We all know the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. Our hearts race, our fingers sweat, and our breathing gets shallow and labored. We experience racing thoughts about a perceived threat that we think is too much to handle. That’s because our “fight or flight” response has kicked in, resulting in sympathetic arousal and a narrowing of attention and focus on avoiding the threat. We seem to be locked in that state, unable to focus on our daily chores or longer-term goals. As a Cognitive-Behavior Therapist with more than 15 years of experience, I have found a variety of techniques that I can teach my patients with anxiety disorders such as phobias, panic attacks, or chronic worry. Some are based on changing thoughts, others on changing behavior, and still others involve physiological responses. The more aspects of anxiety I can decrease, the lower the chance of relapse post-therapy. Below are six strategies that you can use to help your anxiety:
(1) Reevaluating the probability of the threatening event actually happening
Anxiety makes us feel threat is imminent yet most of the time what we worry about never happens. By recording our worries and how many came true, we can notice how much we overestimate the prospect of negative events.
Even if a bad event happened, we may still be able to handle it by using our coping skills and problem-solving abilities or by enlisting others to help. Although not pleasant, we could still survive encountering a spider, having a panic attack, or losing money. It’s important to realize that very few things are the end of the world.
(3) Using deep breathing and relaxation to calm down
By deliberately relaxing our muscles we begin to calm down so we can think clearly. If you practice this without a threat present at first, it can start to become automic and will be easier to use in the moment when you face a threat. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system to put the brakes on sympathetic arousal.
(4) Becoming mindful of our own physical and mental reactions
The skill of mindfulness involves calmly observing our own reactions, including fear, without panic or feeling compelled to act. It is something that can be taught in therapy and improves with practice.
(5) Accepting the Fear and Committing to Living a Life Based on Core Values
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach that encourages people to accept the inevitability of negative thoughts and feelings and not try to repress or control them. By directing attention away from the fear and back onto life tasks and valued goals, we can live a full life despite the fear.
Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to habituate or go down, as it naturally does. Fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous.
One of the biggest problems people face is the lack of discipline — they have goals or habits they want to achieve, but lack that discipline needed to stick with it.
Then we beat ourselves up about it. We feel crappy because we can’t stick with it.
And that leads to more failure, because we’re forming a mindset that we don’t have the necessary discipline.
Here’s what to do when you face a situation like this:
1. Forgive yourself. You aren’t perfect. No one is. Realize that beating yourself up will only make things worse. Take a few slow, deep breaths and let it go. Forgive yourself. And move on.
2. Realize that discipline is an illusion. While discipline is a common concept, it doesn’t actually exist. It’s not a thing you can actually do. Think about it: people say discipline is pushing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. But how do you do that? What skill is required? There isn’t a skill — it’s just forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. And that requires … some kind of motivation. Without motivation, you won’t be able to force yourself to do anything. So motivation is the key concept — and this is something that’s real, that you can actually learn how to do.
3. Focus on motivation. What’s your motivation for pursuing the goal or habit? How will you sustain the motivation when you struggle? Have very strong motivations for doing something, and write them down. Commit publicly. When things get tough, remind yourself of your motivation. Focus on it. It’ll pull you along — that’s more powerful than trying to focus on the push of discipline.
4. Make it easy. Discipline is tough because whatever the task or habit you’re trying to do is tough. Instead, make it easy. Remove barriers. Having a hard time exercising? Make it ridiculously easy, by only exercising for 5 minutes. What use is exercising for 5 minutes? You’re creating the habit, not getting yourself into shape overnight. The 5 minutes of exercise will have only a tiny impact on your health, but it makes exercise super easy. If you can do that 30 days in a row, you now have an exercise habit. Hate waking up early to go to the gym? Do it at home. Do it during lunch or after work.
5. Focus on enjoyment. It’s hard to push yourself — to have discipline — when you hate doing something. So find something enjoyable about the activity. If you don’t look forward to exercise, find some good music, or a workout partner who you can have a nice conversation with, or a peaceful setting in nature that is just beautiful. And focus on that enjoyable aspect. Hate doing your paperwork? Find a peaceful sanctuary where you can do the paperwork and enjoy yourself. Maybe have a nice cup of tea or coffee, play some nice music. And focus on the enjoyment.
6. Repeat. You’ll almost inevitably slip up sometime, no matter how good you are. Unfortunately, people often take this to mean they don’t have discipline, and they just beat themselves up and give up. Well, it’s just a bump in the road. Get up, dust yourself off, and get going again. Start from Step 1 and start all over.
“The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?”
– Dale Carnegie
“Who was Dale Carnegie?” you may wonder. Well, he was a guy that was born 110 years ago. He died in 1955. He was a rich man, a very successful man.
He wrote a little book called “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It went on to sell over 30 million copies. It still sells today and is probably one of the best books on how to improve your social skills.
Carnegie then continued to write more books and to create courses on how to interact with people, on how to make friends and on how to gain influence.
Here are 10 of my favourite tips from Dale Carnegie. And as the opening quote says, these tips have been time-tested for the last few hundreds or thousands of years. They are pretty solid.
1. Create your own emotions.
“If you want to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic.”
Emotions work backwards too. You can use that to your advantage. If you are stuck in a negative emotion then you can often shake it off. Change your body – how you move, sit and stand – and act as you would like to feel. Enthusiasm and other positive emotions are much more useful and pleasurable for everyone in an interaction. Because…
2. It’s not so much about the logical stuff.
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
This is so key. Logic is good but in the end, in interactions and in life, we are emotional creatures. We send and receive emotions from other people. That is one reason why body language and voice tonality is often said be up to 93% of communication. Now, those numbers were for some specific situations but I still believe that these two ways of communication are very, very important.
The body language and the voice tonality is a bit like the rest of the iceberg, the great mass below the tip of the words we use. Those two things communicate how we are feeling and give indication to what we are thinking. And that’s why it’s important to be able to change how you feel. To be in a positive mood while interacting. Because that will have a great impact on how you say something and how you use your body. And those two things will have a big impact on your results and relationships.
3. Three things you are better off avoiding.
“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.”
Now these things may not be easy to avoid all together. Much of our interactions and perhaps even bonds are created and maintained through those three negative C’s. There is a sort of twisted pleasure in criticising, condemning and complaining. It might make you feel more important and like a better person as you see yourself as a victim or as you condemn other people’s behaviour.
But in the end these three C’s are negative and limiting to your life. Bringing up negative stuff and wallowing in it will lower your mood, motivation and general levels of wellbeing. And this can trap you in a negative spiral of complaining, complaining with other complainers and always finding faults in your reality.
You will also be broadcasting and receiving negative emotions. And people in general want to feel good. So this can really put an obstacle in the way for your interactions or relationships.
4. What is most important?
“The royal road to a man’s heart is to talk to him about the things he treasures most.”
Classic advice. Don’t talk too much about yourself and your life. Listen to other people instead. However, if they ramble on and on, if they don’t reciprocate and show and interest in your life then you don’t have to stay.
Some things people may treasure the most include ideas, children, a special hobby and the job. And…
5. Focus outward, not inward.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
A lot of people use the second, far less effective way. It is appealing because it’s about instant gratification and about ME, ME, ME! The first way – to become interested in people – perhaps works better because it make you a pleasant exception and because the law of reciprocity is strong in people. As you treat people, they will treat you. Be interested in them and they will be interested in you.
I would like to add that one hard thing about this can be to be genuinely interested in the other guy/gal. Your genuine interest is projected though your body language and tonality. So, just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can talk again isn’t really genuine interest. And that may shine through. And so your interactions will suffer.
6. Take control of your emotions.
“The person who seeks all their applause from outside has their happiness in another’s keeping.”
It wrote about this problem a few days ago in 9 Great Ways to Make Yourself Absolutely Miserable. And it basically consist of being too reliant or dependent on external validation from other people. External validation is something someone communicates to you that tells you that you are person of value. That you, for example, are pretty, smart or successful.
This leaves much of your emotions in the hands of other people. It becomes an emotional roller coaster. One day you feel great. The next day you feel like just staying in bed.
But if you fill that inner cup of validation for yourself instead then you take over the wheel. Now you’re driving, now you control how you feel. You can still appreciate compliments of course, but you aren’t dependent on them.
This will make you more emotionally stable and enables you to cultivate and build your emotional muscles in a more controlled way. You can for instance help yourself to become more optimistic or enthusiastic more of the time. This stability and growth can be big help in your relationships.
7. No, they are not holding you back.
“Instead of worrying about what people say of you, why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire.”
Caring too much about what people think will create and feed imaginary monsters within your mind. You may for instance think that people will condemn you if you try something. Maybe they will. But most of the time people are thinking about their own challenges and ups and downs. They just don’t care that much about what you do.
This may feel disappointing. It can also be liberating. It helps you remove inner obstacles that are you holding yourself back.
As you, bit by bit or in one big swoop, release those inner brakes you become more of yourself. You become more confident, you have a better chance at success, and you will feel more positive feelings and less negative ones. All these things can give a big boost to your interactions and help you sharpen those social skills.
8. So, what’s in it for me?
“There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.”
If you want someone to do something then will they care about your motivation for getting this thing done? Perhaps. Often they will not have that great of an interest in what you want out of something.
They want to know what they will get out of it. So, for the both of you to get what you want out of something tell that person what’s in it for him/her. And try to be genuine and positive about it. A reason for them to do it delivered in a lame, half-assed manner may not be so persuasive. And so you both lose.
9. How to win an argument.
“The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”
Getting two egos wrapped up in an argument, having two sides defending their positions desperately, will not improve relationships. You are more likely to feel negative feelings towards each other long after the argument is over. And so you both wallow in negativity and you both lose. When possible, just avoiding unnecessary arguments is a win-win situation.
