment experience, without judging or trying to alter the experience in any way. Mindfulness skills take time to develop, and when first learning mindfulness, expect your mind to wander a significant portion of the time. But, with practice your concentration will improve.

Begin a mindfulness meditation by selecting an object for focus, such as concentrating on the sensations in your nose or your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Once you have established concentration, you can begin to widen your focus to include your sensations, thoughts and/or emotions. As you do this, you may find yourself noticing things that you might ordinarily overlook. The goal is to notice them without judging, accepting or rejecting them: just acknowledge your experiences with an attitude of curiosity, and then allow them to pass. As you practice mindfulness meditation, you may begin to recognize that all thoughts, emotions and sensations are temporary. While meditating, if you find yourself latching onto particular experiences, or thinking about the past or future, you can return to the present moment by once again focusing on your breathing.

SOME SPECIFIC APPROACHES TO PRACTICING BASIC MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

Body Scan: This approach to mindfulness practice involves simply noticing the sensations in different areas of your body.  Begin at the top of your head, and slowly and methodically work your way down to your toes. Notice the sensations in each area as you scan, and just allow those sensations to pass. Do not attempt to relax or tense your muscles. If you are drawn to scratch an itch or shift position to get more comfortable, try instead to just notice it and let the sensation pass. The goal is to become more aware and accepting of your experience, not to change it.

Attending to External Stimuli: Anything you can perceive may be used as a platform for mindfulness meditation. As with other approaches to mindfulness, try to simply notice your sensations with an attitude of curiosity, and then allow them to pass. You can focus on any of external stimuli impacting your senses, or you can choose to concentrate on one specific type of sensation. Practicing mindfulness of external stimuli can help you to become less reactive to them.

Awareness of Emotions: In this type of practice, you simply notice and name your emotions, allowing them to pass without judgment. Part of the purpose of doing this is to begin to recognize that emotions – even painful emotions – come and go, and don’t last forever. When choosing mental events as the object of meditation, resist the temptation to analyze your thoughts and feelings. By building your capacity to notice and experience thoughts and feelings as they come and go, you can diminish your reactivity and enhance your ability to tolerate difficult experiences and painful emotions.

Cultivating The Skill Of Nonjudgmental Awareness: Sometimes people find the goal of nonjudgmental awareness to be elusive because self-judgment can be a deeply ingrained habit. If you find it difficult to suspend self-judgment during meditation, here are a few strategies that can help:

Meditating on self-judgment: Begin by focusing on your breath for a few minutes. Then shift your focus to watching your thoughts, and whenever you notice a judgmental thought, just silently say “judging,” and then return to watching your thoughts.

Loving-kindness meditation: This approach also begins by focusing on the breath,  and then shifts to silently repeating a mantra such as “may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free from suffering,” or “may I accept whatever comes,” and/or other similar mantras. After you get comfortable with directing a loving-kindness meditation toward yourself, you can then expand it to include others.

Using imagery: Another way to avoid latching onto judgmental thoughts during mindfulness meditation is to utilize “letting go” imagery. Begin by focusing on your breath, and then widen your focus to include your thoughts. As you begin to focus on your thoughts, instead of simply noticing them, imagine that your thoughts are bubbles in a stream and watch as they appear and disappear. (Any visual metaphor that similarly depicts the concept of impermanence can be substituted.)

The forgoing techniques are just a small sampling of some basic ways to begin to practice mindfulness meditation. Since these descriptions are necessarily very succinct, you may wish to get more detailed descriptions of these strategies by looking at one or more of the suggested readings below. In addition, if you want to more fully experience the large array of benefits that mindfulness meditation can bring, you will need to learn more about it by either taking classes, finding a mentor, and/or seeking out additional resources on the topic. You can also download guided meditations from the web (e.g. http://www.mindfulness-solution.com/DownloadMeditations.html).  No matter how you choose to learn about mindfulness meditation, if you are willing to make a commitment, invest time and energy, and practice on a regular basis, mindfulness can have a powerful positive impact on your happiness and well-being.

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS
Boyce, B. (Ed.) (2011-03-08). The mindfulness revolution: Leading psychologists, scientists, artists, and meditation teachers on the power of mindfulness in daily life. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Hanh, T. N. (1991). Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Hanh, T. N. (2012-02-07). The art of mindfulness. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Goleman, Daniel (2011-04-12). The brain and emotional intelligence: New insights. More Than Sound LLC. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990) Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012 ) Mindfulness for beginners: Reclaiming the present moment and your life. Boulder, CO.: Sounds True, Inc.

Mingyur Rinpoche, Yongey (2007). The joy of living: Unlocking the secret and science of happiness. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Siegel, R. D. (2009) The mindfulness solution: Everyday practices for everyday problems. Guilford Publications [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

 

If you haven’t yet read the nine previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness & Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                                       Happiness & Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness & Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                      Happiness & Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                                 Happiness & Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring                                                                                        Happiness & Well-Being, Part 8: Positive Reminiscence                                                               Happiness & Well-Being, Part 9: Mindfulness

 

“More Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness Meditation” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

THE LESS-STRESSED HOLIDAY

Why do we often feel so stressed during the holiday season? Part of the reason is the busyness. So, try these tips for reducing your schedule-induced stress this season.

Say no. You don’t have to participate in every activity, party and event. Select the ones most important to you and graciously decline the rest.

Focus on the holiday traditions most important to you. Is it baking special treats, discovering amazing gifts, or decorating the house to the nines? Pick one and reduce your efforts on the others. No one can do it all, so don’t expect it of yourself. Even those who seem to “have it all together” frequently delegate or take shortcuts. You can, too, even if for just this year.

TIPS FOR ENTERTAINING: Instead of baking cookies for hours, use pre-made dough or make bar cookies to frost festively. Consider baking a double batch and trading half with a friend to offer greater variety to your family and guests. Host the family gathering at a restaurant or make it potluck to reduce cooking time. If these aren’t options, simplify the menu for your big meal and use more pre-made items.

SHOPPING TIPS: Avoid the harried shopping scene by giving gift cards or shopping online.  Send electronic greetings instead of paper cards.  

DECORATING TIPS: Try some different approaches to decorating this year. If you typically spend hours outlining the house in lights, try skipping it this year. Instead you can go for big visual appeal by, for example, illuminating a large wreath on the side of your house with a spotlight. Or, you can concentrate on the front door, most visitors’ focal point, with a grouping of small, pre-lit trees on the porch or other festive touch. Don’t hang every ornament or set out every piece of decor. Some items can wait a year. Use only the things that mean the most to you and your family.

SELF-CARE TIPS:  Cutting corners in your self-care regular routine results in more stress. Instead, take care of your physical, mental and spiritual by dropping the less important holiday traditions. You function better when you rest sufficiently, exercise and eat right. Schedule time to regularly unwind, doing something you enjoy. Continue to participate in spiritually enriching activities you normally enjoy.

The real joy of the season isn’t about doing more, buying more or even giving more, but appreciating more. Set aside moments to reflect on the blessings of the past year. It’s OK to acknowledge the difficult moments, but try to focus on how they have helped you grow.

Here’s hoping that you have less-stressed happy holiday season this year!

 

 

 

 

 

Share any comments or other tips you may have below: