Things to Remember Should I Have a Daughter

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1. She has to learn from her own mistakes, she can’t learn from yours.

2. Tell her your mistakes anyway. Not so she can avoid them, but so she learns it’s ok to make them, and so she knows that you’ve been where she is.

3. Help her develop her femininity and masculinity from an early age. Play sports with her as much as you play dress up with her. Teach her how to apply mascara, and teach her how to change a tire.

4. Honor all the ways she is different from you. She was put on this earth to be her, not a mini-you.

5. Encourage her to question everything, even you.

6. You’re not her friend. You’re her mother.

7. Have all types of music playing, all the time. Give her the gift of rhythm through osmosis.

8. She has to date some assholes before she can appreciate a good man (or woman). Let it happen. The more disapproval you show, the less she’ll want to share with you.

9. Take her camping. Take her to the beach. Take her to the desert. Drown her in nature.

10. Help her think through things, offer your perspective, but resist telling her what to do.

11. Meditate with her. Make it part of her routine like taking a shower or brushing her teeth.

12. It’s ok if she wants different things for herself than what you want for her.

13. Raise her to make her own decisions, and then trust the ones she makes.

14. Develop an interest in her interests. If she’s into video games, pick up a controller. If she’s into yoga, start stretching.

15. Show her both sides of every story. Expect her to develop her own opinion, not just parrot yours.

16. Fill her world with a variety of powerful women. From Eleanor Roosevelt to Laura Croft. Mother Teresa to Lady Godiva. Elizabeth Bennet to Katniss Everdeen.

17. Never yell at her for crying.

18. Help her cultivate an appreciation for healthy living, but never critique her appearances. She’ll get an abundance of that from everyone else in the world, it should never be from you.

19. Make sure she knows how to indulge in chocolate, without a damn thought about calories.

20. Try your best to resist complimenting her on her looks, and even on her intelligence. Compliment her on her hard work, her perseverance, and her kindness.

21. Make dirty jokes. Let her know sex is a safe topic.

22. If you’re anxious about something, she’ll learn it’s something to be anxious about. Don’t sweat the small stuff, so she doesn’t either.

23. Read to her, and then read with her.

24. Let her explore. Let her go wherever she wants to go, and let her know you’ll be there when she returns. But give her mace to take with her.

25. Don’t let her take herself too seriously. Tease her regularly.

26. Admit when you’re wrong, and when you don’t know something. Teach her its ok to not know it all.

27. Remind her to look up. At the stars. At the clouds. At the leaves. Just look up and remember how tiny we are.

28. Develop an interest in her friends. If she finds something lovable about them, you can too. It’s in your best interest for her friends to feel comfortable with you and welcome in your home.

29. Dance with her. On a Tuesday. In the afternoon. In the kitchen. Teach her to cha-cha.

30. Always treat others with respect, treat yourself with respect, and demand respect from others. You’re the model from which she’ll learn how to treat others, how to treat herself, and how to expect others to treat her.

31. Expose her to many possibilities, but then sit back and watch her become whoever it is she wants to become with warmth and acceptance.

32. Take care of yourself so a) she learns to take care of herself, and b) she learns she doesn’t have to take care of you.

* Special thanks to my mama(s), for passing many of these blessings along ❤

I plan to keep adding to the list, so let me know what you think I missed!

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The Social Psychology of Ferguson

Witnessing the dialogue sparked by the events in Ferguson, MO, I just feel so so sad. Sad to see people pointing fingers at each other, sad to hear overly simplistic assessments of a complex situation, sad to see people citing other crimes by other people as if it validates or invalidates what’s happened in anyway. Mostly it makes me sad to see people pushing away from each other, rather than coming together. It makes me sad, but I also understand. Having an education in social psychology, I can appreciate the complex factors that come together to create situations like this. This knowledge makes me feel far less judgmental, and far more empathetic when something like this happens. That’s why I truly believe that social psychology should be a required and fundamental aspect of every person’s education.  So for what it’s worth, I thought I would write a little crash course in social psychology to give some perspective on the events in Ferguson. Let’s first look at some of the ways prejudices are perpetuated and affect our behavior.

Confirmation Bias

To save energy, our brains take shortcuts (called heuristics) to quickly navigate the overwhelming amount of information presented by our environment. One shortcut our brains make is to seek information that supports the beliefs we already have. It takes less mental energy to continue believing the same thing, than it does to re-evaluate and adapt our beliefs. This is called Confirmation Bias and is one of the main ways that stereotypes and prejudice persist. For example, if I’m convinced Asians are terrible drivers I’ll notice every time a terrible driver happens to be Asian, but I’m not on the look out for all those Asians who aren’t causing any trouble on the roads. We find what we already believe.wpid-photo-jul-19-2012-1059-pmIf I think a black man is likely to be a criminal, my belief is reaffirmed every time I hear a story about blacks committing crime, but I give less weight to experiences that contradict my belief (i.e. all the black people around me every day not committing crimes). If I believe cops are racist, I’ll pay more attention to accounts that prove me right, and overlook instances of police officers treating people of different races with respect.

In-group/Out-group Bias

Back in our tribal days it was important for us to be able to quickly differentiate between “our peeps” and “outsiders”. So another energy saving trick our brains play is to categorize people into In-groups (groups I belong to) and Out-groups (groups I don’t belong to). Due to the homogeneity effect, we overestimate how similar members of out-groups are to each other, and recognize more individual differences between members of our in-group. It’s probably not surprising that we also tend to regard our in-groups with more positive attributes than out-groups, but you might be surprised by how arbitrarily we can make these attributions. For example, one researcher split strangers into two groups based on a coin flip, and participants still reported liking their groups members more, assumed they had nicer personalities, and were better workers (Tajfel, 1981). thMuzafer Sherif’s famous Robbers Cave Experiment was intended to examine the influence of group membership. He randomly assigned 22 white middle-class boys in summer camp to one of two groups. The two groups were separated from each other and encouraged to bond with members of their own group. The two groups were then brought together to compete in various activities for prizes. Before long the two groups engaged in name calling and taunting… then in vandalism and theft… then in such aggression that researchers had to physically separate them for two days. When asked to describe each group, the boys would describe their group favorably and the other group derogatorily.


Many other social psychology studies have demonstrated how easily we identify with a certain group, and develop biases in favor of our groups and against other groups. Think about the hatred some sports fans have towards fans of opposing teams. If identification with something as superficial as a sports team can cause such bias and result in extreme behaviors like rioting, think about the influence of something as personal as the color of your skin. Consider how much your perspective of any situation might be affected by who you see as part of your in-group or part of an out-group.

Fundamental Attribution Error

The Fundamental Attribution Error refers to the social psych. finding that we are prone to disproportionately attribute a person’s behavior to innate character traits, and underestimate the influence of the situation. In a study by Jones and Harris (1967), participants were told to read articles for and against Fidel Castro. Even when participants were told that the authors were assigned to write for or against Castro based on a coin toss, they still rated authors of the pro-Castro articles as having more favorable opinions of Castro. In other words, they were unable to fully consider the situation, and couldn’t stop themselves from making assumptions about the authors’ personal beliefs. Social experiments have shown that we’re more likely to attribute our behavior to the situation, but other people’s behaviors to their personality. So when I cut people off in traffic it’s because I’m really in a rush, and it’s not something I would normally do – but when someone else cuts me off in traffic it’s undoubtedly because they’re characterlogically a big d-bag. th-1We are more likely to make attributions consistent with our own prejudices. For example, an analysis of over 50 studies showed that when men failed to accomplish a task, it was assumed they didn’t work hard enough. When women failed it was assumed the task was too hard for them. Thus interpreting the same situation differently due to a bias that women are innately “less able” than men. We are also less likely to consider the influence of the situation on members of out-groups. So when a white cop shoots an unarmed black man – If I more strongly identify with the white cop, I’m more likely to consider how the situation influenced his behavior, but attribute the black man’s behavior to his character. If I identify more strongly with the black man, I’m likely to consider how the situation influenced his behavior, and attribute the cops behavior to his character. In reality, the situation influenced both of their behaviors more than I probably realize.

