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How to be More Thankful

How to express more thankfulness in your daily life.

Thankfulness—which might also be referred to as gratitude or appreciation—is a positive, other-focused emotion (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). It generally involves positive feelings about another person’s actions, but it might just be for the other person’s existence—e.g., I’mjust thankful to have you!

Thankfulness may just be one of the best things we can do to improve both personal well-being and our relationships. Both expressing and experiencing thankfulness are linked with happiness and other positive outcomes (Bono, Emmons, & McCullough, 2004). So, the more often and intensely we feel thankfulness, the better.

Perhaps this is why psychologists have recently taken an interest in studying gratitude andthankfulness more deeply. One of the most rigorous ways they’ve done this is by creating gratitude interventions—interventions designed to teach people how to practice gratitude in their real lives. Numerous gratitude intervention studies have now shown the benefits of gratitude (Davis et al., 2016).

Some of the most common strategies used in these studies involve short activities—for example, the gratitude list, gratitude letters, gratitude journals, and listing 3 good things (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).

These are short and easy ways to boost well-being. Even though some people speculate that gratitude interventions may not be as efficacious as
other more involved psychotherapeutic interventions, they may actually be more effective (Davis et al., 2016). That is, we’re more likely to actually do them so they work better in the long run and in real life. They’re easy, they’re fun, and they’re doable—and that’s what really matters.


Benefits of Being Thankful

According to the research, the benefits of gratitude may include:


● Having positive social interactions
● Recalling deeply meaningful memories
● Having easy, positive activities that can be done almost anytime, anywhere.


Importantly, cultivating gratitude appears to result not only in short-term benefits but in some sustained improvements in well-being over time (Davis et al., 2016). So here are a few phrases you can use when trying to be more thankful:


● “I appreciate you.”
● “I am grateful for this opportunity”
● “I just wanted to say thanks for _
● “You’re great!”
● “I’m so lucky to have you.”
● “You make my life better.”
● “I appreciate you doing
.”
● “I appreciate you being _.”
Whenever possible, try to focus more on appreciating who people are rather than what they do for you. These expressions of gratitude are often more beneficial for the person you aresharing them with.
In Sum
Taking a few minutes each day to be thankful can be an easy and effective way to boost your mood and strengthen your relationships. Hopefully, this article was a good jumping-off point to inspire you and get you started.


References
● Bono, G., Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2004). Gratitude in practice and the
practice of gratitude. Positive psychology in practice, 464-481.
● Davis, D. E., Choe, E., Meyers, J., Wade, N., Varjas, K., Gifford, A., … & Worthington Jr,
E. L. (2016). Thankful for the little things: A meta-analysis of gratitude interventions.
Journal of counseling psychology, 63(1), 20.
● Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (Eds.). (2004). The psychology of gratitude. Oxford
University Press.
● Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology
progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.

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What Does It Mean To Be Introverted?

What defines an introvert and how is it different from extroversion?

Are you naturally introverted? Or, perhaps you have an introverted friend or family member? If so, take a second to think about what it means to be introverted. Oftentimes, you’re told that being introverted is the same thing as being shy. But introverts simply prefer being alone over being with other people. This isn’t to say that they fear or dislike people, or that they are antisocial or lonely. Social gatherings are more tiring and overwhelming for introverts compared to extroverts.

Introversion Versus Shyness

Introversion is often confused with shyness. Someone who is introverted may appear to be withdrawn and shy, but this isn’t always the case (Carrigan, 1960). The only similarity between introversion and shyness is that they may both be characterized by limited social interactions.

People who are shy are generally fearful of social interactions and are incredibly self-conscious. Introverts, however, may socialize easily, but simply prefer to engage in social activities in smaller groups, or perhaps not at all.

When reading these, reflect on the communication style you use most. Are you mostly passive, assertive, or aggressive? Or perhaps you are passive in certain situations but aggressive in others?

Signs of Introversion

Although there are varying degrees of introversion, there are a few signs or traits that introverts are more likely to exhibit in general. For example, an introvert is likely to:

  • Enjoy solitude and feels energized by spending time alone
  • Be thoughtful and empathetic
  • Have a small group of close friends
  • Tend to keep emotions to themselves
  • Be quiet and reserved in large or unfamiliar social settings
  • Value privacy
  • Live in their head instead of talking it out
  • Be more sociable with people they know well (e.g., friends or family)

People who tend toward introversion are generally more reflective, private, and thoughtful, while extroverts are generally thought to be more assertive, adaptive, and sociable. However, the key difference seems to lie in how the person responds to social activities. Although introverts don’t necessarily dislike social events or outings, they often find them tiring and feel drained afterward. Extroverts, however, are energized by social events and find it more exhausting to be in solitude.

Although some people may characterize themselves as an introvert or extrovert, the distinction between the two is not as clear cut. Think about your own personality. Would you consider yourself a pure introvert or extrovert? This might be hard to answer because, in reality, many of us fall somewhere between both extremes. This is why introversion-extroversion is better conceptualized as a spectrum—personality falls somewhere within this range.

Jobs for Introverts

It’s reasonable to assume that extroverts are especially suitable for jobs that involve a lot of social interactions, such as teaching, management, sales, etc. For introverts, it might make sense to believe that they would work well at jobs with less social interaction, or jobs that are more independent and flexible, such as writing, accounting, or engineering.

One group of researchers decided to examine whether introverts make good leaders (Grant, Gino, & Hofmann, 2011). In their studies, leaders were instructed to act introverted or extroverted, regardless of their natural inclinations. They found that introverted leaders are more effective when leading proactive followers (that are usually threatening to extroverted leaders), whereas extroverted leaders are more effective when leading passive followers. As such, they suggest that introverts can make excellent leaders if the context is correct because they tend to be guided by personal values and can make challenging decisions without needing social approval from others.

In Sum

Introversion is an important aspect of people’s personalities that can vary across individuals. Although some people may identify themselves as introverted or extroverted, this personality trait may better be viewed as along a continuum. Some people are naturally more introverted or extroverted, but most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle.

References

  • Carrigan, P. M. (1960). Extraversion-introversion as a dimension of personality: A reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 57(5), 329-360.
  • Grant, A. M., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. A. (2011). Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: The role of employee proactivity. Academy of Management Journal, 54(3), 528-550.
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How To Avoid Negative Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Find out about the theory and research behind this concept and how to avoid its ill effects.

Have you ever predicted something in your life that later occurred just the way you expected? Maybe it was that you knew you’d give a terrible presentation, and just as you’d predicted, your speech was a rambling mess. Or, a few months ago, you had a feeling that your significant other would soon lose their interest in you, and lo-and-behold, you are single again.

Sometimes we just have that feeling deep inside that we know precisely how something will play out or how someone – or ourselves – will behave in a specific situation. And when our predictions come true, we perceive them as evidence that we know how people act or how the gears of society turn.

But what if it is us and our beliefs that turn those gears and bring about the outcomes we expect? This may sound like a blurb of a science fiction novel, but it is a scientific concept we call a self-fulfilling prophecy. In this article, we’ll discuss the theory behind self-fulfilling prophecies and dig into the research about this concept.

What Are Self-Fulfilling Prophecies?

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief about a future event that leads people to act a certain way, ultimately bringing about the expected outcome. In other words, our expectations can come true by influencing our behaviors. A striking aspect of self-fulfilling prophecies is that these predictions may be divorced from objective reality at the beginning but have the power to alter people’s behavior in such a way that they become the new reality in the end.

Typically, a self-fulfilling prophecy consists of a three-step loop. The first step is the prophecy itself, which is a person’s belief about a future outcome. The second step of the loop is the behavioral response. This might be the attitude of the person, their behavior as a response to their predictions, or it may include the reactions of others. The third step is when the prophecy comes true due to the actions in the second step. Moreover, the occurrence of the anticipated outcome confirms the original belief and primes the person to hold on to the same notion in similar situations in the future.

The concept of self-fulfilling prophecies has been known for millennia, as there are many examples in mythology and literature of several cultures. In fact, the philosopher Karl Popper named this same phenomenon “the Oedipus effect” in his book The Poverty of Historicism (Popper, 1957) after the Greek mythology character, Oedipus, who fulfills a tragic prophecy by taking actions to avoid it. Nonetheless, the widely-used term “self-fulfilling prophecy” was coined in the mid-20th century by a sociologist named Robert Merton (Merton, 1948).

One of the most prominent examples of self-fulfilling prophecies in psychology research is the placebo vs. nocebo effect. Briefly, a placebo effect is observing a positive health outcome following an inactive treatment (Crum and Phillips, 2015). A nocebo effect is the opposite of this observation when the health outcome is negative (Crum and Phillips, 2015). In both cases, the health outcome is brought about by the power of belief; when the person believes they receive a beneficial treatment, they report positive changes to their health, but when they think they receive a harmful treatment, they report undesirable effects.

A classic experiment

​In a classic experiment done in the 1960s, researchers chose two groups of students at random at an elementary school. They told the teachers that they identified the first group of students as “growth-spurters” who have a high potential for intellectual growth and the second group as the ordinary students who are expected to develop at an average pace (Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968).

Eight months later, when the researchers revisited the classrooms, they administered IQ tests to both groups of students and discovered that the students in the growth-spurter group tested significantly higher even though they were equal before (Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968). Upon further inspection, the researchers noticed that the teachers’ expectations of a student changed their behavior toward them, such as giving the growth-spurter kids more attention and support, which then was internalized by the students, altering their beliefs and actions, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy about students’ intellectual growth (Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968).

Positive Versus Negative Effects

Self-fulfilling prophecies can have positive or negative effects, depending on the starting false belief. For instance, a placebo effect is a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, whereas a nocebo effect is a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Similarly, a teacher’s opinion about a student can be positive or negative, affecting the student’s success by enhancing or weakening it.

In Sum

Self-fulfilling prophecies are false beliefs that cause people to act in a certain way, which results in the occurrence of the original predictions. Sociology and psychology research have provided a lot of information about how self-fulfilling prophecies can affect individuals or populations, and there are numerous everyday examples of self-fulfilling prophecies we can learn from.

References

  • Crum, A., & Phillips, D. J. (2015). Self-fulfilling prophesies, placebo effects, and the social-psychological creation of reality. Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences, 1-14.
  • Merton, R. K. (1948). The self-fulfilling prophecy. The Antioch Review, 8(2), 193-210.
  • Popper, K. R. (1957). The poverty of historicism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review, 3(1), 16-20.
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What Are Temperaments?

Discover the meaning and origins of temperaments.

We humans come in all shapes and sizes, both physically and psychologically. Some of us get irritated quickly, and others can’t be bothered by anything. Some of us look for an opportunity to chit-chat with the stranger sitting next to us on a long flight. Yet, some of us pretend to sleep so that we can avoid talking to our seatmates. Whatever you think is a natural way to behave might be completely strange to someone else.

Typically, our behavioral and emotional inclinations are apparent even as infants. You might have noticed this phenomenon with the small ones in your life or overheard others label their children, siblings, or other young relatives as shy, sensitive, easy, or difficult. These labels are just a few examples of temperaments.

Temperament is one of the many factors that influence our behaviors. Roughly, we can define temperament as the collection of our behavioral tendencies that determine our emotional and behavioral reactions to what’s happening around us. In short, temperament is the unique dispositional makeup of an individual.

So, what do we mean by a collection of tendencies or dispositional makeup? Our temperaments are multidimensional, consisting of several independent behavioral traits, such as sociability, emotionality, reactivity, attention, and persistence. We all have distinct inclinations for each trait, and the overall combination of our inclinations makes up our unique temperaments.

Let’s take sociability and emotionality, for instance. A person may be shy or outgoing, which is independent of whether they are sensitive or impassive. As you can imagine, a shy and sensitive person may perceive and react to a situation differently than her shy and insensitive friend or an outgoing and sensitive cousin. Therefore, the unique combinations of our personality traits provide the nuances of our emotional and behavioral reactions.

Modern Psychology Theory

We still use temperaments as a way to describe people’s behavioral and emotional inclinations. Yet, our understanding of temperaments has come a long way since antiquity. Psychologists define temperaments as “psychological tendencies with intrinsic paths of development” that reflect the personality traits of the five-factor model (McCrae et al., 2000). 

So, if temperaments reflect the traits of the “big five personality traits” or other personality models, then are the concepts of personality and temperament interchangeable? Although some equate them or think of temperament as an element of personality, others acknowledge these two terms as related (yet distinct) concepts (Strelau, 1987).

Simply put, temperaments are our innate tendencies or our natural ways to feel and behave. In other words, temperaments are the collections of traits we are born with. Therefore, there is very little we can do to change our temperaments. Personality, however, encompasses the characteristic behavior and thought patterns of an individual that may be shaped and molded by our social interactions, education, economic status, and other circumstances and major events throughout our lives. Hence, one may think of temperament as reflecting the “nature” origin of our behavior, whereas personality incorporates “nurture” into how we act and think. Here is a brief video that explains temperament and personality.

Examples of Temperaments

  1. Activity level: This temperament refers to how active a person is. For instance, some individuals feel the need to move constantly. These high-activity individuals tend to move from one physical activity to another. As children, they may have trouble sitting still in class and fidget with their pencils. In contrast, low activity individuals tend to enjoy calmer activities.
  2. Biological rhythms: This temperament is associated with the regularity of fulfilling biological needs, such as eating and sleeping. People with regular rhythms tend to stick to routines and have predictable daily patterns. On the other hand, people with irregular rhythms might forget to eat a meal, feel sleepy sometime during the day or not feel sleepy past their bedtime.
  3. Sensitivity: Sensitivity refers to the intensity of the perception of certain stimuli. For instance, highly sensitive people may be bothered by many sounds, textures, and bright lights that others don’t even notice.
  4. Intensity of reaction: This temperament is associated with how strongly a person reacts to something. High-intensity individuals tend to have powerful reactions to even the slightest situations and create drama. In contrast, low-intensity individuals respond to even a major event as if it isn’t a big deal.
  5. Adaptability: Adaptability indicates whether someone can easily adjust to changes in their environment. Highly adaptable individuals can handle unexpected changes with ease. However, slow to adapt individuals may need additional time to feel comfortable with the same change.
  6. Approach/withdrawal: Similar to adaptability, this temperament refers to how people tend to approach new situations or changes. People with an approaching style can easily meet new people or try new things. Yet, withdrawing individuals may hang back, observe, and assess the new situation or people before joining in or taking action.
  7. Persistence: This trait focuses on how long someone is willing to try and stick to a task. Persistent individuals tend to do whatever they can to reach the finish line. People with low persistence can be overwhelmed by the slightest challenge and give up easily.
  8. Distractibility: This trait refers to whether a person tends to be distracted easily. Highly distractible people have difficulties paying attention to a task for long periods. They may also find it challenging to focus on a task when there are distractions in the environment. On the other hand, people with low distractibility can be absorbed in what they are doing, even in the loudest places.
  9. Mood: Mood indicates the direction of our feelings. People with positive moods tend to see things from a brighter perspective and appear generally cheerful. In contrast, people with negative moods may have a gloomier attitude. ​

In Sum

Temperaments are essential behavioral characteristics that make us who we are. Since temperaments are the behavioral inclinations we are born with, there isn’t much we can do to change them. Yet, knowing our temperaments may allow us to understand our strengths and weaknesses better. Similarly, understanding the temperaments of our loved ones can help us set realistic behavioral expectations.

References

  • McCrae, R. R., Costa, P. T., Jr., Ostendorf, F., Angleitner, A., Hřebíčková, M., Avia, M. D., Sanz, J., Sánchez-Bernardos, M. L., Kusdil, M. E., Woodfield, R., Saunders, P. R., & Smith, P. B. (2000). Nature over nurture: Temperament, personality, and life span development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(1), 173–186.
  • Strelau, J. (1987). The concept of temperament in personality research. European Journal of personality, 1(2), 107-117.
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What Are The Big Five Personality Traits?

Discover the Big Five Personality traits and how they influence behavior. 

There are few things more complicated than human personality, but that hasn’t stopped psychologists from trying to describe and categorize it. In the field of personality psychology, one of the most enduring theories defines personality according to how much (or how little) we demonstrate each of five traits – known as the Big Five personality traits.

The five-factor model of personality, known as the Big Five Personality Traits, consists of extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience (sometimes just called openness), agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Keep in mind that all of us fall somewhere on a spectrum from having very little to quite a lot of each trait. For example, we often call people high in extraversion extroverts, while somebody low in extraversion might identify themselves as an introvert. But many of us may fall somewhere in between.

Here’s a more detailed overview of each trait:

  • Neuroticism is how much negative emotion a person experiences and how much those emotions impact them. People who experience lots of depression, anxiety, or self-consciousness, for example, would be described as high in neuroticism.
  • Extraversion is the trait of being warm and enthusiastic in social interactions, and assertive and sensation-seeking in general. You can probably easily think of people you know who are high in extraversion – they tend to be the life of the party, talk more than others, and drive the activity in a group.
  • People high in openness to experience show curiosity and interest regarding a variety of ideas, values, ways of thinking, and behaviors. A person low in openness might hesitate to try a new restaurant, travel to a different country, or listen to a speech expressing a political perspective with which they don’t agree.
  • People high in agreeableness want to get along with others; they are trustworthy, modest, and generous with their time and resources. They may also hesitate to express opinions that would cause conflict or put their needs above those of others.
  • Finally, conscientiousness is the trait of being disciplined, orderly, and striving to do what is right. Think of your fellow student or work colleague whom you are certain would never cheat, intentionally manipulate others, or forget to complete a task.​

Why are these five traits considered the Big Five? While psychologists disagree to an extent about the Big Five, there is a general consensus, driven by research, that the Big Five traits are a useful and effective way to think about personality (McCrae & Costa, 1990; McCrae & John, 1992).

This consensus is based on several scientific findings. First, research tells us that these traits are consistent. They are fairly stable over long periods of time (Cobb-Clark & Schurer, 2012); for example, your personal level of extraversion has likely not changed much over the course of your life. There also seems to be a genetic basis for these traits (Digman, 1990; McCrae et al., 2000), and they appear to be consistent across cultures (McCrae & Costa, 1997).

Second, when psychologists measure these traits, there is very consistent agreement. Research into how to best classify our characteristics suggests that it is best to organize our traits into these five dimensions (e.g., Soldz et al., 1993). Also, if you and the people close to you rated you on each of these traits, there would be a high level of agreement between you and your friends, family, or partner (Funder & West, 1993; McCrae & Costa, 1987).

Perhaps you are starting to get a sense of how much each trait applies to you. For example, you’ve probably thought before about whether you are more of an introvert or an extrovert. Let’s dive a bit deeper.

  • Where does your conscientiousness show most clearly? Where have you noticed that your conscience differs from that of others? Most of us are not Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela – what are the limits of your commitment to your morals?
  • To get a sense of your levels of neuroticism, you might ask yourself how often you find yourself experiencing negative emotions, compared to the people around you. Do things in your environment frequently make you irritated or anxious? Or maybe you often wonder what everybody else is so stressed about – in that case, you might be low in neuroticism.
  • Since you’re reading this article, you are probably higher in openness, but how open to experience do you think you are? Do you notice yourself sticking to your routines again and again, or are you the kind of person who gravitates to the newest food on the menu, the quirky-looking TV show, or the thrift store shirt that truly sticks out?

​If you have a hard time answering these questions, consider asking someone who knows you well how much they think each trait applies to you. Remember, research has shown that our friends and family are pretty consistent reporters of our personalities (McCrae & Costa, 1987).

In Sum

Try to hold back from judging yourself or others for whether you are high or low in each trait. Our personality traits are pretty stable and fundamental to who we are – you wouldn’t be your unique self if any of them changed!

References

  • Cobb-Clark, D. A., & Schurer, S. (2012). The stability of big-five personality traits. Economics Letters, 115(1), 11-15.
  • Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) professional manual. Psychological Assessment Resources.
  • Funder, D. C., & West, S. G. (1993). Consensus, self-other agreement, and accuracy in personality judgment: an introduction. Journal of Personality, 61, 457-467.
  • McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 81-90.
  • McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1990). Personality in adulthood. Guilford Press.
  • McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1997). Personality trait structure as a human universal. The American Psychologist 52, 509–516.
  • McCrae, R. R., Costa, P. T., Jr., Ostendorf, F., Angleitner, A., Hrebıckova, M., Avia, M. D., . . . Smith, P. B. (2000). Nature over nurture: Temperament, personality, and life span development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 173–186.
  • McCrae, R. R., & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60, 175-215.
  • Soldz, S., Budman, S., Demby, A., & Merry, J. (1993). Representation of personality disorders in circumplex and five-factor space: explorations with a clinical sample. Psychological Assessment, 5(1), 41-52.
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What is Maslow’s pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs?

Discover the uses of this fundamental psychology theory.

Have you ever heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Perhaps it came up in an introductory psychology course you took or a popular media article on some topic in the social sciences that you read. Maslow’s idea is that some human needs are more pressing than others and that we can use this knowledge to understand what motivates human behavior.