10. It’s about more than your words.
“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.”
I often feel that there is a bit too much emphasis on the third way of contact (what we say). Don’t forget about the rest. Most people stereotype people at their first meeting. They might not want to but it is a way for their – and perhaps your – mind to organize impressions and people. So think about how you look. Think about how you make first impressions. Think about your body language. And how you are saying your sentences.
Think about how you feel because that will be reflected out into the world. And the world will often reflect back something similar.
Whether it’s related to an issue at work, a fight with a friend, or problems with family, everyone feels stressed sometimes. In fact, 54 percent of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their daily lives. And while therapy can help (come on, everyone’s thought about laying on that infamous doctor’s couch at some point), most solutions (think talk therapy or medication) are dealt with in the long-term. So what can be done in the next five minutes to reduce — and prevent — stress? Here’s our list of the Greatist ways to decrease stress right now.
Try Progressive Relaxation All the way from fingers to toes– tense and then release each muscle group in the body (lower arm, upper arm, chest, back and abdominals, etc.). Once the body is relaxed, the mind will be soon to follow!
Try Some Light Yoga The combination of deep breathing techniques and poses makes this activity work to reduce stress, too.
Meditate The “mental silence” that goes along with meditation may have positive effects on stress (especially work-related stress).
Breathe Deep Taking a deep breath has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. Studies suggest deep breathing can also cause a temporary drop in blood pressure.
Spark Some Scents Studies suggest aromatherapy can be a good way to relieve stress. Certain aromas (like lavender) have been consistently shown to reduce stress levels.
Listen To Music Research points to multiple ways in which music can help relieve stress, from triggering biochemical stress reducers to assisting in treating stress associated with medical procedures.
Laugh It Off Laughter can reduce the physical effects of stress (like fatigue) on the body.
Drink Tea One study found that drinking black tea leads to lower post-stress cortisol levels and greater feelings of relaxation.
Exercise That post-exercise endorphin rush is one way to sharply cut stress.
Try Guided Visualization Visualizing a calm or peaceful scene may help reduce stress and ease anxiety.
Join A Religious Community Surveys have shown a major underlying reason people practice religion is for stress relief. One study even found that college students who practiced a religion were less stressed than their non-religious counterparts. And other research suggests religious people are less likely to experience stress-related mental illness.
Chew Gum Studies suggest the act of chewing gum can reduce cortisol levels, helping to alleviate stress.
Get A Massage Getting a good ol’ rub down may do more than alleviate physical pain. Studies suggest massage may also be beneficial for fighting stress. It may also help improve body image.
Try Self-Hypnosis Research suggests hypnosis can help reduce anxiety. Plus, it’s a great self-mediated technique for stress-relief.
Talk About Sex, Baby Studies have shown sex can actually decrease the physical symptoms of stress, like lowering blood pressure.
Take A Nap Napping has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which aids in stress relief.
Hug It Out. Hugging may actually reduce blood pressure and stress levels in adults.
Hang With Your Pet Or, as we’ve put it before, just get a dog. Dog owners have been shown to be less stressed out — most likely thanks to having a buddy to cuddle.
Do An Art Project Art therapy can potentially reduce stress-related behavior and symptoms.
Write It Out Keeping a journal may be one way to effectively relieve stress-related symptoms due to its meditative and reflective effects. A gratitude journal can really help us put things in perspective, so pick a time every day to write down a few things that make you happy.
Take A Walk A quiet, meditative stroll can do wonders for stress relief, especially when we step outdoors. Try not to rush, and take whatever pace feels most natural.
Kiss Someone! Research suggests kissing releases chemicals that ease hormones associated with stress, like cortisol. Forming positive relationships is also a key way to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Don’t Write A List Of The Top 23 Ways To Reduce Stress!
Your morning can be that make-or-break time that sets you up for a good day or a bad day. Here are 11 habits you can establish that will put you on the path of stringing together good day after good day.
1. Drink a Glass of Warm Lemon Water
Drinking a glass of warm water with lemon first thing in the morning is an excellent way to get your body going. It’s like oil for the Tinman as it goes to work lubricating all of your different internal systems.
You want the water to be warm so that it’s not a shock to your system first thing in the morning. The lemon will help get your digestive system ready for the coming meals, and makes the water tastier. You can add a bit of honey to it as well if you want to cut down on some of the tartness.
The Rehydration Process
When you wake up in the morning you’ve just gone without water for about 8 hours, so it’s important to turn things around and start up the flow of water again. What you don’t want to do is leave out the water and go along with your day, having breakfast and other beverages before addressing your need for water.
2. Wake Up Earlier
This is priority one because in order to fit in a fantastic morning you’re going to need some extra time compared to your current routine.
If you’ve turned into a night owl because of the peace and quiet it affords, you’ll be equally satisfied by the same peace and quiet an early morning provides, and it’s simply a matter of shifting your personal time to the wee hours of the morning rather than late at night. The difference to your body is noticeable.
