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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.

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.

Emotional Resilience Practice

Emotional Resilience Practice

Just as we think we are leaving Covid 19 behind and returning to our “normal” lives, there is talk about a new variant, Deltacron (a combination of Delta and Omicron), surfacing. It is understandable to feel discouraged if not defeated. Acknowledging these emotions is really important if we are to continue our lives with hope and enthusiasm.

When I first heard about the RAIN (recognize, allow, investigate, nurture) meditation from the wonderful Tara Brach, I was still in the habit of pushing my emotions down and pushing through life. But then one day during the early days of Covid I had the unfortunate opportunity to practice it. Since then, I have not only become a believer but tell about it to everyone. Here’s my story:

One April morning in 2020, I woke up not feeling normal. I went about my routine of starting my coffee and drinking my glass of water, but something was amiss. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking and my heart was racing. At first I tried my usual “this too shall pass” attitude but it didn’t. I made my way to my couch to steady myself. I remembered RAIN and decided to give it a try.

I recognized that I was shaking with fear. Fear of this unknown disease that was causing so much pain visible every day on my TV screen. I was in fear for my life. I decided to just sit and allow that fear to wash over me instead of trying to push it away with a distraction. It was gone in a couple of minutes and I was no longer shaking. I looked around my apartment with gratitude. I was safely at home and I was healthy. I got up and went about my day.

According to researchers, emotions only last for about 90 seconds (https://www.alysonmstone.com/90-seconds-to-emotional-resilience/). But, pushing them away as a voluntary practice or a habit can lead to negative health effects. 

So, the next time you are facing an emotion try this practice:

R – recognize the feeling (labeling emotions is an important first step)

A – allow yourself to feel the emotion, don’t push it away (it’ll be over in 90 seconds)

I – investigate the origin of this emotion

N – nurture or at least acknowledge yourself for this calming practice

Mindful Resilience

Mindful Resilience

Picture this: Lucy, a young girl in her teens, living about 300,000 years ago, is looking for berries as she walks out in the African Savanna. In the distance, she sees a large beige object. This could be a lion, or a rock. If Lucy decides it is a rock and continues to walk toward it and lo and behold the beige object turns out to be a lion, Lucy becomes lunch! If on the other hand, Lucy decides the distant beige object is a lion she becomes afraid and runs away. Result is that her body has released stress hormones to create a flight response so that she is saved, from a rock – or a lion. 

We are programmed by nature to have such a negativity bias. Our survival and evolution depended on it. Even if we no longer need to fear becoming lunch for a lion, it is the same response that gets us out of the way of an oncoming car. Unfortunately, it is also likely to be the basis for our excessive worrying and rumination. 

Acute stress, running away from an oncoming car, is a good thing for survival. However chronic stress, such as the Covid 19 pandemic has put on us over the last couple of years, is not. Our bodies were designed to be mostly in a relaxed state so that they can respond to danger with a rush of stress hormones. However, constant release of those hormones deteriorate our bodies with devastating effects.

To build resilience and bring ourselves back to the desired relaxed state, we can employ a variety of strategies. One of these is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is training our brain to be aware of our moment by moment experiences. If we are living in the moment, aware of our experiences of the moment, we are not ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.

Thankfully, our brains are trainable. Just like we can strengthen our quadriceps muscles with squats and lunges, we can strengthen our brain’s mindful awareness capacity by exercising it. One exercise for our brain is meditation. One doesn’t have to be a Buddhist monk to meditate. Nor does one need to sit for an hour without thinking. First of all, that is impossible for us mere mortals. Second, that isn’t even the point of this secular meditation. If you have never done a squat in your life, you will not be able to do 60 of them on your first try. Meditation is no different. Set yourself up for success, and start with perhaps a minute or so. Again, the point of this exercise is not to sit without thinking. The point is to notice when you are lost in thought and bring your attention to the present moment. Our breath is a good tool in this training, because it is always there.

If meditation is not your cup of tea, another mindfulness exercise could be done while you are brushing your teeth. Just pay attention to each tooth as your brush touches it. Or the movement of your hand as it manipulates the brush. There, you don’t even need to extra time to practice Mindfulness.

Bringing our attention from our past/future to the present helps build resilience and reduces stress. There are many, many studies that prove this point. In addition to resilience, Mindfulness has many other benefits, but those are topics for another post.