Category Archives: Attitude

Saying “Yes.”
“No, I don’t feel like it. I’d rather stay home.”

"Yes!" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Yes!” by Mimi Stuart ©

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the comfort of your favorite routines. Yet when you get into the habit of always saying “no” when others suggest doing something different, you may be narrowing your life and your experiences to the detriment of your vitality and relationship potential.

For example, when you consider inviting friends over for dinner, and decide, “No, I’m not a great cook,” or “No, our house is a mess,” or “No, we hardly know them,” you are letting your anxiety about uncertainty get the better of you. When asked to go ice skating or try a dance class, and you say “No, that’s not my thing, I’m very uncoordinated,” you are letting your fear of discomfort or embarrassment get in the way of an interesting experience, an adventure, or at least a funny story.

Ironically, one of the greatest things about uncertainty is the very thing people don’t like about it: the anxiety it causes. When you feel anxiety because you are doing something new or different, you become more alert and perceptive. Your senses come alive and your mind sharpens. A moderate dose of anxiety is healthy. Moreover, as you make it a habit to face your anxiety, you start to experience it differently; it transforms into the excitement of being alive. You gain confidence in your readiness to respond in the moment even when you don’t know exactly what will happen. So learn to embrace your anxiety!

Another benefit to participating in novel activities with others is that it magnifies the positive emotions you feel for one another. No matter how long you’ve known someone, new experiences enhance your relationship. Therefore, embracing opportunities and the anxiety that go with them helps you both individually and together.

Of course, you shouldn’t say “yes” to everything. You will know which activities are clearly not going to enhance your life in any way. Also, you need to balance the vitality and growth of facing the unknown with the ease and contentment of enjoying the known. When you choose routine, you can relax and be comfortable, which is an important part of life, just as you need sleep each night to restore your mind and body. Yet too much comfort can lead to lethargy, apathy, and boredom. To see how either extreme can be hazardous to your mental, emotional, and physical health, I recommend seeing the entertaining comedy “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey.

So the next time a friend says “Lets go Spelunking,” say “yes,” and just do it!

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Good Mood / Bad Mood:
“I have no control over what mood I’ll be in.”

"Dance Party" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Dance Party” by Mimi Stuart ©

It is not surprising that people who expect things to turn out well report themselves happier and under less psychological stress than people who expect the worst. When people are in a good mood, they experience better mental agility, comprehension, and creativity. They view other people and events more optimistically. They also become more helpful to others.

Two things influence your mood at any given time: you and the people around you.

You

Everybody has an in-born tendency toward optimism or pessimism. Whatever your innate temperament, you can teach yourself to shift your attitude into a happier range. Physical exercise, friendships, volunteer work, gratitude, sleep, consuming healthy foods, and following your passions are all great mood enhancers.

Additionally, expanding your emotional vocabulary allows you to actually experience more variations in your mood. Someone who lives in the snow doesn’t use one term for snow, but benefits from knowing the distinctions between slush, hoarfrost, sleet, powder, etc. Eskimos are said to have at least 50 words for snow, while the Sami languages have upward of 180 words for snow and ice.

Similarly, grasping a whole range of subtle distinctions between emotions adds richness to your emotional life. Understanding the source and nuances of emotions makes them much less alarming and easier to handle. A greater vocabulary to describe your feelings also gives you more choice as to how you experience them, which makes them more manageable.

For example, you will feel less angst if you reframe “panic over potential failure” into “nervous excitement over a new challenge.” Likewise if you decide that you are “sad for your loss but need to move on” rather than “crushed,” you can transform anguish into determination.

The People Around You

It seems that we only have control over our own mood and not very much influence over the mood of those around us. So does it matter if people around us are in a bad mood?

Yes. An experiment showed that among 70 work teams in different industries, the people on each team ended up sharing their good moods or bad moods within two hours of being together.

You can always try to influence the people around you to improve their state of mind, but only if they are open to it. When it becomes apparent that it is a futile effort, you should beware of having your own feelings of wellbeing compromised. Minimizing time with people who leave you dejected, drained, frustrated, or angry in favor of people with passion, vitality, and enthusiasm makes life more gratifying and fulfilling.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen


“I feel frustrated and under stress a lot.”

"Tranquility" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Physical health and balance

First make sure that your lifestyle is healthy. Lack of sleep, too much sugar, alcohol, drugs or medications, lack of exercise, as well as physical disorders can cause stress hormones to get out of control. Revitalizing your physical health strengthens your ability to handle stressful situations.

Expectations, thoughts, and worries

Much of our stress and anxiety results from dwelling too much on our expectations—negative and positive. We live in fear of our negative expectations coming true.

“He’s going to be angry.”

“I won’t be able to pay the rent.”

“I’m never good enough.”

We feel let down when our positive expectations are not met.

“If I were thinner, he would love me.”

“If I had gotten the promotion, I would be happy.”

