Posts Tagged ‘choice’

On a positive note

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Times such as these can feel overwhelming, far too trying and tiresome to attempt to maintain a positive outlook. With ever-changing restrictions, guidelines, and perspectives which continue to constrict their grip on life as we once knew it, many report feeling utterly exhausted. Mix in fear, uncertainty, and grief, and it’s a recipe for negativity. Add in a little financial struggle and a heaping lack of in-real-time social interaction, you may find yourself completely spent at the end of each day. Who can muster up the effort for a positive mindset with all of this going on? Choosing optimism can feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. It’s much easier to allow dejection and depression to curl their dark tendrils around what’s left of the light inside of you and choke out any positivity you have left.

But realistic optimism during tough circumstances is the very salve needed to soothe our wearied souls.

What does it mean to be realistically optimistic? To better understand, let’s take a quick exploration into the field of positive psychology. Jeana Magyar-Moe, Ph.D., defines positive psychology as the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Optimal human functioning. Let those words sink in. Would you describe your life right now as optimal human functioning? Most likely not! Martin Seligman, Ph.D., defines it as the scientific and applied approach to uncovering people’s strengths and promoting their positive functioning. Do you feel your strengths these days are being revealed in a way which promote positive functioning? If you’re anything like me, quarantines and stay-at-home orders have instead revealed how weak my character is when it comes to things like eating well and exercising. Oh, why is that fridge door so easy to open, and why is Netflix is so much easier to choose than a yoga workout? Similarily, Chris Peterson, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, says positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, happiness and joy, what makes life worth living, and the good life. Nice. For him. All it takes is one glance on social media to see most everyone around us telling us what is NOT going right in their lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing a lot of people who are living out positive psychology these days.

Whichever definition you most connect to, there’s no need to argue which is best. We have plenty of other newsworthy items to argue about. I think we can all agree that an increase of positive emotions is something we all could use more of. But how to find that in a world swarmed with negativity?

Realistic optimism is not about pretending nothing bad is going on. It’s not hiding our heads in the sand, or looking the other way when negative events occur. Life is tough right now, no need to pretend that it’s not. But would you believe that a positive spirit is not so much about what’s going on around us?

Researchers have found that our circumstances only make up 10% of our happiness levels! I find that shocking. What do you mean, my ability to experience positive emotions is not based upon what is or is not happening to me? Oddly, studies show that 85% of the stuff we worry about ends up having a positive or neutral outcome? Think back on the last thing you were really worried about — did it actually come to pass to the degree you expected?

And while 50% of our happiness results from our genetics, the remaining 40% is up to us, through our choices and actions!

You’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence — that ability to perceive the emotions you an others are feeling, in the moment, and manage your behaviors and relationships appropriately. The competencies which make up emotional intelligence are really about behaviors — behaviors based upon the emotions we feel. Two of these competencies, realistic optimism and resilience, are closely connected to positive psychology. Realistic optimism is expecting success instead of failure, seeing opportunities instead of threats, expecting the future will bring positive change. Resilience is perseverance and diligence in the face of setbacks. I sure like the sound of each of those. But easier said than done.

Why have a positive outlook? Through her work around the science of positivity, researcher and author Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues discovered that positive emotions have superpowers. They can broaden our awareness, attention and cognitive abilities. They can build our creativity and resiliency. They allows us to see a wider range of possibilities, unlike negativity, which tamps down our innovative ideas. Positivity helps us be more socially connected and build stronger relationships, and has actually been proven to undo the psysiological damage that persistent negative emotions can cause. [https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/].

And all of that can happen despite the negative circumstances which surround us!

I know, it’s hard. Honestly, I think it’s easier to allow negativity to take rein, allowing our emotions to run amok, without any awareness or management. Think back on a time when someone recently made you very mad. Remember the physical symptoms you felt? Maybe your heart was racing, your mouth became dry, and you felt a sick pit in your stomach. Maybe your face flushed, your jaw clenched, and you found your hands became fists. And the thoughts which result from that hard-hit of negative emotions! It’s probably not a good idea to mention them here.

