Emotions

How Practicing Compassion May Help You Feel Better

 

Photo / Picography

Photo / Picography

 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop

 

Think about the most disagreeable person you know or ever met. This might even be you on one or more occasions. If you ask people who are a little rough around the edges, those individuals who seem gruff, know-it-all, smug, superior and can’t be bothered, they’d likely say they don’t need anyone else. While compassion is an admirable and fairly basic trait, some of us either lack it (we’re short on empathy) or could use a little help on how to best show it.

Even the Most Disagreeable People Benefit from Showing Compassion

Yet, research into learning how to be compassionate shows that even the most disagreeable people – who are often suffering from depression – can benefit from the simple training.

Researchers at York University engaged 640 mildly depressed individuals in online training to boost their ability to behave with compassion toward others. Average age of the study participants was in the mid-30s. For the study, they were asked to engage in one of three online “compassion intervention” exercises, complete their exercise and log back in to record their reports every other day for a three-week period.  The exercise called Acts of Kindness resulted in the most benefit to study participants: those who performed acts of kindness in their close relationships showed the greatest reductions in depression and greatest increases in self-reported life satisfaction.

The lead researcher for the project said that highly disagreeable people often lack empathy, they’re hostile and don’t cooperate well with others, with the result that they may be ostracized or rejected. Giving these individuals specific suggestions, some practical things they could do each day to express “empathic concerns” toward their close relationships, proved “tremendously helpful.”

The project was easy to implement and, from the perspective of the study participants, quick (10-15 minutes every other day), and easy to complete. Another exercise called Loving Kindness Meditation was also helpful, said researchers, but it didn’t result in the same level of improvements as the Acts of Kindness exercise.

Evidence Proves Neanderthals Showed Compassion

Further evidence that compassion is instrumental not only in affirming quality of life but also in overall survival comes from research that shows that Neanderthal man was compassionate and knowledgeable in their care of others experiencing injury or illness. The study, from the University of York, showed that Neanderthals were genuinely caring for their peers – no matter what their level of illness or injury.

The research involved pathological analysis of injuries that would have occurred long before death and would have required caretakers providing careful hygiene, facilitation of sleep and rest, staunching wounds, maintaining posture, maintaining and assisting mobility, ensuring safety, monitoring and control of fever, and massage, among other types of care and accommodation. Bioarcheology of care analyses suggest that the injured/ill “likely received extensive care in response to their experiences of pathology.” Neanderthals provided The scientists argued that “organized and caring healthcare is not unique to our species but rather has a long evolutionary history.”

The Brain Can be Trained in Compassion

Earlier research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, sought to determine if compassion could be trained and learned in adults. They wanted to know if practicing a compassionate mindset could cause adults to be more caring. The results of their study showed an affirmative yes.

The study made use of an ancient Buddhist technique called compassion meditation, in which study participants (young adults) were trained to increase caring feelings for people who were suffering. After training, they were asked to show compassion for loved ones (those for whom they’d easily feel compassionate towards), then themselves, then a stranger, and lastly for a difficult person, such as a co-worker, with whom they had conflict. Researchers said that this “weighted training,” in which study participants actively built up their “compassion muscle,” helped them respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.

What researchers determined with this and other exercises designed to measure compassion is that compassion, like academic and physical skills, is not something that seems to be fixed, but rather can be enhanced through training and practice. The suggest that compassion training could be employed in schools to help combat bullying, and it may prove beneficial to those who have social anxiety or antisocial behavior. Furthermore, researchers said they’d be excited to see what compassion training could do for the general public in terms of seeing what changes they notice in their life. Training to boost the compassion muscle is available on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds website.

Additional research from these same authors was published in 2018 in Frontiers in Psychology. According to their findings, researchers suggest that compassion meditation training may help to decrease aversive neural responses to suffering at the same time as visual attention to suffering increases. This may have prosocial benefits, as in a doctor tending to a patient, or allowing individuals to remain calm in the case of suffering and more willing to lend aid. Researchers said further research with larger sample sizes should look into whether compassion intervention strategies could prove helpful to caregivers and healthcare workers who are often exposed to others’ suffering.

How You Can be More Compassionate

While research continues on the benefits of compassion, what can you do as an individual to help boost your compassion muscle? First, be attuned to the fact that your actions and behavior have consequences. How you behave toward others, what you think about before you speak or act, makes a difference.

Simple compassion strategies you can employ include behaving toward others the way you’d want them to act toward you – with kindness, empathy and basic humanity. Practicing meditation and consciously intending to be more compassionate can also put you in the frame of mind where expressing yourself verbally with compassion and acting compassionately will become easier. Furthermore, think of compassion as being loving, caring and supportive – as in a parent nurturing and helping a child.

Of course, compassion toward others also means learning how to be self-compassionate. This example of self-care may take some practice to become comfortable being kind to yourself, yet the results in your overall well-being and life satisfaction will be well worth the effort.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How You Can Be More Confident

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.” – Peter T. McIntyre

 

I suffered from a lack of self-esteem and little confidence when I was an adolescent. The feeling of loss and not being good enough, or smart enough to get things done and fearful of trying anything new lasted through my teens and throughout the early part of my adult life. It wasn’t that I was brought up deprived of love or lacking a comfortable environment, for my parents loved me dearly and I never knew hunger or felt diminished by our standard of living. I did, however, take notice of the confidence my peers at school and wanted desperately to be so confidant myself. Thus, my journey of building my self-confidence began.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you can benefit from some of the tips that helped me become more confident.

Reward yourself for little victories.

I didn’t have much to start with, especially after my dad died when I was 13. I was utterly bereft, couldn’t even cry, tossed and turned every night and had horrible nightmares for years. At the core of my sadness was the mistaken belief that I had somehow caused my father to die. Nothing even close to that was true, as he died from a massive myocardial infarction and was dead in minutes, yet my teen brain and devastated heart didn’t process reality.

