MINDFULNESS

[Happiness and Well-Being, Part 9] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.

“Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake.” – William James

  • Do you sometimes find that you haven’t really been paying attention to what you’ve been doing, and have instead been running on autopilot?
  • As you’ve gotten older, do you sometimes find it more challenging to maintain focus on things you’re doing?

Sometimes we simply don’t pay attention to what we’re doing in the moment. Perhaps we’re multitasking, or lost in thought about something that’s not even related to what we’re actually doing. And, when driving a car, most of us have had the rather unnerving experience of suddenly realizing that we can’t recall how we got from one place to the other. An alternative to this probably familiar ‘mindless’ state is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a specific way of paying close attention to your moment-to-moment experience, without judging or trying to alter the experience in any way. There are different approaches to practicing mindfulness, but all are essentially a form of meditation.

Research has shown that mindfulness meditation is associated with many physical and emotional benefits: it supports the immune system and helps people with a variety of medical and psychiatric disorders, including heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic pain, sleep disturbance, gastrointestinal problems, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and stress-related issues. Learning to simply observe experiences and thoughts without forcing, judging, accepting or rejecting them, has been found to diminish their ability to provoke automatic, potentially destructive emotional and physical reactions. In other words, mindfulness reduces emotional reactivity and breaks the usual connection between negative thoughts and negative emotions.

Brain imagining studies have found that regularly practicing mindfulness changes the brain in ways that promote happiness and well-being. These studies have shown that mindfulness leads to an increase in the number of neurons in areas of the brain involved in attention, concentration, self-regulation, positive emotion, and the creation of new memories. Mindfulness meditation appears to increase the speed capacity of nerve impulses too. Studies have also found that mindfulness leads to a decrease of neurons in the area of the brain most reactive to stress. These important brain changes undoubtedly underlie the many medical and psychiatric benefits associated with regular mindfulness practice.

It is also worth noting that regularly practicing mindfulness has been shown to protect against changes in cognitive functioning that are sometimes associated with normal aging. Older meditators have been found to perform better than same age non-meditators on tasks that involve attention, working memory, perceptual speed and some of the other higher level cognitive functions that help to organize and order behavior. Studies have also shown that it is never too late to reap the benefits of a regular mindfulness practice: when beginners received only 8 weeks of basic meditation training, they began showing some of the same brain benefits that were found in the experienced meditators.

INTRODUCING MINDFULNESS INTO YOUR LIFE
Mindfulness can be practiced formally or informally. Formal practice involves regularly setting aside time to practice mindfulness meditation. The general recommendation for developing a formal practice is to begin with brief periods of meditation, and then gradually increase the duration as you strengthen your ability to maintain a mindful state.  The more you practice, the greater the benefits you will experience over time. If possible, beginners may wish to aim for 20 minutes a day of formal practice, and over time increase the duration of practice to 45 minutes.  But, even if you are only able to devote smaller amounts of time to practice, you will still experience some benefits.

Concentration Practices:  The first step is to learn to increase your capacity for concentration (also called “concentration practices”). There are a variety of possible concentration practices, but the simplest involves merely focusing on the sensation created in your nose or your abdomen when you inhale and exhale. When using your breathing to help develop your concentration, it is not necessary to breathe deeply, or to change your breathing pattern in any way. Just breathe naturally and focus your attention on how it feels. This exercise may seem very simple, but it is much more challenging than you might expect. As you try to maintain focus on your breath, your mind will undoubtedly wander; when you notice this has occurred, simply bring your attention back to your breathing, without judging yourself for becoming distracted.  Some people find it easier to maintain focus if they silently name what they’re doing (e.g. “breathing in,” “breathing out”), or if they silently count their breaths. Developing the ability to remain focused during meditation is a learning process that takes time, patience and a lot of practice.

Informal Practices: Whether or not you choose to develop a regular formal mindfulness practice, it’s important to recognize that virtually anything you do can potentially be done mindfully instead of mindlessly. It’s a matter of putting energy into developing the habit of paying attention. Pick a few activities that are a regular part of your life, and make a decision to do them mindfully all the time. In this way, you can start to associate the activity with being mindful, which will increase the chances that you’ll remember to pay attention when you engage in those activities. As an example, you can wash the dishes mindfully, you can shower mindfully, you can eat mindfully, you can walk up and down the stairs mindfully, you can go for a walk mindfully, etc. Instead of thinking about other things while you engage in the activities you select, focus exclusively on remembering to pay close attention to the sensations and actions involved in what you are doing. You will, in a sense, be “single-tasking.”

