Blog Short #20: Helping versus Rescuing

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

This is a subject that’s near and dear to me because I’m a “Helper” on the Enneagram, which means I can easily fall into rescuing when I should just let someone solve their own problems. That said, sometimes rescuing is a good thing, and I’ll tell you when that is as we get into the discussion.

Let’s start with differentiating between the two activities.

Helping is assisting or aiding someone to do something for herself. You provide the tools or resources to overcome a problem or get something done, and she uses what’s given to do the work.

Rescuing is saving someone from a distressing set of circumstances she find’s herself in, or from harm (either psychological or physical). You remove her from a difficult or dangerous situation. In this case, you do the work.

There’s nothing wrong with either option if the situation truly calls for it, but chronic rescuing is a problem when it evolves into enabling, and that’s where things get sticky.

So how do you determine when enough is enough?

It’s not always clear, but here are some guidelines you can use to help you decide. Let’s start with helping.

Guidelines for Helping

  1. Always ask first. Helping should be something the recipient actually wants, not something you impose.
  2. Examine whether what you have to offer will be in the other person’s best interest. Is what you can do actually helpful? When you don’t know, ask: “Would this be helpful to you?” If the answer is no, you might followup with: “What do you think would be helpful?” Let the other person be your guide.
  3. Make sure your help won’t be harmful or hurtful to you. Sacrificing can get very tricky, because you can fall into a martyr mindset which doesn’t help anyone. Helping should not feel like a sacrifice, unless it’s a sacrifice you wish to make. You should be able to give without needing something back, and without resentment later on. It should be free and clear. I might give up watching a TV show I like to give my child an hour of time to chat about a problem she’s having. That’s a choice that feels good.
  4. Provide help that will allow the recipient to go forward, or overcome an obstacle, or figure out a way to resolve a problem. Your help gets him moving, but allows him to work on the issue himself.

The caveat here is that sometimes helping is doing something with someone. You might help your friend move into a new apartment, or work on a project together. That’s still helping. You both do the work.

Now for rescuing.

Guidelines for Rescuing

Sometimes circumstances require a rescue. For example:

You might offer to pay for your son’s unexpected car repair because you know he doesn’t have the money.

A friend becomes ill and can’t fend for herself, so you stay with her a few days until she’s better enough to navigate alone.

Your neighbor’s babysitter cancelled on her last minute, and you offer to watch her daughter for a couple of hours.

These are all rescue situations that are isolated events. You offer your help on a one-time basis, and it greatly relieves the person on the receiving end.

The difficulty with rescuing occurs when you get into a chronic situation of repeatedly pulling someone out of the ditch, only for him to fall back in and need rescuing again, and again, and again. In cases like these, you’re enabling and there’s nothing good about that!

Here’s some questions you can ask yourself to avoid doing that.

  1. Is this a one-time situation? And will what I do help this person get back on the horse and keep going?​
  2. Have I made clear the boundaries around what I’m offering and for how much or how long?
  3. Is the person I’m rescuing someone who values solving his own problems, or does he chronically allow others to take care of him? If the answer is the latter, you need to consider carefully what you offer and make sure the boundaries are stated up front. You may also decide to just simply refrain from rescuing.​
  4. What’s in it for me?

This last question is important, because rescuing is sometimes driven by the wrong motives. Here’s some examples.

  • You rescue someone to relieve your anxiety. This happens all the time with parents. We rescue our kids because our anxiety about their distress or safety is so great, we’ll do anything to get rid of that feeling. The problem is, that’s not always the best decision for their growth. We don’t allow them to work on the problem themselves and learn how to cope with adversity.
  • You use “rescuing” and “helping” to ward off feelings of depression. It’s not always a bad thing to help someone when you’re feeling down, because it can lift you out of a negative mood. But if it’s a pattern, you’re likely using it to avoid dealing with your own issues.
  • You need to be needed, and when you’re not needed, your self-esteem plummets. You feel alone. Again, rescuing is a means of avoidance.
  • You don’t have faith or trust in the other person to solve his own problems. There’s two possibilities here: (1) You don’t allow space for him to struggle with the problem because you know you can solve it faster and better, or (2) he’s not willing to tackle it. Either way, you’ll rob him of an opportunity to learn something if you step in and take over. Sometimes the best decision is to step back and let someone wrangle with their own distress.
  • You can’t stand to see anyone else suffer. It makes you suffer. It’s hard to see someone you love in pain, and it’s natural to try and take that feeling away. However, sometimes we need to suffer in order to learn. We’re all ultimately responsible for the consequences of our actions, or our inaction. Are you fostering that responsibility, or helping someone avoid it?
  • You’re a caretaker and always have been. You might be the oldest child in your family, or the one everyone comes to for help. Being a caretaker is part of your identity, and you feel guilty when you say no. If this is you and you can’t get around it, now’s a good time to learn how to set boundaries without the guilt. Click here.

If you’re not sure what to do when someone needs help, ask yourself this one question:

Will what I have to offer benefit the other person, and will we both feel good about the outcome?

If you truly feel good about it, you won’t feel taken advantage of. If the recipient feels good about it, he will feel both helped and respected, and will want to continue to do his own work.

That’s all for this Monday. As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #19: The “Negativity Bias”: Why it’s hard to stay positive.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today’s subject is about something called the “negativity bias.” You may already know what it means, but keep reading. I’m going to tell you more about how it works, why, and what you can do to counteract it.

Let’s start with a couple of examples.

(This is you as a kid.) You bring home your report card to your parents and you have five As and one C. Your Mom looks at the grades, looks up at you, and says,” What’s this C? What happened?”