The Ideal Time to Wake Up
Wake up in conjunction with circadian rhythms if possible. Civil twilight is a great time to wake up because there will be enough light to see, the birds are chirping, and you still have time to catch the sunrise if you’re keen. Since this time varies by the time of year, it may be more feasible during some seasons than others. Give yourself an hour and a half before you have to be out the door.
3. Scrape Your Tongue
Taking time to scrape your tongue is one morning routine you won’t want to give up once you start it. It helps get rid of morning breath, and also is in line with the rejuvenation process you need to do to make the transition from sleep to wakefulness each day.
As a bonus you’ll be able to taste your food better without the film that’s on your tongue even after brushing your teeth.
The Right Scraper
Some toothbrushes come with a built-in scraper on the back of the head. If yours doesn’t have one you’ll want to invest in one. You can find some that are literally just a plastic triangle-shaped scraper, and others that feature special bristles that are designed to get into the grooves of your tongue. You can also go with the type that is stainless steel and U-shaped to get the job done.
4. Do a Stretching Routine
Here’s a great 5 minute stretch that you can do in the morning to wake your muscles up and get them ready for the day ahead. You should always modify any workout to your own abilities, and search until you find one that resonates with you.
You can also use this time to do a yoga routine, or an exercise routine, if you feel so inclined or are trying to lose weight. However, if you currently aren’t exercising regularly we recommend starting off with just some morning stretches until that becomes a habit, and then transitioning into yoga and other exercises when you organically start to feel like you could do more than just stretch.
How Long Do I Have to Stretch?
When first starting out it doesn’t matter how long you stretch, just as long as you do it. If you only have a few minutes for it, just do a few minutes. You’ll find that as you develop the habit, you’ll end up stretching for longer periods of time, and it will naturally expand on its own without the need to force yourself to do it for a set time.
5. Rebound 100 Times
Rebounding on a mini-trampoline is the perfect morning exercise. It’s zero impact, and perfect for any physical fitness level. You don’t even have to get any air on it for it to be effective. Just lightly bouncing on it is effective for stimulating lymph movement and drainage as well as helping your thyroid.
You can repeat this process a few times per day, whenever you feel like you need a pick-me-up. It helps keep you energized without the use of energy drinks or other sugary or caffeinated beverages.
Firms Up Your Whole Body
You’ll notice that when you first start bouncing you’re kind of going with the flow, but by the time you hit your 100th bounce your body has tightened up considerably, in a good way. This is working each muscle in your body, your leg muscles, core, and upper body. A great way to start the day, get your juices flowing, and just plain feel good!
6. Dry Brush Your Body
Dry brushing the body is an Ayurvedic practice that helps improve your circulation and slough off dead skin cells.
Brushing towards your heart is essential, and you’ll want to start at your extremities and work your way in, covering all of your parts before hopping in the shower.
Dry brushing will help leave your skin feeling smoother, and you’ll notice the difference after you’ve dried off. Apply a moisturizer afterward to retain that suppleness.
Which Brush to Use?
Choose a brush that is good at exfoliating, but not one that is so rough you don’t look forward to using it. A dry loofah or other brush designed to scrub the skin works best. You don’t want it to be too soft on your skin or it won’t do the job, but if you opt for a softer brush you can apply more pressure so that it works.
7. Listen to Uplifting Music or Audiobook
Starting your morning with music you find beautiful, or a book you find inspirational or motivational, is the perfect way to set yourself up for success. It can give you something to look forward to in the morning, and sets you up with the right mindset to greet the day.
You can adjust your music for the type of day you want to have, whether you need something that gets you pumped for an action-packed day, or something more soothing so you can handle a stressful day.
The mind is hungry for new tidbits of information it can go to work on, and you should feed it every day, the same way you feed your body.
Choosing the Right Audio
Whether you pick a group of songs, or an audiobook that inspires you, is up to you. Choose your songs carefully though, as they can get stuck in your head, and if this sort of thing drives you crazy you might be better off listening to a book.
8. Green Smoothie Time
Now that we’ve woken up with the sun, brushed our teeth and scraped our tongue, rehydrated, stretched, rebounded, dry brushed the skin, showered while listening to pleasing music, it’s time to nourish the body with a refreshing green smoothie.
The green part of the smoothie is what’s really going to help boost your energy levels this morning. That’s because it will likely be spinach, kale, or some other leafy green providing phytonutrients, fiber, and minerals. Set a timer for 30 minutes after you drink it and notice how much better you feel.
Finding A Great Green Smoothie Recipe
Check out our list of amazing healthy smoothie recipes and pick the one that sounds most appealing to your morning palate. Just about any non-green smoothie can be made green with the addition of spinach or kale.
9. Meditate for a Few Minutes
Right now you should be in a really happy place, a green smoothie coursing through your digestive system, and all of the helpful things you’ve done should all be having a cumulative effect. There’s no better time to sit and clear your mind for a few minutes.