NEXT TIME:  More on mindfulness, including additional ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life.

Audrey Berger, Ph.D. has been a life coach, psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. In her life coaching practice she specializes in mid and later life transitions such as retirement, empty nest, midlife transition, positive aging in general, and creating a new life after divorce/loss. She also works with an array of other life issues and goals, including helping couples to create the relationship they want. You can learn more about her life coaching services, and find out about receiving a complimentary coaching consultation, at www.turningpointlifecoaching.com. Audrey can be reached at: info@turningpointlifecoaching.com or at (585)292-0095.

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.

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 eight previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can 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                                                                Happiness and Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                          Happiness and Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                         Happiness and Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring                                                                                        Happiness and Well-Being, Part 8: Positive Reminiscence

 

“Mindfulness” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

POSITIVE REMINISCENCE

[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 8]  by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.                                                                                                      “Pleasure is the flower that passes; remembrance, the lasting perfume.” ~ Jean de Boufflers  Have you ever noticed how much happiness you can experience by simply thinking about a special memory in your life?  Many studies have found that savoring positive memories is a powerful way to promote and strengthen positive feelings in the present, especially for older adults. Positive memories can bring us joy, and they can even help us to cope with, and recover from, some of the difficulties that we all encounter in life. Fortunately, no matter what challenges we currently face in our lives, we all have within us the ability to transport ourselves to another time and place.

Research has shown that by recalling times when we felt truly happy, we are able to experience those same feelings again – sometimes even with the same intensity that we felt during the original event. Possibly because positive reminiscence is a relatively simple and accessible way to promote happiness in the moment, some studies that have found that the more time people spend remembering positive events from the past, the more they tend to enjoy the present. Some researchers have even been reported that positive reminiscence contributes to increased self-esteem and greater optimism about the future.

A number of studies have identified some things that can help to fine-tune the process of positive reminiscence. Taking mental snapshots of positive events as they occur, and memorizing the details, facilitates future recall of your happy experiences; as pleasurable as it can be to collect and save memorabilia, it turns out that simply bringing positive memories to mind is a more effective way to promote happiness. Also, when engaging in positive reminiscence, it is best to stay emotion-focused, since analyzing positive emotions has been shown to detract from the experience.

 Although remembering happy times doesn’t require any special strategies, there are a number of structured positive reminiscence activities that are worth your consideration. Over and above the fact that these activities can be quite enjoyable, they can also help to strengthen your brain wiring for positive emotions, enhance your resilience, and facilitate your overall happiness and well-being.

POSITIVE REMINISCENCE ACTIVITIES

Make a list of your happy memories: This list can include both special events from your life as well as any generally happy experience you are able to recall. Set aside time to select and recall the individual items on your list, and in each instance, bring to mind as many details as you can. Immerse yourself in the memory, and pay close attention to the feelings you experience.

Share Memories: Research has found that reminiscing with others about a shared memory is especially likely to evoke strong positive emotions (e.g. joy, accomplishment, amusement, contentment and pride), particularly as we get older. This can, of course, be done informally, but there is also a more formal approach that you can try. In the structured version of this activity, you and a friend each make a list of 3 -5 of your own happiest experiences. Then take turns sharing those memories with one another. As you describe a specific memory, include the following details: where you were; what was happening; what you were doing; who else was there; what made it such a memorable and positive experience; how you felt at the time; and how you feel now as you recall it. Try to really picture the experience and savor the memories. When you are the listener, help your partner savor their memories by paying close attention and asking questions that will help to enrich the experience for them.

Work with specific positive emotions: Instead of making a list of positive memories, you can begin by working with specific positive emotions. For this activity, choose a specific positive emotion, and then generate a list of times when you remember experiencing that emotion. Think of as many instances as you can, and for each instance, include as many details as you can recall. Your positive emotions portfolio can evolve over time, as you remember more experiences, and as you have new experiences that you would like to remember later.