In the middle of his career as a professor of psychology, Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs whose popularity and influence would lead to him to being the tenth most cited psychologist of the twentieth century (Haggbloom et al., 2002). Maslow studied both human and animal behavior, allowing him insight into both complex and very basic needs. In creating his hierarchy, Maslow (1943, 1954) first divided human needs into five categories: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. He then proposed that these needs could be ranked by how important or basic to human functioning they were. Finally, Maslow proposed that our ability to have these needs met would impact our psychological health. Specifically, he thought that our psychological health would be most negatively impacted by not being able to meet the more fundamental needs towards the bottom of the pyramid. 

List of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (From Most Basic to Most Advanced)                         

I.         Physiological Needs. These are the things that most, if not all, organisms need to survive, such as the ability to breathe, stay warm enough or cool enough, get sleep when we need it, and have enough food and water to survive.

II.         Safety and Security. The second set of needs provides for our safety and security. This includes being physically healthy and having the physical and interpersonal resources we need to survive, such as a home to live in. For children, this means having a reliable caregiver that keeps them healthy and provides for their physiological needs.

III.         Love and Belonging. Once safety and security are established, we focus on feeling connected to others, such as having a romantic partner and friends in our lives.

IV.         Self-Esteem. Nearing the top of the hierarchy, our needs become centered on feeling good about ourselves. Are we recognized and respected for our contributions? Do people seem to like us for who we are or what we’re good at? We take these cues from other people and use them to support our positive beliefs about ourselves.

V.         Self-Actualization. The most advanced need Maslow describes is that of being engaged in meaningful activities that align with our values and express who we are. Imagine a highly-paid and successful lawyer who does not find her work personally meaningful or believe in its purpose. Although all her other needs might be met, she likely would not feel she is self-actualized.

How did Maslow determine this order of needs? Maslow (1943, 1954) placed physiological needs as the foundation of the pyramid because they are mostly driven by automatic biological processes in the body. You never have to think very hard to determine if you’re sleepy, hungry, cold, or having trouble breathing, do you? These needs are so basic that, as Maslow put it, somebody who feels unloved, worthless, unsafe, and hungry, will probably want to address their hunger before any other need.

Maslow characterized the next level of needs as being related to safety and security, and he stressed that without these needs being met, we would start having trouble meeting our physiological needs. Maslow used the example of a child or infant’s experience to make this hierarchy clear: without access to a reliable caregiver, a child is unlikely to feel safe, and more likely to lack the food, shelter, and clothing they need.

Once people feel safe, Maslow reasoned, they next focus on belonging and love. Maslow observed that people who did not feel that they belong – who do not feel loved – are much more likely to have psychological issues, such as depression, anxiety, or addiction. These psychological issues, in turn, make it harder to meet our needs for safety.

While being loved and knowing we belong is meaningful to us, the higher-order need that builds on this need is our desire to be seen as good for who we are and what we do. This meets our need for self-esteem and self-respect.

When all other needs are met, Maslow argued that we focus on doing the things that best suit us, that give us the most self-fulfillment. He called this self-actualization. While other needs look fairly similar from one person to the next, Maslow thought that this last need would be unique to each individual: only you can know what experiences will be most fulfilling for you.

In Sum

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has endured in economic, psychological, and sociological research and practice for years because it attempts to answer a fundamental question: what motivates us to address one need over another? Maslow’s hierarchy has been confirmed by psychology research to be generally true and helpful – all other things being equal, we will put our need to belong above our need to self-actualize, our need for safety and security above our need for self-esteem, and so on (Lester, 2013).  

References

  • Haggbloom, S. J., Warnick, R., Warnick, J. E., Jones, V. K., Yarbrough, G. L., …, & Monte, E. (2002). The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Review of General Psychology, 6(2), 139-152.
  • Lester, D. (2013). Measuring Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Psychological Reports, 113(1), 1027-1029.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.

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What is the difference between Identity and Personality ?

Discover the definition of identity and how it differs from personality.

Have you ever found yourself questioning who you are or your role in society? Do you think about what makes you unique? This kind of contemplation is only natural, and everyone deals with these existential questions occasionally to reassess or confirm their perception of themselves. After all, a person’s subjective sense of self is an essential factor that guides the way they carry themselves, who they associate with, and how they make certain decisions.

In the most general sense, we can define identity as a person’s sense of self, established by their unique characteristics, affiliations, and social roles. Moreover, identity has continuity, as one feels to be the same person over time despite many changes in their circumstances.

The seeds of identity are planted during a person’s childhood when their caregivers influence them the most. Yet, as individuals transition from childhood to adolescence, they start questioning who they are and how they fit in society. Hence, adolescents set out to discover their senses of self by experimenting with different roles and behaviors (Erikson, 1956). Although adults continue to reassess their identities throughout their lives, the changes to their identities are relatively small. Therefore, according to the famous psychologist Erik Erikson, this significant identity development during adolescence is essential for forming a solid self-concept and developing a direction in life (Erikson, 1956).

Identity vs. Role Confusion

The explorations during adolescence are vital for the development of our identities. However, this identity formation process isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. For instance, some adolescents’ caregivers and social circumstances may restrict their abilities to experiment with different roles and identities. As a result, these adolescents may not fully discover a sense of self or a life purpose for a while.

Erikson calls the adolescence stage of self-discovery “identity vs. role confusion.” According to this notion, individuals form their identities after testing various roles, behaviors, and social strategies. When they can’t complete this stage effectively, it leads to role confusion (Erikson, 1956).

Simply, role confusion can be considered to be a lack of a solid identity. A person with role confusion may feel unsure about themselves and how they fit in society. Not knowing who they are meant to be or what they really want in life, they may struggle to settle into a career path or have healthy relationships. These experiences may lower their self-esteem and fulfillment in life.

Types of Identity

  • Racial identity refers to a person’s sense of belonging to a racial group, such as Asian-American, white, etc. This identity trait remains constant throughout a person’s life.
  • Ethnic identity indicates a person’s affiliation with a specific ethnic group, such as Japanese, Malaysian, etc.
  • Geographical identity is the identity that indicates the local affiliation of a person. For instance, a person living in the United States may identify as a Mid-westerner, Southerner, New Yorker, Texan, etc.
  • Sexual orientation is an identity trait that indicates the sexual preference of an individual, such as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, etc.
  • Family identity is made up of all the roles a person plays in their family life. Typically, a person has a primary role (i.e., daughter) despite having multiple functions at a given time (such as daughter, sister, granddaughter, cousin). Yet, these roles, and thus a person’s primary family identity, can change over time as new functions are added to their repertoire (such as wife, mother, aunt, mother-in-law, grandmother, etc.).
  • Ability is a form of identity that reflects an individual’s ability/disability status. Non-disabled individuals may not feel the implications of this form of identity as much as persons with disabilities.
  • Body identity stems from a person’s body shape and size. Although some traits remain constant over time (i.e., height), others may fluctuate (i.e., weight, body shape, etc.)
  • Generational identity is also referred to as age identity. It reflects a person’s affiliation with an age group, such as child, adolescent, or elderly, among others.
  • The religious identity of a person reflects their spiritual belief system. People may be born to families that practice a specific religion. Yet, sometimes individuals adopt a different religious identity as they get older or become more or less religious.
  • Class identity of an individual reflects the social stratum they belong to, such as middle-class, upper-middle-class, etc. A person may not notice their class identity until they interact with someone from another social class.
  • Educational identity depends on the level of education a person has or the types of schools they have attended. Examples include ivy-league educated, high-school drop-out, private school student, and public school graduate, among others.
  • Career identity forms when a person selects a career path and may evolve with the changes to the person’s job titles and responsibilities. Some examples are doctors, scientists, teachers, superintendents, CEOs, artists, miners, etc.

Although the identities in this list are common, they aren’t the only ones we come across. Some identities are related to or encompass multiple types of identity or are frequently debated in our society.

In Sum

A solid sense of identity means that you know who you are, what you value, and how you see yourself in society. There are many components of our identities, such as religious, political, and gender, among others, and knowing yourself fully is essential to feel integrated into society. ​

References

  • Erikson, E. H. (1956). The problem of ego identity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 4, 56–121.
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The Top 10 Cognitive Distortions and how to recognize them!

Learn about cognitive distortions and how to challenge them.

Try to recall the last time you were waiting for a friend, or maybe your partner, to join you for dinner. As you sat at the restaurant, resisting the urge to check your phone, did you have a thought such as, “they always do this”, or “they’re never on time”? If so, you were experiencing a cognitive distortion – an immediate and inaccurate thought about a situation.​

It’s unlikely that your partner or friend is late every single time you make dinner plans. If I had asked you the day before about their punctuality, you might have said that they are usually on time. In the moment, though, you experienced a very human – and very impactful – phenomenon.

Cognitive distortions are unrealistic, irrational or automatic thoughts. Sometimes we can catch a cognitive distortion as it’s happening or recognize it in hindsight; often we carry on with our lives without recognizing the inaccuracy of the thought. The more that we perceive these thoughts as truthful, the more difficult our lives are likely to be, as these distortions make us see the world as a more negative or dangerous place than it really is.

Causes of Cognitive Distortions

The idea of cognitive distortions took its current form with the creation of cognitive therapy (Beck, 1963). Coming from a long tradition of philosophical traditions that have tried to understand how thinking and feeling interact (Ellis, 1962), cognitive therapy tells us that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interrelated (Beck, 1964). Experiencing a certain emotion, for example, can lead us to a thought that would not have been prompted by a different emotion.

While we can change our thoughts to change our emotions, it is also natural and automatic for us to think after we feel. Emotions are generated by older and more primitive parts of the brain than the more cognition-oriented brain regions, and those older parts evolved not to be logical, but to keep us alive (Gilbert, 1998). Most cognitive distortions are related to experiences of negative emotions, such as feeling threatened (Beck, 1963), and with good reason: we have evolved to make quick decisions about whether we are safe, so we can take quick action to protect ourselves.

In other words, our brains evolved to bypass slow, logical thinking when immediate, gut reactions are required (Krebs & Denton, 1997). This is especially true when our brains aren’t fully developed; in fact, it is as children that we first develop these cognitive distortions (Beck, 1963).

Types of Cognitive Distortions

Here are some types of thinking errors (Burns, 1980). How many of these can you recognize from your own thinking?

  • All-or-nothing thinking: All-or-nothing thoughts (sometimes called black-and-white thinking, too) categorize the world into absolutes, leaving out the possibility of any gray area.
  • Mindreading: When we mindread, we assume that somebody else is having certain thoughts, often negative, about us. Anytime you’ve decided your partners, supervisor, or even just a person on the street is judging you – without consulting them to find out whether it’s true – you’re engaged in mindreading.
  • Catastrophizing: When you create a disaster scenario in your head, based on little or no concrete evidence that the event will actually happen, you are catastrophizing.
  • Emotional reasoning: We engage in emotional reasoning when our thoughts are driven by our emotions, not objective facts.
  • Labeling: When you classify yourself as a categorically bad or unworthy person because of one event that happened, you are engaged in labeling.
  • Mental filtering: Cognitive distortions can be driven by focusing only on negative information and ignoring or devaluing positive information.
  • Overgeneralization: Similar to catastrophizing, overgeneralizing means expecting more bad things to happen because one negative event has occurred.
  • Personalization: The act of blaming yourself for events that you aren’t (fully) responsible for is called personalization.
  • Should statements: Thoughts based on the idea that the world “should” or “shouldn’t” be a certain way are cognitive distortions, too.
  • Disqualifying the positive: When you dismiss positive things that have happened, you are distorting the way things are.

If you have identified a thought that you think might be a cognitive distortion, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • How do I know what I’m thinking is true? Simply “feeling like” it’s true isn’t enough. What is the evidence that someone else, who isn’t feeling the way you are and isn’t in your situation, would see or not see? If you’re thinking, “I am a bad person,” what is all the evidence that you have both positive and negative qualities? Cognitive distortions usually have very little concrete evidence — things other people would agree are facts — to support them.
  • What other explanations might there be? Would you feel this way if you were experiencing a different emotion? How much of this situation is truly in your control (and what’s your evidence for that?)?
  • What’s the worst that could happen? How likely is that to actually happen? How would you deal with it if it did happen?

Ultimately, the goal is to recognize that the thought is a distortion in some way, and then come up with a different coping thought that successfully challenges the cognitive distortion.

In Sum

Cognitive distortions are an inevitable part of our daily lives, and they’re often thoughts with a history, going back years. Each of us can catch some of these thoughts and expose their distorted natures – and now you know some useful tools for doing that.

References

  • Beck, A. T. (1963). Thinking and depression: I. Idiosyncratic content and cognitive distortions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 9, 324–333.
  • Beck, A. T. (1964). Thinking and depression: II. Theory and therapy. Archives of General Psychiatry, 10, 561–571.
  • Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York, NY: Signet.
  • Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy.New York: Lyle Stuart.
  • Gilbert, P. (1998). The evolved basis and adaptive functions of cognitive distortions. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 71, 447-463.

Krebs, D. L. & Denton, K. (1997). Social illusions and self-deception: The evolution of biases in person perception. In J. A. Simpson & D. T. Kendrick (Eds), Evolutionary Social Psychology, pp. 21-47. Hill

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What You Need to Know to Write a Personal Mission Statement

Want to write a personal mission statement? Here are some tips.

A personal mission statement is a written declaration of our unique direction or purpose. This statement makes it clear not just what you intend to do in this world, but how you intend to do it. It’s sometimes just one sentence, but it can be as long as you want.

Each of us has our own unique values, purpose, and desired direction, but often we don’t know exactly what they are. That’s why we can benefit from having a mission statement—something that gives us clarity about how we want to live our lives and ultimately achieve personal fulfillment and well-being. Writing a mission statement can help us get clear on our values and better understand whether we are spending our time in the best ways. It can also provide a sense of inner stability during times of change (Searight & Searight, 2011).

What’s Your Personal Mission?

Many of us have spent little time thinking about our personal mission in life. We’re too busy dealing with immediate, urgent tasks to think about what we want to do in this life and where we want to end up. As a result, we might feel this low level of discontent—we know the way we are living our lives is not making us happy, but we’re not sure why. Thinking about our mission can be one way to begin to resolve this discontent.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to explore your mission:

  1. What impact do you want to have in the world?
  2. How do you want to make an impact?
  3. Who do you want to have an impact on?
  4. What makes you feel most happy and alive?

Answering these questions can help you gain more clarity on your life’s mission. ​

Tip: Think of the end and work backward

Another way to gain more clarity on what you want to do in life is to think about the end of your life and what you hope to have accomplished. Then, work backward. Some people have suggested that we could imagine attending our own funeral. Think about what would be said in the eulogy and whether it reflects your values and goals (Searight & Searight, 2011). If you find that the eulogy of today’s version of you isn’t what you really want, clarify for yourself what you do want and consider how your mission statement may guide you to that end goal.

What are Your Values?

Next, ask yourself, what are your values? That is, what are the underlying traits, beliefs, or experiences that drive you and make you feel like you?

Some values might be Love, Freedom, Creativity, Kindness, Adventure, Loyalty, etc…

Make sure that your mission reflects these values so that you don’t end up pursuing a goal in ways that are not a good fit for your values. This way you’ll have a better chance of feeling more fulfilled as you strive to achieve your mission.

What Are Your Goals?

In addition to your values, it can be helpful to get even more clear on your goals. It can be easy to focus on short-term goals, but thinking about medium-term and long-term goals can help you make sure your short-term goals don’t lead you astray.

Ask yourself a few quick questions about your goals:

  • What do you want to have accomplished in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
  • Where do you want to be in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
  • How do you want to be spending your time in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?

Take a moment to think about your short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals like a pathway. Ask yourself, how will your current goals lead to medium-term goals, and how will those lead to your longer-term goals?

Write Your Personal Mission Statement

Sometimes a personal mission statement is just one sentence. In that case, it could be:

To do [X Action] for [Y group of people] to [have Z impact]  with [optional: other details].

It’s okay to revise, rewrite, or make it longer. For most of us, creating a personal mission statement takes some work. This process doesn’t have to be a “one and done”. In fact, it is quite common for personal mission statements to change and evolve over time, just as we do (Li, Frohna, & Bostwick, 2017).

References

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7 Ways to Build Happy Relationships

How do you create a happy, healthy relationship? Read on to find out.

In psychology, many researchers conceptualize relationship quality in terms of how satisfied each partner is in the relationship. This focuses on the hedonic dimension of the relationship (pleasure or happiness). But of course, there is more to healthy relationships than how good you feel. For example, relationships can be a source of meaning, which may include commitment, sacrifice, and personal growth (Fincham et al., 2007; Stanley et al., 2006; Finkel et al., 2014).

To better understand your own relationship quality, you might explore:

  1. Meaning: Is the relationship is a source of meaning?
  2. Personal growth: Is the relationship is a key source of inspiration, support, and encouragement for self-development?
  3. Goal sharing: Does the couple have shared goals and to also support and celebrate each other’s independent goals?
  4. Relational giving: Does each partner prioritize the other partner more than themself?

Unhappy Relationships

Although it’s important to learn how to identify when a relationship is going well, it’s just as important to look out for signals that a relationship is not going well. Researchers have identified four key aspects of communication that can contribute to unhealthy relationships (Gottman & Levenson, 2000)

1. Criticism. When you criticize someone, you are attacking them to the core of their character. This is different from offering a helpful opinion or voicing a complaint.

2. Contempt. Contempt goes beyond criticism as it encompasses your moral superiority over the other person. This can include mocking them, ridiculing, calling them names, mimicking their body language, or scoffing. The intention is to make them feel despised or unworthy, which is a terrible feeling to instill or receive from someone.

3. Defensiveness. It’s natural to be defensive sometimes, especially if you’re particularly stressed or tired. Sometimes you might feel that you’re not receiving the right treatment or you might play the victim so that the blame is no longer on you. But defensive responses often shift the blame onto the partner, which usually isn’t the best way to go. It tells the other person that you may not be taking them seriously and that you won’t own up to your mistakes.

4. Stonewalling. Stonewalling is often in response to contempt. This happens when the listener who is receiving sarcastic remarks or ridiculing comments ends up shutting down and no longer responds to the partner. They ‘stonewall’ the partner and try to avoid confrontation by acting busy, disengaging from the conservation, or simply leaving their presence.

How to Build Happy Relationships

1. Develop a strong emotional connection: According to psychology research, one of the most important predictors of a healthy relationship is being emotionally responsive (Lemay et al., 2007). This involves sending cues (e.g., verbal, physical) to your partner and having them respond to it (e.g., soothing, encouraging, etc).

2. Be vulnerable with each other: When partners open up to each other, this helps develop and strengthen mutual trust.

3. Be honest: This can go hand-in-hand with vulnerability, but also encompasses other forms of communication. A healthy relationship will likely not be based on lies.

4. Have ‘healthy’ conflicts: Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship, but how you go about dealing with them is essential.

5. Try something new. This is especially helpful if your relationship feels stale, and it can reignite the spark (e.g., going to a new restaurant for date night).

6. Solve problems as a team: This can help strengthen your identity as an “us” instead of a “me” and “you” and develop your problem-solving skills together (e.g., this can range from an escape room to asking your partner for help with a problem at work).

7. Talk about your goals and dreams: Sharing similar hopes and values can help you reignite what attracted you to each other in the first place.

​In Sum

Relationships require work from each partner, and it’s normal for relationships to go through hard times. By using the strategies outlined here, you can improve your relationships and hopefully keep them going strong.

References

  • Fincham, F., Stanley, S., & Beach, S. (2007). Transformative processes in marriage: An analysis of emerging trends. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 275-292.
  • Finkel, E. J., Hui, C. M., Carswell, K. L., & Larson, G. M. (2014). The suffocation of marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen. Psychological Inquiry, 25, 1-41.
  • Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2000). The timing of divorce: Predicting when a couple will divorce over a 14‐year period. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(3), 737-745.
  • Lemay Jr, E. P., Clark, M. S., & Feeney, B. C. (2007). Projection of responsiveness to needs and the construction of satisfying communal relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(5), 834.
  • Stanley, S. M., Whitton, S. W., Sadberry, S. L., Clements, M. L., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sacrifice as a predictor of marital outcomes. Family Process, 45, 289-303.
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4 Ways to Reframe Rejection

Learn why some of us feel so rejected and how to cope with it.

Have you recently been rejected? Rejection involves being excluded from a social relationship or interaction. It can be active—for example in acts of bullying or teasing. Or it can be passive—for example in the acts of giving the silent treatment or ignoring someone (DeWall & Bushman, 2011). We might respond to rejection with feelings of hostility, dejection, withdrawal, and even jealousy (Downey & Feldman, 1996).

Although rejection is often deliberate—that is, the rejector does it on purpose—it doesn’t have to be. We actually differ in the extent to which we are sensitive to rejection and may think that someone is rejecting us when they are not. For example, the lack of a smile or laughter at our jokes may be perceived as rejection even though the person is not intending to reject us.

We feel rejection because human beings have a fundamental need to belong. Some believe that this is because in our history, being part of a group helped us survive. Those of us who were more group-oriented were more likely to survive. This may explain why modern humans are all very group-oriented (DeWall & Bushman, 2011) and why we try to avoid rejection whenever possible.