Being numb to life, I went to school and pushed myself to do my homework, knowing that my dad would want me to continue getting good grades. I did love learning, so pursuing my studies seemed like a way I could honor my father and do something valuable for me. Like he did when I came home with top grades, my mother praised my efforts. I incorporated that habit and began to give myself small rewards for these victories. For example, if I exceeded my previous grades by getting more A’s than B’s, I allowed myself more fiction books to read in the coming month. Maybe I wore a brightly-colored ribbon in my hair braids that week, or took pleasure watching a Sunday movie with my mom so we could both be together and begin to heal.

Years later, even though I am long past having to deal with no self-confidence, I still find it worthwhile to reward myself for the little wins. For one thing, it feels good to do so. For another, it’s a healthy behavior that can help reduce everyday stress and tension. Besides, every little win boosts your self-confidence – even if you have plenty – during particularly challenging or stressful times. Everybody can use a little help in such instances.

Do more of what you’re good at – and what you enjoy doing.

We all have certain responsibilities and obligations that necessitate us doing things we’d much rather not do, or that we’d like to get through quickly, so we can get on to doing something else. If it’s a job that isn’t very rewarding, involving or exciting, such everyday drudgery can exact a toll on your self-confidence. Even if you’re a top-notch bookkeeper or budget analyst – as I was at one point in my corporate career – it may not be your avocation. Furthermore, perhaps your talents lie elsewhere. For my part, I was always a writer. I yearned to be able to do that in my career. Eventually, I did. Of course, there were the inevitable setbacks (call them downsizing, budget cutting and layoffs) when I had to return to financial duties, but those didn’t last forever. I was able to return to the kind of work I loved: writing.

Now that I’ve left corporate life and have my own business freelancing, I do what I’m good at and thoroughly enjoy. This doesn’t mean my work isn’t work, for it is. It’s not always easy and certainly not quick. Yet, the time doesn’t matter when you do what you love. It’s also a tremendous self-confidence booster. I highly recommend it.

If you can’t do what you’re good at and enjoy in your job, find a way to indulge your talents and dreams in your free time. Take up a hobby where you can exercise your gifts, meet others and share companionship doing something the community enjoys. Find your passion and make it part of your life.

Learning from your mistakes makes you stronger and more self-confidant.

You’re not always going to be right, yet you cannot fear making a mistake. If you do, it will eat away at your confidence. You’ll always wonder if there’s another mistake around the corner ready to set you back. That’s no way to live. Furthermore, when you fear making an error, you’re less likely to give your full effort to whatever task or activity you’re doing. In a way, it’s like being open to vulnerability when you’re putting yourself out there in a relationship. Sure, it may feel a little uncomfortable, even risky, yet that’s the only way to truly experience life. If you stumble, making a mistake, figure out what happened and why. When you learn from what you did and determine how to avoid that mistake the next time, you’re stocking your emotional recovery toolkit with useful information that helps increase your confidence that you have what it takes to get the job done.

In addition, when you make a mistake and own up to it, if you have good supervisors, they’ll recognize the value of an employee who has the courage to do so and the sense to learn from their mistake. In this case, everyone wins. If your bosses don’t like mistakes and ding you for making them, maybe you can work on finding work elsewhere somewhere down the line. I know that sounds hard to do, but it happened to me and I did put together a plan to find new employment – more suitable employment – and eventually was successful. Another self-confidence booster – and it works. If I can do it, you can too.

Get help from therapy.

If you’re seriously lacking in self-confidence, have low self-esteem – and particularly if you experience prolonged sadness, grief, depression or anxiety, get professional assistance in the form of counseling or psychiatric therapy. How do I know this works? While I wasn’t clinically depressed, after years of feeling I was performing at less than my full potential, and making some decidedly wrong behavioral choices to cope, I sought counseling and benefitted immensely from it. Note that this was years before getting therapy was considered socially acceptable and was something you hid from friends, family and everyone else. Today, actually for quite a few years, it’s considered healthy to seek counseling when you have emotional and/or compulsive, dependent or addictive behaviors that are wreaking havoc on your life.

Therapy can give you a significant boost of self-confidence when you stick with it and truly make the kind of lifestyle changes that add value, bring you to a fuller realization of your life’s purpose and help you pursue your hopes and dreams.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

Limiting Time on Social Media Increases Well-Being

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

“Today, spend a little time cultivating relationships offline. Never forget that everybody isn’t on social media.” – Germany Kent

 

If you are among those who anxiously check the posts of your social media contacts because you obsessively have to know what’s going on in their world and can’t seem to curb your urge to remain riveted to your feed, new research on the negative effect of too much social media on well-being is worth reviewing.

I recently spoke with Melissa G. Hunt, one of the authors of “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Hunt and her research colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 2018 study, alleged there is a causal link between usage of social media and loneliness and depression. They say that spending inordinate amounts of time on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat does more than connect users to their contacts. It’s also making them decidedly more miserable, promoting greater feelings of loneliness and depression.

During the period of the study, participants in the research significantly reduced their time on social media for about three weeks. The result was they reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.

Researchers said that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives people to obsess over social media, spending extraordinary amounts of time in this sedentary activity. They strongly recommend limiting screen time to about 30 minutes a day, saying that this simple self-limiting measure may lead to “significant improvement in well-being.”

Why do people use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, if it makes them feel lonelier and more depressed?

MGH: Social media companies hire experts whose job is to make the sites as appealing and addictive as possible.  For example, they use algorithms to ensure that you are getting “new” information, and “likes” on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule.  That is, things appear at intervals to reward you for logging on and spending time.

Social media also gives the appearance of engagement and intimacy and sites like Instagram promise to keep you up to speed on the latest trends.  Women have been reading “women’s” magazines for decades, and we know that reading them decreases self-esteem and increases body image concerns and self-loathing.  Certain types of social media are no different.

What do you say to those who complain that social media is essential in today’s world, that they can’t live without it? Isn’t this an impossible recommendation, suggesting people limit their time? Or, can they get the benefit of social media with less screen time?

MGH: It might be unrealistic to suggest foregoing social media completely (although I do).  That’s why we didn’t require that.  We just asked people to limit themselves to 30 minutes per day.  That’s more than enough time to catch up with friends, find out when your study group is meeting, and like your cousin’s cute kid picture.  It prevents going down the “rabbit hole” of clicking randomly, following celebrities, or cyber stalking your ex’s new flame.