If you have chosen to focus on one specific emotion for this positive reminiscence strategy, consider repeating it for a variety of positive emotions. If you proceed in this manner, you can then create resource boxes (or, if you prefer, computer folders) for different positive emotions. Linger over the process of creating these boxes/folders and use it as an opportunity to really savor each emotion and the associated memories. In each box or computer folder, include anything that can serve as a trigger for a particular positive emotion: photos, songs, written descriptions, letters, etc. Savor new positive experiences as well, and then integrate descriptions, photos or other mementos of these new experiences into the resource box/folder you created for the associated emotion. After a while you will have a wonderful array of resources for different positive emotions, which will be available to you whenever you wish.

Accomplishment Savoring – Think back over the years of your life, and make a list of things you’ve achieved. To facilitate recall of your achievements, it may help to generate a separate list of your achievements for each decade of your life. Include both large and small achievements. Include items that are meaningful to you, regardless of whether they would be seen the same way by others. What makes you proud of this accomplishment? What positive feelings do you have now, looking back on it? Who else was involved? What setbacks or challenges did you have to overcome? What skills and abilities did you use?

 Next time: MINDFULNESS

 

Audrey Berger, Ph.D. has been a life coach, psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. In her life coaching practice she specializes in mid and later life transitions such as retirement, empty nest, midlife transition, positive aging in general, and creating a new life after divorce/loss. She also works with an array of other life issues and goals, including helping couples to create the relationship they want. You can learn more about her life coaching services, and find out about receiving a complimentary coaching consultation, at www.turningpointlifecoaching.com. Audrey can be reached at: info@turningpointlifecoaching.com or at (585)292-0095.

 REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS

Biswas-Diener; Diener, Ed (2010-01-22). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Kindle Edition. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Bryant, F. B. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Cohen, G. D. (2008-07-31). The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Cozolino, L. (2008). The healthy aging brain: Sustaining attachment, attaining wisdom. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.

Fredrickson, B. (2009-01-27). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. [Kindle Edition]

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. [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

 If you haven’t yet read the seven previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can 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                                                                Happiness and Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                          Happiness and Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                         Happiness and Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring

“Positive Reminiscence” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

SAVORING

[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 7]

“Enjoy the little things in life…for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.” ~ Robert Brault
  • Do you frequently find yourself multitasking, or rushing around trying to get everything done?
  • Do you spend a lot of time using your computer, tablet, or cell phone, or watching TV?

It’s important for each of us to take the time to slow down, turn off the technology, and allow ourselves to just enjoy the moment; we can help ourselves to do this by learning how to savor our positive experiences. Savoring the things we enjoy increases the pleasure we experience in the present moment. It also strengthens the brain wiring underlying our positive emotions, helps us to better manage stress, and promotes our overall happiness and well-being (see Happiness and Well-Being, part 3).

LEARNING TO SAVOR LIFE’S JOYS

Paying close attention to your senses, and to the experience of pleasure, is the key to savoring.  To savor life’s joys, you need to actively allow yourself to bring about, appreciate, enhance and prolong your positive experiences, without guilt or feeling like you’re wasting time. Even if you already make a point of savoring special moments in your life, you can derive further benefit by also savoring positive things that you experience more regularly: the beauty around you; the music, sensations or tastes that you love; time spent with family or friends; and so forth.  When you are savoring something, try not to analyze the experience, since that will diminish your pleasure. Instead, simply focus your attention on enjoying the experience.

Although savoring is a process that increases your pleasure in the present moment, the situation that you’re savoring doesn’t have to be occurring in the here and now: you can bring joy into the present moment by savoring the memory of a positive past experience, or by savoring the anticipation of a positive future event. Studies have found that each type of savoring is associated with unique benefits: people who are good at savoring positive experiences occurring in the present moment tend to show less susceptibility to guilt, shame and depressive feelings; those who are skilled at savoring memories of positive past experiences show reduced susceptibility to stress; and those who are adept at savoring the anticipation of positive future events show an increased level of optimism.

If you don’t naturally savor what’s positive in your life, it’s a habit that can be easily developed and incorporated into almost any lifestyle. What follows are some specific strategies that can help to promote savoring. Try out some of these approaches, and continue to use ones that you like. Adopting a variety of strategies will help to keep your experiences fresh and interesting.

Strategies that promote savoring:

Celebration – When you have worked hard for something or accomplished a goal, take time to really appreciate and celebrate your success. Do something special for yourself. You can involve others in this activity as well.

Sharpening perceptions – Focus on specific elements of your experience and block out other elements. For example, if you are eating a piece of chocolate, rather than eating it quickly without thinking as we often tend to do, slow down and really focus on the sensation. Put the chocolate in your mouth, close your eyes, feel of the chocolate on your tongue, and delight in the taste.