Your partner leaves his dirty clothes on the bed – again – for you to pick up and put in the laundry room. You think of everything he’s ever done that annoys you for hours until you’re furious.

You’re having a fabulous day. Everything’s going well, you’re getting a lot done at work, you feel good. Then you’re in a meeting and the boss gives you a sideways glance when talking about an issue he’s upset about. Your day’s ruined. It’s all you can think about, and when you get home and your husband asks you how your day was, you say “Horrible!” You don’t even know if your boss was referencing you in terms of the issue he mentioned, but you assume the absolute worst.

The Definition

I’m sure you can relate to at least one of these examples if not all of them. In each case, a single negative event or thing created a big reaction and overpowered any positives that may have existed. The focus went straight to what was wrong, and very quickly. This is called the “negativity bias.”

It’s defined as:

  • Our tendency to register negative stimuli more readily than positive, and
  • To dwell on the negative aspects of events longer and more intensely.

So not only do we have our antenna up for the negative, but we can’t let go of it all that easily. That’s why we’re prone to falling into negative ruminating.

The Why

Negativity bias has its roots in the structure of our brains. We’re still operating in part as if we live in a primitive world where survival is the prime goal.

Our brains prioritize bad news. We scan the environment for danger, and then when it appears, our emotional brain (the amygdala) takes over and sounds a red alert, thereby overriding our thinking brain located in the prefrontal cortex.

That worked fine when we lived in a primitive setting where being alert to danger was necessary to survive, but that’s not the case now.

Unfortunately, our brains still operate this way, only now we react to symbolic threats such as emotionally charged words that have negative or dangerous connotations like anger, hate, crime, abuse, and many others.

We have similar responses to those words that our primitive tribe had to seeing lions and tigers.

It’s like our antenna starts to vibrate when we hear negative words or phrases, or see frightening or alarming images. Whose ears don’t perk up when they hear a siren, and if your kids are out somewhere away from home, you may begin to ruminate about whether they’re safe, or got into an accident.

We’re primed this way. We’re always watching for those lions and tigers! Only now, these are words and images and memories.

Even more telling are studies that have been done where people are shown negative and positive images while having their brains scanned. As they view the images, the negative or scary images are accompanied by greater neural processing and a larger brain response than that associated with viewing the positive images. What’s negative stands out and captures our attention!

John Gottman, a well-known psychologist who studies marriage, says that it takes upward to 5 times as many positive interactions in a marital relationship to outnumber 1 negative one just to stay in a neutral position. Wow!

What To Do

Here’s 7 things you can do to counteract the negativity bias:

  1. Savor the positive. When something good happens, or you’re feeling happy and well, savor that moment. Make yourself focus on the feeling and remember it. By attending to positive events in a deliberate way, you apply more brain power to them to counterbalance a negative focus. A good tool for this is a gratitude journal. By writing out what’s positive, you imprint it in your mind.
  2. Use mistakes for learning. When you harp on yourself, beat yourself up, or simply chastise yourself for mistakes, you chip away at your self-worth. Recognize mistakes, but focus on learning from them. Recognize, repair, forgive and move on. Vow to do differently in the future and hold yourself to it.
  3. Be your own best friend. Talk to yourself the way you would to a best friend. Ask yourself how your feeling? Are you bothered or hurt about something? What would make you feel better? Show self-compassion.
  4. Reframe cognitive distortions. Negative thinking is very often all-or-nothing. It’s exaggerated. One single negative event becomes a whole day’s worth. Reframe your thoughts to be more in line with reality. “I had a great day, except for one thing that happened.” It’s the exaggerations that lead us astray. For example: (1) You make one error at work, and you imagine you’ll be fired within the week. (2) Your partner was distant last night, and you decide he’s seeing someone else and wants a divorce. (3) Your teenaged son comes home 15 minutes later than expected and in that 15 minutes you’re positive he was in an auto accident and is horribly injured or worse. Use your objective thinking to guide your emoting.
  5. Watch your self-talk, especially negative characterizations of yourself like I’m not smart, I can’t do anything right, I’m not as pretty as she is, I’m too old, I’m just fat! Try reminding yourself of your good qualities, who you are, what you have to offer, and who appreciates you. Make sure that you’re included in that last category too!
  6. Distract yourself from negative ruminations. This is one of the more daunting ones. Our minds latch on to the same negative thought trains over and over. It’s like groundhog day. It happens automatically. When you notice you’re doing it, change your activity. You can simply change to a positive thought train if that works. Or you can do something more distracting like taking a walk, reading a book, engaging in one of your hobbies, or calling a friend and chatting. Each time you notice yourself ruminating, stop it and move to something else. The more you do it, the easier it gets. I tend to ruminate while I’m cooking. It’s very annoying. So now I prime myself before I start cooking to think of something positive, or listen to music, or maybe a podcast.
  7. Meditate or practice square breathing. Square breathing is a quick way to break up thought trains. If you’ve never done it before, you can get instructions by clicking the link below. Meditation has the added benefit of resetting your mind and putting you in a more positive frame.
    ​​SquareBreathing.pdf

That’s all for today. Try to stay positive this week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #18: How should we handle victimization?

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today’s post is inspired by a book called “The Gift.”

The Gift was written by Dr. Edith Eva Eger at the age of 93. In twelve wonderful chapters, she lovingly imparts her wisdom and advice for handling adversity and victimization in a way that leads to growth and freedom.