And rejection is indeed quite unpleasant. Some fascinating research shows that social rejection actually feels similar to physical pain. It activates regions of the brain involved in both the sensory components of pain and the emotional components of pain. The more intense the rejection, the more intense the pain response. Specifically, thinking about a recent romantic relationship breakup elicited both emotional and physical pain responses in the brain (Kross et al., 2011). So, when people say rejection is painful, they really mean it!

What Is Rejection Sensitivity?

It turns out that we differ in the extent to which we perceive and react to rejection. While some of us might perceive our friend’s failure to invite us to lunch as a rejection, others may rationalize that they forgot or didn’t realize we would want to come.

Those of us who tend to notice when we are rejected in even the smallest ways—or even perceive that we are being rejected when we are not—are said to be rejection sensitive. Therefore, rejection sensitivity is defined as the tendency to “anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to rejection” (Downey & Feldman, 1996). This tendency to be rejection sensitive likely arose in childhood as a result of rejection from parents or others in our environment.

How to Deal With Rejection

Regardless of whether we are rejection sensitive or not, we can benefit from learning to deal with our rejection in healthier ways. This can help us decrease both the emotional and physical pain that accompanies rejection. We might use these strategies to handle job rejection, rejection in romantic relationships, and social rejection from friends or family. Here are some science-based tips:

  1. Write about your rejected feelings. Research suggests that writing about your feelings and the potential implications following an experience of rejection may be an effective way to process those feelings more quickly and move past them (Rude, Mazzetti, Pal, & Stauble, 2011).
  2. Practice accepting rejection. Accepting rejection (versus evaluating it or describing it) may help decrease negative emotional responses more quickly (Rude, Mazzetti, Pal, & Stauble, 2011). Acceptance does not mean being a “doormat” or tolerating an unhealthy situation. Acceptance simply means that you acknowledge and accept yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions. Then from a place of acceptance, you can take action if needed.
  3. Focus on the positive. Although rejection can feel terrible, some evidence suggests that it can make positive emotions more accessible (DeWall et al., 2011). This may mean that trying to increase positive emotions—for example by doing an activity you enjoy—may be beneficial.
  4. Try emotionally distancing yourself from the rejection. Emotional distancing involves imagining your rejection as if you were a fly on the wall or a stranger on the street. When you take a look at your situation from an outsider’s perspective, it can help the negative emotions dissipate more quickly (Ayduk & Kross, 2010).

In Sum

Rejection hurts and it’s unpreventable. Luckily, there are some things we can do to diminish the pain or reduce how long it lasts. Hopefully, the tips here will help you deal with rejection more easily.

References

  • Ayduk, Ö., & Kross, E. (2010). From a distance: Implications of spontaneous self-distancing for adaptive self-reflection. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(5), 809.
  • DeWall, C. N., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). Social acceptance and rejection: The sweet and the bitter. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(4), 256-260.
  • DeWall, C. N., Twenge, J. M., Koole, S. L., Baumeister, R. F., Marquez, A., & Reid, M. W. (2011). Automatic emotion regulation after social exclusion: Tuning to positivity. Emotion, 11(3), 623.
  • Downey, G., & Feldman, S. I. (1996). Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 70(6), 1327.
  • Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Mischel, W., Smith, E. E., & Wager, T. D. (2011). Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(15), 6270-6275.
  • Rude, S. S., Mazzetti, F. A., Pal, H., & Stauble, M. R. (2011). Social rejection: How best to think about it?. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 35(3), 209-216.
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5 Tips on How to Set Goals for Your Life

The different types of life goals and how you can set yours.

Life goals are the desired states that people seek to obtain, maintain or avoid (Nair, 2003). Our lives include many different pieces so life goals can include relationship goals, career goals, financial goals, and more.

Why We Might Set Life Goals

Researchers believe that the reason we set life goals is to resolve “discontent” with aspects of our present situation. Indeed, we may want something in our lives to be different—our relationship, career, or health, for example. And indeed, the simple act of setting a goal makes it more likely that we will reach it.

How to Set Life Goals

Setting specific and slightly difficult goals—like “I will run a marathon by running a little further each day for a year”—tends to go better than setting vague or abstract goals, like “I’m going to be rich!” Commitment to the goal also seems to help us achieve it. And getting feedback from others and tracking our progress also help us achieve our goals (Locke & Latham, 2006).

To set effective life goals, we can use the “SMART” acronym. Although there are some variations in what SMART stands for (Rubin, 2002), here is one example:

  • S: Specific
  • M: Meaningful
  • A: Achievable
  • R: Realistic
  • T: Trackable (or time-based)

What Are Short-Term and Long-Term Life Goals?

Achieving easier, shorter-term goals can help us feel like we’re making progress and motivate us to keep going towards long-term goals. That’s why it can be helpful to break longer-term goals up into a bunch of short and mid-term goals—things that we could accomplish in an hour, day, or week. For example, if I want to go to college, I might study for the SAT one hour per day for several months. Over time, these short-term goals allow me to accomplish my longer-term goal.

Turning Life Goals Into Objectives

Most short-term goals can be broken down even further into objectives—or actionable parts. For example, if my goal is to get into college, I might plan to study an hour per day (a short-term goal), but what I do during that time would be to accomplish my objectives. I might complete 10 math problems, memorize 10 vocabulary words, and quiz myself each evening on my vocabulary works. Those would be my objectives.

Examples of Life Goals

  • Career Goals. Career goals are goals that have to do with your work or maybe even your purpose. Career goals might involve achieving a particular title, income, role, position, or employer.
  • Financial Goals. Financial goals might help us live our values, change our lifestyle, take care of our families, or even promote the well-being of others in some way.
  • Relationship Goals. Regardless of whether we are in a romantic relationship, we might have goals about the quality or function of our closest relationships.
  • Wellness Goals. Your life goals might include fitness, body, health, or emotional wellness goals—things you’d like to change to feel better or healthier.
  • Educational Goals. We might have a life goal of getting an education, perhaps as a precursor to pursuing a particular career.
  • Other Personal Life Goals. Most of us have other life goals unrelated to the big categories. For example, I have a goal of living mostly sustainably. What about you? What are your other life goals?

More examples

  • Getting good at a hobby or sport
  • Spending more time doing your favorite things
  • Developing a new skill
  • Cultivating a soft skill like listening, resilience, or emotion regulation
  • Getting to know new people

Goal-Setting Tips

  • Create a list of goals.
  • For each goal, break it down into smaller steps.
  • Plan out how you’ll take these smaller steps.
  • Think about how you’ll overcome barriers that block your goals.
  • Be kind to yourself along the way.

Setting life goals can be good for us. If we take just a little more time to set the right goals in the right ways, we’ll have a greater chance of reaching those goals and manifesting some of our dreams.

References

  • Nair, K. S. (2003). Life goals: the concept and its relevance to rehabilitation. Clinical Rehabilitation, 17(2), 192-202.
  • Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current directions in psychological science, 15(5), 265-268.
  • Rubin, R. S. (2002). Will the real SMART goals please stand up. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39(4), 26-27.
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How to Make a Vision Board

Need a more creative way to think through your goals? Vision boards may help.

What Is a Vision Board?
A vision board is usually a collage of images that represent goals and dreams. It can include cut-out pictures from magazines and words that help inspire you to manifest your dreams and get where you want to go.

Although vision boarding is a commonly used tool, there is not a lot of research on its effectiveness. Initial research suggests it can help us more easily reach our goals. This may be due to how vision boards help us gain self-awareness and self-reflect on what is important to us.
Vision boards may also help us imagine what a positive future could look like for us. Imagining a positive future is a helpful way to increase positive emotions and optimism. And positive emotions often create opportunities and increase the chances of success.

Even though this research doesn’t directly assess the benefits of making a vision board, it suggests that many of the components of vision boarding have potential benefits for our well-being and success. It’s just key to remember that vision boards are not magic. Rather, they can help you better understand what it is you’d like to manifest.

How to Make a Vision Board
Start by exploring your values. If your goals are not aligned with your personal values, achieving these goals won’t provide the sense of satisfaction and well-being that you’re seeking. Ask yourself, what really matters to you? What gives you meaning? Who do you want to be? Who do you want to help? And how do you want to spend your time? When making a vision board and thinking through your goals, keep these values-focused questions in mind.

Think about what motivates you. If you pursue goals that you find motivating, you’ll have an easier time reaching them. So ask yourself, what do you want and why do you want it? Does it have anything to do with your childhood or past experiences? Does it have to do with your personality?

Try to better understand why the goals you’ve set are so important to you. Or revise them if you discover they are not as important as you once thought.

Set priorities. Sometimes vision boards can end up being a collection of all the goals we aspire to—being rich, beautiful, and successful. If we really want to achieve these goals, we need to be more realistic with them. What can we reasonably accomplish in a year or five years? You can visualize your priorities by focusing a vision board on your most important life goals or by placing them above, in the center, or over a greater majority of the board.

Potential Problems With Vision Boards
Vision boarding is somewhat controversial in the scientific community. Because vision boards are often associated with the “law of attraction,” which doesn’t have scientific support behind it, many assume vision boards are not a useful tool.

It’s true that we don’t fully understand the precise benefits of vision boards, but the truth is we don’t understand the precise benefits of many tools that are used in coaching, counseling, and psychotherapy. That’s because testing each one of these tools without the others is quite burdensome research. Anyway, given we know that the very act of setting goals is better than not setting goals, vision boards are indeed likely to be a useful tool, at least for some people.

Vision Board Ideas
Here are some types of goals that you may want to include in a vision board.
● Career
● Money
● Love
● Health
● Travel
● Social Goals

You can include all of these or make a vision board for each goal, focusing on the details of each. It’s up to you. Now it’s time to get creative.

References

● Quoidbach, J., Mikolajczak, M., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Positive interventions: An emotion regulation perspective. Psychological bulletin, 141(3), 655.
● Burton, L., & Lent, J. (2016). The use of vision boards as a therapeutic intervention. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 11(1), 52-65.
● Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?. Psychological bulletin, 131(6), 803.

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How to Figure Out Your Priorities

How do you set the right priorities for you? Here are some tips and guidance to help you clarify your top priorities and stick to them.

Do you know what is high-priority for you? Or do you feel like everything is high-priority and don’t know what to do first? Or, are you just too plain busy to ever get to the high-priority stuff? If you’re reading this, then you’re likely looking for more help figuring out your priorities. Don’t worry, we can help.

What, Exactly, Is High-Priority?

What, exactly, is high-priority? Well, the answer depends on who you ask and which aspect of life we’re looking at. Are we talking about work priorities, relationship priorities, family priorities, or figuring out which is the highest priority of these high priority items?

To start, let’s take a look at each of these life domains to better understand different types of priorities, how they fit together, and how they may compete with each other.

Work Priorities

To set priorities for work, make a list of the major tasks that you need to accomplish. Then list these tasks in order of importance. Be sure to also note whether one task needs to come before another or is dependent on another task being completed first. For example, maybe you need a website before you can start selling things in your online business.

Relationship Priorities

Maybe there are some people we want to see more than others. Or, maybe there are certain activities that we feel are more important to ensure the success of our romantic relationships and friendships. Some examples of relationship priorities could also include: being honest, making time for fun, practicing kindness, or talking about fears and difficulties.

Family Priorities

What are the highest priority actions you need to take to ensure your family is taken care of? This might depend a lot on whether you have kids, aging parents, or a small family. So take a moment to think about high-priority actions within your family. Remember, your priorities don’t necessarily have to be engagement related. For example, your priority may be to set boundaries or take time off rather than spending a lot of time with family. Everyone is different.

​Life Priorities

Do you have other priorities related to your mental or physical health, finances, purpose, or personal growth? Think about what these priorities are.

What Are Your Top Priorities?

Now that you’ve thought about your priorities in each of the life domains, you’re probably now wondering, How do I prioritize my priorities?!

Well, pause here to look over or think about your top priorities in each life domain. Combine these into one long list. Put the most important things at the top to hopefully get a sense of which things are most important to you. This can be a bit tricky, so try not to be too hard on yourself—just do the best you can. Your priorities might also change over time, and that’s okay too.

Managing competing priorities

There are only so many hours in the day. If we spend all day doing our top priority, then we’ll have no time for our second priority. But if we spend an equal amount of time on each priority, we’ll move forward so slowly on all of them that we may get frustrated and give up. So knowing our priorities isn’t always the solution to sticking to our priorities.

Sometimes it can be easiest to focus on a few high priority items at a time. For example, maybe you spend one month really focusing on your family but the next month, you need to prioritize more work. It’s okay to try to find a balance that works for you and experiment as you go.

Taking action on your priorities

Another thing to consider is what things make it easier or harder for us to stick to our priorities. For example, are there people who make it difficult to stick to your priorities? Are there situations that make it hard to stick to your priorities? Or, are there things about you that make it hard to stick to your priorities? By taking the time to better understand your own unique challenges, you’ll also better understand what solution might best work for you.

References

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6 Ways to Take Action on Your Goals

Here are some tips to help you create your action plan and achieve your purpose.

If you’ve got a dream you’re hoping to bring to life or an idea that you want to manifest, hopefully, the tips below can help. If some of the steps don’t feel like a good fit for you, that’s OK. Feel free to take what’s helpful and ignore the rest.

1. Set smart goals

SMART goals are Specific, Meaningful, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable. If our goal is not SMART, it may be harder to take action. For example, if our goal is not specific enough, we might not know what to do to reach it. Or, if our goal is not meaningful enough, then we might have a hard time staying motivated enough to do it.

So, before taking action, ask yourself these “SMART” questions:

  • What exactly is your goal?
  • Why does this goal matter to you?
  • Who is involved in this goal?
  • How will you achieve this goal?
  • What specific times will you work on this goal?

2. Write down your action steps

Once you know your goal, write down the steps you plan to take to reach it. The more detail you can include, the better. For example, if you want to write a book, make a plan for exactly how many pages you plan to write per hour, day, week, or month. Note any other related tasks that will need to be done as well so that you know what needs to be accomplished to reach your goal.

3. Schedule your action steps

Once you have your action steps, schedule each of them in your calendar. Block out enough time for each action step. As you are getting started, you might not estimate quite right, so it’s OK to modify this at any point.

Another helpful tip is to try and schedule a blank time to catch up on things you missed or anything that took longer than expected. In time, you’ll be able to estimate task time more easily.

4. Commit to your action steps

If you have a realistic plan with clear action steps, then you’re ready to commit to your goal. By making a commitment—either a written or verbal commitment will do—we actually make it more likely that we’ll do something. One way to do this can be to write up a statement of the efforts you agree to complete and then sign it. Post it somewhere where you’ll see it frequently.

5. Link potential problems to goal-directed actions

Once you’ve gotten started taking actions to manifest your goal, you’ll eventually encounter challenges, even if just small ones. This is why it can be helpful to create implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999). Implementation intentions are simple cause-and-effect: If problem situation X happens, then I will do Y.

6. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Taking action on your goals should push you out of your comfort zone a bit. But if taking action towards your goals means that you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, then it is likely not sustainable. Here are some tips to avoid overwhelm:

Set your success rate

Rather than trying to aim for 100 percent all the time, set a secondary goal to complete your action steps some percentage of the time. Eighty percent feels right to me. Missing your goals sometimes is totally normal, so being realistic about it can help you practice more self-compassion.

Give yourself a “get out of jail free card”

It can actually be helpful to let yourself off the hook every now and then. Especially for those perfectionists out there, a break will probably do you more good than you realize.

Re-evaluate as needed

Sometimes we set goals that are too easy, too hard, or need to be changed to be effective moving forward. Remember, it’s OK to change your plan.

In Sum

Taking action is an essential part of reaching any goal. But it is often the hardest part. Hopefully, these resources will help you feel more confident that you can successfully take action and reach your goals.

References

  • Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist, 54(7), 493.
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6 Tips To Help You Dream Bigger

Do you want to reach your goals and create the life you’ve always dreamed of? Here are some strategies to help you dream bigger.

Dreaming big doesn’t have to mean we suddenly want to be a millionaire or become famous (although it could mean that for some of us). That’s because ‘bigger’ is a relative term. If we currently have no dreams, dreaming bigger might just mean we have a small goal that we want to reach. But even that is not always easy. If we knew how to dream bigger, we’d already do it! we might think. So how do you start dreaming bigger?

1. Cultivate Confidence

To achieve big things, first, you have to believe that you can. If we’re not sure we deserve to achieve big things, why would we try, right? That’s why the first thing we need to dream big is a confidence boost.

To get this boost, try to remember a time when you succeeded in doing something you set your mind to. Or, if you have a hard time, look for role models that dared to dream big and achieve more than was expected of them. Use your and others’ experiences as inspiration and motivation.

2. Face Fear of Failure

If you want to do something big, the fear can be intense. We might think: What if we fail? What then? If this sounds like you, it may be helpful to shift your mindset or perspective. Developing a growth mindset—or the belief that growth and learning are more important than success or other people’s opinions—can help you shift your focus to the journey instead of the end goal. That way we can better enjoy the pursuit, even if it ultimately does result in failure.

3. Face Fear of Success

We often think we don’t pursue big dreams because we’re afraid of failure. But what if we’re really afraid of success? Success can mean different things to different people—some of these things are scary. For example, success might mean feeling like the odd one out in your family or friend group. It might mean having more responsibility than you really want. Or, it could lead to jealousy from others. There are lots of reasons why you may have a fear of success. But taking a closer outlook at these fears and thinking about how you might deal with them can help you move through them.

4. Use Your Imagination

Start by visualizing a variety of different possible exciting outcomes that might come from following your dreams. Maybe you imagine yourself owning your own business, having a big family, or traveling all over the world.

As you visualize, try to be mindful, paying attention to how your body feels during each scenario. Try to tune into how each experience feels in your body, and take note of any thoughts or emotions that come up. Ask yourself:

  • Does living this life feel good?
  • Does living this life feel authentic?
  • Does living this life feel like a big dream?

Use this visualization exercise to better understand which big dreams are a good fit for you.

5. Find Meaning

Many of us get stuck on the path towards small dreams (or the wrong dreams). Often, it’s because we have not yet deeply explored what really matters to us. To make sure our big dreams are meaningful, reflect on these different things that research shows give us meaning (Ryff, 1989):

  • Positive relations with others. Warm, trusting relationships with others.
  • Self-acceptance. Holding positive attitudes about the self.
  • Autonomy. Feeling free to choose and direct one’s own actions.
  • Environmental mastery. Feeling that one can change one’s circumstances.
  • Personal growth. The ability to develop and grow as a person.
  • Life purpose. Having a sense of meaningful direction in life.

When dreaming big, try to keep these things in mind to ensure your dreams will be meaningful to you and inspire you to act on them.

6. Enjoy in the Process

Sometimes we end up spending so much time focusing on our big dreams that we forget to enjoy the process. Indeed, big dreams can help us imagine a life or a future that is unlike any that we’ve ever known. But big dreams take time, and if we don’t enjoy the process, it’s going to be tough to get there.

So, try to focus on the enjoyable parts of creating your dream. You’re taking control of your life, you’re building a new reality, and even small steps you take are worth celebrating. If our dreams are truly meaningful to us, striving towards them can increase well-being, regardless of whether we achieve the big goal at the end or not.

References

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4 Steps on How to Become Self-Actualized

What is self-actualization and how do you strive towards it?

If you’re not familiar with self-actualization, the idea comes from renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation. Maslow hypothesized that unsatisfied needs drive our behavior. Needs like food, water, and safety need to be met first, then we strive to achieve social connection and self-esteem. Once all of these goals are met, we move on to seeking self-actualization—or achieving our full potential.

Later, an additional need was added—contributing something purposeful that is greater than ourselves. This is also referred to as “Beyond Self-Actualization,” “Transcendence,” or “Selfless Actualization” (Greene, & Burke, 2007).

Maslow suggested that lower-level needs are “deficit needs.” We need them to survive, so they take priority. Self-actualization and beyond are “growth needs.” Personal growth is considered to be a crucial precursor to well-being (Ryff, 1989). We may focus on actualizing our potential and extending our abilities to serve others. We might have:

  • The desire to make bad situations better
  • The desire to create something that makes the world better
  • The desire to reward and praise others

 

How to Become Self-Actualized

So how do we strive toward self-actualization? Here are a few tips:

1. Cultivate Openness to Experience

When we think in black-versus-white, we miss opportunities to learn, grow, and experience things that could bring more meaning to our lives. That’s why self-actualization involves being open to alternative information and points-of-view (Greene, & Burke, 2007). We’re served by looking at problems in creative ways and from different perspectives. So try to be more open to experience if you’re aiming for self-actualization.

2. Reflect on Your Values

If you aim to self-actualize and become your best self, it’s important to first get clear on your values (Greene, & Burke, 2007). If we strive to reach goals that go against our values or morals, we could end up feeling worse off—unfulfilled and unhappy.