Absorption – Allow yourself to get totally immersed in an experience, and try not to think. Don’t think about other things you should be doing or focus on the ways in which the experience could be improved.

Memory-building Studies have found that happier people have a habit of taking a mental snapshots of successes and positive experiences as they occur. By paying attention to the details and memorizing vivid images, it becomes easier to recall and enjoy the experiences later on. You can also build memories by taking actual photographs, or by journaling about an enjoyable event. Whether you use mental snapshots or physical keepsakes, this process allows you to more easily reminisce about it later and re-experience some of the pleasure you felt when it happened. [Next time we will further discuss the topic of savoring positive memories.]

Gratitude Journal (Counting Your Blessings) Experiencing and expressing gratitude can be seen as a form of savoring, because you are recognizing the blessings in things that can otherwise be taken for granted. Gratitude can be about either significant or mundane things in your daily life, or it can be about the powerful emotional gifts you receive from connections with other people. The topic of gratitude has been the focus of a great deal of research in recent years, and there is simply no question that practicing gratitude can significantly contribute to happiness and well-being. A very useful gratitude activity is the gratitude journal.

A gratitude journal involves writing down three to five things in your life for which you are currently grateful. Lyubormirksy (2007) has found that the best frequency for keeping a gratitude journal is once a week. However, other people might get better results with different frequencies for journaling – anywhere from daily to bi-weekly, so choose whatever frequency works best for you. Other gratitude journaling strategies include: writing more detail about one specific thing or writing about what your life would be like without some of the blessings you have. Of course, you can try a mix of all these strategies.

Next Month: POSITIVE REMINISCENCE                                    

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS

Biswas-Diener, R. & Dean, B. (2009-05-18). Positive psychology coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Biswas-Diener, R. & Diener, E. (2010-01-22). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Bryant, F. B. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

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

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want. [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

 If you haven’t yet read the six previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can 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                                                                Happiness and Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                          Happiness and Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset

“Savoring” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

DEVELOPING A GROWTH MINDSET

[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 6] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.

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

  • Does fear of failure sometimes prevent you from doing things you want to do?
  • Do you sometimes focus a lot of your energy on trying to prove yourself?
  • When you experience a setback or failure, are you likely to give up and conclude that you lack the ability to reach your goal?

In recent years, psychologists have recognized that there are two very different mindsets that people can hold with regard to their own abilities:  a fixed mindset or a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). Those who have a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are set for life and tend to focus on proving themselves. Those who have a growth mindset recognize that their abilities can be enhanced through effort, so they focus on developing their abilities instead of trying to prove themselves. If you answered “yes” to one or more of the questions above, you may be approaching things with a fixed mindset.

Studies show that if you believe your abilities are fixed, you are less likely to take risks and more likely to avoid challenges, which can end up limiting your potential. On the other hand, if you believe you have the capacity to grow and improve, it can strengthen your willingness to take risks, accept challenges, and persist in the face of failure or rejection, which in turn can enhance your potential.

Fixed and growth mindsets can impact virtually any ability, including intelligence, academic performance, career achievements, physical abilities, etc. Having a fixed or growth mindset in one area does not necessarily mean you will have that same mindset with regard to all of your abilities; you may see yourself as capable of learning and growing in one area, but not in another.

HOW TO DEVELOP A GROWTH MINDSET

If you find yourself thinking that one or more of your abilities is fixed, try to remember that this belief is almost certainly incorrect. With sufficient effort, perseverance and planning, it is possible to grow and improve in a wide spectrum of areas. When you encounter a setback or failure, the strategies discussed in the article on Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism will help you to diminish your distress. But, if you focus only on helping yourself to feel better, and you give up on your goal because of the setback, you may end up unnecessarily limiting your potential. While it makes sense to let go of goals that don’t fit with what you really want in your life – or that are unreachable due to circumstances that are truly beyond your control – abandoning a goal because you don’t think you have the ability to succeed is almost certainly selling yourself short.

