Maintain Your Emotional Health by Managing Your Perspective

It’s a fact: bad things happen to the best of us. No matter how well we try to manage our lives, no one escapes the negative side of life. We all experience negative emotional events, whether they be failure, disappointment, or heartbreak. But just because we know it happens to everyone, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it happens to us.

Though we may try, it’s not realistic to expect that we could keep ourselves from ever experiencing negative emotions. In fact, it would be abnormal if we didn’t experience them. And suppressing them is extremely unhealthy. Although we can’t eliminate these experiences, we can learn how to minimize their emotional impact.

When we experience negative events, we all have different ways of expressing the accompanying emotions. Regarding the intensity and duration of these emotions, research tells us it has more to do with the way we perceive these events than with the events themselves. Therefore, one of the most important skills to develop is the ability to maintain a realistic perspective.

Perspective is very important for managing emotions. Think about the way a magnifying glass works; it enlarges the object of study. Besides making the object larger, it also distorts its relative proportions.

person using magnifying glass enlarging the appearance of his nose and sunglasses

As we process negative events, many of us have a tendency to do something similar. We magnify the situation to where it becomes larger than it needs to be, and our perception of its impact becomes disproportionate to the other areas of our lives. Therefore, managing the negative impact begins with managing our perspective.

How can we accomplish this?

There are five key concepts to remember for managing our perspective:

  1. Our lives comprise a collection of experiences. A SINGLE experience cannot define it. Over the course of a lifetime, a single experience is like a raindrop in a sea of experiences. Therefore, we shouldn’t give a single event more weight than is truly warranted.

  1. Consider the concept of impermanence. In the natural world, nothing is permanent. This includes negative situations. Regardless of how bad it may seem, we must remind ourselves that what we are feeling is temporary and the discomfort won’t last forever. Embrace the old saying, “This too shall pass.”

  1. Acknowledge the difference between discomfort and catastrophe.  When we assign overly extreme labels to normal emotions (i.e., catastrophize), it becomes more difficult to cope with the negative situation. It is healthy to acknowledge when we are upset—sad, angry, frustrated—about a situation. However, telling ourselves (and others) that we are “devastated” would be a catastrophization. We should avoid labeling a situation as “unbearable” or “impossible” when it is just uncomfortable.

  1. Avoid making sweeping conclusions based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. Experiencing a failure does not mean we ARE a failure, nor does it mean we will continue to fail. And just because a single situation has gone awry, there is no reason to generalize that everything else is bad (e.g., “My girlfriend left me; my entire life sucks.”).

  1. Most of us experience more good than bad in our lives. Therefore, when we experience failures and disappointments, we should remind ourselves of our competencies and previous accomplishments. We should learn to acknowledge the good things in our lives, so we don’t place a disproportionate focus on the bad.

When we maintain perspective during negative situations, we increase our ability to manage the accompanying thoughts and feelings. We can’t anesthetize ourselves from feeling normal emotions. However, using the key concepts above, we can better manage the way we process them, which can minimize the negative emotional impact. Maintaining a proper perspective allows us to see these events as they really are—through a realistic lens, without the distortions of magnification.

Image: Marten Newhall

References:
Beck, A. T., &  Alford, B. A. (2009). Depression: Causes and treatment (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Your First Step Toward a Beautiful Life

Note: I published a previous version of this article on The Change Blog (now called Possibility of Change) in 2011.

Image: RhondaK Native Florida Folk Artist on Unsplash

What is life? Is it the state of physical existence, the fact we are alive? Or is it the state of consciousness, the fact we know we’re alive? Of course, it’s both. However, if today were our last day on earth and someone were to ask us to narrate our lives in retrospect, it is unlikely we would limit our stories to tales of our existence and being conscious that we exist.

Instead, we would reflect on our lives through a collection of encoded memories. Breathing and consciousness aside, it is our thoughts, perceptions, and the recollections of our experiences that define our lives.

The goal of personal development is to realize our human potential and enhance the quality of our lives. Therefore, if the stories of our lives comprise recollected experiences, then the most direct way to improve our lives is to improve our experiences.

Improvement requires change, and change requires work. And with encompassing holistic changes, most people are challenged to know where to start.