How do you wean yourself off social media? Any quick tips?

MGH: Self-monitoring seems to help.  Although we didn’t study them, apps that increase your awareness of how much you’re using (like In Moment and Space) may well help people become more mindful and self-aware.

Do you know of other studies that document how social media fuels loneliness and depression?

MGH: There are many correlational studies out there that establish the association, and a number that suggest that social media fosters social comparison that makes you feel bad about your own life, and FOMO that makes you aware of all the things you weren’t invited to and weren’t included in.

I think that social media tends to foster inauthentic connection.  True intimacy involves sharing both life’s highlights and the terrible times.  Things you’re proud of, and things you’re sad or anxious or embarrassed about.  Social media tends to reward only the highlights, and that doesn’t lead to true intimacy or social support.

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SUGGESTED WAYS TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME.

It’s not all dire. You don’t have to completely withdraw from social media. Indeed, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Hunt, you can reap the benefits of moderate limitations on your social media consumption. The next and most obvious question is, how do you limit social media time? Here are some suggestions.

Get an app for that.

Apple, the maker of perhaps the most popular smartphone in the world, recently made an update available that helps its users set limits on certain apps they use and track those that take up so much of their time. The update section this pertains to is called Screen Time.

Meanwhile, there are several apps that allow users to limit how much time they’re using their phones. These, of course, vary in terms of how intensely you limit phone time.

Yet another potential help for limiting social media time is the use of browser extensions such as StayFocusd, available through the Chrome web store. The idea is that users are allowed a certain amount of time on the website and then the screen is locked – and there’s no way back in. Check out the so-called “nuclear option” that prevents users from going into a specific website altogether. Now, that is a bit extreme, but it is out there.

Exert self-discipline.

Not everyone is blessed with the ability to not only set limits on how much social media time they’ll engage in, but actually follow through with the discipline it takes to do so effectively. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of frittering away hours poring over likes, comments, postings and the like. Maybe enlist a trusted friend, a loved one or family member to get you out of the house and doing something in real time, with live people (not digital connections). What a concept!

Disable (temporarily) all social media notifications.

Another helpful way to curb your constant social media obsession (if not quite social media addiction) is to turn off or disable the notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media time-wasting sites. No more suffering through the anxiety-provoking habit of having to instantly reply to every notification. This doesn’t have to be a permanent deletion, just a temporary pause to allow you to get back in the realm of living in the present and interacting with real people.

Go colorless.

In the world of social media, just as in any websites, advertising, TV programs and other forms of media that grab attention, color is king. The brighter the color, the more enticing, right? As an experiment to see if this can help you ratchet down your social media consumption, use grayscale to make the sites less attractive. When everything is in shades of gray, it’s easier to forego the temptation to linger there. On iPhones, hit settings, general, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters (turn this on), and then grayscale. That’s it, you’ve made your screen colorless.

Get rid of your phone – or leave it home.

A bit more extreme is the suggestion you ditch your phone completely. Like that would ever happen in today’s always-on society. You could try leaving it at home while you go out for a walk. That would give you a social-media breather at least. It might even persuade you that you don’t need to be tethered to your phone. After all, you’re not really missing out on anything. All that social media interaction will still be there after you return from a well-deserved (and much-needed) break.

Make it a point to be with people who appreciate you for who you are.

Nobody’s perfect. Each of us has flaws and traits we’d like to minimize, as well as talents we wish we had or accomplishments we’d love to broadcast. The problem with too much time wasted on social media is that everybody else looks better than we do. That’s not reality and it certainly does nothing for our self-esteem. A proven remedy to increase well-being is also one of the easiest to implement: Spend time with those who appreciate you for who you are. Laugh together. Share a meal. Go to a movie. Garden, spend time in nature, take in a concert, do various types of activities together. In fact, once you resurrect the in-person kind of communication, you’ll find that digital connections are a pale and distant substitute.

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A version of this article was originally published on Psych Central. However, the interview with Melissa G. Hunt is new.

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10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

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How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

Can You Sleep Too Much (or Too Little)?

Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties our health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker

 

I used to think you could never get too much sleep. Of course, that was years ago when I was chronically sleep deprived due to working full-time, going to college at night, raising my kids as a single mom, and trying to have some sort of social life when they were with their other parent. Turns out, there’s a growing body of research that points to the negative effects of either too much or too little sleep.

Too little or too much sleep can affect metabolic health.

Concerned about an expanding waistline? Prone to getting less sleep or more than you need? There’s scientific basis for the link between too little and too much sleep and metabolic syndrome and increasing waistlines in Korean men and women aged 40-69 years in one recent study. Researchers said the study’s observational nature did not allow for cause and effect conclusions, noting that participants provided sleep duration data and estimates may reflect time in bed and not necessarily time slept. Other studies have reported that short-duration sleepers (less than 5 hours per night) are up to 45 percent more likely to be obese.

Excessive and inadequate sleep can affect memory and cognition.

Chronically sleep-deprived people, says Harvard Health Publishing,  are more likely to have high blood pressure, narrowed blood vessels, and diabetes – each of which cause less blood flow inside the brain. Since the brain requires a good flow of oxygen and sugar to work optimally, too little sleep can contribute to memory problems. Those who get too much sleep, on the other hand, aren’t off the hook memory-wise as their quality of sleep may suffer, which could add to thinking and memory problems during the day.

Excessive daytime sleepiness can be particularly troubling for older adults. Researchers found that cognitive deficits and cognitive impairment may be predicted by excessive daytime sleepiness among the elderly. Excessive sleepiness, or hypersomnolence, has two main symptoms: excessive amount of sleep, and poor quality of awakening. Hypersomnolence is the leading cause of road accidents, and is responsible for increased risk of mortality related to neurodegenerative diseases.

If you’re an early riser, you may be less prone to depression.

