Your company has a mission statement. Why not you? It’s not about goals, outcomes, or profits. It’s about who you want to be and how you want to act in every moment of your life. In essence, a personal mission statement is about your values. They are your inner compass. When things get hard, we tend to lose sight of what’s important. Our actions can be driven by our immediate reactions (e.g., irritability) or old habits (e.g., procrastinating). Values serve as a guide to help us know what to do and how to be.
Lately it seems every time I turn around there’s a new article or YouTube video about how to become happier. It’s widely reported that “happiness classes” are the most popular courses on many college campuses, with enrollments topping 1,000 students per class at some universities. As a culture we’re obsessed with the idea of finding something that makes us happy and keeps us that way. Americans rate “happy” and “joyous” emotions as having a higher value than “calm” and “peaceful.” And because we value them we’re always chasing them and trying very hard to keep them around.
Why is it so hard for us as parents to watch our children fail? It’s antithetical to the whole parenting enterprise, isn’t it? We work hard for years to ensure that our children have the tools to succeed. It’s heartbreaking for us when they experience hurt, fear, and sadness. We want to rush in and pick them up and set them back on their feet. But here is the crux of the matter: We need to step back and allow ourselves to be vulnerable too – to fail at protecting our children from their feelings.
Emotions like anxiety, sadness, and rage are powerful neural states that can be extremely challenging to experience. And without the right skills, we can respond to them by acting in ways that bring negative consequences. Wouldn't it seem that the logical answer is to suppress these dangerous feelings?As it turns out, one of the best ways to respond to emotions is to approach them with mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion rather than through avoidance or over-control.
Our minds are constantly appraising the world around us. Appraisals are adaptive: our ancestors needed the ability to identify, interpret, and problem-solve the events in their lives in order to survive. In contemporary life, this skill is no longer just about survival. It influences everything we do—planning for the future, negotiating relationships, finding love, and so on. But sometimes, this amazing skill can also get us into trouble.
“There’s nothing you can do. You’re just going to have to accept it." Has anyone ever said this to you? Or something similar? If you’re like me, it probably wasn’t very helpful, even if it was true. You probably felt shut down or dismissed, even if the person who said it was trying to help. There are two reasons a statement like this doesn’t help. First, most of us don’t have a clue about how to accept something. There’s no instruction book. Second, the word “acceptance” can imply giving in, giving up, or resigning yourself to lousy circumstances—and who wants that?
If you’ve considered video therapy, you may have asked yourself, “Could this actually work?” The good news is that numerous research studies have shown that video therapy is a feasible option. It’s been used with a variety of clients, from children, to adults, to couples. According to research, it produces clinical outcomes similar to traditional in-person therapy and is generally associated with good client satisfaction.
Research has shown that the compassion and kindness we experience have a huge impact on how our brains mature, our physical health, and on our general well-being. Shame and social anxiety are also affected by our experience of compassion. It turns out that when we use imagery and meditation to train our brains in self-compassion, we’re able to overcome the tyranny of social fears, and we’re better able to approach life with courage, curiosity, and a capacity for joy.
Unlike most other organisms, our brains cannot tell the difference between an actual threat and a symbolic one. What this means is that our brain confuses actual threats with thinking about threats. Indeed, we tend to respond to fearful thoughts as though they are real. Nowhere is this tendency to experience and react to thoughts as if they were real more apparent than in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And nowhere is it more evident how this tendency can trap us. For many, it not only traps us, it takes away all of our sense of wonder and possibility in the world.
If only there was a way to figure out who was likely to use the most up-to-date scientific methods, while still thoughtfully considering the circumstances of the individual needing help. That is exactly what evidence-based practice is.
I was recently at a conference on the science of psychology and mental health treatment. I was struck by the number of women in attendance compared to the number of men. Women outnumbered the men three to one. But the women were largely sitting in the audience—while the men were standing at the podium, lecturing. This experience led me to, once again, ponder questions about gender and equality in mental health and psychology. It also led me to question how we define mental health given the lower level of participation by women than men in creating that definition.
Upward social comparison is sometimes really useful. It can give us information about what we want to be doing more of and serve as a motivator, like when you notice that your friend Joe is great at getting to the gym more frequently than you, and you try to be more like him. As we’ve all experienced, however, there can be a downside to upward social comparison.
Imagine your child is throwing an epic tantrum in the grocery store. You’re in line at the checkout counter, and he or she is demanding candy. The person ahead of you is taking forever, and people are beginning to stare. See if you can make this scenario real in your mind. Are you thinking, “How do I make this stop?” Are you wondering what other people are thinking? I want to share a simple practice for dealing with situations like this one that make parenting enormously stressful.
Acceptance is an evocative word. It can imply resignation, giving up, or giving in to terrible circumstances. The practice of saying yes is not that kind of acceptance. It’s being willing to have what’s already there, whether inside of you or in the outside world.
According to the American Psychological Association, 40-50 percent of marriages today end in divorce. The reasons for these dismal statistics are varied, but the good news is that with commitment and work, couples can beat the odds. One of the most highly respected, extensively researched approaches to couples counseling is the Gottman Method. Through decades of research, the Gottmans discovered that there are certain factors, or key predictors, that contribute to the success or failure of a relationship.
Today’s kids can be overscheduled, underslept, and overstressed. Yes, kids get stressed out just like adults when they’ve got too much on their plates. Not surprisingly, my daughter showed obvious warning signs, which I minimized for a while. She would cry when she was hungry and couldn’t find time to eat; she became irritable when bedtime was pushed out because she was trying to get everything done; and she rebelled and simply refused when she was feeling too overscheduled.
If only I got that promotion. If only I got into business school. If only my house were bigger. If only he loved me. Have you ever found yourself thinking this way? I call it the “if-only” mindset. It’s normal to have these thoughts, but believing deeply that something needs to happen before we can enjoy our lives can create tension and despair, and prevent us from truly being with what’s going on in the present.
Are we getting self-care wrong? Lately, I’ve started to wonder if self-care itself needs self-care. A few years ago, I was telling a friend about a work situation. My supervisor informed me that everyone in the office needed to try harder. He complained that my colleagues and I were doing C-level work. I felt a mix of anxiety and annoyance since I knew how hard we were all working. And now my to-do list just got longer: I had to add the task of upgrading my performance from his idea of a C to an A+.
It turns out being mindful is hard. The moment I find myself just noticing what’s happening in the present is exactly when I’m whisked away into mental reverie...If I were to make a pie chart of the time I spend focusing on the present versus swimming in my thoughts, the “present” slice would be comically slim, probably somewhere in the 5-10% range. That’s what I mean when I say I can’t do it either.
I am not a perfect mother. I am not Supermom. I cannot do everything right for my daughter. I can’t always be the best spouse to my husband. And I cannot be the perfect career woman. Simply put, I've abandoned the myth of the Supermom, and I feel so much better. You can too.
Does your work day ever go by in a blur and later you barely remember what happened? Are you ever physically at dinner but mentally still at work? Maybe you’re impatient to check email or thinking of all you've got do tomorrow to “catch up.”
In blackjack, when you have 16 and the dealer is showing 10, you have a tough choice. You can either “hit” or “stand,” but regardless of what you choose, you’re more likely to lose than win. In a situation like this, it’s helpful to have a decision-making framework based on the science of probability. When you think in terms of probability, the decision to hit or stand is less likely to be influenced by how you’re feeling.
In Silicon Valley, the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. Many tech professionals are accustomed to achieving at high levels and being recognized for it. But every success creates an expectation of further success. That’s when fear of failure can show up. Sometimes it’s a good motivator, but it can also lead to a vicious cycle of feeling insecure, being angry about that insecurity, and then becoming depressed at “failing” to overcome it. But what if fear of failure is not something to overcome?
Everyone has an inner voice that talks to them - the part of their mind that constantly judges them and tells us what to do. This inner voice can be your best friend our worst enemy. It can encourage you to take risks and innovate as your biggest fan, or it can be out of control as your worst critic, berating you every time you make a mistake, sapping your motivation to get up and try again.
When is the last time you hiked through a mountain meadow filled with wildflowers and said, “Oh, what a mess!” Wildflowers are beautiful precisely because they are imperfect, irregular, and unexpected. Just as we accept what we see in nature, we can also practice accepting things as they are – without trying to make them perfect – in other parts of our lives. We can make room for imperfections and make the choice that things are “good enough” for the moment.
Engineers and other high tech employees know that working for a start-up means long hours and lost sleep. It’s unfortunate that sleep continues to get a bad rap as wasted time, even though good sleep is known to yield better work performance. But when high achievers do decide to attain sleep, oftentimes, their perfectionist tendencies sabotage their rest. That’s because sleep doesn’t function like other items that we can check off of our to-do lists.
A few minutes ago, I realized I was stressing about writing about stress - which has at least a hint of irony to it. Here’s a bit of the story to get us started in our conversation about stress covering how to relate to stress and how to manage it to our advantage.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question often asked of children. Ask a Silicon Valley Millennial, and you might find them fumbling for an answer. A better question might be “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” In a place where 25-year-olds are becoming CEOs and friends are making millions, it’s easy for someone not on that rocket ship ride to success to feel pain, anxiety, and doubt.
Teddy Roosevelt once said “comparison is the thief of joy.” This is a particularly relevant issue around the holidays, as people are often comparing themselves to others on social media. Popular culture is filled with people who look “happy” and “blissful.” When comparing our life to the lives of others or to what we thought our lives would be, how can we experience joy?
Everyone wants to shine at their job and be their best, most affable self. The reality is we’re confronted with stressors, large and small—sometimes before we even leave the house in the morning. Some of us are more resilient than others. And some have learned effective coping techniques. But who wouldn’t welcome more well-being and less stress?