Tabula Rasa

In epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge, “tabula rasa” is a theory based on the ancient idea that all knowledge comes from experience and perception. From Latin to English, tabula rasa translates as “blank slate,” a reference to the practice of writing on a slate sheet with chalk.

Greek philosophers theorized the human mind was a blank slate (i.e., completely empty) at birth. They believed mental functioning solely depended on interactions with the external world. As the individual accumulated experiences, the slate would become filled.

Thanks to modern science, we have since learned that our minds are not blank at birth. We are born with cognitive mechanisms for information-processing, emotions, sensations, and automatic motor functions. But researchers continue to acknowledge that we are shaped by societal, environmental, and sensory experiences.

The ancient philosophers emphasized an individual’s freedom to author his or her own soul. This remains true to an extent. Our stories reflect our everyday choices and experiences. This key aspect of tabula rasa is where we will focus our attention.

The First Step Toward Personal Change

As with any task, work becomes easier when we have the right tools. Self-improvement is no different. Regarding personal change, the most inspiring tool will not be found in an expensive course or costly online download. In fact, it costs nothing. Because it’s in your mind. This important tool is a tabula rasa.

The first step toward change is to give ourselves a mental blank slate. Why?

It is difficult to rewrite our lives with a mind filled with clutter from the past. Imagine trying to add water to a cup that is already full. Therefore, envisioning a blank slate accomplishes three important things:

  1. It represents a mental fresh start.
  2. It limits our focus to the present.
  3. It compels us to design our lives with mindful intention.

Envision a Blank Canvas

For the benefit of example, I will share my personal experience.

Ten years ago, I went through a divorce. The process itself took more than a year, and it took twice as long to move past it. I had a hard time accepting the change. For months, I was stuck, not moving in any direction at all.

I struggled with a sense of loss regarding life plans that would go unrealized. The primary thing holding me back was my continued focus on what would never be as if the pages of my story had been erased.

With time, I shifted my focus from a negative frame of loss to a positive frame of growth and opportunity. I stopped thinking pessimistically about pages that had been erased. Instead, I started thinking of the empty pages as a clean slate on which I could write or draw anything I wished. It was at that point I stopped mourning the old plans and started making new ones.

I used a reframing technique to shift from a negative frame to a positive one. However, it was not possible until I accepted the optimistic idea of a blank slate.

As you can see, a blank slate provides an artistic canvas on which to layer new insights. Freeing ourselves of mental clutter creates a cleared space for new perspectives.

A blank slate is more than just a design instrument. It records our experiences, the raw elements of our recollections. And because a blank slate represents unlimited possibilities, it can spark enthusiasm for filling the slate with enriching life experiences. Unencumbered by mindless clutter from the past, we can move forward with mindful intention, which is empowering.

Create a Work of Art

The purpose of personal development is to enhance the experience of living. The consummate goal is to look back on our lives and see a rich landscape, artfully layered with vivid experiences.

The good news is this endeavor can be started today. Like a painter, we can add the colors we wish, one by one, to design a more meaningful life.

It all starts with an empty canvas. A blank slate. A tabula rasa.

“With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.”

Oprah Winfrey

Developing a Mindset For Social Good

In the corporate world, “social good” refers to ideas and actions that promote a greater benefit for society. To that end, companies demonstrate varying levels of social responsibility concerning the societal and environmental effects of their products and services. They also become involved with social issues through philanthropy and social awareness campaigns.

As “corporate” as this may sound, keep in mind that organizations are not just brick and mortar entities. They are human collectives comprising individuals who provide the impetus for social good. Therefore, the spirit of social good starts with individuals.

On the individual level, it is not easy to determine what motivates people to act on the behalf of others. While helping comes easy to some people, others are more comfortable watching from the sidelines. Why? Because social good is more than feeling charitable at a given moment. It is an encompassing mindset stemming from an empathetic desire to improve the human condition. However, empathy alone will not compel people to act. If empathy is not enough, what else comes into play?

Individuals with a social good mindset hold several key values and beliefs. Therefore, they are distinguished from individuals who are less likely to act by their belief systems and worldview. Whether a person chooses to play an active role in social good depends on how they see themselves relative to others in the world.

Interconnectedness

Interconnectedness is a worldview that is rooted in Buddhist philosophy. It is the belief that all things are interdependent; nothing is independent of relationships with other things.

A social good mindset reflects the belief that a problem affecting one segment of society will ultimately affect all of society. We connect with each other in the sense that each individual reflects the humanness of every other individual. This is the basis of empathy, which allows us to see ourselves in others.

We are also interdependent with the environment. Abuse of its resources, or disregard for the creatures that exist within it, triggers a domino effect that ultimately affects human life.

Assets vs. Limitations

Consider the following quote:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” — Edward Everett Hale

People with a social good mindset do not devalue themselves by focusing on limitations. Instead, they acknowledge the value of what they can offer. Aside from financial assets, every person possesses natural strengths and talents, which are also charitable assets. People with a social good mindset believe we should do what we can with what we have, and if we can’t do a lot, then do a little.

Small Actions Matter

It doesn’t take a grand gesture to make a difference; small actions matter. Many people are deterred from acting because of the erroneous belief that their actions are too small to make a difference. However, it is important to think in terms of collective actions and understand that small actions contribute to a larger cause.

For example, if we visualize the vastness of an ocean, one act of social good can be compared to one drop of water. Though only a drop, each drop is a necessary component of the whole. Therefore, to appreciate the impact of one drop, simply imagine the outcome if there were no drops; the ocean would cease to exist.

The social good mindset is not concerned with the size of an act. In addition to the power of collective actions, we should remember that in the ocean, even a single raindrop makes a ripple.

Spheres of Influence

Whether we realize it, we influence the world daily. The social good mindset recognizes that regardless of occupation or social position, each of us is at the center of a personal sphere of influence.

We’ve undoubtedly influenced many, even if only by sharing our experiences and insights. Kind actions have a ripple effect, and we should keep in mind that our actions are often paid forward without us realizing it.

Internal Locus of Control

A strong sense of internal control is vital to the social good mindset. A person with an internal locus of control believes success or failure is within their personal control and is directly related to their skill and effort. In contrast, individuals who have an external locus of control believe their success or failure depends on outside forces, such as fate, luck, or powerful others.

In a past study, researchers compared the personality traits of Holocaust heroes (i.e., non-Jewish civilians who risked their lives to save others) to the traits of bystanders who offered no assistance. They found that those who risked their lives to save persecuted neighbors had a stronger sense of internal control than those who did not offer assistance. Also, individuals with an internal locus of control possessed a stronger sense of social responsibility.

A person with a social good mindset believes they can accomplish great things through their own efforts, and they don’t wait for someone else to save the day.

Sense of Purpose

The most important characteristic of the social good mindset is that it stems from a sense of purpose. Purpose is the primary motivation for the social good mindset. It shapes our thinking and guides our actions toward higher goals. When our purpose directs us toward social good, we become energized toward that pursuit. Therefore, we don’t look for reasons we can’t do something; we see only that we must do something.

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” ― Angela Davis

Reference: Midlarsky, E., Jones, S. F., & Corley, R. P. (2005). Personality Correlates of Heroic Rescue During the Holocaust. Journal of Personality, 73(4), 907–934. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00333.x

*Image: Dio Hasbi Saniskoro

Want More Happiness? Examine What You Tolerate

Examine What You Tollerate
Image: Ion Chiosea on 123rf

“Examine what you tolerate. What you put up with you end up with. What you allow continues. Reevaluate the costs and your worth.”

Karen Salmansohn

Have you continued to tolerate unsatisfying situations? Perhaps you’ve stayed too long in a job you hate or in a relationship that has run its course. Have you ever asked yourself why?

On the surface, you may tell yourself the time isn’t right, you’ve invested too much time, or you may rationalize that your situation is not so bad. But often, after probing deeper, people uncover the true reasons for tolerating less than they deserve. Some of those reasons include:

  • Lack of confidence in their abilities
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success (e.g., fear of how life will change: new responsibilities, other people’s expectations, being in the spotlight, etc.)
  • Concerns about what others will think
  • Concerns about disappointing or hurting other people (e.g., a parent, romantic partner, roommate, boss, business partner, etc.)
  • Concerned that setting boundaries will upset other people

Resolving unsatisfying situations does not involve changing other people. The solution comes from changes within yourself. While you cannot control the people who surround you, you can control whom you choose to be around, how you interact with them, the boundaries you set and enforce, and whether you remain engaged at all.

So if you notice a pattern of staying involved in unsatisfying situations, examine your reasons for remaining engaged in them. The true reasons may surprise you. Then direct your attention to what is under your control: The power to choose what you will and will not tolerate.

 

Sowing Seeds of Happiness: How to Cultivate a Life You Love

Image: Charlie Seaman on Unsplash

What if attaining happiness were as simple as planting a seed and growing it? What if you were given a single seed from which to grow a lifetime of happiness? Would you toss the seed onto a random pile of dirt and leave it to grow on its own? What type of plant would you expect to grow from an uncultivated pile of dirt?

You don’t have to be a gardener to know that healthy plants require a nourishing environment. You wouldn’t expect to grow prize-winning tomatoes from a pile of depleted dirt. Instead, you would expect prize-winning vines to be mindfully cultivated from a foundation of nutrient-rich soil.

Happiness can be defined as the ultimate state of well-being. Ancient philosopher Aristotle referred to happiness as “eudaimonia,” which is best understood as the state of human flourishing. He described it as the ultimate end sought by all human endeavors. But to reach it, we must live in a manner that supports this end goal. Therefore, if we want to flourish, we must commit to activities that support flourishing and avoid activities that would make it less likely.

What does this have to do with gardening?

As you can probably guess, gardening is simply a metaphor for our lives and the fruit we bear. As mentioned above, exceptional tomatoes don’t just happen; they require careful cultivation. Like gardeners, we must mindfully cultivate our lives if we want to bear exceptional fruit. Following the metaphor, if you are striving to flourish, your first step is to examine your environment to assess whether your “soil” is good.

Your Physical Environment: Is It Barren, Toxic, or Rich?

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Image: icon0.com on Pexels

In barren soil, an environment devoid of nutrients, a plant will struggle to eke out an existence. Though it may grow, it cannot truly thrive. The same is true for human beings. Living in an environment devoid of enriching stimulation can lead to boredom and apathy, the antithesis of flourishing.

Toxic soil contains poisons or pollutants that can kill the plant. Likewise, a toxic human environment can impede your ability to flourish and, in some cases, limit your very existence. Attempting to survive in an abusive, unsanitary, unsafe, or any other type of dangerous environment can poison (or kill) the body, mind, and spirit. I can’t stress enough how important it is to remove yourself from those environments.

In contrast, rich soil supplies an optimal mix of nutrients, providing an environment conducive to growth. Like plants, human flourishing depends on the environment; it is unlikely to occur in barren or toxic surroundings. Therefore, aim to cultivate an environment rich with growth-stimulating elements. Keep your surroundings clean, uncluttered, and filled with things you enjoy, such as books, candles, and artwork. Create spaces for prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, or reading, and make sure your bedroom promotes restful sleep.

Your Relationships: Are You Struggling to Grow Among Weeds?

The problem with weeds is that they draw essential nutrients away from the roots of the primary plant, robbing the plant of its vitality. Weeds represent relationships that make it difficult to flourish. They are people who (knowingly or unknowingly) hold you back. They contribute to self-limiting beliefs, promote negativity, or are unsupportive of your goals.

If your goal is to flourish, it is important to consider the psychological impact of the people in your life. Do they encourage you to be your best? Are they critical of you? Do they have similar values? Are they seeking to flourish as well? Do they contribute to the spirit of flourishing, or do they detract from it? If your current relationships are unsupportive, aim to build a new support system with like-minded people who can inspire and cheer you on as you move toward your goals.

Your Activities: Do You Actively Tend to Your Need for Fulfillment?

Image: Mikhail Nilov on Pexels

Gardeners know the key to abundant growth is to mindfully tend to the needs of the plant. They pull weeds, aerate the soil, eliminate pests, and may even talk to their plants to encourage growth. When it comes to our personal well-being, we are the gardeners; it is up to us to nurture our own needs and cultivate growth through mindful action.

Flourishing doesn’t happen by chance. It is a by-product of our day-to-day choices. A sedentary life on a sofa in front of the TV is unlikely to help you flourish. In contrast, interacting with inspirational media, exercising, hiking, taking a cooking class, gardening, volunteering, and travel are examples of activities associated with fulfillment. Activities such as these provide opportunities to expand your mind, build skills, manage health, help others, and explore—the activities of human flourishing.

“Even the richest soil, if left uncultivated will produce the rankest weeds.“

–Leonardo da Vinci

Like the gardener who cultivates prize-winning tomatoes, you can cultivate a life of human flourishing. An enriched environment, supportive relationships, and taking part in fulfilling activities will put you in a better position to enjoy peak life experiences. These life-changing steps can make the difference between mere existence and a life that blooms.

Image: Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Wellness Strategy: How to Begin a Meditation Practice

Image: Cliff Booth on Pexels

This article is part of the Wellness Strategies Series

Problem: Stress, poor attention, or trouble falling asleep
Strategy: Learn how to meditate & build a practice

Meditation is a mind-body practice that trains the attention of the mind. According to science, meditation is good for well-being. It can also enhance treatments for mental and physical health conditions when used along with (not in place of) exercise, traditional therapies, medications, and other prescribed treatments. Scientists have documented several benefits of meditation, which include:

  • Reduction of stress-related symptoms
  • Improved levels of sustained attention
  • Improved mood
  • Improved sleep
  • Lower levels of anxiety and depression
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased levels of self-awareness
  • Increased levels of empathy and compassion

Method

The following is a basic mindfulness meditation technique for beginners.

  1. Sit or lie comfortably. You may use a chair, cushion, yoga mat, or bed (especially at night).
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Breathe naturally. Do not try to control the breath.
  4. Focus your attention on the breath. Observe the movements of your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly as you breathe in and out. Continue to focus on the breath without controlling its pace or intensity.
  5. If your mind wanders (which it will), return your focus back to the breath without judgment.
  6. As a beginner, aim to meditate for one to three minutes per session. It is best to set a timer so you won’t have to worry about the time. As you become accustomed to the basics, you can increase your sessions gradually for longer periods.

When first establishing a mindfulness practice, some people find it helpful to use various apps to guide them through the techniques, provide daily reminders, and track progress. Top suggestions include Headspace, Insight Timer, One Moment Meditation, Serenity, and UCLA Mindful,

You can also access free guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Why It Works

Meditation techniques such as transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation can change the brain’s function and structure. According to research, meditation affects the structures regulating blood pressure and heart rate. Neuroimaging has also shown changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area responsible for higher-order thinking skills such as planning, decision-making and moderating social behavior. Other studies have shown meditation activates a network of brain regions associated with compassion, empathy, self-awareness, and learning.

Besides changes in brain structure, meditation promotes cognitive and behavioral changes. Researchers explain meditation and other forms of mindfulness-based training seem to reduce the use of maladaptive emotional regulation strategies (such as overthinking and worrying that the worst will happen) that can lead to poor mental health. Meditation can help individuals develop a set of cognitive and behavioral skills that will help them handle stressful situations more effectively.

The meditations featured on this website demonstrate various forms of mindfulness meditation. Transcendental meditation is a unique form of meditation taught by the Maharishi Foundation via one-on-one instruction. To learn more about it, visit the official website tm.org.

Demonstration

The videos below provide foundational instruction Once you become accustomed to the basics of meditation, you can explore a variety of full meditations in our Guided Meditations Library

Video 1 (Instruction)

In “How to Meditate for Beginners,” Mitch Manly provides detailed instruction for beginners. He explains where to meditate, how to meditate, and how to “turn off your brain.” He also provides suggestions regarding how long you should meditate, and how long it takes to see the benefits.


Video 2 (Intro + Demo)

Martin Boroson, founder and CEO or the One Moment Company demonstrates how to meditate “quickly and powerfully” in the video, “One-Moment Meditation: How to Meditate in a Moment.” Learning to meditate in a moment can help you to reduce stress and live more in the moment.


Video 3 (Brief Intro + Full Guided Meditation)

Jason Stephenson guides you through a 15-minute “Back to Basics Guided Meditation: For Beginners & Returning Meditation Users.” This video is for beginners and those who want to re-establish their meditation practice.

