Self-Esteem

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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Best Way to Effect Change

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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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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+.

 

 

 

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.

Related Posts:

Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

How to Overcome Laziness and Get Things Done

10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

10 Ways Stress Harms You

Best Way to Effect Change

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

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+.

 

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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How to Feel Normal Again

How-to-Feel-Normal-Again

Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

 

“The possibility of stepping into a higher plane is quite real for everyone. It requires no force or effort or sacrifice. It involves little more than changing our ideas about what is normal.” – Deepak Chopra

 

When I was a young girl, I often felt as if I was not normal. It wasn’t that I had a noticeable birth defect or considered myself ugly or stupid, though. My feelings likely stemmed more from a sense that I was too sensitive or fragile or in need of protection and couldn’t stand up for myself. I had an older brother who sometimes was tough on me, yet I loved him dearly. He was my protector against the bullies in the neighborhood. Still, I wondered why I didn’t feel normal. My quest to achieve what I considered to be normal took many years. Maybe some of these hard-learned tips can help others learn how to feel normal, or normal again.

Let go of preconceptions about being normal.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice about how to feel normal again is to let go of any preconceived ideas as to what normal means. Forget ascribing metrics or characteristics or boundaries and limitations to what is possible and what is real, and therefore normal. Instead, expand thought to the point that normal is not constrained, nor is it rigid. Normal evolves, as it should, as nature intended.

Normal is a construct of ideas and changes day to day.

Consider that what we consider normal one day may seem abnormal another time. What seems impossible can be viewed as possible. What never occurred to us before may suddenly pop into our thoughts as an idea that’s tantalizingly accessible and real. We didn’t have a house when I was an adolescent, yet I had school friends who lived in nice homes with big yards. Their life seemed normal, while mine did not. A few years later, however, my parents were able to buy a house and we did have a nice yard with roses and other flowers in neatly manicured gardens. This felt normal. Being able to help my Dad cultivate the roses and peonies (I learned how to graft various kinds of rose bushes together) instilled in me my love of gardening. Today, it’s still one of my passions.

There is no training required to feel normal.

It isn’t necessary to go through physical or mentally grueling tests or regimens to feel normal. Likewise, there’s no need for a mentor or to join a group. A side benefit is that there’s no cost or penalty involved in feeling normal. And there’s also no reason to take mind-altering drugs, alcohol or any other substance to feel normal.

Trust in the simplicity of being true to your feelings.

Normal is not extreme or going to extremes to feel normal. To realize that you’re normal, that you feel normal, it helps to trust in the simplicity of being true to your feelings. Know that you’ll feel awkward and out of place at times, or disappointed, upset, angry, possibly in pain, depending on what’s happened recently, your physical condition, any undue stress or pressure at work, school or home. Know that it’s OK to feel bad sometimes. In fact, it’s a sign that you’re human if you feel emotion deeply during times of grief, tragedy, heartbreak and compassion, as well as happiness, joy, pride and more. Acknowledge what you feel, then go on about your day. In other words, be true to your feelings, yet not enslaved by them.

Create goals and word to achieve them.

I didn’t receive the kind of recognition my brother did and somehow that made me feel like I might lack some innate ability or intelligence. It’s not that I felt stupid because I didn’t. It was more that my brother seemed to always know the right answer. Just ask him. The plus side of this is that I always knew I’d get an answer from him if I asked – and he felt like giving it to me. Still, I saw how he went after goals and I strived to do the same. Each success I earned, however small, boosted my self-confidence and added to my self-esteem. It’s a lesson that stuck with me. Always have goals you’re working toward. When you achieve one, create another to replace it. This allows you to always be forward-looking, motivated and optimistic – all traits that help you feel normal again.

Be good to yourself.

It isn’t being overindulgent to take loving care of yourself. In fact, it’s indicative of a healthy reverence for your overall well-being, a part of feeling normal. Get sufficient rest each night so that you awake revitalized and ready for the day. Eat well-balanced meals. Engage in vigorous exercise on a regular basis. Avoid excessive intake of sugar, fats and carbohydrates, including alcohol and junk foods, for consuming too much can be unhealthy and contribute to jitteriness, bloating, gastrointestinal distress, intoxication, sluggishness and more.

See each day as an opportunity to grow.

What will today bring? If you wake up with this thought – after, of course, you’ve given thanks for the gift of today – you’ll be priming yourself to see what’s good and hopeful in whatever happens. Even if you encounter disappointments and setbacks, they won’t deter you from learning the lessons they contain and seeing opportunities to grow.

Seek professional help if you need it.

None of us has all the answers. Nor do our assortment of loved ones, family and friends. For certain experiences and diagnosable conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), prolonged grief, substance use disorder and others, the only way to regain a sense of normalcy is to seek professional help. Learning how to let go of outdated beliefs and self-perceptions, to learn how to successfully cope with difficult situations or an inability to function through psychotherapy and evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization therapy (EMDR), relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation and others may help restore both functionality and the ability to feel normal again. There is no shame in seeking help. Rather, it is proof of a recognition that you need objective, trusted assistance and that you’re willing to do what it takes to heal.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

Photo by Alexey Topolyanskiy on Unsplash

Photo by Alexey Topolyanskiy on Unsplash

“You are capable of so much more than we usually dare to imagine.” – Sharon Salzberg

 

How many times do you think about doing something and then immediately discard the idea because you think you’re not capable? It’s amazing how often people sell themselves short. Just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability or capability to do an excellent job. Perhaps some of this reluctance is rooted in fear – principally, the fear of failure. We don’t want to stumble and not complete the job or task. We want to be successful. Anything less is not acceptable. How do you tap into your capabilities? Here are some suggestions.

Open your horizons.

What we often don’t take into consideration, however, is that by denying ourselves the opportunity to show that we are capable, we further limit our horizons. Suddenly, the world is a much more confined space and we may fall into the mistaken belief that we don’t deserve to branch out and learn new things. The solution to this is to strike that barrier that seemed so impenetrable and overwhelming. Live life with no limits and see how opportunities begin to reveal themselves.

Learn from your mistakes.

Another self-limiting behavior is our avoidance of learning from our mistakes. Since everybody makes them, there must be something good that can come from the experience. Experts say that this entails analyzing what we did to find the element of wisdom in the actions we took or did not take. It’s from this that we profit from the undertaking. In fact, there’s something to learn from everything we do, and we learn by doing – whether it was successful at first, only partially successful, or not successful at all.

Seek encouragement from others.

Once the damper of self-limitation is in place, it can be incredibly hard to lift it. The support and encouragement of loved ones, family members, friends and co-workers or concerned others is an instrumental part of overcoming this self-imposed barrier. Besides, others may more quickly see talents and gifts you possess that aren’t clear to you. When you accept, and receive their encouragement, you’re more inclined to be motivated to discovery and self-growth.

Challenge outmoded beliefs.

But we also must be willing to challenge our outmoded and erroneous beliefs to stimulate our willingness to tackle the unknown. This includes going after that which we deem desirable, interesting, and worthwhile or simply to satisfy our curiosity.

Actively pursue new activities.

Maybe one way to approach cultivating our capabilities is to pursue those activities and endeavors that deliberately expose us to something unfamiliar. When we’re so used to doing the same thing day in and day out, not only can life become boring, but we also tend to become lazy. Instead of seeking anything new and different, we remain comfortable just doing our normal routine. The downside of this is that it doesn’t stimulate or motivate. It’s pure stagnation. No wonder it’s hard to discover more of what we’re capable of.

Learn one new thing every day.

Make it a point to pursue at least one new thing every day. This can be as simple as deciding to take a different route to work or talk to someone you don’t know or investigate some area of interest to see how you can get involved. Some of this is preparation and some involves a little legwork, but it all constitutes an approach that can open your eyes to possibilities and further galvanize your motivation to developing your innate capabilities.

Work on building your self-esteem.

While building self-esteem takes time and does involve navigating some detours and overcoming roadblocks, the effort you exert will pay off in the long run. Every small success or project completed adds to your self-confidence level and works to elevate your self-esteem. You must feel good about yourself to grow. It’s also important to never allow anyone else to tear you down. Refuse to internalize their criticisms, although do take to heart any valid advice, even if it goes contrary to what you currently think. You may have a blind spot when it comes to certain aspects of your behavior. Think of this as another learning experience, an opportunity to further grow.

Recognize that you have untapped potential.

Far too many people either fail to believe in or refuse to recognize their capabilities. Instead, they look at their potential as a finite resource. Besides limiting themselves in an unhealthy manner, such misguided thinking detracts from the joy of everyday living and overall well-being. The truth is that you have so much more in you than you even know – or ever believed possible. Start recognizing that you have a wealth of untapped potential. Now’s the time to dip into that, be inspired and pursue your dreams.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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