These emotions which lead to thoughts are what lead to our actions. Actions which, often, later, when we lie down in bed and think back on our day, make us cringe. It’s much easier to let negativity rule than take hold and choose positivity. Consider this, for example. When you read a post on social media that makes your blood boil — which is easier, in the moment: to type something smart aleck or cutting, or to choose to tell them something you appreciate about them?! Negativity is a much easier choice. However, if we continue to let negative emotions take the lead, we’ll quickly and easily end up in Debby Downer’s neighborhood. But who wants to live there?

How do you know if you could grow in realistic optimism? See if any of these ring true for you. People who struggle with an positive outlook tend to see failure as permanent and that difficulties, when they arise, will last a long time. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, and, as a result, can feel powerless and helpless. They expect the worst and often dwell in the past, engaging in negative self-talk. They operate from a fixed mindset and often believe that every misfortune is their own fault and attribute their success to luck rather than their own capabilities. They blame their circumstances for their misfortune and love to tell you about everything that has gone wrong over the days, months, and years. Does this sound like you?

On the other hand, those who possess a positive spirit see unfortunate events as temporary, and use each struggle to develop better coping skills. Their self-talk speaks to them of success because they believe they will succeed. These individuals operate from a growth mindset, believing negative events are temporary and happen to everyone. They are unfazed by defeat and bounce back after disappointments. They’re flexible, adaptable, and look for ways to allow failures to teach them resiliency. Do you know anyone like this?

Carol Dweck speaks of these two mindsets in her book, Mindset (2015). She describes a fixed mindset as one which assumes our character and intelligence are static, and our success is based upon of inherent intelligence, one that’s set at a fixed standard. In other words, there’s no room to improve or grow. Those with this mindset avoid failure at all cost to maintain their sense of worth. In contrast, Dweck notes that a growth mindset “thrives on challenges and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Do you see the difference?

She also goes on to say, “Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” [Mindset, 2015]

In other words, most of the goals we think will make us happy, often don’t. In contrast, it’s our mindset which determines our level of happiness.

The beautiful thing about a positive spirit is that it can be developed, no matter how negative you’re feeling today, and no matter the ugly circumstances swirling around you. A model to follow is PERMA, developed by psychologist, educator, and author Martin Seligman. Each letter of PERMA represents things we need in our lives to experience more positive emotions. Seligman coined the phrase, “Learned Optimism”, because a positive outlook for many of us does not come naturally. We have to choose PERMA, to learn it, and not wait for it to just happen by some act of fate.

Which one of these could you use more of?

Positive Emotion. In order to have a positive outlook, we need to feel positive emotions. Experiencing emotions like joy, hope, contentment, excitement, and giddiness, on a regular basis, can increase our levels of positivity immensely. Take note of the emotions you feel most strongly each day. If the negatives outweigh the positives, take some time to do the things which create positive emotions for you.

Engagement. Do you absorb yourself in your activities fully or are you a multi-tasker? If the latter, your ability to engage may be limited. Research shows that it really is difficult to multi-task — though you may be doing two things at once, one of them is getting more focus and attention which means the other is put on the back burner. Learning to focus on one thing at a time and relish the experience with all of your senses — engaging — is vital to building positivity.

Relationships. Experiencing deep, meaningful relationships, and taking the time to connect with those we care about, is probably the foremost way to build positivity. Make a list of those you love being around, and note why. Figure out ways to reach out and connect with them on a regular basis. Need more friends? Seek out ways to make new connections and build relationships, whether it’s joining a social group or expanding your friendship circles to include new faces.

Meaning. What is your life purpose, and how does that show up in your day-to-day activities? Can you connect that purpose to the work you do? Does it show up in your personal relationships? Knowing why you do the things you do and aligning them with your values can add meaning to everything you do. Try writing down your values, the things which are most important to you, and see what shifts you need to make to better align your life with those values. Seek the help of a coach or counselor if needed.