Dr. Eger was imprisoned at Auschwitz when she was 16 years old, along with her younger sister Magda and her parents. The year was 1944 and the Nazis had invaded Hungary where she and her family lived. Carted off in a cattle car, the family was taken to Auschwitz where she would be held for the next year. Her parents were murdered in the gas chambers immediately after their arrival.

Over that year, Dr. Eger and her sister were left to deal with the horrors and abuse dished out by the Nazis, and to do their best to survive until their release in 1945.

In her words:

“Each moment in Auschwitz was hell on earth. It was also my best classroom. Subjected to loss, torture, starvation, and the constant threat of death, I discovered the tools for survival and freedom that I continue to use every day in my clinical psychology practice as well as in my own life.”

After release and in the years to follow, Dr. Eger married, had children, and completed her doctorate in clinical psychology (which she did at the age of 52.) For the last 40+ years she has provided psychotherapeutic help to others who have dealt with all manner of victimization, depression, anxiety, and the like.

What I found most inspirational about The Gift (and Dr. Eger herself), was the foundation she laid out in the first chapter where she talks about victimization. She starts with this statement which sets the tone for the entire book:

“Suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional.”

From someone who suffered so much, this is a profound statement. And it’s one we can all use and learn from.

What it means is this:

  1. It’s not possible for any of us to avoid being victimized or hurt. There’s no way to escape pain. It’s a part of life that can’t be sidestepped.​
  2. What we can do is choose our response. We can either work through the pain associated with these experiences and learn and grow from them, or take on the identify of “victim” and stay there.

This second choice sometimes comes about because it feels like home. It’s familiar. It’s safer to stay in the role of “victim,” even though we wish to avoid the pain of it.

By doing so, we don’t have to do anything about it. We don’t have to stand up for ourselves. We don’t have to face our true feelings. We don’t have to choose freedom and take on the responsibility to move forward. We can stand still.

The Prison of Victimhood

The shift from being victimized to being a victim is subtle, and often it happens without awareness. It may originate in our families of origin and be built into our psyche through years of abuse, neglect, criticism, or oppression. This sometimes leads to becoming a “victim” permanently, unless we face it, deal with it, and redefine who we are in light of our experiences.

This is what Dr. Eger calls the “prison of victimhood.” The victimization felt early on moves into our identities and takes up residence.

The alternative is to take on the process of what’s called post-traumatic growth. We face the reality of our victimization, feel our way through it, release it, and transform ourselves based on what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown.

This doesn’t mean that we’re not changed by painful experiences. We are, and to pretend otherwise is to take flight from reality. The work is to accept that we can’t always avoid suffering or adversity, but we can use it to transform ourselves in ways that acknowledge our worth, our responsibility, our accountability, and our freedom.

People who use adversity for growth “may remain emotionally affected, but their sense of self, views on life, priorities, goals for the future, and their behaviors have been reconfigured in positive ways in light of their experiences,” (Joseph, Stephen. What Doesn’t Kill Us. Basic Books.)

This is what’s meant by post-traumatic growth and the personal transformation that follows traumatic victimization.

By the way, victimization doesn’t need to be severe to be felt, and it’s not always at the hands of someone else committing some type of abuse. Loss of a relationship or loved one, or even a job, feels like victimization and in fact is. Any time you feel emotionally sucker-punched, you have a choice to cave into the victimization or make use of it to regroup and transform. Everything that happens to us in life can be used for our personal evolution.

To facilitate the growth option, Dr. Eger advises us to start with the right question:

Instead of asking “Why me?”, ask “What now?

Then go about sorting through your emotions and your thoughts (all of them – no suppression), and finally release them. Use everything you’ve experienced to examine where you are and what’s next for you.

Now For You

If you think that you’re stuck in a victimization mode, then I would highly recommend reading The Gift. Even if you aren’t, read it anyway. It’s very therapeutic!

If you want to know more about it, I’ve reviewed it in detail on my website. You can find that here.

You may also wish to read What Doesn’t Kill Us by Stephen Joseph, especially if you’re struggling with post-traumatic stress.

For a quick article on victimization, you might like Victim Consciousness: 6 Ways to Overcome It.

Lots of food for thought today! Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #17: The Two Responses to Guilt

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Guilt is one of those words that can seem ambiguous depending on how you use it and what you mean by it.

It usually refers to a feeling of regret, and sometimes great regret, for having done something wrong or something that doesn’t align with your values. This is especially true if the thing done causes harm or pain to someone.

Making mistakes, and even sometimes hurting others, is unavoidable. Feeling guilty is a normal response to these situations and signals the need for damage control, but how you go about that depends on how you respond to the guilt itself.

There are two responses to guilt: shame and remorse.

You can feel them both at the same time, but they have different origins and different outcomes. One is a healthy response that ultimately helps you grow and learn, and the other is a self-defeating response that can move you toward destructive behavior.

I’m sure you’ve already figured out that the healthy one is remorse, and the self-defeating one is shame.

Let’s go through the differences. I’ll start with remorse.

Remorse is the recognition of a mistake you’ve made, or some wrong you’ve committed that rubs against your conscience. You feel truly sorry.

In her book The Gift, author Edith Eger says of remorse: “It’s more akin to grief.”

You accept that you’ve committed an action you can’t take back or undo, and you feel sad about it. You do your best to repair or make amends, or if you can’t do that directly, you vow to correct the mistake in any future dealings or actions.

Remorse, like shame, has a strong element of regret, but there’s also acceptance and self-compassion.