Researchers are delving into pertinent data showing that middle-aged to older women who get up early may be significantly less likely to develop depression. The largest observational study to-date looks at the link between chronotype (also known as sleep-wake preference) and mood disorders. Researchers found that, even after accounting for such factors as work schedules and light exposure, chronotype, partly influenced by genetics, seems to have a mild influence on depression. The four-year study involved nearly 33,000 female nurses who were free of depression at the start of the study. Thirty-three percent self-described their sleep pattern as early-riser, 53 percent intermediate, and 10 percent evening types. After four years of follow-up, researchers found that early risers had 12-27 percent lower risk of depression than intermediate types, while late-riser types had a 6 percent higher risk of being depressed, although this was not considered statistically significant.

One study found that excessive sleep is “highly associated” with dysthymic disorder and major depressive disorder. Those researchers also found that many anxiety disorders are “associated with prolonged sleep episodes accompanied by consequences/distress.”

Better cardiovascular health is associated with early-rise behavior.

More good news for early risers is the apparent association such behavior has on better cardiovascular health. Researchers in the UK Biobank study found that those who are early to bed and early to rise are “more conscientious and are goal-getters.” They also spent less time in front of electronic devices, ate more fruit and vegetables daily than late chronotypes. Survey participants categorized as evening persons also tended to watch more television and were twice as likely to smoke tobacco than intermediate types and 45 percent more likely to smoke than adequate sleepers. Researchers noted that more study is needed to determine if sleep metrics can predict better cardiovascular health behaviors and if sleep behavior modification can enhance heart health.

If you sleep too much, you may have a sleep disorder.

For those who constantly sleep too much, sleeping longer than 8 hours a night, often napping during the day, finding it difficult to stay awake, the underlying cause may be a sleep disorder known as hypersomnia. Besides excessive sleepiness throughout the day not relieved by napping, hypersomnia sufferers may also experience anxiety, memory problems and low energy. The American Sleep Association states that more men than women have hypersomnia, with prevalence at 5 percent of the population. The ASA also reports that 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder of some kind.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, affecting about 30 percent of the adult population with short-term insomnia, and about 10 percent suffering chronic insomnia. Other forms of sleep disorder and sleep-related breathing disorders include, narcolepsy, snoring, and central sleep. Circadian-rhythm sleep disorders include jet lag, shift work, and delayed, advanced, irregular and non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm. Parasomnias and sleep-movement disorders round out the category of sleep disorders.

Insufficient sleep over a prolonged period can affect your mental and emotional states.

If you’re perpetually sleep-deprived, your brain is exhausted, unable to adequately perform its duties. Besides difficulty concentrating, your brain’s ability to send signals to other parts of your body may be delayed, which could prove fatal when driving, using dangerous equipment, trying to avoid life-threatening situations. Lengthy periods of sleep deprivation can result in other problems with your mental and emotional states, including hallucinations, trigger mania in those with manic depression, or amp up risks of paranoia, depression, impulsive behavior, and suicidal thoughts.

If you suffer from the effects of too much or too little sleep, help is available. Besides tips for getting better sleep, make an appointment to see a sleep professional or your general practitioner to have tests to determine the cause of excessive or insufficient sleep, as well as how to get back to getting the right amount of sleep you need nightly.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

In Search of Better Sleep

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

 

“Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.” – Bo Bennett

 

Like most people, I’ve experienced many instances of frustration. Some of them proved exceedingly trying and I found it nearly impossible to get past the episodes, replaying in my head what happened and how badly it made me feel. While I tried different methods to cope, including tipping back a few too many cocktails after a rough day at work, most were ineffective, at best. Worse, some had lingering consequences, such as a reprimand from my boss (after coming in late due to the imbibing). Over the years, however, I’ve made it a point to determine what works best for me to deal with frustration.

First, though, here’s some research frustration, how to recognize it, typical symptoms, frustration’s relationship to anger and stress and other interesting science.

Frustration often leads to recurring nightmares.

Ever wake up in the middle of a nightmare shivering in fear or with a feeling of dread and impending doom? If so, says science, there’s a likely correlation between the frustrations you’ve experienced during the day and the vivid and frightening dreams you have at night. I know that I’ve had dreams where I’m falling from a height and, luckily, wake up before I hit the ground. Dreaming of failure and being physically attacked were also part of my nightmare portfolio. As such, I found fascinating the research of the team at the University of Cardiff that waking-life psychological experiences, particularly frustration, directly tie in to the dream state in the form of nightmares. When study participants were frustrated, they reported having more frightening dreams and described those dreams in negative terms. According to the researchers, the nightmares represent the psyche attempting to process and make some sense of the experiences that were psychologically distressing while awake.

Frustrated people tend to smile more when they’re experiencing frustration.

This finding by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology caught me off guard. I thought people who smiled a lot were generally optimistic and cheerful. Indeed, smiling is typically a characteristic of someone who’s happy. Yet, as careful analysis of smiles shows, not all smiles are indicative of the emotion of happiness. There’s the fake smile, the polite smile, the nervous smile, and so on. According to the MIT researchers, most people don’t believe they smile a lot when they’re frustrated, yet they do, as proven by facial scans in the study. To prove their hypothesis, the researchers had study participants complete two types of task, one designed to frustrate and one not, and scanned their faces after they completed the task and hit the submit button (which deleted the frustrating task but accepted the control task). While the smiles that appeared looked similar, the frustrated smiles disappeared quickly compared to the genuine smiles. Frustration is a fundamental human experience, so it will be interesting to see where this research leads.

Men and women express anger and frustration differently.

In terms of biology, there’s no denying differences between men and women. As it turns out, findings from researchers at Southwest Missouri State University reveal there are even some differences in how the two sexes tend to show they’re angry or frustrated. Both feel anger and frustration, yet men tend to accept and embrace the emotions, using them to their advantage. Women, on the other hand, view anger and frustration as counter-productive. In the study, men felt ineffective when told to hold their emotions in, while women did not feel constricted when asked to do so. Similarly, researchers found a correlation between men being assertive and expressing anger outwardly, but not in women. Furthermore, women viewed their anger negatively, generally calling it frustration, while still using that anger to help bring about change. Due to social expectations, women tend to camouflage their anger and frustration, yet find alternative routes to get results they want.

Frustration stems from stress.