Accomplishment. If you’re a to do list-maker, you know how good it feels to check off a box when you complete a task. Accomplishments, both great and small, make us feel good. And they increase our motivation to continue to be successful. Looking back on past accomplishments can spur us toward greater goals. Try it. What did you accomplish today? Write them down, and circle the items you are most proud of. Share an accomplishment with a friend. Celebrate your wins. Try this for a week, or a month, and watch your positivity grow.

From a 20,000 feet view, here are a few ways to cultivate PERMA:

Challenge your negative thoughts about past events and why they happened.
-View negative experiences as neither personal nor permanent (“this too shall pass”)
-Consider the worst-case scenario and come up with actionable strategies to avoid it
-Remember bad things happen to everyone (the grass isn’t always greener)

And on a more down-to-earth level, here are some practices to incorporate PERMA into your day, week, month, and year, proven to increase your positive emotions:

Connect with friends/family/new people

Change your setting

Get outside and spend time in nature

–Find something that makes you laugh — and laugh!

Exercise (aerobic and cardio work best)

Do something kind for someone else– giving back, community engagement, volunteering, etc.

Activate your curiosity and learn something new

–Begin a gratitude jar/journal/letter

Reflect on a past achievements and celebrate them

Set a new goal and jot down how you’ll get there

Count your blessings and small kindnesses which happen every day

Savor moments, big and small

–Find flow (get lost doing something you love)

By choosing just one of these to start doing each day, with repeated practice, you will increase your positive emotions. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out. It can’t hurt to try. Your weary soul deserves a little positivity. And what an amazing example you could set for others who think they have to sink into the downward spiral of negativity. Who knows, your positive emotions may inspire them to do the same.

You and this world need your positivity.

Don’t miss the view

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I woke early and hopped on my bicycle, barefoot, and pedaled over to the beach in the first rays of the morning light. Pinks, oranges, and purples danced across the water’s surface. Sea gulls flocked together on the shore and sat silently looking seaward, dreaming of discarded sandwiches and half-empty bags of chips. A lone heron stood on one foot, stately and elegant, and a silvery fish jumped with a splash.The waves rolled in gently and the breezes whispered promises of peace and hope. Early mornings on the beach are the stuff dreams are made of.

That is, if you look past the trash strewn across the sand, remnants of yesterday’s revels. Broken glass, empty soda cans, bags of garbage, diapers, broken chairs, plastic sand toys, dismantled canopies, busted umbrellas, fast food wrappers, grocery bags, cigarette butts, and oh, those plastic water bottle lids by the dozens.

Here’s a thing I was thinking about. If I only focused on the garbage, and believe me, there was a LOT, and reflected on what kind of people would leave such a mess, the whole beach experience would be pretty crappy. I could get on social media and yell about it, criticize, and make snide remarks, making it clear I am not “these type of people”, and how the world is going to h-e double hockey sticks because of it. I could pretend “it’s my duty to inform you” of how degenerate people are and describe in detail their dastardly ways so you, too, can jump on my bandwagon. I could word my posts in such a way which breeds fear and panic about how polluted our world is, where no one would ever want to venture out to that dangerous, scary place called the beach again.

But look at this picture. Despite the messiness, the vista was breathtaking.

With a focus bent on the negative, I could have missed it.

Or, I could consider a different perspective. I could shake my head, then get busy picking up some trash. It’s not fun. It’s actually kind of gross. It hurts my back a little, too. But doable. Instead of scorning “them”, I could choose to offer forgiveness to those who don’t know better (or maybe do and make a choice to care about things different from me). And all the while, soak in the stunning beauty which surrounds me.

Every day we read and watch nothing but negative behaviors on our news feeds. There’s some pretty awful stuff going on, hurtful and shocking and scary. Is it tainting your view of all humans? Of our country? Of this world?