3. Move Beyond Love and Esteem Needs

When we think of self-actualization, many of us actually are thinking of esteem needs (Krems, Kenrick, & Neel, 2017). Maybe we strive for love and belonging or for career success. There is nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, according to Maslow, we need to satisfy these needs before moving on to self-actualization. Once we feel like we are loved and respected it may be easier to shift our focus to personal growth and selfless pursuits.

4. Live Authentically

Each of us desires to achieve different goals and manifest different dreams. By exploring what it is that we really want, we can feel more fulfilled in pursuing it.

In Sum

Self-actualization is a peak experience that many of us strive for. But it should also be thought of as a lifelong pursuit. It is about growth and giving back. With some effort, we have the potential to experience all that self-actualization has to offer.

References

  • ​Greene, L., & Burke, G. (2007). Beyond self-actualization. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 116-128.
  • ​Krems, J. A., Kenrick, D. T., & Neel, R. (2017). Individual perceptions of self-actualization: What functional motives are linked to fulfilling one’s full potential?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(9), 1337-1352.
  • Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(6), 1069.
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5 Steps to Starting a Manifestation Journal

Here we’ll talk about the benefits of journaling, offer some prompts to get you started, and provide ideas to journal your way to your dreams.

Are you looking for a guide to help you start a practical, fun, and useful journal? Then why not start with a manifestation journal? A manifestation journal is a place where you write down your thoughts, dreams, goals, plans, or other things you want to manifest. It can help you gain clarity about your life goals and what you need to do to get there.

To start journaling for manifestation, all you need is a notebook or journal and a general goal (no specifics needed at this point). We’ll walk you through the steps to get your manifestation journal going.

Step 1: Freewrite

Starting a journal with freewriting can be really helpful—we just let whatever comes to our heads flow onto the page. It can help you overcome the inertia of the blank page. If you’re note sure what to write about, it may be helpful to clear out any thoughts or emotions that are distracting you. Consider sharing emotions and disclosing private things that you haven’t told anyone (don;t worry, no one gets to read this). Research suggests that sharing these deep feelings may help release them (Pennebaker, 1997). With that gunk out of the way, it may be easier to open up space for your goals and dreams.

Step 2: Set SMART Goals

Although science is skeptical of “Law of Attraction” approaches to manifestation, research supports the idea that setting fairly ambitious goals may help us achieve more. To start, we can use a manifestation journal to get clearer on what goals to set. One method for doing this involves the SMART system (Lawlor, 2012). Check out the ‘SMART’ system below and use it to guide you as you write about your goals.

  • S – Specific
  • M – Meaningful
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Trackable

Step 3: Find Meaning

Once you have your goals clear, you might want to spend a little more time thinking about the meaning behind your goals. To start, answer these questions in your journal:

  • Why is this goal meaningful to you?
  • What will achieving this goal give you?
  • How will you feel once you’ve achieved this goal? Will those feelings last?
  • Will achieving this goal help you achieve other important goals?

Try to reflect on why your goals are truly meaningful to you. It’s the truly meaningful goals that we are more likely to stick to.

Step 4: Believe in Yourself

A negative mindset or the failure to believe in ourselves can often block us from achieving the things we want in life. By believing in ourselves, our capabilities, and our future, we give ourselves a better chance to succeed.

In your journal, try to work on developing a growth mindset—or the belief that your most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work (Dweck, 2015). When we develop a growth mindset, we put in more effort to improve our skills because we believe those efforts are worthwhile.

To build a growth mindset, write in your manifestation journal about times when you did learn new things or build new skills. Write about how it went, the challenges you overcame, and how you eventually learned the new thing. Reminding yourself of what you did in the past can help you gain confidence in your ability to do it again in the future.

​Step 5: Map Your Path Forward

Here are some more questions to ponder in your journal to help you find your path forward:

  • What are your short-term goals?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • How will these short-term goals help you reach your long-term goals?
  • What good habits would you like to build in the next 5 years?
  • How can you set goals that support the person you are becoming, not the person you used to be?
  • What would you like to have accomplished by the end of your life?
  • How do you imagine the last years of your life?
  • What can you do now to make sure you get to where you want to go?

In addition to reflecting on goals, you might find that you want to write about yourself to gain more clarity about what you really want, what you need, and what will really make you happy. Here are some prompts that may help you gain more clarity:

  • I am happiest when I…
  • The positive changes I want to make in the world are…
  • I am successful at reaching goals when I…
  • I struggle with my goals when I…
  • I can overcome challenges by…
  • I believe in myself because I…
  • If I feel I am losing faith in my own abilities I will…
  • If I’m feeling stressed on my journey I will…
  • When I need a friend, I will reach out to…

These questions and prompts can hopefully help you gain clarity on goals, dreams, and what you want to manifest in your life.

References

  • ​​​​Lawlor, K. B. (2012). Smart goals: How the application of smart goals can contribute to achievement of student learning outcomes. In Developments in business simulation and experiential learning: Proceedings of the annual ABSEL conference (Vol. 39).
  • Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological science, 8(3), 162-166.​
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6 Tips for Better Emotional Health

What is emotional health, and how do you boost it? Here are some science-based tips.

Emotional health is defined as a lack of mental disorders, but it also includes positive emotional characteristics, like resilience, self-efficacy, and vitality. Given how many different aspects of mental and emotional health there are, there are actually lots of different things we can do to improve our emotional health. Here are a few things you can do:

1. Do Things You Enjoy

An easy way to get an emotional boost is to do activities that you enjoy. Go out to eat with friends, play games, do crafts, or get a new hobby. Just doing fun things can go a long way in helping your mental and emotional health (Catalino, Algoe, & Fredrickson, 2014).

2. Build a Better Relationship With Technology

Spending too much time on our phones or online isn’t good for our mental and emotional health. But if we learn how to interact with our technology in healthy ways, it doesn’t have to be bad for us. You can start by learning how to have more positive interactions online (e.g., practicing kindness or gratitude online) and using technology to connect with others.

3. Be Kind to Yourself

Many of us are so mean to ourselves. We might have a vicious inner self-critic, or we might find that we judge ourselves harshly for any mistakes we make. But the truth is, we all make mistakes and have flaws. Self-acceptance, despite those flaws, is a key to happiness.

So be nice to yourself and give yourself a break. You could work on building skills, like self-compassion and a growth mindset.

4. Practice Gratitude

The more we practice gratitude, the happier we are likely to be. And gratitude is easy. You could write a gratitude journal, make gratitude lists, share your gratitude with others, or even write a gratitude letter to someone you never properly thanked.

5. Use Positive Reappraisal

Positive reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that we can use to reinterpret a negative situation in more positive (or less negative) ways in order to make us feel better. If we don’t use reappraisal (or we’re not very skilled at it), this can lead to lower emotional health (Ford & Troy, 2019). So practice reappraisal to get better at it and make the most of it.

6. Add Positive Info to Your Brain

The more information our brains have on a subject, the easier it is to recall anything related to that subject. That means if we have more positive words, info, and memories in our brains, it should be easier to bring to mind the positive stuff. One way to add more to the “positive stuff” in your brain may be to memorize words that have been rated as highly positive or spend time focusing or thinking about positive things.

In Sum

There are many ways to start boosting your mental and emotional health. By trying these out, you can likely feel a bit happier. Continue with these and engage in even more activities to see your emotional health grow.

References

  • Catalino, L. I., Algoe, S. B., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2014). Prioritizing positivity: An effective approach to pursuing happiness?. Emotion, 14(6), 1155.
  • Ford, B. Q., & Troy, A. S. (2019). Reappraisal reconsidered: A closer look at the costs of an acclaimed emotion-regulation strategy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(2), 195-203.
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8 Ways to Be More Resilient

Explore the many different things that contribute to resilience.

In life, we all face stressful experiences. But, each of us is very different in how we cope with these experiences. Some of us cope well and may even grow and improve as a result of stress. Others struggle and may even develop mental health issues in the face of stress.

Resilience is the set of personal qualities that enable us to thrive in the face of adversity (Connor & Davidson, 2003). It may involve being calm in difficult situations, implementing effective coping mechanisms, and handling criticism well.

Why Is Resilience Important?

Ongoing stress can be hard on our mental and physical health. Personal resilience can buffer us from these effects, shutting down the stress cycle and HPA-axis, enabling us to better fight off illness and other negative outcomes (Gaffey, Bergeman, Clark, & Wirth, 2016). But resilience can mean different things to different people. For example, to someone who is extroverted, resilience may mean spending extra time with friends. To an introvert, resilience may mean spending more time alone. Although each of us may cope with struggles by using different strategies, the key is to know what works for us and in which circumstances.

How to Be More Resilient

1. Practice acceptance

So much pain is created from our tendency to fight the things we can not change. But the more time we spend getting upset about the uncontrollable situations in our lives, the more time we spend stressed or angry instead of focusing on how we can make the future better. Perhaps this is why acceptance is linked to positive well-being (Ranzijn & Luszcz, 1999).

2. Strive for self-knowledge

Self-knowledge is essential to resilience. If we do not know ourselves well enough to cope with stressors in ways that are effective for us, then we are likely to struggle. For example, maybe we cope by drinking alcohol or using drugs when we’re upset. But the next day, we just end up feeling worse. By developing self-knowledge, we can take actions that help us recover from difficulties more easily. 

3. Take care of yourself

When we’re sick, tired, and malnourished, we have a harder time responding to any type of stress, big or small. Our bodies just don’t have the resources. For example, research has found that sugar intake is related to depression (Knüppel et al., 2017). If we focus on being healthier, we are likely to boost our resilience. We can do this by eating more nutritious food, engaging in moderate exercise, and sleeping when we’re tired.

4. Prevent burnout

Burnout is a very real phenomenon that includes emotional exhaustion and cynicism (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Research has shown that there are several causes of burnout including too much work, not enough control, not enough pay, social issues, and a mismatch in values (Maslach & Leiter, 2016). If we’re burned out, our resilience is at an all-time low. ​This is why it’s so important to prevent burnout before it gets to this point. If possible, try to get out of jobs or roles that are not a good fit for you. Take breaks whenever possible. And be sure to relax during your time off.

5. Practice self-love

Self-love (or self-worth, self-confidence, self-esteem, etc…) may be a crucial part of what it means to be resilient. Positive self-views are closely linked to positive outcomes like happiness and well-being (Miller Smedema, Catalano, & Ebener, 2010). This may be because if we feel bad about ourselves, it colors every other aspect of our lives. We set ourselves up for disappointing situations and then we blame ourselves for them. By cultivating self-love, we can hopefully respond to stress in healthier ways.

6. Build social connections

No matter what we’re doing, we feel better when we’re doing it with others. That makes social connections a crucial component of resilience. In fact, one of the most reliable ways to boost well-being is by developing high-quality social relationships and by feeling socially connected to the people in your life (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017).

7. Take a step back

Sometimes when we’re going through something difficult, we get so immersed in it that we can’t see straight. Our emotions overwhelm and our perspectives narrow. That’s why resilience often means being able to take a step back to look at our situation from outside ourselves. More specifically, if we look at our situation as if we were “a fly on the wall” or “a passerby on the street”, we can get some much-needed objectivity that can help decrease our negative emotions. This strategy is known as emotional distancing, and it can help us feel better during difficult times (Ayduk, & Kross, 2010).

8. Make meaning

It’s human nature to try to make meaning of our challenges. We often create explanations in our minds for why things happened to us and why they happened the way they did. This can help us cope with loss and other stressful events (Park, 2008). That’s why meaning-making can be a key part of resilience. If we instead think that bad things happen for seemly no reason, we can end up feeling lost or out of control.

In Sum

Resilience is a powerful tool for well-being. But it is also a complex, multifaceted concept. Hopefully, this explanation helped clarify how to be more resilient in your life.

References

  • Ayduk, Ö., and E. Kross. 2010. “From a Distance: Implications of Spontaneous Self-Distancing for Adaptive Self-Reflection.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98 (5): 809–829. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0019205.
  • Connor, K. M., & Davidson, J. R. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor‐Davidson resilience scale (CD‐RISC). Depression and anxiety, 18(2), 76-82.
  • Gaffey, A. E., Bergeman, C. S., Clark, L. A., & Wirth, M. M. (2016). Aging and the HPA axis: Stress and resilience in older adults. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 68, 928-945.
  • Holt-Lunstad, J., Robles, T. F., & Sbarra, D. A. (2017). Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States. American Psychologist, 72(6), 517.
  • Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports, 7(1), 1-10.
  • Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of organizational behavior, 2(2), 99-113.
  • Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Burnout. In Stress: Concepts, cognition, emotion, and behavior (pp. 351-357). Academic Press.
  • Miller Smedema, S., Catalano, D., & Ebener, D. J. (2010). The relationship of coping, self-worth, and subjective well-being: A structural equation model. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 53(3), 131-142.
  • Park, C. L. (2008). Testing the meaning making model of coping with loss. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27(9), 970-994.​
  • Ranzijn, R., & Luszcz, M. (1999). Acceptance: A key to wellbeing in older adults? Australian Psychologist, 34(2), 94-98.
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6 Science-Based Tips to Boost Your Mood

Strategies to boost positive emotions, decrease negative emotions, and feel better.

Do you tend to feel a lot of negative emotions? Do you feel bad about yourself? Or do you feel unhappy about your place in the world? Well, the science has shown us that we actually have a lot of control over our feelings and well-being. So here are 6 science-based tips to help you feel better.

1. Explore Your Emotional Goals

How do you define ‘feel better’? If you don’t know the answer, then how are you supposed to get there? Take a moment to ask yourself what exact emotions or experiences do you want to have when you ‘feel better’? Here are some emotions to reflect on. Try to identify the top 1 or 2 emotions you want to feel.

  • Excited
  • Passionate
  • Inspired
  • Amused
  • Confident
  • Joyful
  • Happy
  • Content
  • Peaceful
  • Relaxed

2. Pursue Your Desired Emotions

Once you know which emotions would make you feel better, you can take action to experience them more often. If you want to feel excitement, for example, plan a trip to do something new and invigorating. If, on the other hand, you want to feel relaxed, plan to get a massage or practice deep breathing. By knowing what your emotional goals are, you can more easily achieve them.

3. Practice Gratitude

When we’re not feeling good, it can be hard to be grateful for anything. But practicing gratitude for the things in our lives that are going well can help us feel better. By doing so, we shift our focus onto the good rather than the bad. You can write a gratitude journal or share your gratitude with others. Both of these are good ways to cultivate gratitude skills.

4. Try Not to Feel Bad About Feeling Bad

If you just want to feel bad for a little while, that’s okay. Negative emotions have important functions that actually help us take better care of ourselves. Sadness can help us get support from others, anxiety can help us prepare for threats, and anger can help us stand up for what we believe in. But just be careful that you’re not holding onto negative emotions that aren’t benefiting you. Let go of resentments, shame, and self-blame in exchange for taking actions to improve your life.

5. Treat Yourself Better

It’s not always easy to boost self-esteem or self-worth because we often set up our lives in ways that confirm what we already believe about ourselves. But we can start by being self-compassionate (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012). And we can feel even better by working to understand the people or experiences that make us feel bad and learning how to say ‘no’ to those people or experiences. By treating ourselves better in small ways, we can build momentum and self-efficacy that can hopefully help us feel better in time.

6. Shift Your Focus

We often feel worse after a breakup, job loss, or other rejection. If we focus on how we were rejected or failed, we’re likely only making it worse, stewing in our emotions until they become unbearable. Shifting our attention to something else can make a massive difference. If we’re up for it, we can shift to focusing on the positive things—we can savor the good times or imagine good things in our future. Or, we can simply live in the present moment. Even picking up an object, like a pen, and naming everything we see and feel related to that pen, can help us shift our focus away from the negative.

References

  • MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical psychology review, 32(6), 545-552.
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4 Ways You Can Use Netflix to Cultivate Well-Being

Feeling guilty about binging on Netflix? Learn how to binge in healthier ways.

Pixabay

The latest series just came out, everyone has already seen it, and you can’t go anywhere without hearing about how awesome it is. Sometimes it feels like you just can’t help it – you know you’re about to binge on Netflix once again. But at the same time, you know that you’ll feel guilty for spending the whole weekend on your couch instead of out in the world, ya know, doing stuff.

So what do you do? Well, if you choose Netflix this weekend, at least make your binge more productive by using it to strengthen your emotion regulation skills. With stronger emotion regulation skills, you can better cope with stress, increase your satisfaction with life, and become more resilient.

So how do you use Netflix to strengthen your emotion regulation skills? By using these four simple strategies:

1. Generate positive emotions with positive or fun videos

The broaden-and-build theory suggests that experiencing positive emotions builds our psychological, intellectual, and social resources, allowing us to benefit more from our experiences. When you put yourself in a good mood by watching positive or fun videos, you may make it easier to cope with subsequent stress. Just be sure to mentally hang onto those positive emotions so that you take your good mood with you when you leave the couch.

2. Develop empathy by taking a new perspective

We learn how to be empathetic by looking at the world through other people’s eyes and feeling the emotions that they feel. By watching videos that recount the experiences of people who are different from us, we may be able to develop our ability to empathize with others. It doesn’t always feel good to empathize because we feel the others’ pain, but empathy is key to building strong personal relationships and feeling more connected to others.

3. Practice reappraisal while watching dramatic scenes

In graduate school, my research team often asked study participants to watch emotional scenes from movies. We’d then give them instructions on how to reappraise the situation – for example by giving the characters advice for how to feel better, think about what could be learned from the experience, or imagine possible positive outcomes. By reappraising the situation as more positive, people were able to reduce their negative emotions. You too can use this strategy to practice positive reappraisal. With practice, you may be able to more easily use this strategy in real life.

4. Engage in mindful acceptance

Watching movies is a relatively safe space for experiencing negative emotions. So instead of pushing negative emotions away, use this opportunity to acknowledge your emotions, experience them fully, and practice accepting them. By practicing mindful acceptance of negative emotions, you may be able to build this skill and use it elsewhere in your life.

To binge or not to binge

I’m not suggesting that a Netflix binge is a healthier choice than going out with friends or getting some exercise, but if you’re going to do it anyway, why not try some of these strategies to build your emotion regulation skills while you binge.

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6 Ways to Respond to a Cyberbully

Fight against cyberbullying with these clever, but kind, tricks.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Are you hurling insults at anyone that you disagree with, find offensive, or don’t understand fully? Or are you choosing to be kind online, even when the person on the other side of the screen has been unkind to you? The truth is we can choose whether we want to respond to cyberbullying with hate, anger, and rudeness or respond by being thoughtful, kind, and considerate. Choosing the latter is more likely to build your happiness, and the happiness of others, because kindness just may be the most effective antidote to both unhappiness and unkindness.

How to Respond to Cyberbullying

I’ll be the first to admit that handling online bullying can be challenging. Indeed, discourse online has degraded as the Internet increasingly becomes an outlet for our worst impulses. Being on the receiving end of cyberbullying, or even witnessing it, can hurt, make us angry, and lead us to seek revenge.

We tell ourselves, I have to tell them what they’re doing wrong so they’ll do it right next time. But in the long run, this approach makes them feel worse, possibly leading them to amp up their bullying, and admit it, it makes you feel worse too. You might feel vindicated in standing up for yourself, standing up for others, or for expressing your point of view, but it only leads to more negative emotions for you, for them, and for everyone who passively reads these comments. If we keep up this negative cycle, we are all headed to a really dark place—a place where kindness, compassion, and civility are no longer valued. So we have to learn to respond to cyberbullying in more positive and effective ways.

Think of Your Comments as Acts of Kindness

When you read a nasty comment online, instead of appeasing your desire to be right, to change others, or to shame others for their comments, think of your comments in terms of what they can do for the person receiving them. When your goal is to give the other person a gift that helps them, your comments become acts of kindness instead of retaliations driven by hate.

How to Be Kind Online

Acts of kindness are the nice things that we humans do for each other unexpectedly or without a reward. These are acts that someone does for you or you do for someone else. Engaging in random acts of kindness forces you to focus on the needs and feelings of others. As a result, you feel more connected to others and they feel more connected to you.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Is it hard to practice random acts of kindness in response to comments that evoke negative emotions in you? Of course it is! That’s why online discussions so easily go off the rails. But the truth is that it’s up to us to change the dynamic. Here’s how to do it:

  • Question your assumptions. It’s natural for us to think we understand why someone is acting a certain way. We see their actions and make assumptions about who they are and how they think based only on this tiny bit of information. This can lead us to be the ones who treat people unfairly and unkindly, because we don’t understand others’ experiences and motivations. Maybe someone says something negative about one of our political beliefs. We think it’s because they are a jerk, but maybe it’s just because they believe a different approach would be the most helpful and kind.
  • Lead with questions and curiosity. Before jumping to conclusions, ask questions to learn about the situation better. Yelling at people is certainly not going to make them believe differently or be any less of a bully. Instead, ask them questions like: It sounds like you see this situation differently. Can you share your perspective with me so I can better understand where you’re coming from?
  • Clarify the value of your feedback. If others are open to answering your questions, you will likely better understand the causes of their actions and can respond more effectively. To be sure your responses are kind, make sure you can clearly articulate why the response you are giving is useful to the person. It probably would be helpful to say something like: I want to make sure we both understand each other’s perspectives so can I also better explain to you why I feel the way I do? By creating an environment where people can share and listen to each other, some bullying can be overcome.