Our thoughts cause much of our physical and emotional stress. Imagine seeing your new boyfriend with another woman. The bitter disappointment felt in your body reflects your thoughts—that he’s cheating on you or that he’s no longer interested in you and too selfish to be honest with you.

Later he calls to invite you over to meet his sister who’s in town visiting. Suddenly all the stress vanishes and you feel relief and joy, simply because your thoughts have changed. Or perhaps he really was cheating, but many months or years later, your life takes a wonderful turn and you realize how fortunate you were to leave that relationship.

Refocus your thoughts

If you could learn to think differently, much of your stress and unhappiness would vanish. If you could live your life without wishing things were not as they are and without fearing the worst, you would be more fully present to the moment and not overcome with fears about the future.

Letting go of your expectations does not mean that you shouldn’t have personal goals, that you shouldn’t have boundaries and consequences for bad behavior in your relationships, or that you shouldn’t be prepared for potential risks in the future. It means that you should stop trying to control aspects of your life that you cannot control.

Make room for the unexpected

When you actively expect the unexpected, you can more easily handle whatever comes your way with equanimity. If you are over-scheduled, then whenever something unexpected occurs, you will experience frustration. If you have no space in your life for the unexpected, then when someone calls, drops by, needs you, or when you forget something, it will cause unnecessary agitation.

Avoiding over-scheduling your life will give you room to accept the inevitable unforeseen challenges, opportunities, and adventures that life offers us. It also allows you time to relax, enjoy, be creative, and engage with other people without feeling rushed.

Accept reality

Try and enjoy or at least be accepting of whatever happens. If there’s a traffic jam on the freeway on your way to the airport, you’ll either make the plane or you won’t. You might as well make the most of the time you have in your car rather than panic.
Some of the worst disasters turn out to make the best stories. Some of the most unwanted outcomes lead to great adventures and opportunities. The more quickly you can accept the inevitable, the less time you lose fighting reality.

When you become willing to accept reality, you can base your decisions on what is rather than on what you wish were true or what you dread might be the case.

Embrace some stress

It turns out that having a moderate amount of stress as well as some control over your life is healthier and results in more happiness than having no stress or no control in your life. Thus, the goal should not be to eliminate stress but to focus primarily on things you can do something about. Taking control requires taking positive steps to deal with challenges. So, do not ignore problems, suppress stress, or allow yourself to be consumed by stress.

Taking control includes prioritizing your life and changing your situation. Equally important is relieving your stress in healthy ways such as exercising, finding a way to laugh, and relaxing with friends or family. In situations where there is no course of action to take, try slow deep breathing and consciously change your attitude and perspective about the situation.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

What to do when people gossip about you.

"Approach - Rory McIlroy" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Approach – Rory McIlroy” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I know people who seem nice but gossip about me behind my back. They are such hypocrites, it’s depressing. Being confrontational hasn’t worked.”

Rise above the fray. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the petty gossip that many people participate in, whether they are gossiping about you or others.

People often gossip out of boredom or envy. Thus, Oscar Wilde said, The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

This is one of the situations in life where you must create a mental barrier around your feelings. If you become confrontational, fearful, or humiliated by gossip, you increase your vulnerability and give those who gossip power over you. Ignore them and you take away their power. Don’t be hostile, but don’t allow yourself to dwell on what they are saying.

Focus on more positive, interesting people and activities. There are many people in this world who have adequate self-worth and are too busy living their lives to have any time or desire for malicious gossip. Keep your eye out for these people and find activities that you are passionate about.

If you have to engage with people who are prone to gossip, maintain a casual, even somewhat friendly but unconcerned attitude. Convey a lack of interest in what they are saying by simply ignoring them, but avoid acting superior. Thus, you will maintain your dignity and inner strength without giving up your power or provoking more hostility.

Above all, the best way to stay above the banality of scandal-mongering is to maintain a sense of humor, as expressed by Vanna Bonta’s attitude:

Gossip can be entertaining: occasionally, I’ve heard the most fascinating things about myself I never knew.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Feeling Shame:
“I’m not worthy to be loved.”

"Rocky Mountain Nobility" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Rocky Mountain Nobility” by Mimi Stuart ©

Deeply-held feelings of inadequacy can cause a person to live with a feeling of shame. Ideally in childhood, we have a parent who expresses both love and reasonable, constructive criticism. However, many people experience excessive neglect, contempt, or harsh criticism from their closest adult relation. The message they may take from such negativity is that they are deeply flawed and unworthy of love.

People who live with a feeling of shame experience great suffering and self-consciousness. They want nothing more than to excise the feeling of inadequacy from their psyche.

While it is important that they moderate their harsh self-criticism with objectivity so they can feel better about themselves, they should also appreciate a couple of skills they have acquired through their challenging upbringing. There are two diamonds in the rough underlying shame that they should hold on to, while eliminating self-condemnation: 1. their ability to self-assess, and 2. their desire to improve themselves.