There’s also no right way to meditate, so if you’ve tried specific methods and didn’t really like it, it’s time to develop your own personal style. Choose a position that you find comfortable, and decide if you’d like music or not. Just sitting and listening to the silence can be enough for most.
Why Just a Few Minutes?
You don’t need to go into a trance or spend an hour in the lotus position to meditate. You can get the benefits from just a few minutes and you’ll see a marked improvement in the upward trend your days start to take. We’re being intentionally vague here because “a few” can mean whatever it means to you, and however you feel in the moment (or what the clock allows in the morning).
10. Smile at Yourself in the Mirror for 30 Seconds
This is a can’t-miss way to boost your self esteem, and once you get into the habit you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. It’s basically just a matter of designating some time as true “me time” and seeing a happy you reflected back in the mirror.
This works on a number of different levels, but at the core is the ability it gives you to talk right to the bigger part of yourself, the part that is running in the background and getting the important things done.
Make sure you’re smiling, it doesn’t have to be a big goofy grin, just the hint of a smile works, like you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve and you’re ready to show the world what you can do. You’ll be surprised at the positive thoughts this exercise inspires.
What you’re doing here is basically checking in with yourself, giving yourself that look of determination that you’ll need to make it through the day and accomplish all of your goals. No matter what happens the rest of the day, you’ve at least said hello to that deeper part of yourself and given words of encouragement.
11. Write Out Your Top 3 for the Day
If you lead a busy life chances are things fall through the cracks on a daily basis. To help stop this from happening you should list the three things you really want to get done today, and above all else, make sure they get done.
Once you establish the habit of getting the most important three things of the day done, you’ll be able to build up confidence and go for bigger and bigger things. A funny thing also happens, all of the smaller stuff that you thought needed to get done either does get done without being on your list of three, or fades away because it wasn’t that important to begin with.
Just 3, No More No Less
If you start getting carried away and adding more than three, you’ll find you won’t get to the fourth and fifth and so on, and then you’ll get discouraged. Force yourself to come up with three good ones, even if your day is largely unstructured. You’ll feel better at the end of the day knowing you at least got 3 important things done.
4 Things to Avoid That Can Send Your Day Off Course
Morning News – While it’s good to stay abreast of the latest happenings, you’ll do yourself a huge favor by missing out on the more upsetting things that have happened overnight. By lunchtime the biggest news will have made it to you, and if it’s something really big you can catch yourself up on the Internet in a matter of minutes.
Big Breakfast – A big breakfast is not recommended, even if it’s balanced and full of healthy things. Your digestion is weakest in the morning, and bombarding it with a big load of food will only set you up for a sluggish morning. Unless you plan on doing some intense activity to burn it off, stick to a light breakfast and have a snack later if you get hungry before lunch.
Stimulants – Many of us reach instinctively for a cup of coffee in the morning to get us going, or need an energy drink before we consider the day started. But these are just crutches that could be masking a lack of sleep or nutrition. Drop the stimulants and continue to make positive changes until you don’t feel you need them anymore.
Sleeping In – These are morning *rituals* we’re starting here, and you can’t expect them to change your life unless you stick to them religiously. Taking the weekends off of your routine is a sure way to disrupt the good habits you’ve formed during the week, and regress to your old ways. Stay the course, even on the weekends, and you’ll reap all of the benefits.
Knowing yourself completely is difficult, and it’s impossible to solve for every single cognitive bias you have. But just because we suck at it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. You can’t solve every problem in your life, but you can make some headway on minor changes. Here are a few ways of doing just that:
Learn to look at yourself objectively: It’s nearly impossible to actually look at yourself objectively, but it’s always worth a shot. As we’ve talked about before, the main idea here is to study and criticize your decisions. Even better, find some trustworthy friends to talk with and listen to their criticisms.
Write your own manifesto: The main purpose of self-awareness is self-improvement, so it makes sense that you need to have goals. If you’re struggling with that part, a manifesto is a great way to push yourself into figuring out what you want.
Keep a journal: As Kahneman noted above, our memory colors the past pretty deeply. If you want a more accurate gauge of yourself, a journal is a great way to get it. A journal makes you more aware of what you’re doing and where problems might be coming from because you can document anything. If you spend time documenting the little things, like food intake, water intake, or sleep, you might notice a larger trend that you can correct for. If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of your decision making skills, Harvard Business Review suggests writing down what you think will happen with a decision, then wait nine or ten months and review what you wrote.
Perform a self-review: The self-review is one of those annoying little things we all do at work, but you can make them beneficial if you think of them more as a thought experiment. Instead of spending your time thinking about what you should improve about yourself, think about what you boss thinks you should do and what co-workers might say. This way, you can see yourself from someone else’s perspective and gain a little extra insight into yourself.
It’s important to remember that self-awareness is introspection, but it’s not navel gazing. Self-absorption and overthinking doesn’t get you anywhere, but being aware of your needs and acting on them can help you improve. You might not realize how often what you’re doing doesn’t correlate to what you want.