I have heard of several online bloggers using this approach with trolls—showing interest in hearing their side—with great results. So give it a try when you encounter a cyberbully.

How to Respond to Trolls

Image courtesy Pixabay

Does rational, kind, considerate conversation work on trolls? Sometimes it does. Sometimes we mistake a cyberbully for a troll, so it’s on us to give people the benefit of the doubt. But usually trolls are a special kind of cyberbully—often the kind that wants to hurt you, get a rise out of you, or discredit you. They may not be interested in what anyone has to say. So responding to trolls requires a different technique. Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t give them what they want. When you see other people being trolled, don’t respond to the troll, yell at them, or give them any attention whatsoever. Instead, praise kindness on the person being trolled. They need your love and kindness.
  • Use trolling as a reminder to be kind to the person being trolled. Undo the negative comments of the troll by supporting the person being trolled. Write a kind, caring, or complimentary message to support them or whatever they’ve shared online.
  • Consider offering a random act of kindness to the troll in a private message. Remember, no one is hateful or harmful to others unless they have personally been harmed in some way. So reach out to offer trolls kindness; they probably need it more than you think.

With these tools in your toolbox, you can use cyberbullying and trolling as opportunities to practice kindness. As a result, you can start to build happiness from situations that otherwise might have harmed your happiness.

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4 Ways To Savor The Moment

Want to know how to feel more positive emotions? Try these 4 savoring techniques.

Too often we let the good moments pass without truly celebrating them. Maybe your friend gives you a small gift, a colleague makes you laugh, or a rainbow stretches across the sky. These are just tiny moments, and the positive emotions associated with them fade . . . but they don’t have to. We just have to savor them. 

What is savoring?

Savoring just means that we attempt to fully feel, enjoy, and extend our positive experiences. Savoring is a powerful tool for boosting positivity and building happiness.

Try these different savoring techniques to see what works best for you.

1. Savor the past.

Savoring the past is perhaps the easiest way to practice savoring. To do it, just spend a few minutes thinking about a happy, joyful, or pleasant event that happened to you in the last week or month. For example, you could think about “hanging out with friends, or completing an important project.”

As you are thinking back on the pleasant event, think about the people, smells, sounds, physical sensations, and sights that you experienced. Think about — and try to recreate — the positive emotions that you felt around the time of the event. As you are savoring, let your thoughts wander to anything else about the happy experience that makes you feel good. Then, just mentally hold on to whatever feels good.

Take a deep breath, and pay attention to how these emotions feel in your body. Let the emotions fade on their own, until you are ready to go back to whatever else you were doing.

2. Savor the present.

Are you that person who stops to notice and appreciate the small pleasures that life has to offer? If not, then you could benefit from practicing savoring the present. You do this by paying attention any time you experience something positive. Whenever you notice yourself feeling good, mentally hold on by thinking about the positive emotions and what caused them. You may want to also practice gratitude, reminding yourself that you are grateful for whatever or whoever caused these positive emotions.

3. Capitalize on the present.

To savor your positive emotions even longer, you can do what is referred to as “capitalizing on positive events.” When you feel good, show it, tell it, or share it with others right away. Keep in mind that the positive thing that happens doesn’t have to be big. You could simply have woken up on the right side of the bed and think, “Hey, I’m feeling great today.”

“Show it” by expressing the positive emotions in your facial expressions and body language. For example, you could smile, laugh, or throw your hands up in the air. These expressions of happiness can help prolong the feelings.

“Tell it” by talking to someone about why you’re happy. You might call or text a friend to talk to the people around you about what you’re feeling. Others tend to respond well to expressions of positive emotions, which can further generate more positive emotions for you.

“Share it” by sending a text message or posting kindly on social media. If there is something you are feeling great about, particularly something you think would make others feel great too, share it far and wide with a post. Just be careful not to post things that might make other people feel worse (like if you got something that someone else wanted).

4. Savor the future.

Did you know we often experience positive emotions when we strive for a goal, even before we have achieved that goal? That’s right. How? By using imagination to increase happiness. For example, you might be looking forward to a vacation this summer. If so, you could practice savoring by thinking about what you’ll do, who will be there, and the positive emotions you hope to feel. As a result, you’ll generate positive emotions from an event that hasn’t even happened yet.

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4 New Ways to Find Meaning and Purpose

How to boost purpose with achievement, creativity, expertise, and pro-sociality.

image courtesy pixabay

What exactly is “purpose”? And what are the ways we can seek purpose? Here are just some of the tricks you can use to more easily find your purpose.

1. Get clear on your goals. One way people seek purpose is through achievement. To seek purpose through achievement, you could start a project or take on a leadership role at church or work. This strategy can provide a quick boost in feelings of purpose. However, you might feel amazing when you achieve something you’ve been striving for, but don’t expect those feelings to last. So be sure to try the other strategies below to get longer-term boosts in well-being.

2. Get creative. Another way to cultivate life purpose is by being creative. When we are creative (perhaps through art, music, writing, making videos, or starting our own business), we feel good about having made something, perhaps something that future generations may even get to experience. Being creative can also help us open our minds and potentially feel more connected to others who are different than us.

3. Do your best. A third way to find life purpose is by building expertise and doing your best. We can often feel a sense of purpose when we excel at something (at work or in a hobby) and be able to offer insights that didn’t previously exist. For example, you could strive to be an expert in your field, help the world or planet in some unique way, or strive to win an award for your work. This approach can help us feel like we are knowledgeable, which feels good. But again, this approach often leads to a short-term boost in purpose, so be sure to also try out being creative or prosocial.

4. Be prosocial. One of the best ways to cultivate life purpose is to be prosocial. Being more prosocial means that you are kind, compassionate, and generous–by doing so you may feel like you are in greater alignment with your values and ethics. To be more prosocial, you could try community service, helping others who are struggling, or joining a program to clean up the environment. When you are prosocial, you might just start to get the feeling that you are providing something that helps others and are living a life of integrity. Indeed, purpose is most easily found by having positive interactions with others.

References

Hill, P. L., Burrow, A. L., Brandenberger, J. W., Lapsley, D. K., & Quaranto, J. C. (2010). Collegiate purpose orientations and well-being in early and middle adulthood. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(2), 173-179.

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3 Natural Ways To Test Your Gut Health

Try these 3 natural strategies to learn more about what might be causing your gut problems.

Do you have digestive issues? Perhaps you think it could be from parasites, bacteria, or candida? If you’re not yet ready to take the GI-MAP stool test to see what’s in your gut, you can try these 3 home tests to learn more.
The Sauerkraut Protocol
If you have a bad bacteria problem in your gut, eating good bacteria will kill them and force them out. This produces die-off symptoms like nausea, headaches, and chills. So eating naturally fermented cabbage, vegetables, or sauerkraut will help you learn more about your gut bacteria.


What to do:

  1. Buy a jar of sauerkraut. Be sure that the jar is refrigerated, has live cultures, and doesn’t include any preservatives whatsoever. Here is a handy guide to help you find the right stuff.
  2. Consume 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut with a meal. Pay attention to how you feel. If you feel die-off symptoms then keep eating this small amount once per day until it doesn’t feel bad anymore. If you feel fine with the amount of kraut, go to the next step.
  3. Increase the amount of sauerkraut you eat by 1 tablespoon per meal. Keep paying attention to how you feel to keep die-off symptoms to a minimum. And keep increasing your dosage until you get to 1/2 cup sauerkraut per meal. Make sure you don’t go too fast or you’ll kill too many bad bugs and feel like absolute garbage.
  4. Continue this slow-build process with other probiotic foods. Once you tolerate sauerkraut, try kimchi, coconut yogurt, kefir (if you tolerate dairy), coconut kefir, kvass, kombucha, fermented fruit, and so forth until you can eat as many fermented foods as you desire without any symptoms.
  5. Make your own fermented foods. Once you tolerate store-bought fermented foods, ideally, you should make your own fermented foods. These are far higher in probiotics and have a bigger positive impact on your gut.
    The papaya parasite test
    One great, and cheap, way to find out if you have parasites is with anti-parasitic foods, specifically, papaya seeds. You can even test yourself for parasites at home with the papaya seed test.
  6. Make a papaya smoothie. Toss 1/2 of a papaya in a blender (or less if you prefer). Toss in all the papaya seeds from that half of the papaya. Feel free to add a little juice or water if you like a thinner smoothie.
  7. Drink the smoothie on an empty stomach. Don’t eat anything else for 3 hours (water is fine). This should be enough time for the papaya seeds to get through your small intestine. Pay attention to how you feel. If you get any die-off symptoms, then you might have parasites, and the papaya seeds have just made them angry.
  8. If you get any die-off symptoms, get a parasite test to find out for sure (the papaya parasite test isn’t a sure thing). This is also necessary to see which parasites you have if you do have them.
    The coconut oil test
    Just as papaya seeds kill parasites, anti-fungal foods kill gut fungi like candida. A great, and cheap, way to find out if you have problems with gut fungi is with the coconut oil test.
  9. Eat 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil on an empty stomach. Don’t eat anything else for 1-2 hours (water is fine). Pay attention to how you feel.
  10. If you feel die-off symptoms then keep eating this amount of coconut oil (or less) until it doesn’t feel bad anymore. If you feel fine, go to the next step.
  11. Increase the amount of coconut oil you eat by just a tiny bit per day. Keep paying attention to how you feel. Keep increasing your dosage until you get to 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil per day (you can include this oil in food if that’s easier, but it might not be as effective).
    If you are able to determine what your gut issues are, it’ll be easier to resolve them.
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10 Ways to Generate Happiness

How to boost happiness in 2022, according to science.

There are tons of things you can do to boost your happiness in the digital age.
The research shows that the strategies that work best depend on you—on
your interests, strengths, and abilities. So here are a bunch of strategies to try.
You can choose your favorites.

  1. Find out what to do first.
    How are you supposed to build the right happiness skills if you don’t know
    which ones you are struggling with in the first place? This is why it’s helpful to
    take this quiz to explore your happiness strengths and weaknesses. That way,
    you can make an educated decision about what to focus on first.
  2. Give yourself a confidence boost.
    Why would you bother increasing your happiness if you didn’t think you could
    be successful at it? You wouldn’t. That’s why it’s so important to build your
    confidence — to prove to yourself that you can increase your happiness. The
    best way to do this is by starting with easier skills — skills like gratitude or
    prioritizing spending time doing fun things. Get a quick win, and you’ll be more
    confident that you really can change your life.
  3. Fuel your progress by learning how to feel better about yourself.
    You wouldn’t practice math to get better at cooking. And you wouldn’t learn
    another language to lose weight. To be happier, you’ll likely make more
    progress by focusing on the skills that are most closely linked to happiness. In
    my research, the skill that usually turns out to be most closely linked to
    happiness is: self-worth. Luckily, you can learn how to feel better about
    ourselves—for example, by imagining your best possible self, noting your
    positive qualities, or identifying your strengths.
  4. Create balance and overcome burnout.
    How are you supposed to have the energy to boost happiness if you’re
    stressed, exhausted ,and miserable from work? It will be really hard. Building
    new skills—skills that will help you happier—will take time and energy. So it’s
    helpful first to create better work-life balance.
  5. Build a growth mindset for happiness.
    Growth mindset refers to the belief that we can change ourselves. When we
    build a growth mindset for happiness, we believe we can change our
    happiness. This is super important, because if we don’t believe we can
    increase our happiness, we won’t even bother to try.
  6. Make positive memories.
    Every region in our brains can be strengthened through practice. If our brains
    are really good at remembering negative things that happen, it can be useful
    to strengthen the regions of the brain responsible for remembering positive
    things.
  7. Find those silver linings.
    Everything we experience can be a bummer if we choose to see it that way.
    But when you search for the benefits or silver linings in your life, you may be
    surprised to discover a lot more good than you thought. Keep thinking positive
    to decrease negative emotions to cultivate happiness.
  8. Take breaks from social media.
    Facebook tends to have a negative effect on our happiness. By choosing to
    take breaks from technology—or changing the way we use technology—we
    can boost our happiness.
  9. Spend smarter for more happiness.
    How we spend our money impacts our happiness. When we choose not to
    buy a fancy house or car—things that don’t bring us much happiness—we
    have more money to spend on adventures or on gifts for friends: things that
    actually do make us happier.
  10. End your negative patterns of thinking.
    Let’s face it: Sometimes we are what’s making us miserable. We just can’t
    stop thinking about how so-and-so wronged us, or how our life didn’t turn out
    as we hoped. Negative thought processes — like worrying, ruminating, and
    self-judgment— just keep us miserable and unable to move forward. When
    you find yourself thinking negatively, pause and refocus your thoughts. The
    more you do this, the more your brain will be able to do this on its own.

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Four Simple Ways to Develop a More Positive Attitude

How to think, feel, and act a bit more positive.

Photo by Alesia Kozik on Pexels.com

Sometimes it feels easier to be a Grumpy Gus—Who has the energy to get jazzed up about everything all the time? But ask yourself, how exhausting is it when you’re around someone else who is constantly negative and complaining? It sucks, right? Nobody wants to be around Negative Nellies that zap everyone’s energy. So the question becomes: Do you want to be the kind of person who drains energy or who supplies it? If you want to be an energy producer, you can start by developing a more positive attitude.

Of course, turning off the negative stream of consciousness and developing a positive attitude takes effort. But when we do so, people are more likely to want to be around us, which can make us happier, which makes us even easier to be around, and even happier—an upward spiral of positive emotions that fuel health and well-being. So let’s talk about the simple ways to develop a more positive attitude.

1. Strengthen the Positive Neural Pathways in Your Brain to Develop a More Positive Attitude

It can feel impossible to just flip some magic “positivity switch” and change everything about how you feel, think, and act. That’s because—let’s face it—the positive pathways in your brain haven’t been used all that often and are a bit out of shape. But I’m convinced that there are plenty of ways to boost positivity—there are even ways to do it on your phone!

One way to get started strengthening the positive pathways in your brain is to spend more time thinking about positive things, for example by memorizing and recalling lists of positive words. When you force your brain to work with positive information, you activate these regions of your brain and make this information accessible in your daily life. So later, when you’re trying to have a positive attitude, you may be able to generate positive thoughts, memories, and emotions more easily.

2. Look for the Silver Linings to Develop a More Positive Attitude

People who struggle to have a positive attitude are really good at one thing—finding the downside of any situation, person, or thing. People with a positive attitude do the opposite—they can always find the upside. Really, these two perspectives are just two sides of the same coin. It’s all about what you pay attention to. So if you want to change your perspective, you can apply your canny ability to find the bad to develop your ability to find the good.

To start, anytime you are down about anything find at least one benefit. Ask yourself: What could you learn? What opportunities might arise? What can you appreciate about this? Could the situation have been worse? Then use these questions to get yourself to start finding the good things instead of always focusing on the bad things.

3. Practice Random Acts of Kindness to Develop a More Positive Attitude

We don’t have to be giving, generous, and caring every moment—I mean c’mon, we’re not aiming for perfection here. But if we want to develop a positive attitude, we do have to make an effort to be kinder to others. Sometimes it’s easy to be kind—for example, when we feel like others deserve it—and sometimes it’s harder. So start with easy kindness and go from there.

Being kinder can be easy if you engage in random acts of kindness. A random act of kindness could be anything from telling a coworker you like her necklace, to congratulating a friend on an important achievement, to bringing a cup of soup to a family member who has the flu. These acts are small and unsolicited, but they show that you care—a significant part of what it means to be a positive person.

4. Smile and Laugh and Generally Enjoy Life to Develop a More Positive Attitude

A positive attitude is made up of more than thinking and acting in positive ways. It’s a feeling that others can detect in you when you don’t take life too seriously. Maybe you smile big when someone tells you there’s food stuck in your teeth. Or you laugh when things don’t go your way. You have made the decision to enjoy your life, regardless of what life throws at you.

Deciding to enjoy life more is a key step in developing a positive attitude. You could get upset when your friend repeatedly shows up late—or you could just decide not to. You could get anxious about your romantic partner leaving you—or just choose to spend your energy enjoying their company for as long as you have it. You could get angry about all the horrible things happening all over the world—or you could instead focus on righting the wrongs you see.

It’s surprising what a difference it makes in your life when you simply decide to be more positive, and you realize that you had the choice all along.

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Why Is It So Hard to Be Yourself?

Struggling to let your freak flag fly? This might help you see why.

Photo by Siva Adithya on Pexels.com

What is Authenticity?

Being authentic means that you act in ways that show your true self and how you feel. Rather than showing people only a particular side of yourself, you express your whole self genuinely. That means to succeed in being authentic, you first have to know who your true self actually is. And this requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and self-acceptance.

Why Authenticity Matters

We are constantly bombarded with media that tells us who to be, what to want, and how we “should” express ourselves. All of these influences slowly chip away at our ability to be our authentic selves.

But by being someone you are not, you are telling yourself that who you really are isn’t okay. So hiding or suppressing who you really are can end up leaving you feeling lonely, disconnected from others, or even worthless.

How We Lost Our Authenticity

We are constantly balancing inner and outer aspects of ourselves in order to better fit in, to become more successful, or to find love. We are driven to find “our place” in society, and we want to be respected for who we truly are and what we have to contribute. Many of us are propelled even further, desiring to know and live our purpose, to find deeper meaning in our lives, and to feel the fulfillment that comes with becoming a more authentic person.

But at the same time, we live in a society that values superficiality, that strives for perfection, and defines success by the dollars in our bank account and not by how well we live our values every day. So how are we to be authentic in spite of the messages that try to convince us to be someone else?

Why Overcoming Inauthenticity Is So Hard

We were molded as children by our parents, teachers, religions, peers, and society to “fit in.” As a result, we developed beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us acting in the ways we were taught to act—not in the ways that make us feel like our authentic selves.

This version of ourselves can be thought of as the “Adaptive Self”—the self that prioritizes fitting in, getting along, and generally doing what we’re told. This self is not without value and purpose—it helps us be functioning members of society. But if you’re feeling inauthentic, the Adaptive Self is running your life.

To reclaim your authenticity, you need to discover your “Authentic Self”—the self that prioritizes living according to your values, pursuing your purpose, and fighting for the causes you care about.

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How To Live Your Values

Identify your core values and learn how to live by them to build greater happiness.

We sometimes go through life without paying much attention. We just move from one thing to the next, playing on our phones, without considering whether our actions reflect our core values. But when we go through life without following our values, we can lose ourselves and our ability to generate real happiness. Want to identify your core values and learn how to live them? Read on.

Identify Your Values

By identifying our values, we can begin to design a life that is in better alignment with our true self. Keep in mind that values are different for everyone—you are the only one who can identify your values.

To get started, think about the list of values below. Write down any of the values that you hold. Feel free to add additional values if they are not included on the list.

Values List:

Authenticity             Adventure                      Balance

Bravery                     Compassion               Challenge

Citizenship              Community                 Creativity

Curiosity                  Determination            Fairness

Freedom                   Friendships                 Fun

Generosity                Growth                        Honesty

Integrity                    Justice                        Kindness

Knowledge                Leadership                 Learning

Love                           Loyalty                        Openness

Optimism                Recognition               Respect

Responsibility           Security                     Self-Respect

Social Connection    Spirituality                Stability

Status                     Wealth                        Wisdom

Next, note your most important 3 or 5 values. For each of these, write down three or more actions that define what it would mean for you to live these values. For example, if you value Loyalty, actions might include forgiving a friend for a betrayal, negotiating fair treatment at work to ensure your commitment to your employer, or choosing not to engage in extramarital affairs.

Now, write down one thing you have done that does not reflect each of your top 3 to 5 values. For example, if you value Optimism, it’s a more value-driven choice to think positively than to worry about the future.

Next, write down what you could do differently next time. Maybe instead of bracing for the worst, you could think about what might go right, what you might learn, or what cool things you have to look forward to in the future. As you are doing this activity, you may discover that there are ways that you could live in closer alignment with your personal values.

It may be hard to follow through on some of the actions you identified. Maybe you would need to stop drinking. Maybe you would need to change jobs. Maybe you would need to have some difficult conversations. It’s quite easy to go with the flow and lose sight of our values. It’s a lot harder to live by our values and do what’s right for ourselves in the long run.

What if you haven’t been living your values?

For one woman I know—a kind, smart, caring person—the rift between her values and her actions became apparent when she started leaving her boyfriend at home so she could gain attention and physical satisfaction from other men. It was clear from the outside that these actions went against her values. So even though her actions made her feel good in the moment, each night she would go home feeling terrible.

For another woman I know—a strong, giving, selfless person—the growing gap between her values and actions was revealed when she started asking loved ones for things that she could sell to buy drugs. Never had she been the kind of person that couldn’t handle a challenge. Never had she been willing to take from others. But in the throes of her addiction, she lost her track of her values. Thankfully, she recovered. But even after, it was only when she again started living her values that she was able to rebuild her life and happiness.