What causes the buildup of physiological and psychological response that results in emotions such as anxiety, overwork, despair, distress, frustration and more? According to the literature, the medical term for the origin of much emotional buildup, which often has physical components as well, is stress. Repeated stress that is not effectively dealt with can cause serious physical consequences. Like a machine that eventually wears down, continual stressors on the body’s activation of the nervous system (chronic stress) results in release of the stress hormones of cortisol and epinephrine and precipitates problems with the heart and other vital organs, along with the potential development of mental health issues.

To better handle frustration and stress, change your perception.

An article in Harvard Business Review discussed the concept of resilience and how everyday stressors and frustration can be more effectively dealt with by reframing perception. In short, change how you perceive frustration and stress. Authors cited two studies, one by researchers at the University of Buffalo that day-to-day stressors help people cultivate necessary skills to tackle difficult future situations, and anther by Harvard University researchers who found that participants told physiological signs of stress helped them better cope with it then viewed stress as helpful. The key takeaway here is to modify the perception of stress and frustration to promote the development of resilience, the ability to handle whatever comes your way in the most effective manner.

TIPS TO COPE WITH FRUSTRATION

Now, as to how I’ve learned to deal with frustration – and what works well for me, here are a few general tips:

  • Take some deep breaths. This will allow you to calm your pent-up emotions and restore a sense of calm. Likely, the frustration you’ve felt has caused you to hold your breath or breathe shallowly. In either case, your body is oxygen-depleted and it’s hard to think clearly. Deep breathing can help slow heartbeat and lower blood pressure, diminishing the negative effects of the stressful emotion.
  • Figure out the source of the frustration. Now that you’re thinking more clearly, use this clarity to focus on what may be the probable cause that you’re experiencing frustration. Without being caught up in the immediate effects of the frustration, you’ll be more prone to identify the source, so you can devise constructive ways to deal with it.
  • Remind yourself that this will pass. Frustration shouldn’t be an ongoing experience. Like the weather, it’s bound to change. By recognizing that emotions are generally fleeting, you rob them of their power and hold on you. Envision yourself in a happier state and recall that things that frustrated you in the past generally didn’t last long. You found ways to get past it, or the experiences causing the frustration weren’t consequential enough to have lasting effect.
  • Work on something else. Distraction is a great method to get past a roadblock. It works in problem-solving, getting past anger and other emotions – including frustration. If you’re stuck in a sour mood due to something frustrating, go out and dig in the garden, pound some nails in wood, demolish cardboard boxes to put in the recycle bin. Involve yourself in a task requiring close concentration. These techniques get your mind off what’s frustrating you.
  • Do something pleasant. Instead of beating yourself up mentally over your frustrating day, do something enjoyable. Take a soaking bath. Read a book. Watch a comedy. Go for coffee with friends. Indulge yourself a little yet be sensible in your choice. Hobbies are also effective for helping dispel frustration.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How Do You Figure Out Your Life’s Purpose?

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from them.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 

Someone asked me the other day how I figured out my purpose in life. It’s a question I don’t often think about, yet it is a good one. For one thing, when I was in my early 30s with two children to raise on my own, I struggled with life’s purpose. Indeed, everything that could go wrong in my life seemed like it did go wrong. Much of the damage was due to my own choices, although I seemed either unaware or incapable of recognizing my part in the outcomes at the time. Fortunately, through intensive psychotherapy and creating and developing a strong support network, I was able to build self-esteem, gradually add self-confidence, belief in myself, learn to make better decisions, and, yes, figure out my life’s purpose.

What is my life’s purpose, you might ask? I think the simplest answer is also the most appropriate: to be the best version of myself I can be. This may seem too easy, although the statement covers all there is to know about what I value. Here, allow me to share what helped me figure out my life’s purpose, in the hope that it will provide a preliminary glimpse at what might work for others in the same quest.

Make a list of your strengths.

Everyone is good at something. Take the time to think about what you do well, what comes easily to you and you enjoy doing. If you’re really good at an activity, yet don’t particularly enjoy it, list it anyway. There may well be value in the activity that you’re not capitalizing on. Perhaps by changing your approach, when you do it, the tools and resources you use or don’t, who’s dependent on you for results and your own perception of the activity’s importance in your life can turn this strength into a clear option to help you navigate toward what is meaningful in your life. In other words, help you find your life’s purpose.

By way of personal example, I have always been a good writer. I haven’t however, always made use of my talent in ways that could benefit my career, personal life or happiness. Indeed, I almost gave writing the heave-ho to pursue a career more lofty, prestigious, stable and extremely well-paid. I took the LSAT in the hopes of getting accepted to law school. Even though I did well enough, I quickly learned that the field was not for me. I found it tedious, hard work, not creative at all and not worth the expense and time. Instead, I returned to writing, taking night school college courses that gave me the opportunity in various formats (term papers, homework, writing scripts, commercials, crafting business plans, and so on) to grow and nurture my skill.

Find a mentor.

Starting off in a field or endeavor you think may hold promise for your life’s purpose can be intimidating, confusing and scary. You don’t know a lot at first, and you need allies to help guide you as you make choices. A mentor is excellent for this. Should you concentrate on this area or opt for a more diverse approach? Do you need additional education or a period of internship or practice? Who are the best role models, people you look up to whose success, demeanor and well-roundedness you hope to emulate? If possible, single out a few men and women who fit the role of a mentor and ask if they’d be willing to assist you in this manner. It may be someone where you already work, or a professor or instructor in a class or activity you find enticing, enjoyable and with potential. It could be a close friend, acquaintance, family member or loved one, although it’s more likely to be someone outside your immediate social circles. A mentor can help you steer clear of time-wasting projects and point out where you may get more favorable return for your efforts. Listening to his or her stories about how they got where they are today and what drives them to pursue their purpose in life may inspire you to chart your own course.

I was fortunate to encounter several mentors in my career. Two were naturals: I worked for them. One was a college professor, a man who served as my master’s advisor. Another was a psychotherapist who helped me navigate emotional turmoil to zero in on my core beliefs and solidify my feelings of self-worth. In fact, there were others who served in less official mentorship roles throughout my life to date. I am grateful for their commitment and ability to motivate and guide me to make my own successful life choices.

Learn to see the positive in every situation.