Group Dynamics

In the good ol’ days before ethics boards, Philip Zimbardo wanted to study how much the behaviors of prisoners and prison guards were influenced by innate personality, but ended up conducting one of the most important studies of group membership, power vs. oppression, and the influence of situation. The Stanford Prison Experiment involved a make-shift jail in the basement of a campus building, and 24 “psychologically stable and healthy” middle class male participants. Zimbardo randomly assigned participants to be a “prisoner” or a “guard”. Guards dressed in a uniform, carried batons, and wore tinted glasses to prevent eye contact. Prisoners were given identification numbers, smocks, and a chain around one ankle. stanford_prison_experimentThe study was supposed to continue for 2 weeks. After 6 days the experiment had to be called off, because the situation had gotten out of control. After the first day, prisoners revolted against the guards’ authority by refusing to follow directions, barricading their cells, and cursing at the guards. Guards then attempted to assert their control over the prisoners with increasingly sadistic methods. They attacked prisoners with fire extinguishers, stripped them naked, made them do push-ups (while they sat or stepped on their backs), refused to let them use the bathroom (instead making them defecate in a bucket in their cell and refusing to empty it), removed their mattresses, and put them in solitary confinement. One prisoner had to be released from the study due to a mental/emotional breakdown involving disordered thinking, uncontrollable crying, and uncontrollable rage. spic63If such chaos can unfold after only 6 days of otherwise equal people being assigned roles of power vs. oppression, think about the consequences extrapolated across centuries. If 6 days of having your rights taken from you can cause someone significant emotional distress, what’s the effect over generations? If 1 day of make-believe guards asserting authority over you can cause average people to revolt, how do you expect people to act when it’s a part of their every day lives?

Crowd psychology

This subject can easily fill an entire book, and involves many social psychology phenomena in combination, but the point returns to the power of the situation. Groupthink causes the a desire for conformity and cohesiveness in the group to overpower rational thinking and behavior. People experience de-individualization, and thus anonymity in crowds. groupthinkDiffusion of responsibility means the more people involved, the less responsibility any one person feels. The less responsibility any one person feels, the more they’re likely to do (or not do) things congruent with their morals. Group polarization is the tendency for groups to think and act in more extreme ways than individuals. So if the individuals that make up a group wanted to rebel, together they are going to be extremely rebellious. If the individuals that make up a group wanted to be punitive, together they are going to be extremely punitive. It’s worth mentioning that uniforms also de-individualize, particularly helmets, visors, glasses, masks, shields – things that are covering a person’s face and thus their identity. When our identity is concealed, we feel less inhibited and less personally accountable for what we do.
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Fight or Flight

This is not a social psychology term, it’s a biological term. When we feel threatened past a certain point, our reflexes kick in and our bodies decide to either fight or flee. When this happens, the emotional center of our brain is on autopilot, and is not taking the time to consult with the rational part of our brain about whether or not we are making good decisions. The reason it’s important to include this in the discussion, is because it’s another way a situation affects our behavior. If I’m in a situation where I feel I’m in danger or my life is being threatened – whether it’s because someone I think is a criminal is coming towards me, or someone with a gun is trying to overpower me – my body reacts before I can think about what I’m doing.

The situation does NOT absolve personal responsibility

But before we pass judgements, I think it’s important to remember that we are all susceptible to the influence of the situation, and that other people’s behaviors are influenced by the situation more than we tend to think. People of all races commit crimes against all types of people for all types of reasons. In my opinion, none of these crimes justify the existence of any of the others. But the situation is such that white people experience power and priveledge daily, while black people and other minorities experience oppression and discrimination daily. Thus, in interracial conflicts white people’s behavior is often influenced by  power and privileged, and black people’s behavior is often influenced by oppression, and the behaviors of both parties are influenced by biases.

The character of any individual involved in such events usually has less impact than you probably think. I don’t know officer Wilson, I don’t know Michael Brown, and I don’t know exactly what happened that day. Chances are that both Wilson and Brown are people who have done some very good things and some bad things. Chances are that depending on the situation, they’d both be capable of doing terrible things that they would regret, and that weren’t in line with their character. Chances are that they both had beliefs and engaged in behaviors that were influenced by biases, sculpted by the environment that they grew up in. None of which changes the fact that what happened is terrible, and tragic, and representative of a much bigger problem than this singular event.

While I have some understanding of why people behave the way they do, and have my own opinions about what behaviors are right and wrong, I hate seeing the country divided rather than united against the situational factors that underlie such events. As far as I’m concerned, the events of Ferguson are the product of a society that we all participate in, and thus we all share some of the responsibility. Instead of pointing fingers, how about living our lives in such a way so as to reduce the devisions between us, and increase solidarity of the only true race – the human race.

To me, a large part of the puzzle is increasing our awareness of our own biases, as awareness is the first step to change. To that effect, I hope this helped a little.

Be Grateful.

All upset feelings are a consequence of desire.
This isn’t a new idea. Good ol’ Siddhartha figured this one out like a gazillion years ago.

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Every time you’re feelings down, pause and identify what it is you want that you’re not getting. More money? More things? True love? Power? Better abs?

Consumerism has us constantly focused on the ways our lives could be better, and it’s a hamster wheel to no where. Because we find what we look for. If you’re looking for ways that your life could be better, I guarantee you will always find something, and so you’ll never be satisfied. In some ways that’s ok… because it motivates us to grow. But if you think trying to filling in those gaps is going to make you happier, you’re very wrong.

Unless you're this easily please tarsier.

Unless you’re this easily pleased tarsier.

Many social psych. studies have found something that increases overall well-being more than money, power, looks, etc.:

An Attitude of Gratitude.

One study had a group of people journal once a week for 9 weeks about 5 things they were grateful for, and compared them to a group that journaled about 5 burdens in their life, and another group that just journaled about whatever the hell they felt like. At the end of the 9 weeks, the gratitude group had better health, exercised more, reported more joy and happiness, were more optimistic about the future, and felt better about life in general (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). This study’s cool because it’s not just correlational – In other words it’s not just that happier people are more grateful, but when people were randomly assigned to be more grateful, they became happier.

Desire is focused on the deficits in life, while gratitude is focused on the abundances in life. Part of the problem is that desire is also future oriented. It’s about gaining something so that you’ll be happier than you are now. But we don’t live in the future. We never get there. We live in the moment. Gratitude orients you towards the present. What is there to be thankful for right now?

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
~ Meister Eckhart

So once you’ve identified the desire that’s at the root of your negative emotions, remind yourself that achieving it probably isn’t going to affect how happy you are – you’ll eventually just find something else to desire. So try to check yourself, and challenge yourself to switch perspective. Take a moment. Look around. At any given time there are a million things to be thankful for. Try to name 5. The warm clothes on your back. The tasty hot coffee in front of you. The fresh air filling your lungs. The sound of a child laughing. Wet kisses from a wagging dog. The master piece of blue sky, soft clouds, fluttering leaves, and rippling water that God’s laid out for you every. damn. day.

Challenge yourself to open your eyes and find the things to be grateful for…

I guarantee you’ll find them.

Life Lesson #534: Stop Trying to Change Other People

One of the biggest struggles I’ve faced so far, is to stop trying to change others. I hate to even admit it, but I’ve struggled with this in romantic relationships, in friendships, with family, and professionally.

I’ve stayed in unhealthy relationships hoping that the other person would change.
I’ve caused problems in relationships by pressuring the other person to change.
I’ve argued with family members because I thought they should be different.
I’ve been disappointed by expecting someone to act differently than they always do.
I’ve been frustrated with friends who weren’t doing what I thought they should.
I’ve felt exasperated by clients who seemed stuck in bad habits.

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This probably makes me sound like a controlling narcissist, but most of the time I’m completely unaware that the problem is rooted in an underlying desire for another person to change. I think most of us often make the mistake of trying to change another person, or even just hoping another person will change, and I think it’s the underlying cause of a lot of interpersonal conflicts.

Why Do We Want to Change Others?

Because we think we’re helping.

Often, I want people to change when I feel they are unhappy, or that they could be happier. I might try to get a client to change their habits, when I feel they are self-destructive. I might try to get a friend to change their perspective, when I feel it’s holding them back. Hell, even this post is an attempt to get you to change the way you think about relating to others, because I hope it might be helpful!

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So often we size up other people, try to identify what their “problem” is, and offer solutions. While this process feels altruistic, it’s really just self-serving. It makes me feel better to believe I can help, but what am I really doing for the other person? Most likely, I’m belittling their experience by suggesting there’s a simple solution, and insulting their intelligence by assuming I could solve problems they couldn’t. Most people can figure out for themselves what they should do, but it’s the doing it that’s difficult, and no one can do it for them but themselves. Even if someone takes our advice and benefits from it, we’ve robbed from them the process of figuring it out themselves, and the ability to take full ownership of their own success.

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Because who they are feels threatening.

We like to feel “right”. Other people’s differences from us can make us feel uncertain about ourselves, and the way we live life. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, so we maintain our sense of security by judging/critiquing/finding fault with people who are different. Essentially asserting that they should be more like us, because we’re just so damn “right”. It can span from something as superficial as fashion choice, to something as intimate as personality, or spiritual beliefs. In reality, it’s a reflection of our own weakness, our own insecurity. Instead of tolerating the possibility that we’re wrong (or at least no more right than someone else) we rationalize why someone else is wrong and should change. The more we tear them down, the more secure we feel. Only it’s not a sustainable way of gaining security, because it’s just a matter of time before we find something else that challenges our beliefs, behaviors, perspectives, etc.

Because they are difficult to exist with.

There are people who are just difficult to deal with. Our first reaction to such people is generally to think of all the reasons why they are difficult, and how much easier life would be if they would just change. Unfortunately, this is usually just a waste our energy, because the only people we have control over is ourselves. We can set ourselves up for repeated disappointment by continuing to hope someone will act differently than they always do, or we can ask how we can change so that it affects us less. Focusing on other people’s flaws distracts us from facing our own deficiencies, like maybe our low frustration tolerance, or our inability to fulfill our own needs.

Why Trying to Change Others is a Mistake

Because it doesn’t work.

Research suggests you may be able to get a person to change their habits, but our personalities are pretty stable throughout life. When trying to get a person to change in any way, we need to remember that their sense of security is just as dependent on feeling “right” as ours is. For the most part, trying to get another person to change will only heighten their defenses and motivate them to think of all the reasons they’re right and you should change. Genuine change has to come from within. Generally the more it’s forced on someone, the more they will resist it.

“When a person gets insecure, he retreats to his conditioned personality, a coat of armor made of bad habits and pretenses”
– Dr. George Pransky, The Relationship Handbook

Because we have nothing to learn from someone exactly like us.

Trying to change someone else robs you of the value that they provide by being exactly who they are. I believe people come into your life exactly how they are, because of who they are – and that’s the only way they are of value to us. Maybe because they challenge us to grow, to look at the world a in a different way, to learn from their struggles. By trying to get people to fit into the little box that is easiest for us to accept them, we truly limit ourselves so much.

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Because it keeps us from truly connecting with another person.

Worst case scenario: another person starts acting in such a way as to please us, and in the process they lose their authentic self. Often times they end up losing their unique spark that drew us to them in the first place. Even though their behavior may be more acceptable to us, their soul is less accessible to us. You cannot have true intimacy with someone who is not being authentic – in fact intimacy is contingent upon feeling secure enough to be your authentic self. If you make someone feel that like isn’t safe for them to be themselves – that being themselves might be met with criticism and reprimand, then you can never truly connect with that person. Connection to other humans is the most important part of life, and not an area to make concessions.

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Because the greatest thing you can do for anyone, is accept them.

Our relationship is the best thing we can offer someone. Our love. Our acceptance. This far exceeds any value of advice, or influence. Every person has everything they need to reach their fullest potential already inside them, but we are all held back by fear and insecurity. The best thing we can do for another person, is to support who they are completely, so that everything they have inside can find its way out. This is what truly allows people to grow and transform into the best version of themselves, whoever they are supposed to be. Trying to force change on someone makes them fight it, but accepting someone unconditionally frees them to explore new possibilities.

“Self-esteem, confidence, wisdom and understanding are what allow people to drop destructive habits and make sound decisions in life. All of these qualities are brought out by goodwill, not by pressure and humiliation”
– Dr. George Pransky, The Relationship Handbook

Accepting People for Who They Are

When I say that you should accept people for who they are, I’m not suggesting that in extreme situations you should tolerate hurtful, disrespectful, etc. behaviors. Although I would still suggest you shouldn’t waste energy waiting for that person’s personality to change. Instead our energy should be directed towards what we can change. It might be working on our own communication skills to get along with others better, or our own coping skills to better tolerate difficult people, or it might be gathering the strength to cut an infectious person out of our life.

I’m also not suggesting that you shouldn’t try to work through differences with people. As mentioned, people can change their habits with awareness and motivation. If it drives you crazy that your husband leaves his dirty socks on the floor, he might be able to change this habit. Try bringing it to his awareness in a way that isn’t attacking him as a person, and that communicates you still accept him socks or no socks. In other words, we can resolve issues with other people, without asking or expecting them to change fundamental aspects of themselves.

Not only do I believe that accepting another person is the greatest gift you can give them, I believe it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself. Personally, letting go of any expectations for another person to be anything other than what they are has been one of the most liberating experiences.

“Happiness lies in accepting everyone in our lives EXACTLY as they are.
We cause ourselves untold misery whenever we believe others to be imperfect and try to change them.
This is the number one rule for a happy relationship.”
~Jonathan Lockwood Huie

It’s achieved by, and contributes to, a change in perspective from focusing on what more I want from a person, to appreciating what they already offer. Appreciating a person for their strengths and weaknesses, their nooks and crannies. Not evaluating and judging each aspect of them in isolation, and approving or disapproving. Instead, taking a step back and taking in the entire person, like a piece of art in which the darkest parts accentuate the brightest and beautiful parts in an essential way – such that if you took away any aspect of the piece, the whole would lose its’ meaning.  

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Insecurities In Relationships: It’s Not Them, It’s You.

Time for yet another one of my revelations: Most (if not all) problems in a relationship can be traced back to insecurity.

Insecurities that make us defensive
Insecurities that make us guarded
Insecurities that make us needy
Insecurities that make us demanding
Insecurities that make us submissive
… you get the idea

Reflecting on my own experiences in relationships I’ve realized that any time I felt angry with, or hurt by my significant other, it wasn’t about something they did – but an insecurity they triggered.

That time they canceled plans because they had to work late, the subconscious insecurities triggered probably went something like: “They must not want to spend time with me. Work is more important to them than me. I better make them feel guilty so they show me they love me again”.

That time they left me with all the chores: “They must not respect me, or even care about how this effects me. I better show them how angry I am so then they will respect me and not do this again.”  

This isn’t to say that the things your partner does aren’t objectively wrong in one way or another, but any extreme negative reaction on your part is always based in some personal insecurity. This speaks to the REBT principle that we do not react to an event, but only to our interpretation of that event. Greek philosophers agree, so you know it must be true.

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them”
– Epictetus

Most of us have a psychological make-up that’s a veritable land-mind of insecurities, planted there throughout our life experiences. We view each new experience through a lens of our personal fears, doubts, beliefs, and biases. So when we explode at our partner for not being there on time – we’re not just mad at them, we’re mad at our father for not showing up to our little league game – only we’re not usually conscious of it. 
I would even go so far as to suggest that, due to a most basic need to love and be loved, every variety of insecurity is rooted in a fundamental and universal fear of not being loved… but that’s a tangent you can read more about here.

Relationships consist of a series of bids for love and support from our partners, that we hope will ward off that scary feeling of not being loved. Will you comfort me in this situation, or invalidate my feelings? Will you make me feel wanted, or reject me? Can I depend on you for this, or will you disappoint me? In other words, we’re constantly looking to our partners for feelings of security – security within the relationship, and security with ourselves. When they don’t fill this need, it hurts, and it feels scary. It triggers that deeply buried and powerful fear – that maybe we’re not loved… maybe we’re not even lovable.

This extends past relationships too. We might look to many other things in our external world to make us feel more secure – our jobs, our bank accounts, our looks, our achievements, etc. We convince ourselves that if these factors are just right, we’ll be secure, we’ll have value, we’ll be lovable.  If we don’t feel secure, we assume it’s because one of these factors isn’t where it should be. So we try to change our external world. We try to get more money, or a more prestigious job title. Some people will starve themselves, or have surgery to feel more attractive. In relationships, we fight and argue in attempts to force the relationship to meet our needs for security. We try to change our partners into people that act in ways that will always make us feel secure. get-back-here-and-love-me_610

Other people can make us feel more secure…

It’s true. Research has found that being in a relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style can make us more secure.

If you’ve never heard of attachment styles before, the basic idea is this: Our early interactions with our parents (or primary caregiver) lays the foundation for what we expect and thus how we behave in future relationships. If our parents were consistently available when we sought them for comfort and support, we’ll develop a “secure attachment style” in which we’ll be able to get close to others and trust them to provide us with love and support. However, if our parents were unavailable or inconsistent in attuning to our emotional needs, we’ll develop an “insecure attachment style” in which we have a hard time trusting that others will love and support us. People with secure attachment styles show more empathy in their relationships, seek out support from others more easily, communicate their feelings more easily, and are more trusting. Insecurely attached individuals might be anxious and clingy in relationships, or distant and avoiding, or a confusing combination of all the above. The silver lining is that shacking up with someone who has a secure attachment style, can help you feel more secure in your relationships.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 2.37.05 PMSo this is good news, but not the perfect solution in my opinion – because I think depending on your partner to make you feel secure can only go so far. Even people with secure attachment style have relationship difficulties, and feel insecure at times.

The External World is Unpredictable

The problem is that anytime we are looking externally to feel more secure – we will be inevitably be let down. We might feel better momentarily, but it’s simply not sustainable. Our partner gets us flowers to apologize for messing up, and we might feel loved again – but it’s a matter of time until something else starts to make us feel insecure. This is because we can never control other people, and so we can never be 100% certain that they will feed our need for security. In fact, nothing about the external world is completely dependable, or without risk. People are unpredictable, our jobs are unpredictable, the world is unpredictable. Relying on external sources of security only creates a negative feedback loop that makes us feel less secure and even more dependent on those external sources.Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 10.39.51 PM

 The self is the only dependable source of security 

The only true source of security is from within. We might exert all kinds of effort trying to control the rest of our world, but the only thing we can really control is ourselves. So what if we put as much effort into mastering our ability to choose the perspective we take of the world? What if instead of trying to change our partners into people that are better at making us feel secure, we change ourselves into people that fill our own need of security? What if we could provide ourselves with our own secure attachment to ourselves?

What would this look like? Well we would give ourselves the type of love, validation, and responsiveness that we hope for from our partners. We would recognize and respond to our own needs with patience and care. We would trust ourselves to love and respect ourselves no matter what. We would put effort towards developing ourselves to be the best version of ourselves, for ourselves.

 Once you realize this, your relationships will improve.

With this in mind, I have two things that I say to myself when I’m having difficulties in a relationship.

1.“It’s never about them, it’s always about you”
In other words, when we’re upset we automatically start blaming things on our partner’s issues, it’s really always about our own issues.

2. “Am I hoping/expecting something external will make me feel better right now?”
(spoiler alert: the answer is pretty much always “yes”)

By making a habit of saying these things during any interpersonal conflict, I remind myself to look inward for the reasons why I am so upset. Once I do this I can work on addressing my own insecurities that are fueling the problem, without making my partner responsible for them. Being aware of how my own insecurities are contributing, I become calmer, more objective, less defensive, and more open to my partner’s perspective. I can communicate my needs and insecurities to my partner without hostility, opening the door for issues to be dealt with in a productive way. Doing this then builds trust, support, and intimacy.

Paradoxically, when we are less dependent on our partners to make us feel secure, intimacy flourishes and our relationships actually become more secure. By being able to provide ourselves with the validation and support we need, we can simply enjoy our relationship without trying to make it serve our needs. We can accept our partners’ differences and short-comings, because they no longer threaten our sense of security. And so we become better romantic partners. We become the type of person that our significant other wants to be with, wants to love, wants to support, etc.

With that I’ll leave you with the best definition of true love I’ve yet to come across:

“It is a caring enough about the person that you do not wish to interfere with his development, nor to use him for any self-aggrandizing goals of your own. Your satisfaction comes in having set him free to grow in his own fashion.”
– Carl Rogers

* For more on learning how to build security from with-in, check out 4 Steps for Dealing with Insecurities in Relationships

Therapize Yourself! Part 2: Person-Centered Therapy

In the first installment of Therapize Yourself I gave a quick-n-dirty run down of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (or REBT if you’re in a rush). Now I’d like to tell you about a completely different (but equally awesome) theory of psychotherapy: Carl Roger’s Person Centered Therapy.
4143908_f260Carl Rogers’ style of therapy is based on his own philosophy of human nature. The premise of this philosophy being that we as humans have a natural drive to grow and fulfill our potential. He calls this “self-actualizing tendency”.

“Gradually my experience has forced me to conclude that the individual had within himself the capacity and tendency, lateen if not evident, to move forward toward maturity. In a suitable psychological climate this tendency is released, and becomes actual rather than potential.”
– Carl Rogers

From the time we’re born, we feel naturally gratified by behaviors that contribute to our personal and unique development. At some point, as profound philosophical little babies we become aware that we have a “self” that’s separate from other people and things. Simultaneously, we develop a need to have a positive image of that “self”, or as Rogers would say: a positive self-regard.