The tricky thing about values, though, is that we all hold different ones. For each of us who loses track of our values, the outcome will look different. And many of us have never asked ourselves what our values are or what it would look like if we weren’t living them. So we easily get lost.

By identifying what we need to do to live our values, we can start becoming the person that we want to be. And as it gets easier to love ourselves, we begin to feel happier.

Live Your Values

When I first did this activity, I discovered that kindness is one of my top values. I was living this value in some ways, with some people, and in some situations, but I had some major gaps. For one, I could be really mean to my partner, criticizing the smallest things. I could tell you I acted this way because I was angry or hurt, but these are just rationalizations–excuses I told myself to justify my behavior. The truth is that living your values is hard, and I wasn’t yet ready to put in the work.

At first, I could still tell myself I was kind when I was being mean, that I was in fact living my values. But one day I realized I was just making excuses, and I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was not who I wanted to be. It seemed scary and overwhelming to start living my values, but I decided that day that I had to do it. And you can do it too.

To start, take a look at the values list you created in the last activity. For each of your most important values, ask yourself 3 sets of questions and record your answers:

  1. Are there any people with whom you have a difficult time living this value? Maybe your romantic partner, parent, sibling, coworker, or friend?
  2. Are there any situations that make it difficult for you to practice this value? Where are you, or what are you doing when you fail to practice these values? For example, maybe you’re at work, at home, out at a bar, on social media, in the car, or at the daycare center.
  3. Is there anything else that makes it difficult for you to live your personal values? For example, maybe you live your values in the morning but not at night, when in your hometown but not on vacation, or on Monday but not Friday.

Once you’ve identified the external events that trigger you to veer away from your core values, it’s key that you identify why these experiences affect you this way.

Look through all of the people and situations that lead you to stray from your values and ask yourself what thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations lead you to act differently than you would like to. The emotions that trigger you may be the same across all situations, or they may be different. So just write down anything you think of that leads you away from your values. These emotions, thoughts, and associated bodily sensations are at the root of what causes us to abandon our values. When we act in a way that’s inconsistent with our values, we are just attempting to regulate or reduce our negative emotions, even if only temporarily. By acknowledging this and changing our habits, we can start to live in accordance with our values and improve our lives. Changing your life is never easy, but it’s always w

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8 Surprising Ways To Feel Less Lonely

These creative strategies can fend off loneliness.

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We are currently living through a loneliness epidemic. And it was going on long before Covid required us to isolate and socially distance even further. That’s bad news because loneliness contributes to poor mental and physical health. That’s why it’s more important than ever to implement some creative tools in our lives to fend off loneliness and protect our mental and physical health. Get started with these tips:

1. Generate a sense of awe

Awe (like when we witness the birth of a new baby, or a majestic mountain) makes time seem like it’s standing still and helps us be more open to connecting. Something about feeling small in the context of a big world appears to help us see ourselves as part of a whole, which may help us feel less alone. So expose yourself to something that creates awe—like landscapes, new experiences, or new foods.

2. Practice self-kindness

In difficult moments, it’s essential to practice self-kindness. Blaming ourselves when we feel lonely is not helpful. So limit your hurtful self-talk, take care of yourself, and just generally give yourself a break. Perhaps a walk in nature or a day at the spa may be helpful for getting yourself into a self-kindness mood.

3. Stop focusing on you

It’s almost inevitable in our modern technology-crazed world that we start to believe we don’t have enough. Bob got a new car. Sherri got a new house. Sonja got a new job. We also see false or unrealistic images—models Photoshopped to have perfect waists and abs—and we feel envious. As a result, we become increasingly focused on how we are not measuring up.

Instead of focusing on what you can get, shift your focus to what you can give. You could sell T-shirts online to raise money for a good cause. You could ask friends to donate to a charity for your birthday. By giving to others, you take the focus off yourself and do good at the same time, helping you to feel more connected and less lonely.

4. Stop your negative thought cycles

We might repeatedly think about what we could have done differently to prevent ourselves from feeling so alone. We ruminate on the events or people or causes, because we mistakenly believe that thinking about our loneliness over and over again will help us solve it. Unfortunately, it does us no good to get caught up in our thoughts instead of taking the actions we need to feel better.

To put an end to these negative thought cycles, we need to take action—we need to do something different that stops these thoughts and changes our experience of the world. For example, you could go to the gym or read a book.

5. Pay attention to the things that matter

How do we expect to improve our loneliness when we don’t know what causes it? It’s hard. So it’s helpful to start paying attention to the present moment.

Ask yourself: what are the experiences that make you feel lonely? And what are the experiences that make you feel connected or like you belong? Identifying these moments can help you reduce loneliness, because you can increase your engagement in activities that make you feel connected.

6. Tend to your network

Sometimes we can end up feeling alone even though we are connected to lots of people. So it can be helpful to reach out to these people and schedule times to catch up. Aim to schedule at least one social hour per week (virtually or in real life). Who knows, maybe an old friendship can be reignited.

7. Join an online group of like-minded people

You can now find people online with just about any interest — for example, politics, cooking, or sports. Joining one of these mission-oriented groups can be a way to feel more connected to others, even when you don’t have access to in-person interactions. You might get to know some new people or make lifelong friends. You can even try out a few groups to see which ones fit you best and decrease your loneliness the most.

8. Be nice to yourself

It’s important to practice self-compassion when you fail at things. Remember, everyone fails, and there is no need to be a bully to yourself, feel guilty, or put yourself down. That kind of attitude won’t help you decrease loneliness, now or in the future. Instead, try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive, kind, and caring—and you’ll be more likely to acknowledge mistakes you may have made in trying to decrease loneliness, and hopefully do better next time.

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5 Ways To Cope With Challenges

Struggling with a difficult situation? Check out these science-based ways to be more resilient.

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You need challenges in your life to develop resilience. You have to get knocked down in order to learn how to pick yourself back up. Over time, being knocked down can even make you stronger. Plus, it makes you less afraid to get knocked down again. 

Not sure if you approach challenges in the ways that build resilience? Here’s how to do it.

1. Use emotional distancing

When experiencing a challenge, the ability to think about your experiences as if you were “a fly on the wall,” or as if you were someone else who is witnessing your experiences from afar, keeps you from getting stuck in your negative emotions. Emotional distancing also makes it less likely that you will replay the unpleasant details of the event, and as a result, you don’t feel quite as bad when bad things happen.

To practice this technique, first recall a recent stressful conflict you had with another person. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, recall when “You got into a fight with John about forgetting your birthday.” Try not to think about fights with John in general.

Now reimagine the stressful event from an outside observer’s point of view — for example, from the point of view of a stranger on the street or a fly on the wall.

Ask yourself these questions to practice being a fly on the wall:

  • Would the observer be able to understand why you are upset?
  • Would the observer be able to see the other person’s point of view?
  • How would the observer evaluate the situation?
  • Might this observer view the situation differently than you do?

If you prefer, you can also practice this on social media. Next time you are reading about one of your friend’s negative experiences on social media, practice switching back and forth from being in their shoes to being in your shoes. Try to notice how being an outside observer helps make the experience seem less intense.

2. Use temporal distancing

Another technique that can help you better handle stress involves thinking about the outcomes of stressful events in the relatively far future. For example, you might tell yourself that “time heals all wounds,” or “this too shall pass.”

The ability to think about a future where you will no longer be feeling so bad about whatever you’re struggling with helps you get through difficult experiences. It can reduce the intensity of negative emotions and the distress caused by the situation. So next time you are in the midst of a stressful situation, try to look back at the situation from sometime in the future.

Start by recalling a recent stressful event. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, try to recall, “When I failed to get the promotion I was after” instead of failure, in general. Now imagine what your life will be like five years after this event. Ask yourself these questions:

  • In five years, what will you be doing?
  • How will you be spending your time?
  • How will you be feeling?
  • How will you feel about this particular event?

3. Use reappraisal

The ability to find the silver linings in stressful or difficult situations (also referred to as reappraisal ability) helps us generate positive emotions, even when there is nothing in our situation to generate positive emotions for us. This is why finding silver linings can help counteract negative emotions, decrease stress, and quicken recovery from stressful events.

How do you find silver linings? You might remind yourself that you’re lucky to have what you have. Or, you might see a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.

You see how it works? Now it’s your turn to try. Recall a work or school project that didn’t work out the way you hoped. Now, try finding the silver linings of this situation. How could the situation be worse? What are opportunities that could result from this situation? What are the positives? Think of as many reappraisals as you can. Try to be creative and think of anything that would make you feel better about this experience.

4. Find the benefits

Benefit finding is similar to reappraisal, but it can be used in negative, neutral, or positive situations. For example, you might say that the benefits of working a really difficult job are that you learn new skills and build character. But you might also say that the benefits of working a really easy job are that you feel relaxed and have more time to devote to other things you enjoy. With some practice, you can find the benefits to just about any situation.

To practice finding the benefits, first think about a slightly negative experience you had recently. Try not to choose an experience that is extremely negative — it’s important to choose an experience that’s not too bad when you are first learning how to use this technique. You can work up to harder experiences as you become more skilled. For example, maybe your car broke down, or you got in a small fight with a friend.

I know that at first it can be hard to find the benefits of these situations. But the more you practice, the easier it will get. Start by spending a few minutes thinking about the benefits of a negative experience. Try to really search for as many benefits as you can think of. Ask yourself these questions to brainstorm.

  • Were there, or will there be, any positive outcomes that result from this situation?
  • Are you grateful for any part of this situation?
  • In what ways are you better off than when you started?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you grow and develop as a result of this situation?

5. Face your fears

In life, a great many things will make you feel uncomfortable. For example, if you’re worried about your finances, you may not want to look at your credit card balance. Or if you had a bad day at work, you may want to drink alcohol to forget about it all. But this kind of experiential avoidance can be dangerous, because the emotions never get resolved. Instead, they fester and build up. If you’re not addressing negative emotions, they never go away, and you carry them with you wherever you go. Now, imagine facing a big challenge when you’re already carrying a bunch of negative emotions with you. It’s going to be a lot harder to cope, be resilient, and thrive.

So if you are the type to avoid feeling uncomfortable—for example by avoiding doing things that will be hard, having difficult conversations, or being out of your comfort zone—challenge yourself to feel uncomfortable, just in small ways at first.

Think of something small that makes you uncomfortable, something other people might even find silly, and face your fear. Don’t let yourself back down. If you do, your fear will just build, preventing you from moving forward in the ways you desire.

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Got a Microbiota Problem? Kill Bad Gut Bacteria in 6 Steps

Got Anxiety? Brain fog? Fatigue? Killing bad gut bacteria could be the answer.

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Bad gut bacteria can influence everything from our weight, to our mood, to our cognitive ability. It can be the reason for our back pain, the root of our depression, and of course, the cause of our digestive issues. If you’ve tried all the basic gut health advice, and it isn’t resolving your gut health issues, you may have a tougher issue on your hands. First, consider taking the GI-MAP stool test to see what your microbiota issues are. Then, try some of the strategies to start beating those bad gut bacteria.

1. Take Natural Digestive Aids

If your gut is having a hard time digesting, for whatever reason, help it out by consuming natural digestive aids.

  • Betaine HCL and Apple Cider Vinegar are helpful for folks with insufficient stomach acid to break down food (common signs of this are heartburn or upset stomach).
  • Digestive enzymes are helpful for folks with a sluggish gallbladder or pancreas.
  • And ginger is helpful for those with sluggish migrating motor complex (MMC), which helps clean out the small intestine between meals.

2. Remove Toxins from Your Life

Sometimes it seems like we are doing everything right, but we still can’t seem to get a handle on our gut health issues. In this case, there is often some hidden toxin that’s bogging down our immune system.

For example, are we eating all of our food out of plastic with BPA, a known gut toxin? Or are we living in a home that’s covered in gut-harming mold? Or are we sleeping on a new bed that is sprayed in toxic flame-retardant chemicals?

Gut-harming toxins are all around us. The electromagnetic waves from our smartphones can even mess with our guts. So finding and removing these toxins is often instrumental in healing the gut.

3. Try a Ketogenic Diet

Although a Ketogenic diet doesn’t seem to work for everyone, it appears to be a good way to reduce inflammation in the body more generally, improve insulin resistance, and clear gunk from the cells. It also tends to be good for getting rid of bad bacteria and parasites. Why? Because the Ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet, and gut bugs primarily eat carbs.

Keep in mind that starting a Ketogenic diet can often result in a few days or weeks of Keto flu—headaches, leg cramps, sugar cravings, and some other annoying symptoms. To prevent Keto flu, make sure you’re getting electrolytes (especially sea salt, magnesium, and potassium). An easy way to do this is by drinking homemade “ketorade”.

And if you don’t feel good eating Keto after a few days, stop! If your body is already stressed, Keto can be too stressful for your body to handle. You might instead opt for a moderate to low carb diet just to reduce your sugar intake.

4. Eat Probiotic Foods

Consuming probiotic foods is probably the best thing you can do for gut health. Although probiotic supplements can be helpful, they are usually too small to make much of an impact. If you do want to try pills, get pills with 50 billion colony forming units (CFUs). I suggest the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii, which has been shown to combat digestive issues.

5. Break Up the Biofilms That House Bad Gut Bugs

When bad gut bugs just won’t leave, it’s often because they have a protective home, or biofilm, to hide in. Taking biofilm disrupting supplements can start to jar them loose. The biofilm disrupters include: Allicin (from Garlic), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), and Monolaurin (from coconut oil).

6. Detox The Liver

Our livers are responsible for detoxing us of the harmful byproducts of dying gut bugs. Eating liver supportive foods can help us reduce die-off reactions and kill bad gut bugs with more ease.

To help the liver and body detox, consider taking milk thistle supplements, calcium D- Glucarate, NAC, or liposomal glutathione. Next, eat bitter greens like dandelion leaves, raw radishes, and mustard greens to promote more bile excretion and process toxins effectively. And be sure to eat cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy, and arugula. These contain diindolylmethane (DIM), a substance that helps the liver detox effectively.

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Why Does Self-Awareness Matter So Much?

6 reasons why self-awareness is important for well-being.

High self-awareness is a solid predictor of success in life, perhaps because a self-aware person knows what they want so they can more easily take the steps that get them there. Unfortunately, many of us are on “autopilot,” hardly aware of why we succeed or fail, or why we behave as we do. Our minds are so busy with daily chatter that we usually only self-reflect when something goes awfully wrong. That’s why self-awareness matters. But that’s not the only reason. Here are some more:

1. Becoming more self-aware can be enlightening

There is so much we don’t know about our inner thoughts and processes that the inward journey at times can be surprising. Sometimes certain phrases come out automatically to reveal attitudes or opinions that we don’t even realize we subscribe to, or even know where they came from.

Over the years of being submerged in a family, a school, various jobs, and a social milieu, we absorb prevailing ideas from our environment, and some of these get buried in our subconscious, where they often don’t get examined until we inadvertently blurt them out, at times to our own embarrassment. This is one good reason why it behooves us to become more self-aware . . . so we can find ourselves and feel more confident that the ideas we are expressing are really our own.

2. Self-awareness can open your mind to new perspectives

As we develop our perspectives, they get more rigid and hard to change. But new ideas are refreshing and stimulating, opening our thinking in new and possibly promising directions. Open-mindedness is definitely a plus in being successful at dealing with life’s challenges and diverse situations.

3. Self-awareness can boost self-worth

Very often the opinion we hold of ourselves is based on what others think, or more correctly, on what we think others think about us. If we were criticized often as children, we may develop a case of low self-esteem and sensitivity to rejection. On the other hand, if we were praised as a “prince or princess,” we are likely to develop false self-esteem or arrogance which can be hard our relationships. We owe it to ourselves to become more self-aware of the thoughts and beliefs within and whether they are consistent with reality.

4. Self-awareness can help you look at yourself objectively

Humans tend to be critical beings, whether self-critical or hard on others, and sometimes both. By beating ourselves up, we serve no one and harm our well-being. No one is perfect, so why should we expect ourselves to be?

So, learn to cut through the hype and become more objective, especially about yourself. Simply be willing to evaluate yourself as objectively as possible. Be sure not to gloss over what you’d rather not see, but rather mine the subconscious for its opinions and correct the mindsets that are not compatible with your values. You can do this by being completely honest with yourself, and when you find something that is out-of-sync, examine it, remove what isn’t compatible, and insert a better value or phrase to bring the idea in alignment with your personal values.

5. Self-awareness can help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses

You might say, “I’m a good starter, but I have more difficulty finishing a project.” “It’s easy for me to meet new people, but I have reservations when it comes to commitment.” “I’m a great friend, but I’m not so good at saving money.” We all have strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths to succeed in life, and your path will be happier, because you will find appreciation and support along the way.

6. Self-awareness can help you set intentions

If we wander through life without purpose or direction, chances are we’ll end up nowhere in particular. In order to form an intention, you really need some idea about what is important to you and what you hope to accomplish. It’s not necessary to know how you are going to get there, but you want to have some idea of your general direction. For instance: “I intend to create my own business in __________ (whatever field) and become self-sufficient by age ____”; “I intend to find the right life partner and raise a happy and healthy family together in the country”; “I intend to stand up for myself when my boss puts me down”; etc.

Say your intention out loud, communicating with your inner self, letting yourself know that you intend to create a more meaningful and satisfying life.

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4 Ways Technology Can Make You Happier

How to use the Internet and social media to support your happiness and health.

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These days, you can’t go anywhere without hearing about how technology is ruining everything, including our happiness. There is some truth to this, but it’s not the whole story.

Technology can be bad for us—for example, when social media gives us FOMO (fear of missing out) or traps us in filter bubbles that prevent us from seeing multiple points of view on important issues. As a society, we are increasingly concerned that technologies like smartphones and social media result in more social comparison, cyberbullying, and loneliness—all stumbling blocks to happiness. Indeed, technology seems to be bad for our happiness when it interferes with the mental, social, emotional, and behavioral processes that contribute to well-being.

But we often fail to realize (and discuss) the ways that technology can also support happiness and well-being—for example, when video calls let us talk to people all over the world or when apps or online articles give us a sense of purpose, joy, or excitement.

If you’re trying to limit technology use for yourself or your kids, don’t forget about some of its potential benefits. Here are four research-based ways to spend your time on technology that can boost your health, happiness, and well-being.

1. Engage in activities that promote happiness.

Social media is a space where we can connect socially and engage in kind and helpful behavior—activities that have been shown to boost health and well-being. For example, by sending messages on social media, we can express a kind word or share our gratitude—Thanks again for listening when I was having a rough day last week!—anytime we want, with ease, even to people far away.


A recent study suggested that among young people with symptoms of depression, social media was very important for helping them express themselves creatively, get inspiration from others, and even feel less lonely. Thirty percent of young people with elevated depression symptoms say using social media when they’re feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious usually makes them feel better, while only 22 percent say it makes them feel worse.

One participant shared, “Social media makes me laugh and keeps me distracted so that I have time to breathe and collect myself.” Another shared, “It just helps me feel outside myself for a bit and find interesting topics I’d like to ponder on.”

While social media does seem to be beneficial for some, it may not be the best strategy for overcoming mental health challenges, given certain problematic habits it might encourage—like comparing ourselves to the seemingly perfect lives of friends and others we follow. But when we use it in conjunction with face-to-face social interactions, it does indeed appear to be a useful tool for self-expression and social connection.

2. Actively engage with your community.

It’s true that people who engage in more passive Facebook use (e.g., scrolling without interacting with others) tend to be more depressed, as at least one study has found. The authors suggest that passively using social media might stimulate those “upward social comparison behaviors,” which can leave people feeling inferior (I suck!), envious (it’s not fair!), or both.

But people who use Facebook more actively (e.g., liking, commenting, and posting) tend to have lower levels of depression. Over time, they report that they get more positive feedback, likes, and social support from others, which may contribute to their lower depressive symptoms.

This suggests that certain ways of engaging with others online may be good for us, perhaps because they involve social connection rather than social comparison. By reaching out to others, engaging in meaningful social interactions, and strengthening our social bonds, we can likely improve our well-being online.

3. Learn new goals and habits.

Technology has given us access to lots of health and wellness resources, making it easier than ever to build and practice skills like gratitude, mindfulness, and emotion regulation online. You can now use apps to do everything from tracking your mood to practicing therapeutic breathing to building resilience.

Although not all wellness apps are equally effective, research suggests that evidence-based smartphone apps can indeed teach us the skills we need to optimize our well-being, help us stay motivated to do so, and even benefit our mental health. For example, research is exploring the benefits of mindfulness apps, apps delivering cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques (CBT, the gold standard of therapy), and apps that predict people’s moods and intervene with support at just the right time.

And in my graduate research, we found that a computer-based training in emotion regulation improved anxiety and well-being among those who had trouble regulating their emotions, suggesting that skills that promote happiness can be learned online.

4. Find health-related information and stories.

As we all strive to take care of our minds and bodies, 80 percent of young adults have gone online for health information. Indeed, we may use the Internet to learn about health and wellness challenges, read others’ health-related stories, or seek out a wellness practitioner. Research suggests that by doing so, we may be able to feel more confident in our decisions and improve our communication with health providers.