It might be difficult to get past certain negatives in a given situation, yet the process of figuring out your life’s purpose depends on your ability to see past roadblocks, seemingly insurmountable challenges, lack of support, medical conditions, financial hurdles and more. What may be a stretch to find the plus in such circumstances is going to be one of your best strategies to make progress toward finding your purpose in life. Indeed, have you ever known someone who seemingly had one failure or disappointment after another, yet somehow managed to always maintain an upbeat, optimistic view on life? Did he or she appear happy in a genuine way, regardless of circumstance? If you were to ask this person whether they knew their purpose in life, chances are they’d answer in the affirmative. Positive thinking encourages positive action, motivates desire to make necessary changes and pursue them to completion.

I know this works, because it worked for me. Once I stopped seeing everything as failure waiting to happen and overcame the belief that I deserved to fail because I was inherently bad, my life began to change. No, it didn’t happen overnight. I had many little successes and unfortunate experiences along the way. What did happen, and I began to notice it (with the help of my therapist, mentor(s), close friends, loved ones and family members) more often, was that my outlook became decidedly positive. People started asking me for advice and to give my opinion. I was regarded as a kind of expert on various topics. Imagine what a boost to my self-confidence that was. Once you adopt positivity, you can find work-arounds for every problem, or find someone to help you discover and implement a workable solution. This is effective for everyday challenges as well as making headway toward your life’s purpose.

Pay attention to the signs.

Getting caught up in an activity, project, pursuit or endeavor may blind you to helpful signs along the way. For example, you may be so focused on making sure you craft a department budget that comes in on time and under budget in every category that you fail to find creative ways to fund an activity that’s deemed high-priority. Maybe you’re recognized as the best in your class and others ask for your help, yet you’re so enamored of your newfound celebrity status that you allow your ego to get in the way. When you ignore others to pat yourself on the back, you’re chipping away at your integrity and doing yourself no good in being generous of self. You’ll know the signs when you see them – if others don’t point them out to you.

In the case of my writing, I was fortunate to win several writing contests at UCLA, first in professional program of screenwriting and then in the MFA screenwriting program. I loved every minute of class, all the assignments, getting together with other writers, talking about and sharing the craft. The awards and recognition were terrific morale boosters, yet they were also the most prominent signs that I was pursuing my life’s purpose. Find your signs and pay attention to what they’re telling you.

If it feels good and time flies when you’re doing it, you’re on the right track.

I could spend days writing about how to discover your life’s purpose, but this is probably a good start. Getting to the crux of the matter, I’ll offer this. If what you do makes you feel good, productive, alive, refreshed and satisfied, let alone happy, and time goes by unnoticed, it’s another of those signs to pay attention to. It’s highly likely you’re on the right track to living your life’s purpose, one day at a time.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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6 Ways to Go With the Flow and Stay in the Moment

Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash

“Just be unattached as a child at play.” – Gangaji

 

How would it be to let go of all your concerns and fully participate in the moment? More specifically, how would you like to feel the joy of playtime, the rush of doing something wonderfully fun, discovering something new, or pushing yourself to explore unknown territory?

Researchers will tell you – and parents as well – that children instinctively know how to do this. Yet all is not lost if such a natural gift is a distant memory. As adults, while we may have forgotten how, we can rekindle the ability to shake off troubles and concentrate fully on the present moment.

In short, we can relearn how to go with the moment.

Naturally, there are times when such spontaneity is not appropriate, including when the boss is clamoring for a report and you’re nowhere near finished, or you’ve just received bad news that demands immediate action. You should not be unattached at such times.

Still, you can be in the moment, dedicated, zeroed in on what matters, adhering to a constancy of effort and making sure to accommodate deadlines.

But, getting back to having fun, being unattached as a child at play and going with the moment, here are a few suggestions on how to recapture the wonder that children naturally express.

Turn off the self-censor button.

That’s right. Start by telling yourself to stop saying no or chiding yourself that you simply can’t do something, for whatever reason. Chances are, that negative self-talk and self-criticism included the notion that it’s not adult-like or you don’t have time for this or it’s just too silly. Instead, resolve to be open to the experience.

Let go of the past.

Intrusive thoughts and memories of unpleasantness, failure, pain, loss, loneliness and disappointment may rise to the surface. This flood of negativity will deter you from being fully present and enjoying the moment. You must let go of past hurts, including the burden such memories hold over you. This does not mean that you forget the past, for when you experienced things in that moment, it contributed to who you are today. There are also good memories from the past that are worth cherishing. What’s important to remember is that there’s no reason to cling to bad memories, for the past cannot help you rewrite history. Nor can it change the future. What can, however, bring about fundamental change is going with the moment. To get started doing that, you must release the past.

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel in the moment.

This might be joy or delight or curiosity. It could entail a bit of trepidation or uncertainty, even a bit of fear. If it’s within the realm of possibility and doesn’t put you at an inordinate amount of risk, let your emotions play out. They may lead you to take action that your previous propensity to self-censor prohibited. Look forward with excitement to what might happen next. After all, who knows what you might learn?

Acknowledge that it’s OK to play.

Remind yourself – by saying out loud, if necessary – that it’s perfectly fine and good for you to have fun, to take a break from chores and responsibilities, to do something just because you enjoy it and want to nurture that part of yourself.

Know when it’s time to stop.

Like a kid playing in the park with friends and the sunset signals time to go home, even if you’re having the time of your life, it’s important to know and abide by limits. There is an appropriate time for play and a time when you must tend to other things. By paying attention to both, the joy you feel in the moment is in no way minimized. Indeed, it’s even more satisfying. You may not remember the hours you toiled on a report, but you do remember how much fun you had working in the garden, celebrating a memorable milestone with a loved one, laughing with your friends, reading your favorite book.

When you’re in the zone, just go with it.

You know the feeling. Being in the zone is energizing, motivating and inspiring. It’s the knowledge and certainty that you can do almost anything. The possibilities that reveal themselves when you go with the moment are unlike anything you could have predetermined or imagined. That’s another benefit to learning how to go with the moment.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

Music Offers Many Cognitive, Emotional and Physical Benefits to Young and Old

Photo by Mike Giles on Unsplash

Photo by Mike Giles on Unsplash

“Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine.” — Macklemore

 

Much research over the years has centered on the potential, perceived and realized benefits of music. In fact, the area of study has blossomed, growing from the preliminary findings of earlier studies to recent ones that built upon them. What’s exciting is the widespread and diverse benefits that music offers to everyone, young, old and in-between.