So, when you experience rejection or failure, first recognize that you most likely do have the ability to reach your goal (or some version of your goal), but that you might need to employ different strategies to get there. In the event that you really don’t have the ability at present, if the goal is really important to you, it may still be possible to develop that ability over time. The following ideas and strategies can help you to cultivate a growth mindset in virtually any area:

CATCH YOURSELF GROWING:  When you encounter a setback or failure, ask yourself “what did I do right/well in this situation,” “What have I learned from this setback?” and “What works, and what needs to be adjusted or eliminated?” These questions will help you manage the emotional impact of your setback, and help you to identify some new strategies you can use to reach your goal. And, don’t forget to give yourself credit for all your efforts – those that were successful, as well those that weren’t.

REWIRE YOUR BRAIN:  Imagine what it would be like to overcome the feeling that you lack the ability to achieve your goal, and visualize yourself knowing that you can. Come up with some things you can tell  yourself, to help yourself recognize and remember that with the right amount of effort, and some good strategies, you can do it. Write those things down, and review them every day until they become part of your mindset.

CAROL DWECK’S (2006) PROCESS FOR CULTIVATING A GROWTH MINDSET: (1) recognize that how you performed, or what you experienced in a given situation, doesn’t define you or your potential; (2) challenge any beliefs that your abilities are fixed; (3) remember that your purpose isn’t simply to reduce your distress, but to move forward toward your bigger goal; and (4) make a concrete plan for achieving your goal. Your plan may involve adjusting your approach or breaking the goal down into smaller pieces. The critical issue is to have a plan that is very specific and clear: what will you do, when will you do it, and where will you do it? Visualize the steps you will take, and then hold yourself accountable for implementing each step of your plan. If your efforts toward your goal are blocked or frustrated in some way, make another plan; this could even involve learning new skills or seeking help from others. Heidi Halvorson (2010) recommends that you also include the following component to your plan: identify obstacles you might encounter and clarify how you will address those obstacles. (See “The Trouble With New Year’s Resolutions” for more information on pursuing and accomplishing goals.)

As you work toward achieving your goal, you may find it helpful to take some inspiration from a great inventor:

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

Next Time: SAVORING (TAKING PLEASURE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT)

Audrey Berger, Ph.D. has been a life coach, psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. In her life coaching practice she specializes in mid and later life transitions such as retirement, empty nest, midlife transition, positive aging in general, and living well in the face of life challenges such as chronic illness or creating a new life after divorce/loss or breast cancer treatment. She also works with an array of other life issues and goals, including helping couples to create the relationship they want. Since coaching can readily take place on the phone, you can coach with Audrey no matter where you are located. To learn more about Audrey’s coaching services, and to arrange a complimentary coaching consultation, go to http://www.turningpointlifecoaching.com. Audrey can be reached by email at info@turningpointlifecoaching.com or by phone at (585) 292-0095.

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

Dweck, C.  (2006-02-28). Mindset: The new psychology of success. [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.

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.

Seligman, M. E. (2011-08-10). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life (Vintage). [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

                                          ————————————————————-

“Developing A Growth Mindset” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

If you haven’t yet read the five previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can 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                                                                Happiness and Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism

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.

CULTIVATING OPTIMISM

[Happiness and Well-Being, Part 4] by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.                          

A pessimist sees the difficulty in  every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty – Winston Churchill

Optimists and pessimists can be distinguished from each other by how they think in a certain areas of their lives: (1) the way they interpret and respond to any difficulties or setbacks they experience; and (2) whether they expect good or bad things to happen in the future. These differences in how optimists and pessimists think appear to significantly affect many other aspects of their lives. Studies have found that optimism is associated with increased happiness and well-being, and with greater success in a wide array of life arenas. When compared with pessimists, optimists tend to be healthier, and to have better health outcomes when they do get sick.  Studies have also shown that optimists display greater perseverance when they encounter obstacles, engage in more active and effective coping, are less likely to succumb to feelings of helplessness, and are more likely to achieve their goals.

Despite the many documented advantages of optimism, pessimistic thinking does have an important role to play in our lives. Our brains are wired to notice and respond to situations that are potentially threatening because it is crucial for our survival. When there is a real possibility of injury, serious illness, death, or significant loss, it is clearly adaptive to recognize it and take action to prevent or reduce the chances of a negative outcome. However, it is not helpful for people to think pessimistically when circumstances do not truly warrant it; such indiscriminate use of pessimistic thinking can actually have adverse consequences, including anxiety and an elevated risk of depression.

A perspective that manages to balance all these different factors is realistic optimism, which incorporates the ability to think pessimistically when necessary. Realistic optimists are able to recognize when they can have a significant impact on the course of events; they believe that good things will happen because they know that they will do what is needed for success. Realistic optimists also recognize when circumstances are not under their control, and they adjust their thinking and behavior accordingly.