And what are you doing about it? Are you helping pick up the broken pieces during these crazy times, or just kicking them around, making an even bigger mess?

I know, the trash is real, and it’s ugly. And there are dangers associated with it, and things are not as we’d like them to be, and we’re scared. But try to keep living, humanely, despite it all. It’s easy to kick around the anger, fear, and worry, spreading it to everyone you know. It’s harder to bend down and pick it up, and put it in its place.

If you feel at a loss as to what you can do to help in these unsettling times, consider picking up some of the residue left by others who are hurting, angry, and struggling. Grab a bag and carry it for them, and find a place to discard it, even if you don’t think they deserve it. Maybe it comes in the form of sending encouraging words in a text. Maybe send some money anonymously to help someone who is struggling financially. Maybe share a positive post. Maybe make someone laugh. Maybe let them know you value them. Maybe share a meal, send a gift card, or ask someone how they are doing, and take time to really listen. Discover their needs, their fears, their dreams, and figure out how to help clean up the mess. Because we all end up in messes sometimes. And we all need others to help when we find ourselves in that messy place.

And while you’re doing that, look up.The sunrise is amazing. Sure, these days you have to look a little harder to see it, but it’s there, every morning, the dawning of a new day. So lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, to the north, and to the south, and to the east and to the west. You won’t want to miss the view.

13 Ways to Be More Collaborative

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Boy, are people cranky these days! And for good reason, right? Our norms have been turned upside down, and, combined with fear, uncertainty, financial strain, and worry — it’s a sure recipe for contentiousness.

Just take a look at just about any social media page. People can post the most innocent of comments — or not — but no matter, there’s always someone, or some-many, who will jump on their soapbox and argue, call names, sling insults, and make snide remarks, sometimes just to be disagreeable. Why is it when things get tough, we tend to throw teamwork and collaboration out the window?

Some would say it’s human nature and can’t be helped.

“Bad temper is its own scourge. Few things are more bitter than to feel bitter. A man’s venom poisons himself more than his victim.” — Charles Buxton

Oxford Language Dictionary defines human nature as “the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.” Why, then, if it’s something we all share, are some people kindhearted, uplifting, and encouraging, while others seem prone to be the thorn in everyone’s side?

It comes down to choice.

Contrary to popular belief, we get to choose how we react to the emotions we are feeling. Every single one of us can either choose the path of collaboration, or, decide to go down the path of contentiousness. We have the choice to either fall victim to our emotions and allow them to take us down the spiral of negativism, cynicism, and criticism, or use them as a vital source of data which can lead to greater connectivity and cooperation with others, leading to healthier, happier relationships.

No matter your circumstances, no matter how tough things are, no matter how utterly frustrated you may feel, you get to choose how you respond.

Experiencing negative emotions is normal. But we don’t have to act out on them. So why does it feel like poor behavior sometimes is an automatic reaction, one that can’t be helped? The answer has to do with how our brains are wired. When presented with stimuli which trigger a strong emotion, the signal first arrives to the emotional part of your brain, and communicates that you either need to fight or take flight, without delay. It takes another six seconds for the signal to hit the rational part of your brain and allow you to use reason in choosing your next steps.[How to best manage the six seconds that can change your life (for the worse)].

If you choose to react within those first six seconds, chances are your choices may be clouded by the hot emotions you’re feeling. Those are the moments when we shoot back that feisty text, fire off a heated email, or exchange hurtful words in a disagreement. This out-of-control response is a result of an amygdala hijack, a term coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995. The amygdala, the part of the brain designed to respond quickly to  threats, in order to protect us from danger, can interfere with our functioning in our day-to-day lives where perceived threats are now rarely a matter of life and death. 

If we delay reacting by just a few more moments, allowing the brain to take the emotional stimuli and process it with the rational part of our brain, we have a much greater likelihood of making a thought-out, cooperative and productive decision. [Amygdala Hijack and the Fight or Flight Response]

Easier said than done.