Using the Internet in these ways may be important for those struggling with mental health issues like depression. For example, one participant says, “I have watched several people detail their fitness routines and how they used it to beat mental health disorders such as body dysmorphia and those affected by obesity and food addiction.”

In fact, 90 percent of young people with depression have gone online seeking information about mental health issues. Although we need more research to understand how they use this information, it does seem that the Internet is one more avenue where people in need seek out support. By giving us access to information about health, mental health, and well-being, technology enables us all to more easily seek out and discover the wellness strategies we need.

However, for the Internet to be a useful tool to find health information, it’s important also to increase our health literacy—namely, by ensuring people know which websites to trust, how to identify their health challenges accurately, and how to apply the information they discover.

Technology—whether the Internet, smartphones, and social media—can hurt our happiness, particularly if we let it interfere with or pull us away from face-to-face interactions. But if we’re thoughtful about how we use technology, it also has the potential to make us happier. So we don’t necessarily need to get rid of our phones and computers or go on a full digital detox. Developers just need to be thoughtful about building technology, and we need to be thoughtful about using it, in ways that promote happiness.

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How to Cope With Uncertainty

Worried about the future? Try out these strategies to be more resilient in the face of uncertainty.

When uncertainty stresses us out, making us wonder which path to take, what decision to make, or whether to respond at all, it can be crippling for some of us if we have not developed emotional resilience. So, how can you become more emotionally resilient in the face of uncertainty?

1. Try to be flexible.

Often we have difficulty learning to “go with the flow.” Obstinacy, ego, fixed beliefs, expectations, and habits are some of things that lead us to resist change. But when the house you thought you’d live in forever is destroyed in a fire or hurricane, or the job you had trained for has been automated, or perhaps the “love of your life” has married someone else, what do you do?

It can be heartbreaking and crushing all at once. But it is also true that your life is demanding a “course change.” In these situations, it’s wiser to practice acceptance and acknowledge that the situation has changed. You do not control the world; you only control yourself. The only way forward now is to adjust your attitude, shift your thoughts, and create new dreams by being flexible.

2. Practice being OK with discomfort.

When we are navigating a situation in flux, most of us will feel somewhat unsure of ourselves. This is normal. Accepting yourself and your situation is a good place to begin. Calm the inner voices of fear, blame, or resentment, and resist the urge to create drama around the uncertainty. Appraise the situation from a balanced place, realizing that it is OK to feel genuinely uncomfortable at times. You’ll build emotional resilience if you use this time to practice accepting yourself despite the discomfort you feel.

3. Learn from your mistakes and successes.

By allowing discomfort amid uncertain circumstances to reveal something about yourself, you can grow and become more emotionally resilient. Trial and error is how we learn. Once you adapt to being somewhat uncomfortable, you can apply yourself to the challenge at hand, which often triggers a flood of new ideas. Explore the positive thoughts, emotions, and ideas. Perhaps you will learn to speak up for yourself, or you may be forced to apply new approaches to the situation in flux.

This can open up whole new avenues of experience for you that may enhance your coping skills, build resilience, and even expand the range of your resume with newly discovered abilities. Test out some new approaches to see what works in this situation. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because they will make you more emotionally resilient if you are willing to learn from them. By recognizing uncertainty as an opportunity for growth, you can more easily move through it to attain your desired goals. Ultimately, resilience is just getting back up when you fall down.

4. Step back to gain a broader perspective.

Widen your field of vision by reviewing the past and imagining the future. From this perspective, envision various plans, and estimate how they might unfold into the future, until you discover a path that shows promise. Then give it a shot. If that one doesn’t meet your goals, don’t hesitate to try another approach. A shift in perspective can help you see the situation from a new point of view and try out new solutions that make you more emotionally resilient in the future.

5. Coordinate with others.

Review your options and then enlist helpers. Before moving forward with a plan of action, share your uncertainty, and brainstorm ideas for how to move forward with colleagues and friends. Remain open to suggestions, but defend ideas that you really believe in with fervor. Then move forward, knowing you’ve considered multiple options.

6. When at a loss, imitate someone you respect.

Sometimes the hurdles seem too high, or we are at a loss about how to proceed. In these moments, we don’t feel very emotionally resilient. One trick is to think of someone you respect and imagine what they might do in this situation. For example, you might think about how your friend Jane, the most gracious and balanced person you know, maintains her poise in the face of crisis. If her method is to listen attentively, speak slowly, and establish good eye contact while responding, try that. A shift in the way you act can give you ideas for how to be more emotionally resilient.

7. Practice self-compassion.

In difficult moments, it’s essential to practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself to maintain your self-confidence. It’s OK to take some time to release your disappointment or take a break from your routine. A walk or run in nature may be helpful for processing your thoughts and releasing pent-up emotions. Or eating healthfully can help remind you of the importance of being kind to yourself. Once calm, research several options, and open your mind to all possibilities, so that a new avenue of experience can blossom for you.

8. Celebrate your successes.

After all the work you have done to wend your way through uncertain times and situations, once you have initiated a plan that is working or picked yourself back up after a tough experience, celebrate your success with those who helped you achieve positive results. Give yourself credit for a “win” that feels affirming, and let joy sweep into your heart. Congratulate yourself and commit to continuing your success. Practice being grateful for who you have been, as well as who you are becoming. Emotional resilience is about more than recovering from challenges — it’s about thriving in the face of those challenges.

9. Learn to love change.

Heraclitus once said: “The only thing that is constant is change.” Besides, doing the same thing over and over can wear us down with its accumulative boredom. Change breeds something different and potentially exciting. New efforts stimulate growth potential through new experiences. It is “our ability to respond to life” that is being put to the test here, and the more we exercise this muscle, the more we will feel invigorated by the variety of life, and therefore the more emotionally resilient we will become.

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Five Ways to Practice Gratitude

Need a gratitude boost? Try these practices. 

It’s that time of year again when we’re supposed to be thankful for everything and everyone we have in our lives. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done. We know that practicing gratitude can help us have more enjoyable experiences and connect more easily with those around us. We just need a little help to kickstart the process.

This year, you can create a more fulfilling holiday season by learning how to practice gratitude. Here are five ways to get started.

1. Make a gratitude list

An easy way to practice gratitude is to write a list of all the things you are grateful for. Try to think of as many things, people, places, etc., as you can. (e.g., Family, ice cream, trees, creativity, happiness, etc.)

Source: Pixabay

2. Write gratitude notes

Write out a few sticky notes to people who you are grateful for. Include one to two things you appreciate about them and stick the note on their desk, car, or bag.

3. Write a gratitude letter to someone

Bring to mind someone who did something really wonderful for you. Write a letter to him/her describing just how thankful you are. Include details about how it made you feel and how it made you feel about them.

4. Track three good things

Each day for a week, write down three good things about your day. At the end of the week, review your list to remind yourself that you have a lot to be grateful for.

5. Make a gratitude drawing

Take a moment to think of some of the people/things you are most grateful for. Then create a drawing that includes these things. Put your drawing up on the fridge to remind you of what you’re grateful for and to keep practicing gratitude.

In sum…

By using these five gratitude practices, you can set yourself up for a more rewarding and enjoyable holiday season.

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How Romantic Comedies Affect Your Love Life

Find out if romantic comedies are hurting your relationships.

Once upon a time, my romantic expectations were sky-high. Why wasn’t my partner getting me flowers, writing me songs, or buying me gifts? I wondered.

Expectations absorbed from the media form so slowly and at such a young age that they can be completely invisible to us. Since we’ve had these expectations so long, we may have forgotten (or never known) what it felt like not to have them.

So how can we manage these expectations without giving up completely on the idea of romance? Believe it or not, research has unearthed some insights that can help us feel happier and less wronged in love.

How romantic comedies create unrealistic expectations

Romantic comedy is a genre that frequently depicts exaggerated plotlines and unrealistic outcomes, like when he chases you down at the airport to express his undying love, when he fills your room with more roses than you can count, or when she falls for him instantly—it’s love at first sight! In romantic comedies, relationships are full of romance, intimacy, and passion—often merging the best aspects of both new relationships and longer-term bonds.

We see lots of compliments, gift-giving, and affection, predominantly initiated by men. But this isn’t an accurate portrayal of what real, healthy relationships are actually like. Real relationships involve compromise, acceptance, and honesty.

Although viewing these idealized versions of romantic relationships may seem innocuous, we often use information from the media to teach us what is normal and how to behave. Older viewers can better discern reality from fiction, but younger viewers, who don’t have other experiences to inform their beliefs, may more easily incorporate these idealizations into their idea of what a relationship is supposed to be like. And with exposure to the same types of storylines again and again — thanks to the constant bombardment of media that now starts in childhood—we might start to think our own reality is pretty mediocre.

And that’s exactly what seems to happen: Frequent viewers of romantic media content are less likely to believe that they can change themselves or their relationship, more likely to believe that their partner should intuitively understand their needs, and more likely to believe that sex should be perfect. They also report lower relationship satisfaction.

For me, it wasn’t until I really reflected on my expectations and where they came from that I started to turn it all around. Do you think you, too, might have developed some unrealistic expectations? Here are a few tips for recalibrating them.

1. Separate what’s realistic from what’s unrealistic.

First, make a long list of all your expectations for relationships—seriously, everything you can think of. Next, take a red pen to all the ones that are unrealistic. How do you know which ones those are? Well, one way is to try to imagine doing or being everything on your list. Is it possible?

For example, can you always tell what other people want? Do you always say the perfect thing? Do you never make mistakes? Having high expectations is fine—but having impossible expectations is problematic. See if you can find where the line is.

2. Separate what you’ve been told “should” matter from what actually does matter to you.

Take another look at your list of expectations. For every item, ask yourself: Is this actually something that matters to me? For example, does it really matter if your partner wears certain clothes, says certain things, or eats certain foods?

Maybe you really love trying new restaurants, so it really matters to you that you regularly go out to eat. No need to judge yourself—everybody is different. Just identify your truth and cross out the rest.

3. Separate your wants from your needs.

Now, look at whatever items are still left on your list. Circle the items that are needs (versus wants). A need is something that fulfills you at a deep level. A need, if unmet, fundamentally affects the quality of your life.

For example, maybe you don’t need your partner to buy you flowers, but you do need to feel surprised every now and then. Or maybe you don’t need your partner to guess what you want, but you need to feel heard when you say what you want. It can be hard to figure out the underlying need behind many of our expectations, so take some time here. Once you’re done, use this shortlist of core needs to guide what you pursue and expect from life.

In Sum

Once I started disentangling my needs from the expectations that the media had created for me, I slowly but surely started pulling myself out of the romantic comedy trap. By figuring out what generates happiness for me and letting the rest go, I was able to focus on and get a lot more of what actually makes me happy in my relationship—things like seeing love in his eyes when he looks at me, getting extra hugs when I’m sad, and creating experiences that I can remember for a lifetime.

No relationship is perfect, but resisting the influence of romantic comedies enabled me to create happier moments and appreciate my relationship a lot more. It worked, because happiness comes from pursuing what makes you happy, not pursuing what the media or anyone else says should make you happy.

References

Haferkamp, C. J. (1999). Beliefs about relationships in relation to television viewing, soap opera viewing, and self-monitoring. Current Psychology, 18(2), 193-204.

Shapiro, J., & Kroeger, L. (1991). Is life just a romantic novel? The relationship between attitudes about intimate relationships and the popular media. American Journal of Family Therapy, 19(3), 226-236.

Holmes, B. M. (2007). In search of my “one and only”: Romance-oriented media and beliefs in romantic relationship destiny. Electronic Journal of Communication, 17(3), 1-23.

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How To Use Positive Reappraisal

How to see silver linings, improve your mood, and boost your well-being. 

A few years ago, my car’s transmission blew completely. If I had wanted to, I could have focused on the negative things about this experience–it cost about $2,000 to fix, it happened as part of a string of repairs on that car, I desperately needed that car to get to work, and money was really tight. But because I had trained my brain to use reappraisal to focus on the positive, instead of focusing on these negatives, I actually felt grateful.

My commute to work was an hour each way and I was relieved that this didn’t happen on the highway. I also felt relieved that my partner was in the car with me and helped me get it to an auto shop that day. I even felt happy that third gear was still working, so the car would still drive well enough for me to get it to the auto shop without having to pay to get it towed. By being able to see the silver linings, we can handle challenges more easily and get on with our lives. This is why reappraisal counteracts negative emotions, decreases stress, and boosts resilience.

So how do you find silver linings?

To give one example, you might consider that the benefits of working a really difficult job are that you learn new skills and build character. You might find that the benefits of working a really easy job are that you feel relaxed and have more time to devote to other things you enjoy. With some practice, you can find the benefits of just about any situation. As a result, most situations no longer appear to be simply good or bad—they are what you make of them.

When you are just starting to learn how to reappraise, first think about a slightly negative situation you experienced recently. Try to choose an experience that isn’t extremely negative—it’s important to choose an experience that’s not too bad when you are first learning how to use this technique. You can work up to harder experiences as you become more skilled. For example, maybe you forgot your lunch or you got in a disagreement with a friend.

Once you’ve chosen which situation you will focus on, write it down. Next, spend a few minutes trying to find silver linings. You could try to think of the benefits, think about how the situation could be worse, or brainstorm opportunities that could result from this situation in the long term. Try to search for as many silver linings as you can think of.

Practice Reappraisal

Ask yourself these questions as your brainstorm:

  • Were there, or will there be, any positive outcomes that result from this situation?
  • Are you grateful for any part of this situation?
  • In what ways are you better off than when you started?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you (or might you) grow and develop as a result of this situation?

Once you have your list, consider sharing your challenging situation and at least one benefit on social media. Try to make it a habit that if you share something negative, you also note one silver lining. The more you practice this skill, the easier it becomes. Every “bad” situation will seem more like a mixed bag, with something to be gained.

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6 Ways to “Grow” a Growth Mindset

Want to increase your chances of success? Then switch a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

clear light bulb planter on gray rock
Photo by Singkham on Pexels.com

“The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development.” —Carol Dweck

What Is a Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset is simply the belief that our basic abilities can be developed and improved through dedication and hard work. It’s not so much that this belief is some kind of magic. It’s just that without a growth mindset, we don’t exert the required effort and so we remain perpetually stuck.

But with a growth mindset, we can break through the stuck-ness and achieve the results we desire, whether that be at work, in our relationships, or in other aspects of our lives.

Do You Have A Growth Mindset?

Do you believe that you were born and raised with a fixed set of skills and abilities—such as your IQ—that you had from birth and will stay with you your entire life? Or do you believe that your ideas and beliefs are ever-evolving, that you can learn new skills if you work at it, and that your wisdom and intelligence grows with each new experience? If you said “yes” to the first question, you have what is referred to as a “fixed mindset.” If you said “yes” to the second question, you probably have what Stanford professor Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” Don’t worry if you currently have more of a fixed mindset—you can develop a growth mindset!

Why Does Growth Mindset Matter?

If we have a “fixed mindset,” we may shy away from challenges because we do not want to feel embarrassed or humiliated in front of others—who does, right?! But this can be problematic because our fear of making mistakes can lead us to avoid challenges and new experiences—experiences which would help us grow, improve ourselves in important ways, and create the life we desire.

If we have a “growth mindset,” we enjoy challenges, despite the risk, usually because we value learning and growth more than others thinking we know what we’re doing. And because we’re always trying new things, we often don’t know what we’re doing. Still, those of us with a growth mindset often build new skills more easily because we believe we can and so we really work at it.

Developing a growth mindset could contribute to a fuller, more meaningful life because the range of experiences that such a life encompasses will be considerably broader.

6 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset

Changing one’s mindset from a “fixed” perspective to a “growth mindset” may seem daunting, but by taking baby steps, anyone who wants to can build a “growth mindset.”  Here’s how:

1. Face your challenges bravely.

If you find yourself terrified in the face of a serious challenge, stop and reframe the situation in your mind. Consider reframing your challenge as an “opportunity,” thus slightly shifting your perspective. Each challenge or opportunity invites us into a new experience that is a sort of adventure.

Try different tactics to coach yourself about how to explore a new path, or how to develop a new skill, or how to interact with a new group of people, or to navigate through new circumstances. As an adventure, fear is an acceptable feeling. You press forward anyway because it’s exciting and new. If you take this same attitude with a crisis at work or whatever the challenge, you can discover abilities you didn’t know you even possessed.

2. Pay attention to your words and thoughts.

Start to pay attention to the words you speak, even the words in your mind. If your words are low or dark, the results may be also. So watch yourself. Listen to what you are saying and thinking. Censor yourself and become your own guide.

Replace negative thoughts with more positive ones to build a growth mindset. Replace judgment with acceptance, hate with compassion. If you are disrespecting yourself or lowering your ethical standards, the outcome of your decisions and their consequences will reflect that. Intend to think higher thoughts and hold yourself to it.

3. Find your purpose.

Does your life feel like it is purpose-driven? If yes, define for yourself what that purpose encompasses. If you are drawing a blank, ask that your life’s purpose become clear to you. Meditate or contemplate on “purpose” and see what tidbits come through until you feel like you know the essence of your purpose, or perhaps part of it. Then pursue it—that’s what’ll help you build a growth mindset.

4. Turn criticism around.

The purpose of criticism is to make things better.  Someone else can see what you are doing from a slightly different perspective than you, and may have some valuable suggestions for you. If you open up to hearing suggestions, you can more easily develop your growth mindset.

5. Learn from the mistakes of others.

If you can learn from the mistakes of others, then you may be able to make fewer mistakes. This can sometimes calm the fear of trying new things, a key aspect of building a growth mindset.

6. Be realistic. It takes time, sometimes lots of time, to learn a new skill, like learning a new language or learning to play an instrument or learning how to become a good lawyer.

Speed is not important. When you have a growth mindset, the end results are less of a focus. Instead, you fully engage and put effort into the process, no matter how long it takes. Incidentally, focusing on the process often also improves results, because you did put a lot of effort in along the way.

In sum

Growth mindset means one embraces challenges, persists in the face of setbacks, takes responsibility for their words and actions, and acknowledges that effort is the path toward mastery. It is basically the reason why “practice makes perfect.”

By choosing to make the extra effort to build a growth mindset, you can make your mental processes work for you, resulting in a greater likelihood that you get the results you’re looking for.

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14 Ways to Eat More Mindfully

These mindful eating tips can help you create a better relationship with food.

Mindful eating involves paying attention to the complete experience of eating—that includes what’s happening inside your body, inside your mind, and in the world all around you. 

By learning how to eat mindfully, you’ll begin to become aware of how different foods impact your body, mind, and well-being. To get started with mindful eating, check out these 14 mindful eating strategies.

1. Mindfully Imagine Your Future Self

It turns out that when we imagine things, the brain attempts to simulate the responses that would occur if these situations actually happened. Playing out future scenarios in our minds can help us feel more like this future is real or possible. We can apply this strategy to our food life by imagining how our future self will feel once we’re eating mindfully and have a healthier relationship with food.

2. Reflect on Your Reasons for Mindful Eating

If you decide to pursue a mindful eating practice, first reflect on why you’re doing it. Are you doing it because you want to truly understand what your body needs, explore what nourishes you, and make changes that fundamentally change your relationship with food?

If so, then your goals are aligned with the powerful benefits of mindful eating, and you’re likely to be more successful using this strategy.

3. Remove Addictive Foods to Better Hear the Body’s Voice

Sometimes our food addictions—especially to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, but sometimes also to dairy, carbs, and chocolate—scream louder than our hunger, nutrient deficiencies, and food intolerances. So when we try to eat mindfully, we simply hear—candy, candy, candy, candy!

When our addictions are constantly screaming, it’s all we can hear. That’s why to get the full benefit of mindful eating—and possibly any benefit at all—we first need to remove addictive foods, for example with programs like Whole30.

4. Try Food-Focused Mindful Meditation

To start to open the lines of communication with your body, it can be helpful to do a short, food-focused mindful meditation periodically. To start, sit for a few minutes in silence with your eyes closed. In your mind, visualize a variety of different foods. Then pause to reflect on how that food feels in your body.

Because our imagination is so powerful, this practice can give you clues about the foods your body desires and provide guidance about what foods you eat when beginning your mindful eating practice.

5. When Choosing Food, Ask Your Body What It Needs

Before you’re eating or even cooking, ask your body what it needs. You can do this by using your senses when you are selecting food to eat.

For example, when you’re at the grocery store, take a little extra time to really look at and smell each food you buy. Your body might react strongly, either positively or negatively, to the smell, sight, touch, or taste of particular foods (although I recommend you taste food only after you’ve purchased it).

6. Prepare for Each Meal by Calming the Body

Stress makes all of our digestive processes go haywire, preventing us from being able to identify the specific foods our body wants and doesn’t want. That’s why calming the body before eating is so important.

To calm the body before each meal and mellow your nervous system, play some relaxing music. The earlier you start to calm your body before eating, the better. So if you’re cooking dinner, make a habit of playing calm music while you cook. Or if you’re picking up fast food on the way home, listen to some calming music during your commute.