Studies have demonstrated that everyone can learn the skills to cultivate realistic optimism. What follows are three activities that can assist you with developing some of those skills. The “What Went Diary” can foster your ability to perceive and appreciate the things that are positive in your life. This is particularly important for people who are inclined to minimize the positive and emphasize the negative. The “At Your Best” exercise can enable you to begin to recognize some of your strengths, and think about how you can use them in the future. The “Best Possible Self” diary can help you to clarify your hopes for the future and recognize your ability to make choices that will move you toward your goals.

STRATEGIES FOR CULTIVATING REALISTIC OPTIMISM

What Went Well Diary – To counteract a tendency to focus on the things that didn’t go well during the day, write down three things that went well that day, and why they went well. How did you contribute to things going well? The items you select needn’t be large things. Even small events are worth recalling and recognizing. You can add some variety to this activity by answering different questions at different times.  For example, you can think about what the things that went well mean to you, or how you can experience more of them in the future. You may also find it useful to periodically review what you’ve written before, in order to remind yourself of what went well in the past.

At Your BestWrite about a time when you acted in a way that you think reflects the best of who you are – either because you did something you feel good about, you were successful in some way, and/or you overcame some type of obstacle. It can be something recent or something that happened a long time ago. Of course, there may be many times that would fit this description, and you can do this activity for as many of them as you like. Review what you have written, and think about how you may have drawn on these strengths in other situations, and how you can use them as you go forward in your life.

Best Possible Self Diary – This exercise addresses your hopes for the future. It helps you to see the big picture and focuses you on what you want to accomplish in your life. It also helps you to recognize your ability to make choices that will lead you in the direction you desire, and it assists you in starting down that path. To do this exercise, sit in a quiet place, and take 20 – 30 minutes to think about what you want your life to be like 1, 5 or 10 years from now. Visualize a future for yourself in which everything has turned out the way you’ve wanted. You have tried your best, worked hard, and achieved your goals. Now write down what you imagine. To make this process even more powerful and productive, you can also visualize some of the steps you will need to take in order to achieve your goals.

**********
In the next article in this series (part 5), we will discuss strategies to help overcome unnecessary pessimism and self-critical beliefs, and in the subsequent article (part 6), we will cover the importance of a “growth mindset.” Taken together, the exercises and skills covered in these three articles help to establish a strong foundation for cultivating realistic optimism.

        **********

Audrey Berger, Ph.D. has been a life coach, psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. In her life coaching practice she specializes in mid and later life transitions such as retirement, empty nest, midlife transition, positive aging in general, and living well in the face of life challenges such as chronic illness or creating a new life after divorce/loss or breast cancer treatment. She also works with an array of other life issues and goals, including helping couples to create the relationship they want. Since coaching can readily take place on the phone, you can coach with Audrey no matter where you are located. To learn more about Audrey’s coaching services, and to arrange a complimentary coaching consultation, go to http://www.turningpointlifecoaching.com. Audrey can be reached by email at info@turningpointlifecoaching.com or by phone at (585) 292-0095.

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READING
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.

Biswas-Diener; Diener, Ed (2010-01-22). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. 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.

Seligman, M. E. (2011-08-10). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life (Vintage). [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011-04-05). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Cultivating Optimism” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website

Life With Chronic Illness

by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. – Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching

Life With Chronic Illness THE STRUGGLE

It challenges your sense of who you are and what you can do, your feelings of safety, your beliefs about what you can offer to others, and your hopes for the future. It lies in wait – often for years – and pounces at a time of its own choosing.  No matter when it appears, the timing is always bad. At first it often feels bewildering, leaving you wondering what it is, what to call it, how to understand it, and how to cope with it. And, even if you are finally able to give it a name, that doesn’t make it any less frightening or any more predictable.

Its impact on your day-to-day reality fluctuates. As its effect on your life ebbs and flows, waves of grief advance and recede again and again. It can steal so much of what you expected your life to be. It creates many unexpected challenges, and those challenges can create other challenges, in what may seem like a domino effect. There is no doubt that all human beings struggle at times, but it is the relentless and pervasive nature of these particular challenges and obstacles that distinguish them from many other life circumstances.