1. The ability to self-assess

People can experience shame only if they are able to observe themselves and sense their impact on the world around them. They are generally excessively self-critical of themselves, because they have been made acutely aware of how they are viewed by others.

But imagine someone who lacks the ability to observe his or her own conduct and its effects on others. Such a person would be selfish, inconsiderate, and uncaring.

Thus, while excessive self-awareness hinders spontaneity and enjoyment, some conscious awareness of one’s impact on others is a good thing. Ideally, self-assessment can be moderated to become compassionate, helpful and constructive.

2. The desire to improve

The experience of shame implies an underlying desire to become better, more worthy, and deserving. People who experience shame have a strong sense of right and wrong, better and worse, skilled and unskilled. They want to be better than they believe they are.

While excessive shame can lead to depression and self-sabotaging behavior, the underlying desire to become better can act as a strong motivating force to improve oneself.

Solution:

1. Appreciate your ability to self-assess and your desire to be a better person—at work, as a parent, as a friend, etc.

2. Correct your internal thinking. When you hear yourself say something harsh to yourself, such as, “How stupid that was,” change it right away to something reasonable, kind, and objective, such as “Everyone makes mistakes. Next time I’ll try to remember to….”

3. Remember that life is fleeting. Enjoy and focus on what’s good about yourself, instead of focusing on your mistakes or how you compare to others.

4. Become less of a perfectionist. Appreciate small improvements. Learn to laugh at yourself!

Remember that your effectiveness at work and within your relationships improves as you replace shame with compassion, a sense of humor, constructive criticism, and acceptance of what is. Not only will you suffer less, people around you will enjoy you more.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

“I am overwhelmed by worry.”

"Stars of Valor" by Mimi Stuart © after Thomas Franklin

“Stars of Valor”
by Mimi Stuart © after Thomas Franklin

Fear as a signal – it can be lifesaving

Fear is a healthy emotional response that alerts you to potential danger. But when you allow fear to turn into extreme anxiety or panic, you can no longer respond to danger in an effective way. When fear and anxiety take control of your life you can become debilitated.

Three negative consequences when fear turns to panic:

1. Excessive fear leaves you vulnerable and is ineffective

Extreme anxiety can lead to mental paralysis or physical illness. It also prevents you from being taken seriously by others. Imagine a doctor, lawyer, or military leader who expresses extreme anxiety in facing an emergency.

2. Anxiety can be contagious

Extreme anxiety is infectious, particularly among emotionally-fused people, often causing others to become more anxious. Emotional fusion is the dissolution of boundaries between people, which can cause anxiety to become extremely contagious. Emotional fusion occurs when people do not function with emotional independence. For example, one person’s anger or anxiety causes the other person to react with the same emotion or to polarize to a position of having no concern. This extreme reactivity takes away from productive problem-solving.

3. The anxious person become the problem

When you allow anxiety to overwhelm you, it may cause others to respond to you rather than focus on the problem at hand. In order to effectively handle difficult or emergency situations, you have to learn to keep things in perspective and control your emotions. Only with a calm and rational approach can constructive and deliberate action be taken.

Differentiation

To resolve the anguish caused by emotional fusion, individuals need to become more highly-differentiated, that is, emotionally separate, and therefore, less reactive.

Differentiation will —

1. permit you to get deeply involved with a problem or with another person without becoming overwhelmed by anxiety,

2. eliminate the need to withdraw from or control a situation to modulate your own emotional well-being, and

3. give a modicum of peace of mind in knowing that you best influence others through your presence of mind and composure rather than through fear or emotional coercion.

Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the ability to handle difficulties will improve. Ironically, if you really care, keeping a cool head is the best way to help others and yourself through difficult times.

How to handle fear

When you imagine a downward spiral of catastrophic consequences, you are likely to become overwhelmed, panic-stricken, despondent, and mentally paralyzed. If you become overwhelmed with worst-case expectations, the situation will likely spiral out of control and your worst-case prophecy is more likely to come true. Thus, it is important to redirect your focus as follows:

1. Engage the rational part of your mind to address the challenge as well as to alleviate the panic.

2. Figure out what you have control over and take appropriate action.

3. Imagine what the worst possible outcome could be. Then imagine the most constructive and self-possessed way to accept the worst consequences. Once you prepare for the worst, know that reality will probably not be as bad as you fear.

4. Continue to engage in other parts of your life — your work, family, friends and interests — in order to buoy your strength, be a good role model, and enjoy the blessings that you still possess.

While it is important to be prepared for potential dangers in the world, we should strive for a balance between fear and hope, viewing the world with an informed awareness and equanimity.

How do we handle difficult times?

Life will present us with challenges. The best way to handle difficulties is to face them head on, while maintaining our dignity and having faith in ourselves. Above all, we must remember that we do not have control over other people nor over all situations, but we do have control over our actions, words, demeanor, and perspective, and how we respond in a given situation.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD