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Negative Thought Patterns

Negative Thought Patterns

This young man who works security at my building stopped me yesterday to ask a question. He said someone long ago predicted that he would be obese or a criminal. He said he still thinks about this from time to time. He asked if there was anything he could do to get this thought out of his mind. Now, to be sure he is neither obese nor a criminal. To the contrary, he is wonderfully personable, responsible, in shape young man with a beautiful singing voice that I catch if I am lucky to be headed to the lobby when no one else is there.

I have been reflecting on this encounter and thinking about the negative thoughts I used to have about myself in general and about my appearance in particular. I have done a lot of work to put those thoughts away, and for the most part I have been successful. This is not to say I no longer have those thoughts. I am thinking they will always be there because their origin goes back decades. My success is in noticing them and smiling at them. They seem to have lost their power over me. I am grateful!

How pervasive is this “self hatred”? Considering there are volumes of books and many poems written and countless meditations and Dharma talks given about it, the answer seems to be VERY! 

How come we internalize these negative messages about ourselves? Perhaps because they come from the ones we love, the ones closest to us, the authority figures in our lives. Some of these messages are repeated regularly until we believe them ourselves. Some are uttered once but cut so deep that we can’t seem to shake them off, like Joe’s.* 

Noticing that we are caught in a thought storm or rumination is not easy. I owe my success in this area to my mostly regular meditation practice. Meditation is really mind training in its simplest form. Thoughts will come, both good and bad. There is not much we can do about that. But, with mind training, we can catch them before getting caught up in them. And once we catch these thoughts they lose their power. I know exactly from whom I heard each of those thoughts, so each time I catch one I send a smile of forgiveness to that specific person. This is my simple practice in self compassion and it seems to work just fine. 

My wish for you is that you too are able to understand your thought patterns and overcome any stale messages you have internalized. Whether it is through mind training or daily affirmations or any other type of practice, self compassion is an important step to get us unstuck in our thought and behavior patterns and on to achieving our goals and desires.

* Name changed to protect privacy

Well Being

Well Being

When a friend mentioned something about a character strengths survey a few years ago, I was intrigued. I immediately googled it and was introduced to the world of Positive Psychology. I had taken a couple of psych classes decades ago, but I had never pursued it as a field of study. What I didn’t realize was how much this ontological coaching business is based on psychology, especially humanistic and positive psychology. 

Of course I had to find training to learn more. And, I did. I finished a 5 course foundations of positive psych program offered by the University of Pennsylvania, the birthplace of positive psychology, via Coursera.

What is Positive Psychology?

Up until the end of the 20th century, psychology had focused mostly on what’s wrong with people, though some prior psychologists (notably Abraham Maslow), were interested in exploring human potential. In 1998 Martin Seligman, who was elected the chair of American Psychological Association, coined the term Positive Psychology and declared that this branch of psychology will focus on what is right with people. (Dr. Seligman himself was one of the teachers in my program!)

Well-being:

There are 5 dimensions of human well-being, according to positive psychology. Positive thinking (P), Engagement (E), Relationships (R), Meaning (M), and Accomplishment (A). PERMA!

This movement is criticized, rightfully, for leaving out health as one of those dimensions. But, we already know the role of health (physical and mental) in well-being. These other dimensions in PERMA had not been formally studied in this context and collectively. Now, there’s tons of research and many many books on these topics.

On my end, I have found that being mindful and practicing meditation have enabled me to recognize my thought patterns. When my inner critic starts acting up, I am able to switch that channel. I took stock in what brings me joy. Turns out writing, cooking/baking, learning are the activities that provide the greatest engagement (flow state) to me. I constantly focus on being present to enhance my relationships with friends and family. My new job as a life coach as well as my Wednesdays with my grandkids provide the greatest meaning in my life. My clients’ success, smiling faces as people eat one of my cakes are what accomplishment means for me these days.

I have written about accomplishment in a previous blog post. I will write more about the other dimensions soon.

What does PERMA mean to you? I’d love to hear from you.

A for Accomplishment

A for Accomplishment

Monetary aspects of retirement are usually first and foremost in people’s minds. They diligently save money for their golden years. This is a fear based approach though. People worry about not having money to live after they stop working so they singularly focus on that.

I was the perfect example of that kind of singular focus. The minute I was convinced I had enough financial resources to sustain my life, I retired. The honeymoon phase of retirement is nice. Not having to wake up early every day; not sitting through endless and meaningless meetings; not having to deal with people who don’t hesitate to hurt you in order to advance their careers. Retirement was bliss, for a minute!