It is frequently invisible to everyone but you, making it difficult for people who know you to comprehend, and sometimes leaving you feeling like you are in this fight alone. It also separates you from others because you can’t plan your life in the same ways that they do. It is often hard to know how to move forward; because of how it can make life so unpredictable, sometimes it is difficult to even imagine what moving forward might look like.

This is life with chronic illness.

 THE PARADOX

No one is immune from sorrow triggered by the losses caused by chronic illness, but you can learn to ride the waves of grief. The irony of living with a chronic illness is that, for all it steals from you, it can also bestow some significant gifts. One of the most powerful paradoxes of chronic illness is the way that it can truly help you to develop a deep sense of gratitude. The on-going fluctuations in your life can actually enable you to recognize more clearly what is good in your life, which can help you to better focus on the very things that are known to contribute to emotional well-being.

It is also possible to find meaning in your struggle, and to develop a new or renewed sense of purpose in your life. It is possible to learn to persevere in the face of hardship and to develop more resilience and resourcefulness than you expected. But, in order for these things to occur, you have to decide that you want to find a better way forward. And, you have to refuse to be made helpless.

ANOTHER WAY FORWARD

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor E. Frankl

Give yourself compassion for your struggle and credit for your efforts. Reset your expectations, and reach for things that are more aligned with your current sense of purpose, capacities and circumstances. Feed your soul with things you love and that you are still able to do. Resist the temptation to compare your life with the lives of those who are healthy, which can only cause you deeper grief. Try instead to focus on what you do have, and on what you can accomplish and experience in your life. Recognize and celebrate the ways that you are able to triumph over your illness, and appreciate the times when you get a break from this battle. Reach out for other people – those who have similar struggles, and those who don’t. Give to others, and you will gain so much in return. And, never forget that the essence of who you are has nothing to do with chronic illness – you are so much more than your illness.

Has your life been changed by chronic illness? Share your experiences with others:

 What has been the most difficult challenge for you?                                                                              What have you learned about yourself from this experience?                                                               What has been helpful to you?

Will You Dance With Me?                                                            (Stratagems for navigating a life with a disease)

by Guest Blogger Alida Brill

8

Will I go back to life? Will I be captain again?
If you can go back to life, if you can keep on being the captain on board, then life is fantastic, then life is an adventure, your own and unique adventure. You dance with life, you dance with the Universe.

From Invisible by Hugues De Montalembert

Image from Will You Dance With Me The strategies and techniques I’ve used to manage chronic disease have changed through the years. Now, I’m often introspective and reflective –rely less on the advice and optimism of friends — more on what I’ve gleaned from experience. Sometimes my brain takes a trip and speeds down a dangerous highway without exit ramps. Then I activate internal navigation systems.  I have no desire to wander off into a disorienting maze of emotions.

Music of all types is a fundamental tool in my survival kit. Music reminds me it’s worth the effort to fight back; it’s an effective non-medical Rx. I’ve listened to Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites for hours. When fears begin to overwhelm me, I listen to those Suites transcribed for the Double Bass, recorded by the extraordinary artist Edgar Meyer. This C.D. was a gift from a friend who is a classical double bassist (as well as many other things). Absorbing the mournful but affirming sounds of the Double Bass is a soothing act of listening but carries significance beyond Bach.

Dance, especially ballet, also transports me. Ballerinas float and fly through their sequences. What they do is so difficult yet their rigorous training makes impossible movements appear natural. Ballet often makes writing seem a hobbled excuse for creativity. Deeply buried is the eager little girl I once was, devotedly taking ballet lessons. Ballet composes a spectacle of life suspended above and beyond reality. I felt that as a child when I saw my first productions of Swan Lake and then SleepingBeauty.

Chronic illness has been the architect of my internal navigational systems as much as upbringing, cultural heritage, relationships and travel. As an unwell person, every new day demands I take a leap of faith to go forward — both sacred and secular. When someone untouched by illness asks why I bother to go on, I deflect the question. I doubt any explanation would make sense to those who need to inquire. I have an unshakable faith in many things — enduring friendship, health professionals who care, the majesty of words, the healing power of unconditional love, intimacy, theater, dance, music, the prayerful act of reading literature and poetry with serious intent. And I have gratitude for the surprises I have received along the way and savored.

Finally, there’s my singular truth: I refuse to be deafened to the symphony of living by the noisy power of a mysterious disease.