Musical training gives babies’ brains a boost.

Even before babies can walk or talk, they can benefit from receiving musical training. That’s the finding from a 2012 study. In the first study of its kind, researchers from McMaster University found that one-year-old babies who engaged in interactive music lessons with their parents were better able to communicate: they smiled more, were easier to soothe, displayed less distress when things didn’t go their way. Babies in the music lessons study group were also able to point at things out of reach and wave goodbye.

Children who regularly attend and participate in music classes benefit from improvements in speech and reading.

A 2014 study found that attendance and participation by children in music classes – especially music classes involving instrument playing – exhibited improvements in neural processing of sound after two years of classes. The researchers at Northwestern University said that the active music class participants had greater improvements in speech and reading scores than their peers who didn’t attend music classes.

Structured music lessons improve kids’ academic performance and cognitive skills.

Researchers in a 2018 study found that structured music lessons added to regular school curriculum significantly enhanced students’ cognitive abilities, leading to improved school performance. The cognitive skills’ improvement was in the areas of short-term memory, planning and inhibition, and language-based reasoning. The first large-scale longitudinal study adapted to regular curriculum at school also found that visual arts helped significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Early musical training benefits the brain in later life.

Researchers in a 2013 study found that early musical training has a lasting and positive effect on how the brain processes sound, with benefits to aging adults years later. Neural timing, researchers said, is one of the first age-related declines, resulting in compromised hearing, such as a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is vital in interpreting speech. The researchers looked at musical training adults had in childhood and found that the more years those adults had training in music, the quicker their brains responded to a speech sound. Even though the response was just a millisecond quicker, researchers said that the millisecond, compounded with millions of neurons, corresponds to making a real difference in the lives of older adults.

Surgical music therapy program helps reduce pre-operative anxiety in women undergoing breast biopsy procedures.

Anxiety before surgical procedures is a common concern for patients about to undergo necessary interventions. Results reported in 2016 from a two-year clinical trial on live- and recorded-music therapy during breast biopsy procedures found that women undergoing those procedures self-reported a significant reduction in their pre-operative anxiety levels. Researchers said that adding a music therapist to the surgical setting may help patients achieve goals of reducing anxiety, managing pain, learning more about their procedure and gaining satisfaction from the experience.

Seniors’ mental health gets a boost from religious music.

Research published from a 2014 study discovered that, among older Christians, listening to religious music – especially gospel music – is associated with less anxiety over death, and increases in feelings of satisfaction with life, self-esteem, and sense of control over  their lives. Study authors wrote that even among those seniors with health problems or physical limitations might find listening to religious music might offer a valuable resource to better mental health.

Making music may help children improve pro-social behavior and problem-solving skills.

In a 2013 study, researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of West London found that young children, both boys and girls, who engaged in making music – singing or playing a musical instrument – improved in the pro-social behaviors of helpfulness, cooperation, and social bonding, and with problem-solving skills. Study authors said that making music in class, particularly singing, may encourage students with emotional difficulties and learning differences to feel less alienated at school.

Music listening may offer multiple benefits to older adults with early memory loss.

A 2017 trial found that the mind-body practice of music listening, as well as meditation, may offer several benefits to older adults with preclinical memory loss. After three months, said researchers, both groups showed “marked and significant” improvement in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance. These improvements were around attention, processing speed, executive function, and subjective memory function – domains generally affected in preclinical and early-stage dementia. The cognitive improvements were not only sustained at six months, they increased. The two groups also showed improvements in mood, sleep, stress, well-being, and quality of life, gains that were either sustained or further enhanced three months after intervention.

Parkinson’s patients may build strength through singing.

Other promising 2017 research finds that patients with Parkinson’s disease might be able to build strength in their muscles used for swallowing and respiratory control through singing. These two functions are complicated by the disease. Study participants were trained in proper breath support, posture, how to best use muscles involved in the vocal cords. Singing significantly improves this muscle activity. Researchers noted that participants also reported other benefits from the singing therapy: improvements in mood, depression and stress.

Music therapy offers comfort to palliative care patients.

In a three-year study of male and female palliative-care patients with a terminal illness, researchers in a 2011 study found that music intervention therapy proved effective in enhancing their pain relief, comfort, mood, confidence, relaxation, resilience, well-being, and life quality. The music therapy team consisted of music therapy students from a university and musicians from a professional symphony orchestra.

Cancer patients find symptom relief from music.

A systematic 2016 review of literature finds that there is a significant body of evidence that music therapy and music interventions help alleviate cancer patients’ symptoms, including pain, anxiety, and fatigue, while also improving their quality of life and overall well-being. Among the findings: music interventions had a moderate-to-strong effect in anxiety reduction, a large pain reduction benefit, and a small-to-moderate effect of music treatment on fatigue.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, and Google+.

 

 

How to Do the Right Thing

How to Do the Right Thing

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

 

“With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” – Zig Ziglar

 

When faced with deciding on how to act, sometimes the toughest part is figuring out how to do the right thing. Of course, how you view the right thing, what you think of as the right thing, makes all the difference. And this is often not clear. You may experience conflicting emotions, feel ambivalent about potential choices, or strongly for or against certain action – whether you are convinced that it either is or isn’t the right thing to do. How, then, can you make an informed choice and be confident that you’ll do the right thing?

Start with integrity.

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as, “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” The word refers to moral or ethical strength and the quality of being honest. When you start with integrity, you are being true to your core values, not straying to conform with popular opinion. Acting in integrity is not always easy, for there are shortcuts that will speed the process that may sabotage the outcome, even as they provide a quicker path to the result. Without integrity, you may feel remorseful and guilty at an unfair or unfavorable result, while you have no cause for such negative thoughts when you act in accordance with your beliefs. Ask yourself first what you know in your heart feels right. Your mind may rush in with excuses or propose different courses of action, but your integrity will never fail you.