Becoming a team player, and leading others toward collaboration, takes emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-management, other awareness, and relationship management, to pull it of. These traits often don’t come easy. But with some focused effort and the help of a social + emotional intelligence coach, you can take steps in a new direction.

If working collaboratively with others is not one of your strong points, here are some things to try to work toward  a more cooperative approach:

  • Hit pause. When you feel your temper rising, take a break. Inhale deeply, step away, take a walk — anything to give your brain a chance to bring reason to the table.
  • Look for opportunities to team up with others. Instead of going it alone on your next project, find a few others to collaborate with and let them know you’d really appreciate their input.
  • Enhance your listening skills. When others offer their insights, even if you don’t like what they’re saying, tune into what they’re trying to communicate and take a genuine interest in learning more. Understanding their motivations may help you be more open to a differing viewpoint.
  • Keep others informed as to your goals, projects, timelines, and successes along the way. Communicating with others helps them feel like part of the team.
  • Be sure to say thank you to those who are working with you. Gratitude goes a long way in building rapport with others. Some people thrive on public recognition while others appreciate a private “thanks”. Learn your team members and be generous with your appreciation.
  • Lead without dominating. Seek out ways you can ask for input and allow for time and space for others to come up with suggestions, ideas, etc…especially those who may be quieter or less assertive.
  • Give validation freely. Letting others know their input is valued, even if the ideas presented are not ones you’d necessarily incorporate, goes a long way in building a cooperative spirit. An old proverb says, “In a multitude of counselors there is safety.” A variety of ideas, even the ones which sound crazy or far-fetched, can contribute to finding successful ones.
  • When conflict arises, attempt to resolve it sooner than later. Unresolved conflict can eat away at cohesion. Though avoiding hard conversations may seem easier in the moment, they’ll need to take place eventually. The sooner you can resolve disagreements, the sooner you can move forward toward your goals.
  • Treat everyone with respect and courtesy. There’s never a time when it’s OK to be rude, distasteful, or demeaning. No matter the job title, position, or lot in life, practice treating all people with high regard.
  • Share your resources with others. Don’t be an idea-hoarder. Who knows if your insights may spark imaginative ideas in others?“

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

  • Allow others to take credit. Your innovative ideas may spur others to come up with creative ways of doing things…so much so that they may forget the original idea came from you. That’s OK. Exercise enough personal power to not need to have all the credit all the time.
  • Empower others to be successful. Good leaders look for ways for others to be successful. Which of your behaviors turn others off? What hurdles may be keeping others from feeling like part of your team? What needs do they have? How can you go out of your way to meet those needs?
  • Get to know your colleagues. Learn their spouse’s names, ask about what their kids are up to, and seek to understand their motivations and personal interests. When team members feel understood, and appreciated, they’re much more likely to be strong contributors.

Learning to get along and work well with others will enhance your own sense of well-being, as well as contribute to happier, healthier relationships and a greater sense of community…something we all could use more of these days.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

We get to choose

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.
We’ve all had to modify our habits and behaviors in the past month, and because of this, it’s become increasingly important we tend to our emotional wellbeing.
 
Giving up routines
It’s hard to let go of our normal routines, especially routines we enjoy. It can be frustrating, annoying, and depressing. This disruption to our normal routines can be confusing and scary and _______ (fill in your own adjective). And many feel downright restricted, for good reason. Some of us can still get outside — some can’t. Some of us have huge houses to roam — some are cooped in very small spaces. Some of us get to work — some are getting paid not to work — and some can’t work at all. Some of us are financially sound — some are struggling to pay rent and feed our families. Some of us are alone — and some feel overwhelmed by all of the family members at home under the same roof. Some of us are sick in hospital beds — and some are still enjoying health. Some of us don’t know anyone personally who has succumbed to the disease — some have lost dear, loved ones.
 
How will you respond?
Noo matter our differing circumstances, we are in this together. We have all had to modify our lifestyles to some degree. And despite what some can do and what some can’t do, we have one thing in common. Choice. Choice as to how we respond to this upheaval of life as we knew it.
 