We all make assumptions, and many of them turn out to be wrong. But noticing those and learning from them is hard. Maintaining a “Surprise Journal” can make reality clearer and help you improve yourself.
Julia Galef of the Center for Applied Rationality says her technique helps you confront your confirmation bias, separating reality from assumptions in a gentle way. In your Surprise Journal, write down anything that surprises you and why. Ignore whether the surprise is positive or negative and simply note what it is.
The Surprise Journal has two benefits. First, you start noticing more odd or unusual things, simply because you looking out for them. Second, it is a soft blow for your biased brain to admit when something is against expectations:
“People generally don’t want to give in to evidence that they might be wrong—and I include myself here—because it is stressful to admit it, even to yourself… We train ourselves to avoid it.”
On the other hand, looking for surprises in the world can be an empowering or exhilarating experience. “It appeals to my curiosity and it just feels different—it feels like I am getting as clear a picture of the world as I can,” she says.
The end result, as Galef mentions, is that you become more aware of areas where you need improvement. For example, Galef’s ratings as a teacher were lower than colleagues, which indicated over-confidence in her abilities and not taking on feedback to get better.
The conclusions of your Surprise Journal are going to be what you make of them, but the mere act of noticing the disparity should set you on the right path, according to Galef.
“Having a positive mental attitude is asking how something can be done rather than saying it can’t be done.” Bo Bennett
“To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.” Peter McWilliams
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin
One of the very first things I started to work on consciously with my own personal development was to improve my outlook on life.
It was over 10 years ago that I started to delve into this topic and to step by step – and while sometimes tumbling backwards – build a more optimistic outlook.
An attitude that would over time become more and more stable so that I could not only look at the world in a positive way during good days. But also so I could stay positive and constructive even during tough times and keep working towards something better.
In this article I’d like to share 11 of the best, smartest and most effective habits for doing so that I have learned during over more than a decade.
I hope you will find something helpful here.
1. Find the optimistic viewpoint in a negative situation.
One of the simplest but most effective ways to build a more positive outlook has in my experience been to ask more helpful questions as often as possible.
When I am in what seems like a negative situation – maybe I have made a mistakes, I have failed or stumbled in some kind of way – then I like to ask myself questions like:
What is one thing that is positive or good about this situation?
What is one opportunity within this situation?
Doing so is a whole lot better than what I used to do in such situations. Because back then I usually asked myself how much I sucked and how things could get even worse now.
I do however not always use these questions right away. Oftentimes I need a bit of time to process the thoughts and feelings that arise in situation before I can do that. Trying to force optimistic thinking when you are still in an emotional turmoil or a bit shocked usually don’t work that well.
2. Cultivate and live in a positive environment.
Who you choose to spend your time with and the input you get from further away like the TV, the internet and magazines will have a huge effect on your outlook.
To be able to stay positive it is essential to have influences in your life that support you and lift you up instead of dragging you down.
So carefully consider what you let into your mind.
You can for example ask yourself:
Who are the 3 most negative people I spend time with?
What are the 3 of most negative sources of information I spend time on?
Consider the answers. Then think about how you can start spending less time with one of those people or information sources this week.
And how you can spend more of the time you have now freed up with one of the most positive sources or people in your life.
3. Go slowly.
I have found that when I go too fast, when I try to think, talk, eat and move around in my world really quickly then things don’t go too well.
Stress builds up. Negative thoughts about just about anything start to well up and I feel like my own personal power decreases.
But if I slow down just for a few minutes – even if I have to force it by walking, talking and eating slower – then my mind and body calms down too. It becomes easier to think things through clearly again and easier to find the optimistic and constructive perspective.
4. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
It’s very easy to lose perspective, especially if you are stressed and you are going too fast.
A simple three step way to handle these situations so they don’t get out of hand is to:
Say stop. In your mind, shout “STOP!” or “NOPE, we are not going down that path again!” as soon as thoughts of this kind starts to spin in your head.
Breathe. After you have disrupted the thoughts by shouting stop sit down and just be still. Breathe with your belly and focus on just your in-breaths and out-breaths for a minute or two to calm your mind and body down.
Refocus. Question your mountain building thoughts by talking to someone close to you and getting a more grounded perspective on the situation by just venting or by getting his or her input. Or simply ask yourself this to widen your perspective and to chill out: Will this matter in 5 years? Or even 5 weeks?
5. Don’t let vague fears hold you back from doing what you want.
Sometimes you may want to take a chance in life. Start a new habit that feels unfamiliar, your own business on the side or ask someone out for a date.
A common trap when you want to do one of those things is to get lost in vague fears about what could happen if you actually took action.
And so the mind runs wild fueled by fear and it creates nightmare scenarios.
I know. I have been there many times.
So I have learned to ask myself this: honestly, what is the worst that could happen?