References:
Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L., & Lejuez, C. W. (2012). Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression & Anxiety, 29(7), 545-562. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.21964

Miller, J. J., Fletcher, K., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. General Hospital Psychiatry, 17(3), 192-200. https://doi.org/10.1016/0163-8343(95)00025-M

Gathright, E. C., Salmoirago-Blotcher, E., DeCosta, J., Balletto, B. L., Donahue, M. L., Feulner, M. M., Cruess, D. G., Wing, R. R., Carey, M. P., & Scott-Sheldon, L. A. J. (2019). The impact of transcendental meditation on depressive symptoms and blood pressure in adults with cardiovascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 46, 172-179. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.08.009

Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537 559. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691611419671

Lieberman, B. (2018, January 29). Peering into the meditating mind. Knowable Magazine. https://www.knowablemagazine.org/article/mind/2018/peering-meditating-mind  

Marchand, W. R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 18(4), 233-252. doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000416014.53215.86

Martires, J. & Zeidler, M. (2015). The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia. Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine, 21(6), 547-552. doi: 10.1097/MCP.0000000000000207

Rosenkranz, M. A., Richard J.Davidson, R. J., MacCoon, D. G., Sheridan, J. F., Kalin, N. H., & Lutz, A. (2013). A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 27, 174-184. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.013

Smith, J. A., Newman, K. M., Suttie, J., & Jazaieri, H. (2017, December 5). The state of mindfulness science. Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_state_of_mindfulness_science

Speca, M., Carlson, L. E., Goodey, E., & Angen, M. (2000). A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: the effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62(5), 613-622. doi: 10.1097/00006842-200009000-00004

Why Being “Right” May Be Wrong: Managing Conflict Through Perspective-Taking

Last updated on 9/3/2020

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No matter how “right” you may think you are, there is usually more than one way to view a situation. Each person has a perspective that may be valid in some respect. A key to managing interpersonal conflict is accepting that your way of seeing things is only one possibility. Our perspectives are not always factual. They arise from opinions, which develop from personal experiences.

Being unwilling to consider other points of view puts you at a disadvantage. Why? Because “black and white” thinking robs you of the ability to see the shades of gray. Rigid thinking does not consider the complexity of most people and situations. The truth is that “truths” are not always the same for all people. Insisting there is only one “right” way often leads to unresolved disagreements, leaving at least one person feeling invalidated.

From a sociocultural point of view, we should expect people from diverse backgrounds and cultures to differ in their ideas and beliefs because of their upbringing and experiences. Perspective-taking (i.e., the ability to view a situation from an alternate point-of-view) has been shown to improve social interactions and relations.

So, the next time you find yourself in a disagreement, pause and remind yourself to be flexible. Consider other perspectives. You may find that experiences differing from your own can prompt you to analyze your own experiences and help you derive new meanings from them.

*Image: aquaswim

Learning to Shift Gears

Bad days comprise an interesting set of phenomena. They come out of nowhere, get worse as the day goes on, and are doubly attractive to the consequences of Murphy’s Law. Every real minute is consciously experienced as two, causing the day to seem like it lasts forever. It’s the type of day during which you swear you can see an actual dark cloud overhead that has chosen to devote its time to you.

These types of days are often triggered by a disappointment or bad event and continue to go downhill as the day progresses. And what is most ironic about having a bad day is that the prolonged negative experience of it is often self-generated.

Self-generated? Yes, self-generated.

Understanding Emotions and Moods

Yes, bad occurrences happen unexpectedly to all of us. In fact, bad experiences should be considered as a natural part of the overall human experience. However, it’s our attitudes and reactions to these occurrences that determine their overall impact. Specifically, not allowing a bad moment to fade into the past is what perpetuates a bad day.

Bad occurrences are emotion-generating events. As part of a somewhat unconscious and automatic process, we appraise a situation that occurs and, based on whether we believe it to be good or bad, a corresponding emotion arises. Accordingly, once we have appraised an event as “bad,” we experience a negative emotion that affects our physiology, behavior, thoughts, and feelings.

In general, emotions are short-lived responses to specific occurrences. However, emotions can turn into more enduring moods when you lose focus of the event that initiated feeling. Consequently, a negative event can snowball into a bad morning; a bad morning into a bad day; and a bad day into a bad week. In other words, the problem arises when we don’t shift gears, and the emotion evolves into a prolonged general state.