With remorse you:

  1. Accept that you’re not perfect and you make mistakes, even big ones sometimes.
  2. Feel empathy for anyone you may have hurt or caused pain.
  3. Focus on making amends or repairing the damage.
  4. Learn from the mistake by changing the course of your future behavior, and making better choices.
  5. Allow the sadness that comes up, but don’t turn it inward and beat yourself up.
  6. Treat yourself with compassion while still feeling regret and grief.


Shame is different. It’s an indictment of your unworthiness.

With shame you:

  1. Believe you’re unworthy and “bad.”
  2. Believe that less than perfect is not enough.
  3. Beat yourself up in reaction to mistakes, relentlessly.
  4. Often hide or withdraw.
  5. Or conversely, blame someone or something else for the mistake.
  6. Don’t allow yourself to make amends or repair, because the shame is overwhelming and it’s all you can see or feel.
  7. Or, you overwhelm the hurt party with your feelings of shame by oversharing how badly you feel.

The tricky thing about shame is that it moves the focus from repairing and empathizing with the injured party to indulging in self-destructive thoughts and feelings (and sometimes behavior). Instead of attending to making reparations, you attend to withdrawing into a pit of self-flagellation.

Without meaning to, the attention is drawn back toward you, and away from the person that’s the victim of your error.

Shame is like depression. It’s isolating. It separates you from yourself. It’s like locking yourself up in solitary confinement and disconnecting from everything and everyone, including you.

Remorse keeps you connected, because it’s based on acceptance of the idea that we all make mistakes, and all have to deal with the outcomes of those mistakes while also learning from them and repairing what we can as we go along.

We’re not bad, but we do bad things sometimes. The silver lining is that we can recover and grow from these experiences.

Here’s what to do when you feel guilty about something.

  • Admit fully to yourself what you did. Own the mistake and don’t blame it on someone or something else.
  • Let yourself feel sad about it. Don’t try and shut off those feelings. Let them run their course.
  • Speak to yourself with the same kind of compassion you would to a friend or loved one who was confessing the same mistake.
  • Once you’ve allowed your emotions to settle a bit, put on your thinking cap and decide what if anything you can do to make amends or repair. If you need help with this, talk to someone who can help you process your emotions and think through the problem.
  • Then act on it. Do what you can.
  • Finally, review what you’ve learned and what you’ll do next time to avoid making the same mistake.

Here’s what not to do.

  • Ruminate on how unworthy you are.
  • Create narratives that absolve you of responsibility such as blaming someone else.
  • Withdraw, or conversely, lash out at someone to avoid the guilt feelings.
  • Let it sit and take no action to make amends or repair.
  • Repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
  • Turn the attention toward your self-defeating feelings and away from empathizing with the person who was harmed. This will make you feel much worse, and just increase your shame.
  • Engage in some sort of self-destructive behavior that will have it’s own negative repercussions.

One last word about guilt.

Most of what I’ve pointed out is dependent upon you actually being responsible for some action that would naturally bring on a feeling of guilt. However, sometimes we feel guilty for actions that don’t belong to us.

In these cases, our guilt is misplaced. We take responsibility for someone else’s actions, or their mistakes, or their feelings. Or we imagine that we’ve done something that hurts someone and in reality, we’re fantasizing that.

If you’re not sure, question your thoughts about why you’re feeling guilty, and question the scenario playing in your head. You can always check it out with the other party. For example, if you think you’ve hurt someone’s feelings by something you said, and you’re feeling guilty about it, make sure that’s the case. Ask.

But, if someone is twisting the facts of the situation to project their stuff onto you, recognize that and don’t feel guilty.

Some of us take on far more guilt than is warranted, and some of us don’t react enough with remorse for things we’ve done. You can always question and get confirmation if need be.

If you’d like to read up more on this subject, I would suggest Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (Chapter 3), and The Gift by Edith Eger (Chapter 5).

That’s all for now! Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #16: Is positive thinking a good thing?

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

The term “positive thinking” has become so mainstream that you hear it everywhere – on social media, in meetings at work, from your friends, at the gym, on TV, and in the grocery store.

You might even have had the experience of feeling pressured to say something in a positive manner, or squash that negative feeling you’re having before you speak.

Today I want to talk about what it really means, what it doesn’t mean, and when it’s actually helpful. Let’s start with the good. Most of what I’m listing here comes from positive psychology. (See Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman.)

The Good

Focus on Strengths and Virtues

Positive thinking is both an attitude and an approach. It’s based on working from our strengths instead of deficits, and engaging in activities that embrace our virtues and build character.

Virtues include things like kindness, altruism, empathy, connection, authenticity, conscience, and responsibility. These are foundational aspects of character.

Strengths include things like the capacity to love, ability to think critically, open-mindedness, love of learning, sense of purpose, future-mindedness, curiosity, and leadership.

Positive psychology focuses on growth by helping someone to recognize and use their personal strengths and virtues, while continually working to sharpen them.

What differentiates positive psychology from other approaches is that it doesn’t work from the disease model which focuses on what’s wrong, and then goes about fixing it. It starts with what’s right and builds on that. It focuses on personal assets rather than personal dysfunctions.

True positive thinkers also make use of adversity. They don’t expect everything to be easy, or expect to avoid challenges and problems.

They embrace the value of these experiences and see them as opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. They view obstacles as both temporary and as part of the natural unfolding and evolution of life that can be used for problem-solving and personal growth.

The objectives of positive psychology are:

  • To actively build your character through the practice of virtues and the exercise of your personal strengths.
  • To face adversity and use it to evolve, learn and grow.
  • To know that all circumstances are temporary, and that situations that are difficult and painful pass.
  • To approach life with a sense of purpose, gratitude, appreciation, compassion and connection.
  • To have faith in your ability to overcome obstacles.
  • To pay attention to the beauty in the world.
  • To be both flexible and present, with hope for the future.

The benefits are:

  • Slows aging and promotes a longer life span.
  • Associated with a stronger immune system.
  • Reduces stress and keeps your heart healthier, especially when used with meditative practices and gratitude.
  • Reduces depression.
  • Enhances social connection.
  • Increases productivity, and creates more positive work environments.
  • Longer and better marriages.
  • More resilience under stressful situations.
  • Better able to make decisions, both everyday decisions and those made under pressure.

The Bad

Avoidance

Sometimes positive thinkers misuse or misinterpret this approach to avoid recognizing and dealing with adversity, such as:

– not paying attention to a chronic medical problem that needs treatment,
– or not confronting a relationship issue that if ignored will eventually cause a permanent rift,
– or not looking at your finances until you have no money left and no means to pay your bills.

Positive thinking should not be used to pretend things are fine when they’re not. It also should not be interchanged with wishful or magical thinking. When people use the phrase “Just think positive!” to avoid dealing with a problem, they’ve moved into the realm of magical thinking. “If I think it, it is.”

Emotional Denial and Suppression

Positive thinking is also used sometimes to suppress real emotions that are negative in nature. We have both positive and negative emotions. You can’t have one without the other, and each serves a purpose, and each is a natural expression or reaction to an experience.

Life is fraught with loss which precedes growth and rebirth. Negative emotions are a part of this process.

Suppressing them, or pretending they’re not there, is a real problem, because they don’t go away. They just go underground and surface in some other form later, often snowballing. The problem is that when you suppress or deny your negative feelings, you lose control over how they manifest. Often you’re not even aware of the connection between what you suppressed and what later comes about.

Suppression keeps you stuck and prevents you from working through emotional issues and dysfunctional behavior patterns.

More importantly, negative emotions are not “bad!” They serve a purpose, and used correctly can initiate and encourage growth.

They’re a part of learning the lessons and making the necessary transitions that come from the experience of adversity and loss.

A good positive thinker will allow her negative emotions to surface, allow herself to feel them, and give them the time they need to be fully expressed. Only then can she make use of them for learning and growth. That’s working from your strengths. Emotional suppression is not a strength. It’s avoidance.

Sometimes we need to see what’s wrong.

It’s true that if we’re only working from the disease model (what’s wrong), we may not notice what’s going well, and make use of our strengths to help us push forward.

By the same token, sometimes we have to attend to what’s wrong because it’s hanging us up. We need to recognize dysfunctional patterns that are impeding our progress, and are in need of correction and healing. This is the work of psychodynamic therapy.

Optimally, both positive psychology (using our strengths to grow) and psychodynamic therapy (correcting our dysfunctions through insight) can be used together for the best outcomes.

The Conclusion??

Positive thinking is a good thing if not used to avoid issues, or suppress negative emotions, or ignore dysfunctional emotional patterns that stem from early experiences in your family of origin, or from trauma.

Positive thinking does help you build your character and take advantage of your strengths. It does power you forward to overcome obstacles. It does increase your faith in yourself, as well as your appreciation and gratitude for what you have right now – but, only if you use it correctly. So do that, and you’ll reap the benefits.

A note: If you’re interested in knowing more about this subject, go to www.authentichappiness.org. You’ll find resources you can use, as well as some questionnaires you can fill out to gauge your personal strengths. I took the VIA Survey of Character Strengths which was helpful and interesting. It’s long – 240 multiple choice questions – but it gives you a lot of information and it’s free. You do have to create a login for yourself. There are many other questionnaires on the site besides this one that might interest you.

That’s all for this week! Hope you have a “positive” week:)

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #15: How to Increase Your Willpower!

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

There’s a great little book called Eat That Frog. It’s written by Brian Tracy, and has sold 1.5 million copies! I bring this up because today’s blog short is about willpower and how to best take advantage of it, and this book ties in.

The phrase “eat that frog” refers to doing your most important tasks first thing in the morning so they don’t get lost in the day and you never get to them. Brian words it this way:

Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.

It’s easy to start the day doing things that are maintenance oriented like checking email, setting up appointments, or planning and making lists. These are all important, but if your goal is to finish school, or become a writer, or teach a class, then your frog is not going to be answering emails, making plans or setting up your calendar.

Your frog is going to be studying for the test, writing a blog, or creating a lesson plan for your class. Your frogs are the tasks that take the most brain power, the most engagement, and the most energy. They’re also the tasks that lead you to accomplish your most important goals.

It follows then that your frogs require the greatest willpower, because we naturally resist them. That means you should time your “frogs” to coincide with when your willpower is strongest.

Based on research about willpower, here’s some things that have been found to be true that will help you get this timing right. I’ll give you some resources at the end.

  • Will power is a mind-body construct meaning that it involves both mental prowess and physical energy.
  • Will power is a limited resource. Trying to write a paper, maintain a fitness routine, stop smoking, or keeping your temper in check all pull from the same source of strength. So when you use your willpower again and again, it gets depleted and you can lose some of your control. This aligns with the finding by neuroscientists “that with each use of your willpower, the self-control system of the brain becomes less active,” (McGonigal, p. 60).
  • A second important finding is that your blood sugar drops with each use of willpower. In other words, using your willpower and maintaining self-control drains your body of energy, and conversely, the lowering of energy weakens your willpower.
  • Your brain exaggerates the depletion of your willpower before you’re actually running out, meaning that you can push yourself further than it may seem that you can if you have strong commitment to doing something. However, it’s important to know when you’re pushing too far.
  • Self-control is highest in the morning and steadily deteriorates as the day goes on.

Five Things You Can Do

So with these facts in mind, here’s some things you can do to make the best use of your willpower as well as to preserve and enhance it.

  1. Do your most important tasks first thing in the morning. One caveat is that there are some people who are actually better later in the day and if you’re one of those, you know when that time period is and you should take advantage of it.
  2. Watch your diet. When you’re stressed and feeling depleted, it’s tempting to go for the high carb processed foods that give you a jolt of sugar and usually a lot of fat. Eat food that will sustain your energy over time. Stick with nuts, beans, veggies, whole fruits, lean protein, whole grains and water. These foods keep your blood sugar steady. Your brain runs on glucose, so a low carb diet may leave you feeling tired. Whole fruits are a good source of glucose, and complex carbs in general help maintain blood sugar.
  3. Get enough sleep. Sleep-deprived people are more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors, be more moody, and have less brain power available to maintain self-control.
  4. Maintain a regular exercise habit. It doesn’t have to be long or difficult, just regular. Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, boosts memory and thinking skills. Walking works!
  5. The greatest help comes from regular meditation. Start with 10 minutes a day and do it every day. People who meditate regularly have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter helps the processing of information in the brain. Meditation also creates emotional space, makes you less reactive, boosts energy, and keeps you calm. All these things directly impact willpower.

A Word About Stress

Stress has a direct negative impact on willpower.

The more stressed you are, and especially chronically stressed, the more depleted you are both mentally and physically.

We know this already, right?

And because stress wears you down, it directly effects willpower by lessening it and opening you up to more impulsive behaviors in an attempt to get relief.

All the above suggestions work on stress as well as on willpower, so if you work on maintaining willpower, you’ll also alleviate some of your stress and vice versa.

For stress in particular, meditation is the most important of the five things I’ve listed. If you meditate daily, you’ll find yourself working on some of the other habits automatically such as cleaning up your diet, or beginning a walking routine, and sleeping better.

I would suggest doing two things right away:

  1. Eat that frog! Do your hardest and most important tasks first thing in the morning. Save your planning and maintenance tasks for later in the day because these don’t require as much brain power.
  2. Start a regular meditation habit. Just 10 minutes a day every day at the same time. I’ve meditated regularly for 25+ years every morning and nothing has had a more positive impact than that has. It makes everything else fall into place and immunizes you somewhat to high stress.

That’s it for this week! See you next Monday.

All my best,

Barbara

PS: Two books you may enjoy reading about willpower are The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, and Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney.

Blog Short #14: Important conversations should be face-to-face.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today’s subject is about how technology has interfered with our capacity to truly connect with each other. The kind of connection I’m talking about is one where there’s an empathetic exchange, a sense of closeness, a willingness to explore emotions and deeper thoughts, and true intimacy.

One of the primary ways we make these kinds of connections are through conversation. The question is what type of conversation most enables intimate connection and real understanding.

This subject is increasingly critical because of the profound influence technology has had on our modes of conversation. Whereas we used to communicate primarily through face-to-face interactions, we now communicate additionally and sometimes primarily through texting, email, social media, and more lately, video chatting such as Zoom.

What are the effects of these techno-forms of communication?

There are many, but today I’ll discuss just two.

  1. A reduction in empathy.
  2. A negative impact on intimate connection.

Both these are important because they lie at the base of our capacity to understand ourselves including our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behavior – and to understand the same in others.

Empathy in particular is a foundational necessity for relationships that flourish and last. It’s also the basic ingredient of a well-developed conscience. Without either of those, we wouldn’t survive as a species. It’s that important!

Research has shown that face-to-face conversation both encourages and builds empathy. This is how.

  • You see the body language and facial expressions of the other person and you learn to read their emotions, as well as feel them.​
  • You talk in real time with no opportunity to edit what you say. It’s authentic and spontaneous.
  • You can see and feel someone’s response to what you say, which allows you to empathize.
  • You can work toward understanding through questions, comments, and feedback with clarity.​
  • You can see someone’s eyes through which communication is most potent.

When you converse by text or email, you:

  • Can edit what you say so that the other person misses out on your process of getting there, and your emotions as you go.​
  • Avoid experiencing what the other person feels to some extent because you can’t see their facial expressions or body language. For example, if you hurt someone in some way, you may see their words by text or email, but you won’t actually see the pain as you would if you were face-to-face, and as a result, may not have the same degree of empathy or need to repair.​
  • Let time lapse between communications and miss the process.​
  • Easily misunderstand what’s said, and then act on that misunderstanding.​
  • Can’t see the eyes of the person you’re conversing with.

Studies back this up.

One study measured feelings of emotional connection among a group of adolescents by having them converse using four different methods of communication: face-to-face, video chat, audio chat, and IM. The results confirmed that emotional bonding was felt most during the face-to-face conversation, and least during the IM conversation.

Another study found that even the presence of a phone on the table where people are sitting and talking can have a negative effect on closeness, connection, and the quality of the conversation. This was especially true when people were discussing topics that had personal meaning to them. So if you’re trying to talk to your partner or maybe your child about something important, having the phone in view can inhibit how well you’re able to empathize with each other and feel connected.

There are many other studies that deal with the effects of screen time and technology-based communication on the development of empathy and self-awareness, but for now I just want to get you thinking about the importance of using face-to-face conversation more often, and especially for conversations that involve emotions, relationship issues, conflict resolution, or anything that’s personally meaningful to you or the person you’re conversing with.