One choice is to let ourselves be filled with fear, worry, and dread, allow negativity to take hold, and complain, gripe, and blame. Many go down this path, and they can — it’s their choice. However studies show that consistent stress, fear and worry can take a toll on our bodies. If continued, it can wreck our immune systems and mental health — and have a negative affect on everyone we interact with.
 
Another choice is to choose emotional wellbeing. It’s not always the easiest route. It takes considerable effort to fight against the natural tendancy of negativity when times are hard.
 
This month I watched a video of a man who ran a marathon inside his tiny, dark apartment living room. Can you imagine the monotony of running ’round and ’round your kitchen table for 6+ hours? And think about being his neighbors in the flat below! I saw that a neighborhood conducted a socially-distanced dance party. I saw quarantined individuals singing from their balconies. I watched a dad who made his daughters laugh uncontrollably (and drove his wife crazy) by acting like a dinosaur every time his girls said the words, “dinosaur dad”. I’ve seen a boy smiling as he rides his bike outside my window every afternoon. I’ve witnessed moms getting creative with crafts to keep their kids occupied. I’ve participated in video conversations where people shared things they’re grateful for. My neighbors have been gardening. One friend has been riding her horse. Another friend initiated weekly virtual happy hours with her colleagues. My daughter-n-law, who was sick with coronavirus, got a new puppy, and shared the photos of her laughing at his antics, which brought us all joy, despite the extreme discomfort she was in.
These people, as many around the world have done, have chosen to find joy despite their negative circumstances.
 
Yes, times are difficult. We face so much uncertainty and it’s easy to let fear creep in and take hold. But have you ever been one to choose the easy route? Think back on all of your own past success, accomplishments you are really proud of, great and small. Was it easy to get there? Did it really take no effort? You can do hard things. You’ve done it before and you can do it again. We all have and can.
 
Finding Joy
What do you like to do? What makes you laugh? What makes your heart sing? Yes, I know — you most likely can’t do these things, right now, in exactly the same way you did before. But are there ways you can modify a bit and still make them happen? Maybe it’s a video chat with your best friend. Of course that’s not as good as being with them in person — but at least you can see their face and hear their voice. Maybe it’s opening your window and letting in some fresh air — even if you can’t go outside. Maybe it’s practicing yoga in your tiny apartment — not as good as your class at the gym, but better than nothing? Maybe it’s watching a funny movie at home instead of the theater. Maybe it’s getting creative with the limited food staples you have and coming up with a new dish…even if it turns out badly! Maybe it’s grabbing a pencil and sketching what you see from your front porch. Maybe it’s writing encouraging notes to friends to cheer them up. Maybe it’s having family members take turns creating a ‘restaurant night in’ so you feel like you’re still eating out.
 
And maybe it’s learning to find joy in the little things which may have gone unnoticed up until now.
 
The choice is ours
Again, we can choose negativity. We get that choice. But our emotional health is vital during times such as this. So I’d like to encourage you to fight the tendancies toward pessimism. See if you can’t try at least one thing today which will lead to a positive outlook, even if it’s just for a moment. If you can’t muster anything up, simply write down a few things you’re thankful for. Then try it again tomorrow, and maybe extend the time you spend doing it. Each day, increase the number of things you write down, and begin looking in all the nooks and crannies of your life for more. Share these with others so they, too, can benefit from your walk toward improved an improved emotional outlook and possibly be encouraged to do the same.
 Choosing positivity is not being naieve, or silly. Trust me, we still will remain very aware of the trying circumstances which surround us all. Things like this aren’t something we can just block out.  This is tough, maybe one of the toughest things we’ve experienced. But despite what’s going on around us, most of which we have no control over, when we choose to engage in joy-producing activities, we can at least begin to exert energy toward the thing we have control of — our own emotional wellbeing.
We get to choose.
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