What about when the right thing isn’t so obvious, or when it’s decidedly against prevailing opinion? If you must act in opposition to what others think or do, will you be considered a disruptor, an outsider, someone to keep at a distance, decry, criticize? Temporarily experiencing discomfort when you do the right thing is likely something you can weather without too much difficulty. The key is to be comfortable with your choice. Again, when you start with integrity and follow through with action that reflects your integrity, you’re reinforcing your commitment to truth, justice and honor.

Be considerate how your actions will affect others.

Recognize that people may not agree with your action, even if they approve of the intent of your decision. Think through the possible ramifications of your action and how they will affect others, as well as how your actions may make them feel. This does not mean you compromise your desire to do what is right, although it may allow you to incorporate softening effects into your action.

For example, if a co-worker consistently shows up to the job with alcohol on his or her breath, or exhibits other signs of drug or alcohol addiction, you may not want to notify human resources, but it is the right thing to do. Your colleague needs professional help, and this may be the necessary wake-up call so that he or she can get the detox and psychotherapy it will take to get clean and sober. If it’s a family member you believe is in distress from substance abuse, poly-drug use, and/or mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions and could benefit from counseling and treatment of some kind, figuring out a compassionate way to approach him/her and the specific language to use may somewhat ease the shock of your words. Note that those suffering from drug and/or alcohol abuse are often expert in denial. Also, you cannot force anyone to get treatment, no matter how desperately it is needed. You can only be there with your support and love and encourage your loved one to seek help. Know that family support is crucial in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.

Stop worrying what others think.

Suppose you know that what you’re about to do will aggravate, infuriate, confuse or surprise others. Despite being the right thing to do, you fear the retaliation and disapproval that will follow. There’s no point to stewing over what others think. They’re going to vent their emotions, let you know their opinion, maybe even steer clear of you for a while. Stop worrying what they think. What’s more important is to be at peace with your actions.

What about loved ones and family members who take offense or retaliate with rejection, harsh words or withdrawing of affection over your actions they deem harmful to them in some way? The sting may be onerous, yet if you truly believe you’ve done the right thing, you must be able to live with your decision. The offended loved one or family member may come around, even thank you later, although it is also true they may hold resentment for your do-good actions.

There is also a bright side of doing the right thing, however, taking action that others don’t expect, and that is the opportunity for them to see you in a different light, to rethink their perception of you. When you do the right thing, you’re also giving yourself a boost in self-esteem. Knowing what’s right and doing it are the hallmarks of personal integrity.

Doing the right thing can be contagious.

Standing up for what’s right can inspire others to take similar action, to step out of their comfort zone and act in accordance with core beliefs and values. While you may initially feel alone in choosing the course of action you firmly believe is the right thing to do, your example may encourage others to follow your lead. First one, then another, then a few more may do the right thing. Your action can precipitate contagious behavior. Yet, even if it doesn’t, you are content with your decision, knowing that you acted with integrity and followed through to do the right thing. You can lead by example, even if others decide not to emulate your behavior.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

Why Its Good That Youre Not Perfect

Photo by Monica Galentino on Unsplash

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” — Brené Brown

 

It’s practically a universal fact that almost everyone wants to get ahead. If I’m being honest, I must confess that I do. Even though I’m no longer striving to achieve a lofty career goal at a large corporation, I still have goals and want to succeed at them. It’s just that striving for recognition, money and advancement is no longer at the top of my wish list. I used to want that more than anything. Now I prefer to live a life of abundance: of spirit, joy, surrounded by loving family and friends, healthy, content and curious, willing to go out of my way to help others, to rejoice in the goodness of others.

I also know that I’m not perfect. The fact that I can readily admit that alleviates a certain amount of tension.

Trying too hard to be perfect never gets you anywhere. I learned that a long time ago. Granted, you make mistakes. Everyone does. Some of mine have been colossal blunders, while others were the result of being too hasty or careless or skipping some steps in pursuit of a goal. After beating myself up about it, I finally figured out that such hyper self-criticism was a waste of time. It made more sense to determine the lesson from the failure, if for no other reason than to not repeat it again. But perfectionism, trying to be perfect? According to experts, that’s an impossibility and a losing strategy.

On the other hand, striving to do better is an effective approach. With a worthwhile goal providing motivation, healthy striving can lead to a richer and more fulfilling life. I’ve found that to be true with goals large and small, some more immediate and others requiring considerable time and effort to achieve.

Suppose you’re not very good at math and want to become more proficient. Or you want to train yourself to be better at differentiating differences and spotting changes, as in identifying what’s different in a field of changing icons and images in a brain teaser game online. With diligent practice and the belief that you can improve your skill, you do indeed get better. That’s not trying to be perfect but striving to improve. The former is a hopeless pursuit, the latter laudable and likely to succeed.

In an average day, most of us experience a few disappointments, make the wrong turn, put the wrong ingredient in a recipe, rush through a quiz and make a few mistakes, forget what we were going to say, say the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing at the right time. These are examples of what we’d consider a failure, blunder, mistake or stupid move. With the mindset that always demands perfectionism, we’re likely to continue to spiral down, never quite making the mark and sinking deeper into a less hopeful and more negative state of mind.

In contrast, by taking mistakes, disappointments and failures in stride and striving to do better, we’re bolstering our resilience, maintaining good balance and promoting a healthy way of living. Sure, it may take practice to overcome a tendency to get things right every time, as well as learning to ignore the comments from others about “Better luck next time.” This is especially true if perfectionism has become ingrained and those who know you expect you to be perfect all the time.

Having witnessed a few friends and acquaintances who’ve succumbed to the tantalizing and wrong siren song of perfectionism – and coming close myself on one or two occasions – I know that the preferred and much more effective and satisfying way to live is to engage in healthy pursuit of achievable goals.

If you tend to believe the same way I do, you’re not perfect – hooray! Neither am I, thankfully. Life is so much more enjoyable this way and that’s why it’s good that you’re not perfect. Keep in mind, though, that just because you’ve let go of pursuit of perfectionism does not mean you relinquish your goals. Adding incrementally to your strengths, skills and accomplishments boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem and intensifies your sense of purpose in life.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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