Here’s a couple of rules to follow when you talk face-to-face:

  1. Put your phone away. Not just down, but out of sight. If you really want to listen and be heard, your phone’s a distraction.
  2. Don’t multi-task while you talk. Turn your attention toward the person you’re talking to and give 100% of your focus.
  3. Look directly at the person. Not every second if that feels too difficult or awkward, but make sure there’s sufficient eye contact.
  4. Abandon any other activities while talking, and if you don’t have enough time for the conversation, say so and decide when you can talk without distraction.
  5. Don’t use text or email to resolve conflicts, or emotionally packed issues. Do these face-to-face. Texting is great for logistical conversations or checking in, but not for important conversations that require reading the other person and vice versa.
  6. And if you have kids, use these same rules.

If you’d like to read more on this subject, I’d suggest Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle. It’s a great read and has so much more information than I’ve touched on today, as well as ideas on what to do to reverse damage from too much screen time.

That’s all for today. Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #13: The 24-Hour Decision-Making Rule

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Making decisions is a big deal because there are always repercussions.

Some decisions are easy and the repercussions are minor, but others can produce a string of reactions that come back at you, or keep showing up out into the future. Either way, it’s good to use a strategy which I call the 24-Hour Decision-Making Rule.

You can pretty much figure out what that means just by the title. When you have to make a decision, or you have the impulse to do something or say something (which is a decision), give it 24 hours and see if you still want to do it. Better yet, make this a habit so you don’t impulsively do something you’re sorry about later.

This can apply to decisions of all kinds including simple things like posting something on social media out of anger. Or maybe a more serious decision like going into your boss’s office and giving him a piece of your mind. Or buying something on the fly without thinking about whether you can really afford it. Or getting the rescue dog at the pet store that’s so adorable without considering whether you have the time or right circumstances to take care of it.

You need your emotional brain and thinking brain to work together, and that doesn’t always happen with snap decisions.

​Good decisions are made best when both our emotions and thinking capacity are engaged in a concerted effort to deliberately and consciously make a choice with the best possible outcomes, or avoid a choice that will be detrimental to ourselves and others.

Allowing a time lapse between the impulse to act and the act itself allows this process to occur. And for serious decisions with big consequences, it’s definitely a life-saver.

Here’s when you don’t need to use the 24-hour rule:

  • A fast decision is required as in the case of an emergency.
  • The decision isn’t impulsive and you’ve already done the necessary deliberation and planning to make the best choice.
  • Simple decisions that are made every day that aren’t emotionally driven such as what time to get up, when to eat dinner, or anything that’s just part of your normal routine.

​​Here’s when you need to use the 24-hour rule:

  • The decision is emotionally driven. Maybe you’re angry, depressed, or anxious and your mood is pushing you from the inside to act now!
  • There’s an important relationship issue involved. This can be with a partner, friend, child, boss, co-worker, or even someone you don’t know but are interacting with.
  • The decision will have consequences for your budget or time consumption.
  • There’s a grey area between what you want to do and your values or conscience.
  • You’re physically or mentally impaired. Maybe you’re ill, foggy brained, or simply in a bad mood and not thinking clearly.

​Just to make it easy, I generally use the 24-hour rule for every decision I can, even small ones, as a matter of habit. It simplifies things. You know that if you still want to do that thing in 24 hours, then you feel good about the decision because you’ve thought about it and likely run it through your pros/cons lens.

What’s surprising when you begin this is to find out how many decisions you decide against when you allow the 24 hours, and what kinds of problems you avoid by doing that. That’s the silver lining!

It also gives you a lot more control over your future – even your next day future! It feels good to have that self-discipline and be able to use your emotions to work for you instead of against you.

For the next several weeks, try deferring some decisions, even small ones, for 24 hours and see what happens? You might learn more about yourself!

That’s all for today! Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #12: It’s time for a check-in with yourself.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Well, we’ve finally reached 2021! Does it seem different yet? Likely not, but maybe you’re feeling the stirrings of momentum as I am. I hope so!

As part of any starting point, there’s an exercise I like to use. It’s helpful when you want to reset emotionally and see if you need a shift in perspective, or uncover something you need to attend to or consider.

I call it a “check-in with self.” Basically it’s taking some time to reflect on how you are, where you are, and where you’re going.

Here’s how to do it.

You’ll need a free hour. At least one hour and more if you like, but not less.

You’ll need to be alone without distraction.

This means being far enough away from everyone so you can’t get interrupted, or hear what anyone else is doing or saying. The optimum situation is to be completely alone, however, you could be sitting outside or in a public place where there’s little in the way of distracting noise. You have to be able to attend to your own thoughts without any disruption. That’s the criteria.

The second rule is absolutely no technology. No phone. No computer. No music. No outside input of any kind. Just you.

Once you have the place and environment nailed down, you can proceed with the exercise. Ask yourself these questions, and really think about them.

  1. How am I emotionally? Get specific. What’s your overriding feeling? Likely you’ll have a variety of feelings that come up, but try to reflect on your primary emotional state. What’s the overall tone? Positive? Negative? Hopeful? Helpless? Anxious? Happy? Content? Bland? Push down until you can identify how you really are.
  2. How are my relationships? What needs attention, and what kind of attention? What do I need to let go of? What do I need to address? What needs improvement? What’s good already, and what am I grateful for?
  3. How am I feeling about my life in general? Do I have a sense of control over the direction? Do I have a direction at all? Am I focused on what’s important to me? Do I have baggage I need to resolve?
  4. Do I have a strong sense of who I am, and does my life reflect that? If not, what needs change? If so, how do I continue and what’s next?