7. Pause for a Mindful Moment When Beginning Each Meal

When you sit down with your food, take a few long, deep breaths and reflect on which types of hunger you’re currently feeling:

  • Eye Hunger: Did you see food and then want to eat?
  • Nose Hunger: Did you smell food and then want to eat?
  • Ear Hunger: Did you hear food cooking or being eaten and then want to eat?
  • Mouth Hunger: Did you taste food and then want to eat more?
  • Stomach Hunger: Did your stomach feel empty or growl and then want to eat?
  • Mind Hunger: Did you realize it was a certain time of day or that you “should” eat more of a particular kind of food and then want to eat?
  • Emotional Hunger: Did you feel sad, lonely, or anxious and then want to eat?
  • Cellular Hunger: Did you get an intuitive craving for a specific food and then want to eat?

8. Eat Mindfully and Kind-Fully

If you’re eating with others, aim to keep the conversation upbeat, and avoid talking about the stresses of the day, disagreements, or other social problems, at least until you’ve finished eating (preferably while you’re digesting too). And avoid watching anything stressful, exciting, or invigorating on TV (no TV at all is best). By taking these steps, you ensure your parasympathetic nervous system can focus fully on digestion.

9. Take a Mindful Pause After a Few Bites

Stop, and take a mindful pause after you’ve eaten a few bites of your food—enough that the food has reached your stomach, and the digestive process has begun.

During this mindful pause, listen to your body to see if you can experience how it’s receiving the food. Pay attention to things like tummy rumbling, sweating, tiredness, nasal congestion, tingling, goosebumps, or any other bodily sensation.

10. Be Mindful About Each Bite

To stay mindful as you eat, ask yourself questions to more fully experience the meal. For example, ask yourself: Is it warm or cold? Is it savory or salty? Is it crunchy or soft?

Explore even further by seeing if you can identify the exact flavors. Ask yourself: What herbs or spices are in this food? Can you tell if the food has any added sugar or salt? Are there other ingredients you can identify?

Next, explore the food emotionally. Does eating this food evoke any emotions? If so, dig a little deeper and see if you can figure out why.

11. Take a Mindful Pause Sometime Mid-Meal

About halfway through your meal, pause and reflect. Ask yourself the following questions: How is your body feeling now? Are you feeling nourished? Are you feeling full? Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers.

12. Reflect Mindfully at the End of Your Meal

Once you stop eating, whether this be mid-meal, when your plate is empty, or after you’ve eaten several helpings and dessert (no judgment!), take a moment to reflect on the entire eating experience. Start by asking yourself out loud or in your head if each of the eight types of hunger (Eye, nose, ear, mouth, stomach, mind, emotional, and cellular) have been satisfied.

13. Be Present With Mindless Eating Habits

Emotional hunger, in particular, can be difficult to satisfy with any food. As a result, emotional hunger often leads us to continue eating mindlessly, hoping to stop our sadness, anxiety, or shame.

But once we identify a mindless eating pattern like this, we can work through it with mindfulness. Pause and stay present with your experience, even if it’s uncomfortable. Don’t push the feelings away. Just be with them for as long it takes for them to dissipate on their own.

14. Mindfully Explore Cellular Hunger and Micronutrients

Our cells may be crying out for important nutrients (such as Iron, Iodine, Vitamin D, B-12, Calcium, Vitamin A, and Magnesium), but when we continue to eat the same foods we would normally eat, nothing really changes in our body, so we might not get the message.

To mindfully explore cellular hunger, try eating many new or different foods. If your cells and body are nourished by that food, you may actually feel your body scream, “Yes! More of that! Thank you!”

Other times, you may notice delayed changes in your body—for example, maybe you no longer experience an afternoon slump or evening headaches. Try to notice the effects, even if they are subtle.

In Sum:

To eat mindfully requires some effort—namely a willingness to be aware, open, and accepting. But with this new skill, you can better identify what nourishes your mind, body, and soul.

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How to Find Meaning in Life

This 3-step strategy could help you start finding more meaning.

So often we walk through life like zombies — our bodies are present, but our minds are elsewhere. We’re not mindful, so we’re not really paying attention. When we’re not present, we can miss the things in life that really matter — the things that give us a sense of meaning or purpose. To find true meaning in life, we have to look for it a little harder. Here’s one strategy that might help you get started.

Step 1: Look for Meaning in Life

Spend one week taking photographs of all the things that make you feel even a little bit of meaning. Don’t be too picky. Really try to snap a shot of anything you can think of that feels meaningful. For example, people, places, important objects, experiences — really anything. Some of the photos I might take would be of my cat, my husband, the garden down the street from me, the fall leaves crunching under my toes, and my stack of postcards that help me stay connected to people out of state.

You could spend a few minutes each day taking these pictures or take them throughout your day, trying to notice all the little things that give you a bit of meaning. It’s up to you.

Step 2: Reflect on All the Things That Give You Meaning in Life

At the end of the week, take some time to look at all your photos. Scroll through them on your smartphone or computer, reflecting on each one. For each one, ask yourself the following questions: “What is in this photograph, and why is it meaningful to me? What does it make me think of? How does it make me feel?”

Step 3: Reframe How You Think of True Meaning in Life

After completing this activity, take a moment to think about what creates true meaning in life. We can never really know what is the meaning of life. But we can discover what creates a sense of meaning in life, although the answer may be different for each of us. For you, is it things, people, experiences, or all of the above? When you are able to answer this question, you can act on the answer, spending more of your life pursuing the things that give you meaning and doing things that promote your well-being.

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How to Feel Good at Work

Learn how to use your imagination to increase happiness at work.

The workplace is ripe for worrying. Faced with a combination of deadlines, meetings, and performance evaluations, many of us find ourselves distracted by unpleasant visions of the future.

Maybe we imagine that we’ll be criticized for not completing a project to our boss’s standards. Or maybe we worry that we’ll be laid off. In the process, we end up generating negative emotions from experiences that haven’t even happened yet. We create stress out of thin air.

Understanding how imagination works in the brain, and how it can influence our feelings, can point to a different way forward. With a little help, we can leverage our active imagination to experience good feelings about work.

How imagination affects emotions

Did you know that your brain has a difficult time differentiating between things that happen in your imagination and things that happen in real life?

It turns out that when we imagine things, the brain attempts to simulate the responses that would occur if these situations actually happened. This is the same neural process that enables us to be empathic, put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and understand their mental states. But we also use this process to better understand ourselves.

In our minds, we can play out future scenarios to predict how we would personally think, feel, and respond to them. And by doing so, we experience thoughts and emotions similar to those that would occur if the situations were actually happening to us right now.

Luckily, you can turn this process around to undo stress—by imagining all the positive things that may happen in your future. In one study, participants used this technique for 14 days in a row, imagining four positive things that could actually happen to them the day after, such as eating a tasty meal or getting hired for a job. At the end of the study, this group showed an increase in happiness, while groups who imagined negative or routine future events did not.

When you imagine your boss finally praising you for something you did well or you visualize getting that promotion that you’ve been hoping for, you are essentially telling your brain to respond as if those things were happening. Suddenly, you create positive emotions out of thin air.

Use imagination to feel good at work

Now that you know how it works, you can practice using imagination to boost your mood and improve your workday. Here are three specific ways to apply this technique that could help you generate positive emotions at work.

1. Start your day by imagining the best possible day.

In the morning while you’re brushing your teeth or taking a shower, spend a few minutes imagining the best possible day you could have. What would happen? Who would you interact with? How would you feel?

For example, I might imagine that my morning is really productive and I complete this article in record time—I’d feel a sense of accomplishment. Then, I imagine my meeting with a potential new client and we hit it off immediately—I feel joyous and delighted. The day ends with me tying up some loose ends so that I can fully disconnect from work—I then enjoy my evening. As you are imagining, really try to generate the emotions that would occur inside you if your day went exactly as you desire.

2. Pause for an imagination break before new situations.

Before a meeting with your boss or a presentation to your coworkers, take a moment to visualize what would happen if everything went awesomely. Would you have an inspiring conversation? Would everyone love your ideas? Clarify for yourself exactly how it would go and imagine how it would feel.

Again, conjure those emotions and let yourself feel them. At the very least, you’ll enter the situation in a good mood.

3. End your day by thinking of a better tomorrow.

Before you go to bed, imagine what tomorrow could be like—not what you think it will be like, but what it could be at its best. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of things that could actually happen. Get creative by imagining that tomorrow you can fly or your workplace is suddenly overrun with adorable puppies.

Don’t worry about feeling silly. Just go with it. Besides putting a smile on your face, this exercise could also help you practice your imagination skills, so it gets easier to dream about the future in general.

Of course, imagining something won’t necessarily make it true. If your boss is never happy with your work, for example, that’s obviously a real problem in need of a real solution. Also, you may not always be in the mood for positive imagination. In those moments, practicing mindfulness or identifying personal strengths that you could leverage at work are good alternatives.

Imagination is one of the human mind’s exceptional capacities. With some practice, it can become a simple way to bring more positivity to your work life—another tool to add to your happiness toolkit.

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7 Steps to Breathing for Relaxation

 

A simple breathing exercise to relax and de-stress.

Under normal circumstances, breathing is automatic, mostly unnoticed, and largely silent. We hardly notice it… that is until something goes wrong. And last year I suddenly became aware of my breath. I started having gut health issues, and one of the symptoms was that I just couldn’t get a deep breath! I knew that the way we breathe affects our body, our stress levels, and our well-being. So I started spending more time breathing deeply in an attempt to help my lungs do it on their own. Here is one deep breathing technique that can be done anywhere to help you relax, reduce stress, and boost well-being.

Conscious Breathing Technique:

The purpose of this exercise is to quiet the mind, not forcibly, but with gentle persuasion.  In this breathing exercise, you’ll attempt to quiet the mind by counting your breaths, which keeps your brain occupied with a simple task so that you can focus on releasing stress from your body.

1. Find a quiet place and sit down with your back straight in a comfortable pose.

Sitting cross-legged is good if you can hold that pose, but it is by no means required. Sit on the ground in nature, or on a cushion, or in a chair where you are not likely to be disturbed. Take several normal breaths, making no attempt to control or count them. Just settle down and get comfortable.

2. Once you are done moving, scratching your nose, or readjusting your legs, note the state of your mind.

Is your mind racing from one subject to another, like a TV remote scanning channels? Is it obsessed with repeating one thought over and over again? That mental-chatter is the background noise of your brain as it functions automatically. Aim to calm the busy-ness of the mind simply by staying present in your body.

If you have a problem to solve that you just can’t stop thinking about, note it down on a piece of paper to address after you finish this breathing exercise. That way you can more easily empty your mind. After you finish the breathing exercise, you can re-engage your mind consciously, while you are still sitting in a quieted mental state.

3. To begin, breathe through your nose in long, slow and deep inhalations followed by extended, controlled and even exhalations.

You may feel inclined to hold your breath after an especially deep in-breath, which is fine as a variation. If you do hold your breath, exhale that breath through your mouth, emptying your lungs as completely as possible, perhaps bending forward to squeeze as much air out as you can. Holding your breath once or twice during a 50-count of breaths may help release toxic stress with each rushing out-breath. Do not be disturbed if you cough, because that is another way your body removes toxic particles and pollutants from the lungs.

4. Once your breathing has settled into a regular rhythm and your mind is focused on each breath, start counting with each out-breath.

Allow the first 10 or so breaths to really settle you, slow your breathing, and begin quieting your mind gradually as you continue to count your breaths. Aim for fifty long breath counts, but don’t feel discouraged if you only do half that. Even just a few breaths can help relax and de-stress the body and mind.

While you are consciously breathing, notice the movements of your diaphragm and how your belly rises with each in-breath and flattens with each out-breath. You may want to emphasize those belly movements and stretch your diaphragm as you proceed. Give special attention to those places where you are holding stress. Imagine stress being released from your shoulders, neck, back, etc., as you continue to focus on your breath. Hopefully, as you relax more deeply with each breath, you’ll feel the stress wash away from your shoulders as tension is released.

5. Encourage stress to release by surrendering to it and allowing it to pass out of your body through your breath.

Consciously relax your neck, shoulders, or back a little more with each out-breath. You may want to rotate your neck slowly to the right, back, and around again to the front with one breath, doing the same to the left during another breath. You may want to rotate your shoulders to loosen them up. Don’t worry if you lose track of the count. Just return to the last number you remember and continue this mindful breathing technique.

During this process, aim to surrender your body, releasing your mental control over it.  Sometimes your shoulders will relax and suddenly lower a notch automatically as tension releases. Just attempt to notice any changes in your body.

6. Take about 20-30 minutes to count breaths to 50.

After counting 50 sustained breaths, you may want to continue counting your breaths, increasing their length and evenness. Or you could deepen your meditation without counting breaths by adding a creative visualization (for example, imagining being in a calm place).

7. If you don’t have 20 minutes, just take 5.

If you do not have 30 or more minutes to spend on a breathing exercise, take 5 minutes whenever you have them to breathe deeply and consciously. Find a quiet place and simply take as many long slow conscious breaths as you have time for, shake your shoulders, legs and hands and send stress on its way. This can help you deal with stressful situations more effectively.

In Sum.

This breathing exercise can help you ease into deeper meditations, strengthen your lungs, and help you relax. And when done daily, this little exercise can prevent your body from accumulating excess stress, and it can give you a way to release past stress. So take good care of yourself and remember to breathe consciously as often as possible for health and longevity.

 

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5 Ways to Think Positive

Use these 5 strategies to build a positive thinking habit and increase happiness

When you harness the power of positivity, it’s amazing the impact it has on your life. It can decrease stress and make every moment worth experiencing. By thinking positive, you just can’t help but be optimistic, even when everyone around you is miserable. As a result, you are happier, less depressed, and more satisfied. The benefits of positive thinking are vast. So how do you train your brain to think positive?

1. Strengthen your memory for positive information

Did you know that you may be able to increase your positivity just by memorizing lists of positive words? It’s because when you force your brain to use positive words frequently, you make these words (and their basic meaning) more accessible, more connected, and more easily activated in your brain. So when you go to retrieve a word or idea from your memory, positive ones can come to the top more easily.

Not sure which words are positive? Psychologists have painstakingly measured thousands of words to determine how positive and negative they are. If you’re struggling to think positive, try this strategy first. It can help develop your brain in ways that may make the other positive thinking strategies easier to implement.

2. Strengthen your brain’s ability to work with positive information.

Once your brain has built strong neural networks for positive words, try to extend these networks by asking your brain to use positive information in new ways. For example, you could memorize positive words and set an alarm that reminds you to recall these words, in reverse order, an hour later. Or, you could print out positive words on cards, cut them into two pieces, shuffle them all together and then find each card’s match. For example, the word “laughter” would be cut into “laug” and “hter.” To match the word pieces, your brain has to search through lots of positive information to find what it’s looking for. This positive memory recall task may make it easier when you try to think positive.

3. Strengthen your brain’s ability to pay attention to the positive.

Are you one of those people who notices the bad stuff—like when someone cuts you off in traffic or your food doesn’t taste quite as good as you wanted it too? Then you likely have trained your brain to focus on the negative, and your brain has gotten really good at it. It can be really challenging to undo this training. So instead, train your brain to be even better at focusing on the positive.

Just routinely focus on positive information and direct your attention away from the negative. Need help paying attention to the positive?

4. Condition yourself to experience random moments of positivity.

Did you know that you can condition yourself for positivity? If you’ve ever taken an intro to psychology course, you’ve probably heard about the study of Pavlov’s dog. Here is a quick refresher:

Pavlov had a dog. Pavlov would ring a bell to tell his dog that it was almost feeding time. Like most dogs, Pavlov’s dog would get really excited when he was about to get fed. So he’d drool all over the place. What happened? Well, suddenly Pavlov’s dog started getting excited just by the sound of that bell, even when food wasn’t present. Eating food and the sound of the bell became linked in the dog’s brain. Something as meaningless as a bell was now making the dog excited.

This effect is called classical conditioning. It’s the idea that when two stimuli are repeatedly paired, the response that was first elicited by the second stimulus (food) is now elicited by the first stimulus alone (the bell). This happens all the time without us even realizing it. For example, the favorite food for many of us is something that we ate as a child with our families. What likely happened was the positive feelings of being with family and the particular food got paired in our brains. As a result, we now get the warm-fuzzy feelings that we got from spending time with family just from eating the food alone, even if our family is not currently present when we eat it.

Although your environment is conditioning you to react in particular ways all the time, if you know what you’re doing, you can use classical conditioning to boost your positivity. You do exactly what Pavlov did. You just repeatedly link boring things (like a bell ringing) with positive thoughts and feelings over and over again. Pretty soon, these boring things will generate positivity automatically. That’s classical conditioning at work. This can help you think positive because when you are going about your life, maybe even feeling bummed about stresses or challenges, you’ll have these little positive moments that keep you energized and in a good mood.

5. Think positive, but not too much, and think negative when you need to.

Of course, thinking positive has its benefits. But thinking positive isn’t always the best response. Negative thoughts sometimes have benefits, too.

When we are sad or grieving, thinking negative thoughts and showing the emotions that these thoughts create helps us communicate to others that we need their support and kindness. When we are treated unfairly and get angry, our thoughts can help motivate us to take action, make changes in our lives, and change the world. Casually pushing these negative emotions aside without seriously considering their origins can have negative consequences. So when you focus on the negative, ask yourself, is this negative emotion resulting in action that improves your life? If so, then keep it. If not, then work on changing it.

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3 Steps to Building Happiness! How to help your brain create shortcuts for happiness

“Have you found happiness?” Whenever I hear this question, I wonder why happiness is being treated like a lost set of car keys.

When we talk about “finding” happiness, it implies that we think happiness is something we should look for. But it’s not…

Happiness is something we must BUILD.

It turns out that happiness emerges when you build a certain set of skills—happiness skills. These skills can be cognitive, emotional, or behavioral and they include things like positive reappraisal, gratitude, self-compassion, and many others.

If you practice these skills enough, happiness will start to become automatic.

How does happiness become “automatic”?

Think back to when you learned to ride a bike. It was really hard at first, right? But you practiced again and again, and now you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing. Now, when you ride a bike, it feels easy—almost automatic.

Happiness works the same way. So when you practice the right skills, and you practice them enough, they become automatic.

How is this possible?

Well, the thing about the brain is that it’s got a lot to do, and it works really hard. When the brain has a task that it has to do frequently (think walking, talking, writing), it makes its own job easier by creating “tricks” or “shortcuts” to save time and energy. This is why things that felt impossible when we were young now feel easy— so easy, in fact, that we don’t even think about them as being skills.

The same thing can happen with happiness. When you practice things like gratitude or mindfulness, your brain creates shortcuts for these skills, making it easier and easier each time you do it (like riding a bike!)

It is these skills that enable you to respond to life’s ups and downs with excitement, joy, and positivity. And it is these responses that lead to happiness, resilience, and even career success.

So, your only objective is to figure out how to make your happiness skills automatic.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Prioritize the right skills

To start building happiness, you’ll first want to know which skills you need to build. Why? Well, let’s use math as an example. Pretend you are a new student at a new school. Because I don’t know what you learned at your previous school, I would give you a placement test to find out which skills you have mastered and which skills you still need to learn. Let’s say I discover that you are ready for algebra so I put you in an algebra class. Great! You’re all set.

But what if I didn’t test your skill level? Instead, I just put you in a calculus class. You’d struggle, right? Or maybe it turned out that you were ready for calculus and I put you in an algebra class. You’d be bored, right? Or maybe you skipped some foundational steps and didn’t even yet know multiplication and division. Then you’d have a heck of a time keeping up with either algebra or calculus, don’t you think? This is why prioritizing the right skills, right from the beginning, is extremely important when it comes to building happiness.

2. Practice

Take a moment to think about the last time you learned a new skill—maybe speaking a new language, playing an instrument, or perfecting a craft. How long did it take you? How many total hours did you spend until you got good at it? The bad news is that if you are an average human being, learning any new skill takes some time.

But I do have some good news. You can make the happiness process go faster by practicing the right skills in the right way. More specifically, you can practice the skills that have the biggest impact on happiness, and practice them in the ways that are the most enjoyable for you. This way you’ll make more progress in less time and you’ll be less likely to quit along the way.

3. Progress

Among the happiness programs that I have worked on, I am always delighted to see just how quickly people make significant progress building their happiness. But I am often discouraged to see that just when people start to get the hang of this whole happiness thing, they hit a brick wall.

Why? Because after you prioritize skills and practice them for a while, you’ll plateau and may even start to backslide towards where you started. This phenomenon is known as the “hedonic treadmill”. It’s like you are forever running and not getting anywhere. So you have to be sure to get off the treadmill and switch things up regularly.

Imagine this. In the first grade, you learn addition. Then in second grade, you learn addition again. And in the third grade, guess what you learn? Addition. Do you see where I’m going with this? To progress and improve, you have to switch things up. So, when you are feeling confident with a happiness skill, or feel yourself backsliding, it’s time to pause, see what else you need to learn, and challenge yourself to do so.