Some of us are intrinsically driven. Work provides more than money for us to live, it provides meaning and satisfaction. Turns out, I am one of those people. I missed the structure of waking up at a set time to start my day; I missed the camaraderie of (some) of my colleagues; I even missed some of the meetings where useful projects were discussed and accomplished.

Accomplishment is one of the dimensions of well being according to positive psychology. After retirement, a significant contributor to this dimension is no longer available. It is natural to become bored or feel useless. Statistics show that depression, alcoholism, and divorce rates go up for retirees. We need to find new ways to satisfy this part of our lives. These can include volunteering, taking on a part time job, starting a business, going back to school, etc. 

A friend of mine chose volunteering and part time work. Every time we talk, I see that the spark, that she had lost after retirement, has returned to her eyes. I am so happy for her. I chose volunteering, and school, and new business. Unfortunately, the pandemic ended my volunteer opportunity, but I am grateful for the two businesses that I started. Not only do they provide additional income but also an opportunity to learn new things and a sense of accomplishment.

So, as you ponder your retirement, please take a moment to reflect and consider how you are going to address this important dimension of well being. Will you learn a new trade like wood carving or cake decorating? (Working with your hands is an important way to slow cognitive decline.) Will you start mentoring your younger former colleagues? Will you at long last start that coffee roasting business that you had been thinking about for years, like one of my former clients did? Whatever it is, even just reflecting and planning for these things will help.

Wishing you a fulfilling retirement!

Let’s do this! (1)

Let’s do this! (1)

I decided to retire at 55. I didn’t have a plan A or a B for what I would do once I got to Chicago. This much I knew though, I was going to move to Chicago eventually. I had purchased a condo there the year before, just a couple of weeks before my granddaughter was born. I purchased the condo thinking it would be a crash pad for when I drove up to see my daughter and her family. Living in it permanently was a long term plan. I didn’t expect my working conditions to turn to hell so quickly, but they did and I decided to take early retirement. My long term plan became a very short term reality.

Fast forward 6 years and I am flourishing, gratefully. I stumbled through these six years, bumping into many walls, most of which were my own making. 

Recently, I delivered several webinars and workshops related to dealing with change in our lives. What started as an academic exercise, turned into a personal revelation. Turns out, my experience was a textbook case of transition.

The late Dr. William Bridges wrote that change is what happens and transition is how we process that change internally. His three step transition process starts with an ending. Retirement is this ending. Then comes the “neutral zone” which is one of confusion, but can also be one of creativity. The walls that I bumped against, all the shopping trips I made were a part of this confusion. My identity took a hit with retirement. If I wasn’t an Assistant VP at Ball State University, who was I? With a lot of luck and help, I finally figured this out and it has nothing to do with what I do for a living. The last stage of transition is the “new beginning.” I feel that I have finally am at this stage. 

Join me in this series of posts as I try to articulate this process through both my personal experience and plenty of learning and reading. I hope you can find some useful kernels for your life. 

Much love

#retirementcoaching #lifecoaching #lifetransition #managingchange

Sky Is Falling

Sky Is Falling

Is it just me, or does Chicken Little live in everyone’s head? Knowing that there are umpteen books on anxiety, and countless memes/words of wisdom of encouragement, I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

In their book “The Resilience Factor” psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte call this “sky is falling” thinking process catastrophizing. We all do it. We take a mole hill and turn it into a mountain. It starts out innocently, for our protection. But, over the years, this protection turns into extreme chatter that limits our lives.

Covid certainly made things worse, especially for us members of the mature crowd. And for good reason. I wrote about my own brush with fear of Covid in an earlier blog. This time, I want to offer another possible way to overcome the “sky is falling” thoughts. Drs Reivich and Shatte suggest this technique of disputation. Let’s give it a shot:

The Chicken Little in my head tries to convince me that the worst possible outcome will come to pass. As my 4 year old grandson is running through the house, all I can think of is oh my god he’s going to go through the window, or fall down the stairs, or, or , or… As I am asked to present a webinar, all I can think of is, these people already know what I’m going to say, how can I possibly contribute? These are not the thoughts I want, nor do I like them.

How can I overcome this Chicken Little in my head? With evidence: My grandson has been running through his house ever since he has learned to run. That’s what little boys do. He knows his way around his own house and where to stop running. I can trust him. The people/organizations who have asked me to present a webinar think that I have something to contribute because they have heard me speaking at another event. I can trust myself, and them.

I dispute Chicken Little’s prediction that Cameron will hurt himself or I will fall flat on my face during the presentation with evidence that those predictions are false based on past experience. So instead of stopping Cameron from enjoying himself or stopping myself from meeting new people or earning some money, I allow myself to go past those limits. I hush Chicken Little with evidence that the sky is in fact not falling.