I gave up the quest for a simple and clean diagnosis years ago. I stopped dreaming about fleeting remissions. As I maneuver through it all, I search for new avenues toward grace and peace. My goal is to live, not just cope or survive. I’ve observed the world through a prism of illness. But I have retained images from times when disease has taken leave of me. Together they form a collage of experiences –people, places, dreams, stories, and visions.

I’ve seen courageous behavior in other patients, and in their loved ones and friends. For decades I’ve observed the concern and commitment present among members of the nursing profession. I’ve seen men and women who choose to triumph in their lives, even if they’ll never defeat disability or illness. I’ve been moved by acts of unexpected compassion. It’s not easy to accept a condition that won’t go away and that resides inside someone you love. Those who face down disease and disability with us, instead of abandoning or avoiding us, are my true heroes. Everyone is faced with challenges and disappointments. We develop systems of stable navigation to stay afloat. In better moments we conquer obstacles. I’ve learned to accept pain, and to welcome pleasure, to take delight in the day-to-day explorations of mind, time and place (even if only remembered or imaginary travels).

Remission occurs when disease disappears, as it sometimes does for shorter or longer periods. My remissions have become infrequent. I once called them vacations, now I call them interludes. Interludes don’t qualify as full remissions but do provide a respite from the awareness of disease. Interludes evoke perceptions and emotions distinct from those when I observe the world wearing a patient’s spectacles. However, times of wellness and of illness are equal truths in one valid existence – they’re not unrelated entities. They’ve had to become partners to create one whole life. It’s been worth the effort to sustain – this life has brought me to places of courage I couldn’t imagine I would find. It’s also brought tremendous disappointments, somehow survived. I’ve been granted often-renewed hope for the future, albeit with realistic parameters.

I retain a stubborn happiness about the hard job I call living each day, which appears to be as relentless a force inside me as disease.

Reprinted with permission of Alida Brill © 2011

[THANK YOU SO MUCH TO ALIDA BRILL FOR ALLOWING THE TURNING POINT LIFE COACHING BLOG TO POST THIS POWERFUL, BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN PIECE.]

Alida BrillAlida Brill is a writer in New York City. She has atypical Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (formerly known as Wegener’s). Her last book, Dancing At the River’s Edge: A Patient and her Doctor Negotiate Life With Chronic Illness, (Schaffner Press) is a dual-memoir written with her long-time doctor, Michael Lockshin, M.D. She is an activist and advocate for girls and women with autoimmune disease. She is currently at work on a new book, A Woman Across Time: Growing Up with Princess Grace, Barbie and Betty Friedan, scheduled for publication by Schaffner Press in 2015.

Book:

Dancing at the River's Edge

Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and Her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness by Alida Brill

Website:  From This Terrace

Happiness Tools: Gratitude Exercises

by Audrey Berger, PhD – Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching.

There is growing evidence that appreciating and being grateful for what you have contributes in significant ways to well-being, happiness and resilience. Gratitude has also been shown to reduce depression and stress.

It is clearly true for me that gratitude affects my life in many powerful ways. Of course it’s easy to feel appreciation for positive things that happen in my life.  But, it is also true that gratitude has been an invaluable ally for me during challenging times. It is so easy to lose perspective when things are difficult, but gratitude helps to focus me on the bigger picture, and puts the issue in context.

Sometimes people realize that having more appreciation for the good things in their life would be positive for them, but they’re not sure how to increase their gratitude. If this is true for you, here are a few possibilities that you can try.

As with all tools and exercises, if you find it useful, keep doing it as frequently as is comfortable for you; but if you don’t find it useful, or you don’t like it, look for other happiness-enhancing activities that you prefer.

GRATITUDE EXERCISES

1) GRATITUDE JOURNAL     canstockphoto2286157

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. Over time this will have a positive effect on your well-being. According to Sonja Lyubormirksy (2007), if you keep a gratitude journal over a long period of time, it may not be necessary to add to your gratitude journal on a daily basis. She states that it can equally effective if done on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis, and recommends doing whatever fits best for you.

Instead of making a list of items, it can also be useful to focus on writing more extensively about a particular thing/experience/relationship for which you are grateful.

2) GRATITUDE LETTER   

canstockphoto10361650The 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.

REFERENCES

Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens:
Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.

Lyubormirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Lyubormirsky, S. (2013-01-03). 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.

Marsh, J. (2011) http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal, retrieved on July 14, 2014.

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.

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.