Negative Emotions Impact Our Perceptions

Have you ever been so angry that you can’t think straight? There is actually a biological reason for this. The short explanation is that the emotional and rational parts of our brain don’t always work well together. Specifically, negative emotions exert a powerful influence over both perception and information-processing, which encompasses what we think about, the decisions we make, and even our creativity. Essentially, negative moods inhibit our ability to have good perceptions, judgments, and decision strategies. In contrast, a good mood facilitates flexibility and creative problem-solving, allowing us to simply solve the problem and move on.

Perhaps this is the reason everything seems to be bad when we are having a bad day; because we are feeling negative, we perceive things more negatively. More than likely, the same occurrences on a good day would not be perceived as bad. We’d simply accept them as minor, unlinked occurrences instead of catastrophes or as a string of bad luck.

Learning to Shift Gears

For those with experience driving a car or motorcycle, you probably have noticed that as the gears change via upshifting and downshifting, the engine works best within a certain range as you speed up and slow down. Even when riding a bicycle, if you try to go fast on a bicycle in low gear, your legs will be spinning so fast that you quickly become exhausted. If you try to go up hill in a high gear, you will quickly run out of steam. Shifting gears minimizes wear and tear on the vehicle and maximizes mechanical efficiency.

Similar to operating a vehicle, the ability to mentally shift gears is an integral part of managing happiness. Why? The reason is simple: because it minimizes suffering maximizes rational efficiency. In other words, bad occurrences don’t have to become prolonged anguish (like riding a bike uphill in high gear). If we avoid getting stuck in a negative “gear,” we can progress through our days more effectively.

Increasing Resilience Through Mindfulness

Learning to shift gears is directly related to the concept of emotional resilience, the ability to bounce back emotionally after suffering through difficult and stressful times. The word “resilient” refers to the ability to “spring back” into shape after being deformed. So think about this for a moment: If we prolong a bad moment, then we continue to dwell in the “deformed shape” created by that moment.

When bad things happen, they are only meant to affect us momentarily. Resilience allows us to experience stress, deal with it, and then move past it. Ultimately, the more times we practice resilience, the stronger we become at dealing with unpleasurable and stressful situations, and the more easily we are able to bounce back to a normal emotional state. Not only does learning to shift gears promote resilience and happiness by helping us to move beyond bad moments more easily, but it also instills within in us a sense of mastery and control. The more we attempt to master these situations, the more competent we feel in our ability to master them,  which ultimately prepares us to weather progressively stronger difficulties.

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
~Pema Chodron~

An important key to managing negative situations is to always be mindful of the present. Try not to allow a bad moment to evolve into a bad day. Learn to experience the emotions that naturally arise from a bad event, but be conscious of confining the experience to a small space in time, and then relinquishing it to the past. Once you’ve given the situation the official status of “past,” strive to remain grounded in the present, which means not ruminating over what is now considered as the past.

A Key to Personal Growth

It’s important to keep in mind that growth does not usually occur in an environment of ease. Bad occurrences should be expected as a normal part of life, and could be considered as opportunities to rise to a challenge. If you accept the common metaphor that life is a journey, then perhaps you can consider that learning to shift gears is simply a way of managing the traffic and detours that you will inevitably experience along the way. You shouldn’t end your trip due to a detour. Instead, learn to shift gears, point your compass toward the present, and embrace the opportunity to become a better driver.

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Personal Reflections:
  • How do you manage your bad days?
  • Is it easy to shift gears, or do you find yourself getting stuck in them?

Image: jjayo

50 Quotes to Inspire an Empowered Life

Last updated on 9/17/2020

Woman Climbing Mountain

Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. Whether you perceive yourself positively or negatively, empowered or helpless, your mindset affects the way you proceed through life. The key to cultivating an optimistic, empowered mindset is to acknowledge that you have a say in the direction your life takes, and that you are in control of the decisions you make.

To help cultivate a new mindset, I have compiled 50 powerful quotes that can help plant the seeds for empowered living. Once you reach the end of this list, consider the degree to which you believe your health, happiness, and inner peace begins and ends with you.


#1

“I am. Two of the most powerful words; for what you put after them shapes your reality.”