When I have figured that out I also spend a bit of time on trying to figure out what I could do if that that often pretty unlikely thing happens.
I have over the years discovered that the worst thing that could realistically happen is usually not as scary as the nightmare my fear-fueled mind could produce.
Finding clarity in this way doesn’t take much time or effort and it can help you to avoid much mind made suffering. And help you to get going, step outside of your comfort zone and take that chance.
6. Add value and positivity to someone else’s life.
What you send out you tend to get back from the world and the people in it.
Not from everyone. And not every time.
But what you send out there matters a whole lot.
What you give them and how you treat them is what you’ll get back. And they way you treat others and how you think of them also tend to have a big effect on how you treat and think about yourself.
So give value and spread the positivity by for example:
Helping out. Lend a hand when moving. Give a friend a ride in your car. Or if he or she needs information then help out by checking it up on Google or asking a friend of yours.
Just listening. Sometimes people don’t want any direct help. They just want someone to be there fully and listening as they vent for a little while.
Boosting the mood. Smile. Give hugs when appropriate. Play uplifting music when hanging out with a friend or suggest an inspiring movie for your movie night. Or encourage when someone has had a bad day or are going through a tough time.
7. Exercise regularly and eat and sleep well.
This is very obvious of course.
But I know the big, big impact a good night’s sleep or good workout can have when my thoughts are pessimistic and I have a lot of tensions on the inside.
And I know how much simpler it is to think clearly and optimistically when my belly is not empty.
So I highly recommend being careful about these basic habits that may sound boring. Because they do have a huge effect either way depending on how you manage them.
8. Learn to take criticism in a healthy way.
One of the most common fears is the fear of criticism. It can hold people back from doing what they want in life. Because having negativity flowing out of someone’s mouth or email and it being about you can hurt. And being rejected can sing quite a bit.
But if you want to take action on what you deep down want then criticism is pretty much unavoidable. So the key is learning to handle it in a healthier way. By doing so your fear of it will lessen and it will hurt less if you do get criticized.
I usually use four steps when I get some criticism. Maybe they can help you out too:
Step 1: Don’t reply right away. When you are angry, upset or riled up then is time to calm down a bit before you reply. Take at least a couple of deep breaths or a little time to process the message before you respond.
Step 2: Really listen to the criticism. Try to remain open and level-headed and figure out how this message can help you. Ask yourself: Is there one thing I can learn from this criticism? Is there something here that I may not want to hear but could help me?
Step 3: Remember that the criticism isn’t always about you. Some criticism is helpful. Some is simply attacks or someone lashing out because they are having bad day, year or job. To lessen the sting of such criticism – often really angry or overly critical in an unconstructive way – I try to be understanding. I think to myself that this person might not be feeling so good at the moment.
Step 4: Reply or let go. No matter the content of for example an email I try to keep my reply level-headed and kind. I may add a question or two to get more specific feedback that is helpful. And if they don’t reply or I have simply gotten a nasty attack then it is time to delete it and to let that situation go.
9. If something still gets under your skin then know what to do.
Sometimes something can still get under your skin and hurt you. Even if you use the steps above.
Two things that have helped me with that challenge are:
Let it out. Just letting that issue out into the light talking it over with someone close can be very helpful to see it for what it actually is. And to find a healthier perspective on the situation.
Improve your self-esteem. I have found over the years that with a stronger self-esteem things drag me down less and they don’t ruin my day as much anymore. Negativity from others bounces off me much more often instead. If you want to practical help with this then have a look at my 12-week, step-by-step Self-Esteem Course.
10. Start your day in a positive way.
How you start your day usually sets the tone for the rest of your day.
So be careful about how you spend your mornings. If you get going at full speed, lost in future troubles in your mind then the stress, perceived loss of power of over your life and negative thoughts will ramp up quickly.
If you on the other hand start your day by moving slowly, by having an uplifting conversation with your family or friend or you spend some time with reading or listening to inspiring and helpful articles or podcasts over breakfast or during your bus ride to work then that can make a big difference for how your whole day will go.
11. Mindfully move through your day.
When you spend your time in the present moment then it becomes so much easier to access positive emotions and to stay practical about what you can actually do about something in your life.
When you get lost in the past or future like so many of us have spent a lot of time on doing then worries very easily become bigger. And failures and mistakes from the past being replayed over and over in your mind drag you down into pessimism.
By moving slowly through your morning and hopefully through much of the rest of your day it becomes easier to mindfully stay in the moment you are in.
Another simple way to reconnect with the moment in you are in and to put your full attention there again is to focus just on what is going on around you right now for a minute or two with all your senses. See it. Hear it. Smell it. Feel the sun, rain or cold wind on your skin.
It might sound like a small and insignificant thing to do. But this simplifying reconnection with the moment can have a very positive effect on the rest of your day.
No one wants to be — or be around — a Negative Nancy. Positive people encourage others to be happier and more comfortable with themselves because their energy is contagious. And with all the adversity we face in our lives, it’s no wonder that kind of outlook is appealing.
Studies show optimism certainly has its benefits. And even though it’s always possible to find the negatives in a situation, there are a few ways to cultivate the sort of mindset where you choose to see the positives. (After all, as Oscar Wilde once said, “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”)
So how do we become a positive power wherever we go? Try these science-backed strategies:
Put kindness first.
We never forget the times people show compassion toward us, whether it’s a genuine smile from a stranger when we look down, or a friend who surprises us with ice cream and a movie after we’ve just been dumped. And turns out, it’s not just the recipient of kindness who experiences benefits — research shows those simple, empathetic behaviors make us happier, too.
Talk to someone you don’t know.
While we tend to ignore those we don’t know, a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests we should be doing the opposite for the sake of our happiness. Researchers found that talking to strangers increases positive experiencesthrough feelings of social connectedness. Step outside of your comfort zone and strike up a conversation with someone new in the room — you just might find yourself in a happier mood.
Those with optimistic attitudes have an innate ability to bring out joy in others, and as a result, they’re incredibly effective leaders. People who look on the bright side tend to be more inspiring communicators and have a way of rallying others around them to see the positive, Forbes points out. These kinds of leaders don’t just know what it takes to get tasks done — they encourage others around them to optimistically do the same.
Be mindful of your body language.
The secret to a positive attitude may just start with positive posture. Research suggests that uncrossing your arms, standing tall and having a more approachable demeanor can all be positive marks of confidence. Studies also show that even just the simple act of smiling can make you seem more open (not to mention it can also boost your mood).
Listen more than you speak.
Good listening skills are a quiet, yet coveted power — and being a good listener also conveys positivity. “When you listen, you open up your ability to take in more knowledge versus blocking the world with your words or your distracting thoughts,” David Mezzapelle, author of Contagious Optimism, previously explained to HuffPost Healthy Living. “You are also demonstrating confidence and respect for others. Knowledge and confidence is proof that you are secure and positive with yourself, thus radiating positive energy.”
Open yourself up to positive thoughts.
It’s natural for us to dwell on the negative, but the truth is, we all have the capacity to look at life through a glass half full. The key to being a positive force is to open yourself up to like-minded thoughts. One way to do that? Practice gratitude. Studies show reflecting on what you’re thankful for can make you a happier, more positive person. And when’s the last time anyone hated counting their blessings?
Inspiration comes in the most unusual ways. You never know where the most perfect piece of wisdom might show up. While cruising along the highway between Edmonton and Calgary, I passed under an electronic sign with a large, red flashing message:
WHAT IS HOLDING YOU BACK?
Now it was just a reminder to buckle up your seatbelt, but this is a great question to ask yourself as you travel the highway of life.
What’s holding you back from doing, saying, being anything you want?
The short answer is simply YOU.
Why Do You Limit Yourself?
Lots of things get in the way of having the life you want. Fears, expectations, excuses, that little creeping voice that says, “what will happen if…”
There’s no end to the obstacles that can stop you dead in your tracks. The truth is most of the barriers you encounter are ones you create yourself.
All of those reasons that rumble around in your head simply strap you down just like a seat belt. Oh it’s safe all right, but life is not really a car ride where you are just along for the view.
Time to Shift Out of Neutral
Life is meant to be lived – full out – taking some risks. People who live truly satisfying lives are people who let go of the idea of holding back. They know you only get one kick at this road trip so you might as well end up where you really want to go.
Not holding back probably means doing some things differently. Creating change in your life is like shifting out of neutral and into another gear. You need to give it some gas so you can take it to the next level. And like on the highway, a little more speed is a little bit riskier.
3 New Gears to Try Out
So how do you shift up and take back the road?
Pay attention to the voices that are playing in your head. You always listen when you talk to yourself. What are you saying to you? If you regularly use words like can’t, won’t or shouldn’t, it’s time for a new conversation.
Practice until you’re good at it. Remember when you first learned to drive? Bet it wasn’t the smoothest of rides. Take opportunities to stretch your limits, even just a bit. The more you practice, the more you will be willing to try it again.
Risk is a relative thing. There are times when holding back is not such a bad idea. Be honest with yourself. Are you creating obstacles out of fear? Or are you in a zone that requires you to proceed with caution?
Life is Meant to Be a Wild Ride.
There’s a great piece of wisdom in the movie Thelma and Louise.
“You get what you settle for.”
Now that’s a couple of women who decided life was worth unbuckling the seatbelt. You may not want to drive headlong into the Grand Canyon, but chances are there are lots of places where you can take off the cruise control.
Go for it. What are you willing to settle for?
Laurel Vespi, certified life coach and chief executive guru of stone circle coaching, ignites businesses & individuals to new levels of CHANGE. Laurel works with clients internationally, providing unconventional yet practical tips that make the seemingly impossible… possible! Sign up for Laurel’s free ezine and get a free guidebook to blissful living at StoneCircleCoaching.com