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At first, following our self-actualizing tendency and listening to our internal guides for behavior satisfies our need for positive self-regard. “I like it. That’s good enough for me!” However, we soon realize that most other people judge our worth conditionally. Some things make mommy and daddy pleased with us, while other things make mommy and daddy displeased with us. How we assess our own worth gradually comes to depend on how others view us (or more accurately, our perception of how others view us).
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Therefore our behaviors start to become more driven towards wanting to please/impress others, and less driven towards our unique personal development. Our behaviors are guided by what we think will earn us positive regard from others, and we begin to need positive feedback from others in order to feel good about ourselves. Thus our own self-regard becomes conditional. When our own self-regard is conditional, our self-actualizing tendency is further impeded. We hold back. We’re less likely to take risks. We’re not as genuine, because we are constantly trying to maintain a positive view of ourselves that’s dependent on pleasing others.

This causes incongruence, or conflicts between our true selves and the way we are living. When we live in accordance to the expectations of others, we are not living authentically. We begin to feel a discrepancy between our ideal selves (the person we could/should/would be) and our real self (the person we are being). This can cause all sorts of psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, etc.
Real-ideal

 What’s the solution?

Carl Rogers rejected the idea of trying to help people by explaining their problems to them (either rationally or through psychoanalytic interpretation), and he rejected the idea of helping people through formal techniques or assignments.

 “I cannot be of help to this troubled person by means of any intellectual or training procedure. The most they accomplish is some temporary change, which soon disappears, leaving the individual more than ever convinced of his inadequacy.”
– Carl Rogers

Instead Rogers believed that the most healing aspect of therapy was the relationship between the therapist and the client. Through the relationship a therapist can create an environment that allows the client to feel safe to be himself or herself, thus helping them live more authentically and progress towards self-actualization. It’s not about imposing your own ideas on the client of how you think they should change, or what you think they should do. Rogers would warn that this will only increase the client’s dependency on meeting the expectations of others, thus further inhibiting them from fulfilling their unique potential. According to Rogers, the client knows what is best for them, they have an innate ability to discern what to do and where to go with life. The therapist’s duty is creating an environment that makes them feel safe to explore that part of themselves.

 So what’s with this environment?

According to Rogers, 3 therapeutic factors contribute to the client’s ability to move towards self-actualization.

1) Unconditional Positive Regard.

While most other people in their lives likely express approval or disapproval of the person based on certain behaviors, a person-centered therapist tries to convey that they accept and approve of the client regardless of their behavior, simply because they are a person and thus innately deserving of being accepted. This doesn’t mean that you have to approve of all the behavior of the client, but rather you do not view the client’s behavior as representing the person as a whole. In other words, as a therapist I can dislike something you do without rejecting you as a person. Feeling secure that you’ll be unconditionally accepted and warmly regarded by another person frees you to be more open and genuine with that person.

The experience of being authentic in a relationship builds the ability to be authentic outside of therapy. By unconditionally accepting the client, the therapist also teaches them how to treat themselves. It helps the client resist making global judgments about themselves as a whole person when they fail or feel ashamed of a specific behavior. i.e. “I messed up in this one particular instance, but that doesn’t make me a bad person or a failure”.

 “By acceptance I mean warm regard for him as a person of unconditional self-worth – of value no matter what his condition, his behavior, or his feelings. This acceptance of each fluctuating aspect of this other person makes it for him a relationship of warmth and safety, and the safety of being liked and prized as a person seems a highly important element in a helping relationship.”
– Carl Rogers

2) Empathy.

When we listen to other people, we tend to focus on making judgments and assessments of what they are saying: “That’s true or untrue”, “I agree with that, or I disagree” instead of focusing on understanding exactly what the other person is communicating. Empathy is about truly understanding where another person is in the present moment, and meeting them there. It’s relatively easy to give someone sympathy or to think about how you would feel in their situation, but it’s more of a challenge to enter into another person’s perspective, feel their feeling with them, not try to change it, but simply keep them company in their subjective experience. This is particularly difficult when what they are feeling is painful. Especially when it’s someone we care about that’s hurting. We want to stop their pain, “fix” their mood, and change their experience. But it is a great gift when someone has the psychological and emotional strength to join you in your experience, and support you in the full experiencing of it. This is empathy, and this is one of the things that a person-centered therapist strives to give their clients.

Below is a beautiful video description of empathy:

3) Congruence

To be congruent, the therapist attempts to be their genuine self with the client and communicate him or herself as authentically as possible. According to Rogers, a relationship can only grow and develop to the extent that you are being real, and because the relationship is the main mechanism for change in client-centered therapy, congruence is very important. This also models for the client how to be authentic in a relationship with another person.
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By accepting themselves, and unconditionally accepting the client, the therapist paves the way for the client to accept himself or herself. It is this self-acceptance that allows change to happen.

“we cannot change, cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”
– Carl Rogers

When we can accept our selves unconditionally, we can live congruently (or authentically). We feel safer to take the risks we want to, we know that making mistakes doesn’t make us less valuable as people, and we no longer feel as afraid of disappointing other people. Therefore we regain the ability to chose our behaviors based on what we feel will help us grow, not what we feel will please others. We are back in tune with our self-actualizing tendency.

 So if it’s all about the relationship, how can I help myself?

Well as a psychologist in training, I’m obviously a big advocate for therapy. However, I do think that it is possible to apply Rogers’ theory to your own life. While it’s much harder to do alone (especially if you are already in a psychologically unhealthy place), I think that you can have a therapeutic relationship with yourself. Ideally, you would be providing yourself with unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence.

How do you just start doing that? Well you don’t. Like anything else worthwhile, it takes hard work, and doesn’t happen over night. If you follow my blog regularly, you’re probably getting tired of me pushing Mindfulness… but seriously, just do it. Of all the techniques I’ve learned, therapies I’ve studied, and self-help books I’ve read, this is the most effective thing I feel I can suggest (from my experience) for training your brain to stop fucking itself over. I also highly recommend reading up more on Carl Rogers’ theories. He was one of the unassuming geniuses, that seemed like he was doing nothing spectacular but was actually breaking ground. Here’s a video of him explaining his ideas about therapy and demonstrating it:

And here’s a link to his book “On Becoming A Person” which I highly recommend.

Happy therapizing!

Tips For Guys From A Girl On OkCupid

The Thing About Dating Online Is…

The quantity of prospective dates online is simultaneously the biggest advantage and disadvantage to online dating. I am much more selective of who I respond to online than I am of who I would talk to in the real world, solely due to the sheer volume. If I go out to a bar maybe one or two guys will approach me to strike up a conversation, which I’ll almost always engage in (unless they attempt some a-hole opener) because I’m a decent human being and open to engaging with other decent human beings.

Online however, I receive multiple messages daily. When I first started I wanted to respond to each person (unless they attempt some a-hole opener) because I’m a decent human being, and it seems decent to respond to another human being that reached out to you. Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that the logistics of this simply did not work out. One the major reasons I have an online dating account is because I don’t have a ton of free time. So it ends up that for practical reasons, I probably respond to about 2% of the guys that contact me. This 2% are the one’s that seem the highest quality/most attractive/most compatible from their profile. Admittedly, that doesn’t mean they ARE the highest quality/most attractive/most compatible, but alas I can only do the best with the information available. The point is that the guys who don’t get responses shouldn’t take it personally, chances are that if they approached me in real life, I’d gladly chat with them and maybe they would even be a better match for me.