If you’re not in the habit of spending quiet time with yourself and checking in this way, you might find this exercise uncomfortable. It’s easy to stay so busy that you avoid dealing with your emotional life, and when you slow down and turn your attention inward, it’s a bit overwhelming.

On the other hand, it can feel good to take the time to commune with yourself, and get an overview of where you are as well as clarify what needs attention. It’s sort of like a personal reboot, and gives you a fresh perspective to both identify where you’re stuck, and appreciate who you are and what you already have.

What if I can’t sit for an hour with myself?

If you do this exercise, yet find that sitting quietly for one hour is extremely difficult, start by sitting as long as you can and work at it every week until you can sit for an entire hour comfortably and be alone with yourself.

You might find the first couple of times, that you’re flooded with feelings and thoughts you normally aren’t aware of, or keep at a distance. Just stay with it. Eventually, you’ll settle in and feel the benefits of short periods of solitude and self-reflection.

How often?

I like to do this once a month. It’s like a retreat, and I look forward to it. I have a shorter meeting with myself weekly to monitor progress on goals and habits, but this hour is more about reflection, not goal setting.

Try it out and see what it brings. I think you’ll find it helpful and relieving. If you find that the emotions coming up are too disturbing, then think about some counseling.

I’m finishing up an article on the value of counseling that includes what to look for in a therapist. It should be up later this month if therapy is something that appeals to you.

For now, enjoy your hour of reflection, and may it bring you some new insights and provide some direction as you start this year.

See you next week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #11: How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions in 2021

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

It’s that time of year once again when we make resolutions and set new goals.

It’s always kind of fun to think about what we want to accomplish in the coming year, and sometimes we pull it off. But, very often we start with a bang and then the whole thing peters out around February, and sometimes before that. We have great intentions, but lose enthusiasm, fall off the horse, and never get back on again.

There’s a reason for that, and here it is:

Setting the goal is not the important step to create change. Developing and establishing a system to facilitate the goal is the key factor to success.

This system is composed of select, strategic habits that are practiced regularly and consistently. Without these, goals have no real worth.

It’s fine to set a goal, but it’s better to create the habit (or habits) necessary to get you there, and consistently practice them until they’re embedded in your daily routine, and require less energy and drive to perform.

There’s an art to this, and if you follow it, you’ll be successful. Try this:

  1. Tackle only one habit at a time. It’s great to be enthusiastic, but being realistic is better. If you work at one habit until it’s instilled in your daily routine, and is easy to perform, then and only then should you consider tackling the next one.
  2. Start small. This is the most important one. If you want to cultivate an exercise routine, don’t go whole hog at the outset. You’ll only fall off. For example, if you decide you need more cardio, walk 10 minutes every day for at least two weeks. Once that becomes easy and is scheduled into your daily routine, you can begin bumping up the time a little. If you decide you eventually want to run some of it and walk some of it, you can do that, but again add it in slowly in small time increments. The way you know you’re going too fast is when you begin to dread doing it and feel like you don’t have the time for it. You need to keep it under your resistance radar. Go slow and steady. The goal is to automate the habit without thinking.
  3. Make it fun. Whatever the habit is that you’re working on, add any elements to it that will make it more pleasurable. Using the exercise habit example, you might add your favorite music to your routine, or walk in an area that’s interesting so you enjoy what you’re viewing as you go. If you like company, get an exercise buddy. Make it something you look forward to.
  4. Schedule it. Be very specific with scheduling. Put it on your calendar or wherever it is you track your activities. You should always know well ahead of time when you’re going to perform your habit. Always schedule at least the day before, but it’s best to schedule for the whole week ahead so you don’t have to think about it, and you don’t get into the mindset of deciding whether you want to do it or not. Don’t allow that mental option. Ever.
  5. Select the best time. Make sure you schedule your new habit when it’s easiest to do, and you’re most likely to do it. If you’re whipped in the evening, don’t schedule your exercise then. Schedule it in the morning or earlier in the day when you have the energy for it. Match the new habit with the best timing for success.
  6. Avoid being a perfectionist. If you miss a day or a scheduled time, don’t stop. Get right back on the horse and do it the next time. This is one that brings many good resolutions to an end. You fall off and say to yourself, “Oh well, I’ve ruined the whole thing,” and then you don’t ever come back to it. This goes for any habit you’re working on.
  7. Reward yourself. Creating the habit and reaping the benefits of it is a reward in and of itself, but you can also give yourself little rewards along the way. These don’t have to be rewards that cost anything. It may be some extra time to yourself, an outing of some kind, or if you want to spend money, something that inspires you to continue like a new Yoga mat, or a cookbook if you’re working on your diet, or a new journal if writing is your new habit.

Start thinking about what you might like to accomplish this year, and select the first habit you want to create and instill that will move you toward your first goal. Use the guidelines I’ve given you and get the specifics of how you’re going to do it ironed out. Schedule it, and set your start date. When you feel that the habit is thoroughly a part of your routine, and it’s easy to keep going, then pick your next habit and do it all over again.

If you could create even 6 new habits over this next year, think how much better off you’d be!

I would also highly suggest reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book was a game changer for me. He goes into detail about how to systematize your habits and reach your goals, as well as how to maintain your progress once you get to where you want to go.

Here’s to a great New Year! We certainly need one, don’t we?!!!!

All my best,

Barbara

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