—Unknown


  1. Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.” —Les Brown
  2. The person that you will spend the most time with in your life is yourself, so you better try to make yourself as interesting as possible. —Unknown
  3. “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” —Maya Angelou
  4. “Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.” —Nathaniel Branden
  5. If you change your thoughts, you change your behavior; if you change your behavior, you change your life. —Unknown

#7

“You are built not to shrink down to less but to blossom into more. To be more splendid. To be more extraordinary. To use every moment to fill yourself up.”

Oprah Winfrey


  1. “If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” —Nora Roberts
  2. “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” —Maria Robinson
  3. Be stubborn about your goals, and flexible about your methods. —Unknown
  4. “A true friend is someone who can offer peace and happiness. If you’re a true friend to yourself, you need to be able to offer yourself true peace and true happiness.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
  5. You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” ―Oprah Winfrey
  6. You create your own calm. —Unknown

#14

“Health is a relationship between you and your body.”

—Terri Guillemets


  1. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” — Anne Frank
  2. “Whatever is on your plate got there because you said yes to it.” —Danielle LaPorte
  3. “Your future depends on many things. But mostly on you.” —Frank Tyger
  4. “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
  5. “One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure its worth watching.” —Anonymous
  6. “The most important thing is to be whatever you are without shame.” —Rod Steiger

#21

If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

—Brené Brown


  1. “The less you respond to rude, critical, argumentative people, the more peaceful your life will become.” —Mandy Hale
  2. “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.” —Steve Maraboli
  3. “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” —Henry David Thoreau
  4. You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. —Unknown
  5. Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth. —Unknown
  6. “I am the me that I choose to be.” —Sidney Poitier

#28

“No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

—Lupita Nyong’o


  1. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.  —Harvey Fierstein
  2. “Life is a creation, not a discovery. You do not live each day to discover what it holds for you, but to create it. You are creating your reality every minute, probably without knowing it.” —Neale Donald Walsch
  3. The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. —Steve Jobs
  4. “Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming.” ―Alice Walker
  5. “On any given day, you can massively change the direction of your life.” ~John Maxwell~
  6. “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” ~Maya Angelou~

#35

“There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

—Nelson Mandela


  1. “Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace.” —Joan Borysenko
  2. “The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is the way you use them.” —Tom Sims
  3. “Set peace of mind as your highest goal, and organize your life around it.” —Brian Tracy
  4. “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” —Mary Anne Radmacher
  5. “What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you do now.” —Buddha
  6. “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” —H. Jackson Brown Jr.

#42

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

—Alice Walker


  1. “You draw your own box. You introduce yourself as who you are . . . You create the identity you want for yourself.” —Meghan Markle
  2. “Learn to love yourself first, instead of loving the idea of other people loving you.” —Marc Chernoff
  3. “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” ––Angela Davis
  4. Your possible future—and there are literally thousands of possible futures—is being formed by what you think and believe today. —John Kehoe
  5. Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. —Brené Brown
  6. “You just can’t let life happen to you, you have to make life happen.” ―Idowu Koyenikan
  7. “Every next level of your life will demand a different you.” —Leonardo DiCaprio

#50

“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”

―Steve Maraboli


Embrace your power.

 *Image: Cade Prior

Kintsugi: The Art of Embracing Damage

Last updated on 9/22/2020

kintsugi2

“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

—Barbara Bloom

Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery. When a beloved object has been broken, an artist pieces it back together with resin, and adorns the cracks with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This ancient art embodies the philosophical belief that beauty exists in imperfection. It celebrates the process of breakage and repair as an essential feature of an object’s history. The artform does not seek to restore the object by disguising the state of brokenness. Instead, the artisan uses precious metals to illuminate the imperfections.

Kintsugi is a perfect analogy for the human healing experience. Visually, it conveys the idea that our experiences add beauty and value to our stories. Kintsugi teaches us to embrace the totality of our experiences, especially those that shine a light on our imperfections. It helps us to “see” the beauty of wear and tear, and inspires us to see ourselves becoming more beautiful as we overcome adversity and suffering.

“Kintsugi: Embracing the Imperfect,” a video by Terushi Sho, demonstrates the artistic process. It discusses the ancient art in the context of Eastern philosophy, highlighting the joy of finding beauty in imperfection. (Video produced by BBC Reel)

*Images: Unknown