So I apologize in advanced if my advice comes off as harsh or dismissive of the guys that have reached out to me. Getting many messages and only having the resources to respond to a select few, forces me into becoming very selective. I don’t necessarily like it, or think it’s a perfect system, but I haven’t figured out a better approach. So in the mean time, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips based on what’s likely to quickly turn me off to a person’s profile.

Disclaimer:

This is purely based on my personal experiences and preferences. It’s very possible that what turns me off about a dating profile might not bother some one else. But I think I’m a pretty typical gal, so there’s a good chance other girls feel the same way I do. So without further ado, if  one of my guy friends asked my advice on making a profile, here’s what I would suggest:

1. Smile in your profile picture

I’ve seen quite a few profiles where the guy looks very sad, angry, or intimidating in the main picture (or sometimes all the pictures).  When I see these I think “Why are they sad? I don’t want to date someone who’s sad. That’ll make me sad. I want to be happy! I want to date someone who is happy!” Your profile picture is your first impression. People are attracted to others who look happy and like they are having fun, because we want to be happy and having fun.

Above all else – as a guy trying online dating, the last thing you want is to look angry or intimidating!!! Just by being on the site you already need to be working against a girl’s anxious suspicion that you might be a total creep. The last thing you need is anything in your profile that is going to confirm that fear!

2. Be the best looking person in your pictures

Especially in your main photo, but ideally in all of your photos. The last thing you want to do is have a girl see your picture, think your buddy next to you is really cute, and then get disappointed when she discovers it’s not his profile. Alternatively if she never saw your cuter buddy, she might still think you’re attractive and never experience a let down.

There’s a social psychology concept called “the contrast effect” which states that how attractive people perceive us to be can be relative to the attractiveness of those around us. In other words, I don’t look so great when standing next to a super model, but put me next to a below average girl and I don’t look so bad. So keep this in mind when choosing your picture.

3. Be clearly visible in your main picture

Again, as a girl online I have an overwhelming amount of options. If I can’t tell what you look like right away, you’re going to need to send me a very intriguing message in order to incentivize me to invest time/energy into looking further into your profile. If I can’t get a good idea of what you look like from any of your pictures, there’s almost no way I’m going to respond. Call it superficial, but again it’s a consequence of the numbers. I can only respond to so many people, and actually meet with even less. Chances are that there is a guy on the site with a comparable profile as yours, but with pictures that actually allow me to see what he looks like. In such a case the devil I know is better than the devil don’t.

Things that can get in the way of me feeling like I know what you look like can be:

  • wearing sunglasses/hats
  • being far away
  • group shots
  • side profiles
  • extreme close-ups

*none of these are bad to include, but if all your photos fall into these categories, I’m moving on. If your main photo falls under this category, your making it harder for yourself.

In the same spirit, have more than one picture. We all know a picture can be deceiving, so the more you include, the more confident I am that I know what you look like. Plus more pictures usually give me a better feeling for your personality.

4. Put some effort into it

If it’s obvious you put little to no effort into your profile, you’re unlikely to get a response. Again, I’m not going to invest time messaging/meeting someone who I know nothing about, especially when there are plenty of other options on the site. Being on a dating site but putting little effort into it seems to reflect an attitude of indifference that I’m not really attracted to. As best as possible, your profile should be a reflection of yourself. So think about how it reflects on you, and what it says about the time/energy you would invest in a relationship if you put no effort into your profile. Would you go about putting together a job resume the same way?

Also I have a theory that a lack of effort in a dating profile is an act of defensiveness. It hurts less to be rejected when you didn’t try that hard, than it does to be rejected when you really put yourself out there. Obviously the cost is that you’re less likely to find high quality dates. Personally, I’m not interested in someone that needs to be so protective of their ego. But most girls probably don’t analyze this so deeply  🙂

5. Talk about what you offer, not just what you want

I’ve come across several profiles where guys include lists of what they’re not interested in from girls. Even if nothing you list applies to me, this just seems very critical and confrontational. I (and I assume other girls) am attracted to warm and open people. It also seems a bit cocky to be on a dating site and announce all the types of girls that should keep away from you.

* I realize this post could look like just what I’m describing above, but this list is not on my profile – and the intention is really just to help out some guys that might be unknowingly turning girls away from their profiles by some of these simple faux-pas.

There are also a lot of guys that list what they are looking for in a woman. There’s nothing wrong with this, but don’t forget to include all the things about yourself that would make that type of woman attracted to you.

6. Be confident, but don’t be cocky.

If under “Things I’m Good At” you’ve put “being awesome” I’m going to think you’re not that awesome, or else you would have been able to think of something more specific/creative to put there.

Rather than bragging about positive qualities (i.e. “I’m always making people laugh” “I accomplish whatever I set my mind to” “I’m an extremely passionate person”), include things about yourself that demonstrate these qualities. Don’t tell me you’ll make me laugh, make me laugh. Don’t tell me you can accomplish anything, tell me what you’ve accomplished. Don’t tell me you’re a passionate person, show me how that passion materializes in your life. A truly confident man doesn’t have to convince others of his positive qualities, he just goes about being himself and allows those qualities to come across.

7. Limit the selfies

I understand that guys don’t take typically take pictures as often as girls do, so it can be hard to track down flattering pictures. But if every one of your pictures are selfies, I’m asking myself “why are there no other people in your life?” Plus having a bunch of pictures of yourself taking a picture of yourself can come across as a bit self-absorbed.

8. Open with more than just “Hi”

If all you say in your first message is “Hey, whats up”, I probably won’t investigate further. I get that it’s not always easy to think of what to say to someone, and I’m not asking for some super creative and clever opening, but again consider the numbers. The bottom-line is, if you want a response, you have to stand out, and “Hey, whats up” isn’t going to cut it. Also, “you’re beautiful” and variations of that are nice to hear, but they’re not enough. Pretty much every other message says something along the same lines, so it’s not setting you apart or giving me sense of who you are as a person.

A good start is to let a girl know what about her profile in particular stood out to you, besides the pictures. That way she gets the feeling you actually took enough interest to read through her profile. Look for something in her profile that interests you or that you can relate to. Ask a question to learn more, and let her know how you can relate.

9. Don’t get snippy

I actually don’t mind a repeat message if I didn’t respond to your first one. Often I might get a message from a guy that interests me but I don’t have time to respond right away. So I’ll save the message with plans to respond later, but next time I sign on I have more messages to go through, and get side-tracked, and so on. So sometimes a follow up is a good reminder to me, but what you definitely don’t want to do is get snippy or defensive with me. For example something along these lines has happened several times:

I get a message from a guy that looks like he might have some potential, and save the message to respond to later. I guess the guy sees that I checked his profile and didn’t respond immediately and is insulted. He messages me again saying something aggressive like “Seriously? Not even a response?” or “guess you’re not interested in meeting one of the few genuinely nice guys out there” or “your loss”

Little do they know I actually might have responded until their follow up, which left me thinking “good thing I didn’t respond, that saved me some time”. I’m not sure what these guys are trying to accomplish with such messages, because all it does it make them come across as highly sensitive, defensive, aggressive, not to mention desperate.

10. Lose the ladies

Avoid pictures of you with a bunch of girls. You don’t look like a ladies man, you look like a player. Pictures of you with one other girl look like pictures with an ex girlfriend. I personally (and I know I’m not the only one) don’t want to see pictures of a potential date with their ex. If you use a picture with a girl other than your ex, at least specify in the caption that it’s your sister/cousin/friend/friend’s girlfriend etc.

I do hope this doesn’t come off as too cocky or judgmental on my part. Like I said, every girl might not feel the same way about these things, but on the chance I fall in line with the average girl – I hope this might be helpful for some fellas. I’d be curious to hear other opinions, or any tips for girls from guys! Happy hunting!

The Key to Success: Self-Awareness

Psychology nerd that I am, I’m constantly wondering what makes the difference between those that thrive and those that struggle psychologically. Even more important is the question of how to help those who struggle to build psychological strength. Many years of pondering over this, drawing from personal experiences, college/graduate courses, dozens of books and articles… I’ve come to this belief:

Self-Awareness is the single most important and advantageous tool you can have to find success in any area of life.

It seems to me that developing any other skill or quality must begin with some level of self-awareness; making self-awareness the necessary foundation upon which all other psychological growth can be built. As far as I can think, self-awareness is key in improving any area of life that you might be struggling with. Lets first consider a few of these areas so I can really sell you on the importance of self-awareness, and then we’ll talk about how you can develop it.

Mood

If you’re having problems with depression, anger, anxiety, etc. self-awareness is the first step towards improvement. Ideally, you want to be able to regulate your mood in a way that allows you to go about life as harmoniously as possible. This doesn’t mean that you never feel sad, frustrated, or angry. It means that you:

1. Recognize your emotions

2. Process them

3. Manage them without being overcome by them 

h65A4F673Self-awareness is first needed to recognize what specific feeling you are experiencing, and what triggered that feeling. Simply being able to put a label on an emotion can greatly decrease that emotion’s power over us. In fact brain imaging research has shown that labeling emotions decreases activity in our amygdala (the part of our brain that sends us into fight or flight) and increases activity in our prefrontal cortex (the more advanced and rational part of our brain), making us less emotionally reactive (Lieberman et al. 2007). Identifying an emotion also helps us recognize what may have triggered it. Understanding why we are feeling a certain way helps us feel more in control, and keeps things in perspective. There’s a big difference between “I’m sad” and “I’m sad because the holidays make me miss my mother”. In the second statement, the problem is defined, and defining the problem is the first step to solving it.

Self-awareness then goes hand-in-hand with processing and managing emotions. The very act of processing emotions means being in touch with how we are experiencing our feelings in the present moment, rather than being unconsciously swept away by them. It’s the difference between noticing that you feel extremely angry, noting the thoughts and sensations of anger (racing heart, rising body temp, tense muscles, thoughts of violence), and making a choice to self-soothe, vs. going into a senseless rage before you even realize you’re angry and only being able to reflect after you’ve already reacted.

38805176In order to self-soothe you need to be aware of what positively effects your mood. Maybe you realize that you always tend to be in a better mood after you exercise, or talk to a certain friend, or practice a favorite hobby. With self-awareness you can make a mental map of negative psychological triggers to avoid, and positive coping skills to utilize.

Focus/Motivation

Self-awareness is also the first step in improving your motivation, because the enemy of motivation is distraction. Between advertisements, emails, facebook, text messages, twitter, Netflix, etc., etc., etc., we are constantly bombarded with distractions to the point where it’s often difficult to realize we’ve become distracted.We sit down to do some work – next thing we know we’re on youtube looking at videos of cats and 2 hours have disappeared.

UnknownOne important facet of self-awareness is being able to recognize when our mind has wandered, where it has wondered to, and how to redirect it. Being able to direct your focus increases your motivation because your mind remains centered on the task at hand, and your ultimate goal. Mastering this ability will allow you to increase your productivity and utilize your time in a conscious purposeful way, giving you an advantage over the majority of your attention-divided peers.

Career

So many people agonize over finding the perfect job that will leave them excited to wake up every morning and go to work. Well the first step to finding work you love is knowing what you love, and that’s easier said than done. The next steps are knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are, knowing what motivates you, and knowing the type of working conditions that you thrive in. Obviously, this all requires self-awareness.
Here’s a pretty good TEDx Talk discussing the importance of being a “self-expert” in order to find and do work you love:

Some people work best with ironing out details while others work best with big picture ideas. Some work best under pressure, while others do their best work in a relaxed environment. Knowing yourself and being able to listen to your own internal cues is necessary for finding work that you’ll love, as well as doing the best work possible.

Relationships

You cannot fully love someone until you fully know them, and you cannot fully know someone else until you fully know yourself. Without self-awareness we are quick to blame others for our own negative experiences. We don’t take the time to understand the other person’s subjective experience, because we’re too busy reacting to our own. At the same time, without self-awareness we avoid taking responsibility for our own contributions to relational problems.

Take for example, a woman who constantly nags her significant other for not spending enough time with her, calling him neglectful and cold. She doesn’t consider that her constant nagging has a profound effect on her significant other’s behavior, making him feel inadequate and driving him away. Self-awareness could help her understand that she nags because she feels insecure, which is then exacerbated when her significant other distances himself, creating a cycle. Self-awareness could also help her recognize ways that she can self-soothe when feeling insecure, turning her back into a person her significant other looks forward to spending time with.
demotivational-posters-nagging
There are many more ways that self-awareness plays an important role in relationships. I’ve already touched upon self-awareness in this post on communication and defensiveness. I plan on writing a separate post soon, diving even deeper into self-awareness and relationships, so stay tuned!

Ok I Get It, Self-Awareness Is Good! Now What?!

Once I started to think about how big a role self-awareness played in happiness and success, my next quest was to figure out how it can be developed. Is self-awareness just an innate trait that people are either born with a high or low capacity for? Or is there some way people can learn to become more self-aware, and if so how can I help them? My search lead me to look into Mindfulness Meditation. Click the link to read on!

Mindfulness Meditation

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 4.47.23 PMIn my post about self-awareness, I talked about how I’ve come to the conclusion that self-awareness is one of the most important traits you can have, and left off with the question of: How can you build this trait?

Well, around the same time that I was looking for the answer to this question, I started to hear the term “mindfulness” pop up in a few different places. It caught my attention. I thought, “What the hell is this mindfulness?”

I didn’t begin to look into it seriously until I started hearing about “mindfulness meditation” in my clinical psychology classes as a scientifically validated intervention. I was particularly intrigued because it was being cited as helpful for some of the most difficult to treat conditions, such as addictions and borderline personality disorder. When I started to do my own research into mindfulness meditation I was surprised/impressed by all the scientifically validated benefits. For example, I found research showing that mindfulness meditation can

  • Help you stop ruminating on disturbing thoughts
  • Increase your ability to focus
  • Improve working memory
  • Help you regulate emotions
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase positive emotions
  • Decrease negative emotions including depression and anxiety
  • Make you less emotionally reactive
  • Increase relationship satisfaction
    … and that’s just to name a few!

If you read my post on self-awareness, you might notice a lot of overlap – It seemed I had my answer.

Now, if you’re anything like me you’ve maybe been intrigued by the idea of meditation before but never really thought you were the “meditating” type. I’m not particularly spiritual, I don’t eat tofu, or do a perfect downward facing dog. It’s hard for me to find the time to sit and read through my emails, never mind make time to just sit and…. well, do nothing. Plus I always kind of felt like people who meditated just liked to boast about it because it made them seem so deep and profound.

46332924But with all the research I found, and my new mission to cultivate self-awareness, I figured this mindfulness stuff was worth a try. So I took the obvious next step, and searched “mindfulness meditations” on youtube. Turns out that while mindfulness meditation started as an ancient Buddhist practice, it doesn’t necessarily have to be incorporated with any specific spirituality, and it’s actually pretty approachable – even for a “non-meditator” like me! I was very quickly impressed and surprised by the positive effect I was noticing in my own life, even from just casually trying out this meditation stuff.

So What Is It?

Mindfulness: “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgement” (Davis & Hayes, 2012).

Mindfulness Meditation: “those self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calmness, clarity, and concentration” (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).

In other words mindfulness meditation is a systematic way of strengthening your ability to focus your attention in general, but also on the present moment in particular. The mind of the average person is typically occupied by ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, and thus misses the opportunity to fully experience the present, which – after all – is the only moment we’re ever living in! The objective of mindfulness is to be able to zero-in on your experience of the “now”. At the same time, mindfulness helps you become tolerant of your thoughts and less reactive to them.

Here’s a nice little intro to mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn, who’s kind of “the man” when it comes mindfulness:

Harnessing this skill will enable you to be more conscious and proactive rather than reactive in your day to day life. Most of us go along our lives reacting to our mental interpretation of each experience, which is riddled with biases, defenses, and assumptions. Hence we miscommunicate with others, we misinterpret situations, we fall into negative thinking, and we make the same mistakes over and over again. With mindfulness we can catch ourselves falling into these mental traps, because we see them coming up. We can slow down, observe, and evaluate our mental processes.

So How Do You Do It?

Well it’s easier to start practicing than you might think. A good way to start is to find a quiet place, close your eyes, and try to focus your attention on your breath. The reason for this is that being conscious of the present moment is easier said than done, so it helps to start by focusing on something simple with as few distractions as possible. You don’t have to try any fancy deep breathing or anything. Just close your eyes and breathe naturally. Notice how the air feels filling your lungs, and then escaping from your nostrils.

You’ll notice quickly that your mind wanders and soon your thoughts are miles away from the breath. This doesn’t mean you’re terrible at meditating – so don’t judge yourself when this happens. In fact this is a good thing! Simply take note of where your mind has wandered off to and return your attention to your breath. It’s this process – noticing when we become distracted, and refocusing our attention – that actually builds our self-awareness. Science has actually shown that this practice increases our brain’s ability to grow new neural connections. That’s right – it grows yo damn brain! So each time you notice yourself getting distracted, think of it as a mental “rep”, like one you would do with a free-weight to build your biceps.

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Gradually, as you get better at noticing your mind wander and redirecting your thoughts you will develop a greater capacity to master your internal world. You will be able to notice your full spectrum of thoughts and emotions, from your hopes and joys to fears and sorrow, and experience them without allowing yourself to be swept away by them.

This is often described as sitting on the bank of the river of consciousness, being able to observe the natural flow of your thoughts and mental processes without being caught in the middle of the river, and carried down stream without any control. You’ll be able to appreciate your thoughts and emotions as just that – just thoughts. Just events of the mind that come and go, and don’t necessarily have any truth, or need to have any concrete consequences in the real physical world. You’ll begin to realize that your thoughts do not control you, you control your thoughts.

From my personal experience, this is a very profound – and even life changing realization. That’s why I want to encourage anyone to give mindfulness meditation a try. Maybe you won’t have the same experience as myself, but with all the research backing it up – It’s worth a shot, right?!

30 Things to Remember When You’re Feeling Down

This a more personal post than I usually write, but something was telling me to share. I find it’s generally best to listen to your gut in such situations, even if your brain hasn’t figured out why yet. Who knows, maybe the universe is telling me someone else might need to see this.

Like everyone else, sometimes I feel down. As I get older, I think I’m getting better at putting these low moments into a healthy perspective, but some times are more difficult than others. I recently decided to write in my journal about all the things that are helpful to me when I’m feeling down, so that I could later refer to it, and maybe it would help me snap out of future ruts. Below is this journal entry:

  1. Remember to be tough. Stand up to life. You’re stronger than whatever is facing you.
  2. Remember the positives. Focus on your strengths, your blessings, your happy memories, and the things you have to look forward to.
  3. Remember to have a perspective of gratitude. Whenever you get upset about wanting more out of life, remember everything you already have to be thankful for. Focus on enjoying and appreciating what you do have, instead of focusing on how it could be better.
  4. Remember to meditate.
  5. Remember that only you can make yourself happy or sad/secure or insecure. Remember that when you are upset, it is only because you are choosing to focus and indulge in negative thoughts and get carried away by them.
  6. Remember to distract yourself until you are feeling more emotionally/mentally equipped.
  7. Remember that the people in your life can only be who they are. Don’t get caught up in wishing or hoping they would be someone or something other than who they are. They can only do the best with what they’ve got.
  8. Remember to exercise.
  9. Remember that most of the time you are pretty happy, but sometimes you’re just going to be sad – and that’s life. As humans, our moods will fluctuate regardless of our external circumstance.
  10. Remember that your mood has always fluctuated throughout various circumstances in life, and it will continue to do so no matter how your circumstance change. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
  11. Remember that allowing yourself to believe external factors are responsible for your mood/happiness only jeopardizes your external situation i.e. corrupting a relationship because you keep blaming the other person for how you feel or asking for more from the other person so you feel more secure, or convincing yourself your job is awful and keeping you from feeling happy.
  12. Remember to journal.
  13. Remember to get outside. Get fresh air. Get sunshine. And if at all possible, jump in the ocean.
  14. Remember to make yourself laugh. Watch a funny movie, or listen to stand up comedy.
  15. Remember to call a friend. Feeling low can make you want to isolate yourself… fight this urge. Put yourself around others, even if it’s sitting and reading in a crowded Starbucks.
  16. Remember to constantly ask yourself if you’re looking for a sense of security from someone or something else, and avoid doing this at all costs. The only sustainable sense of security comes from within, and the more you allow yourself to depend on outside sources of security (validation from others, financial prosperity, etc.) the more insecure you will feel in the long run.
  17. Remember that you’re lucky to have some amazing people in your life, but you also do just fine on your own.
  18. Remember to listen to music. Especially the kind that makes you want to dance.
  19. Remember to try something new that will help you grow.
  20. Remember that there’s no way to know how the future will turn out, but chances are you’re going to be just fine.
  21. Remember to continually invest in yourself above and before anyone else. Remember how doing this tends to attract positive things, and that doing this is the only way that you can offer the best version of yourself to those you love.
  22. Remember all the happiness you’ve been able to experience despite hard times in the past.
  23. Remember that those who make it through the hardest circumstances are the ones who can assign an important meaning/purpose to their struggle.
  24. Remember to put on an outfit you love. Even if it sounds superficial, remember that when you look good, you feel good, and when you look like a slob, you tend to feel like a slob.
  25. Remember that if you’re a generally happy person, you’ll probably continue to be generally happy even if things don’t work out the way you hoped.
  26. Remember to pray.
  27. Remember there’s a lot of people who think you’re hot shit.
  28. Remember you are hot shit.
  29. Remember that every struggle = growth. Every struggle is shaping you into the person you’re meant to be, bringing you closer to reaching your fullest potential. Remember to find the lesson, and look for the growth within yourself. Remember some of the darkest parts can be what will make the tapestry most beautiful when it’s complete.
  30. Remember that this too shall pass.

What helps you through the tough times???