Category Archives: Attitude

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

Performance Anxiety:
“I get extremely anxious when I compete in sports or engage in public speaking.”

"Purple Rain" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Purple Rain” by Mimi Stuart ©

As long as I do not take myself too seriously I should not be too badly off.

~Prince

Think of how little anxiety you experience when you are comfortably on your couch watching TV. Now imagine that you are going to perform a concert, give a speech, compete in a tournament, or go on a first date. Would you want to be as stress-free as you are in front of the TV? Or would a totally relaxed, lackadaisical attitude hurt you?

Some stress is good

Some people think that they want to eliminate all anxiety and stress from their lives. Yet a total lack of anxiety generally only occurs when someone feels low energy, apathetic, or indifferent.

In situations involving danger, the unknown, and peak performance, you need to be at your best and on your game; you need to be alert and ready to take action. Anxiety — or stress — in moderate doses prepares you for those situations.

Anxiety is a physical response to a mental state, in addition to other factors such as genetics, personality, history, disease, and drugs. Stress generates an increase in cortisol and adrenaline, which cause you to be alert and ready for action. In excess, anxiety can cause you to freeze, panic, or lose mental or motor control. Yet in moderation, it arouses the senses and increases awareness and the ability to react quickly. It turns out that having too little cortisol can be just as much a problem as having too much.

Excitement and passion

Falling in love, traveling, and intellectual and physical challenges cause anxiety and concurrent chemical changes in the brain known as “excitement.” Events involving situations of novelty, significance, or the unknown cause an arousal of the senses and a state of alertness that allow you to notice everything vividly. Without some anxiety, you won’t experience the exhilaration involved in anticipation, adventure, and peak performance.

Having stress in your life is healthier than no stress, as long as you can exercise some control over the situation. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate stress completely but to re-train your brain to handle anxiety better in the more extreme situations you may face.

Four ways to train your neural-circuitry

1. Practice

Whether your goal is public-speaking, performing at a concert, or competing in a sport, the most effective way to practice is to practice extensively, always with focused attention, and not necessarily in “perfect” external circumstances. With such focused practice, the required movements will occur more naturally and automatically in the future regardless of your anxiety levels.

If you have performance anxiety, it’s good to start with mildly stressful situations to avoid traumatizing yourself. A gradual increase in stress is much more effective than jumping into panic-inducing situations. If you want to do more public speaking, for instance, practice in front of the mirror, make toasts at the dinner table, go to toastmasters, and eventually give small workshops. If you play an instrument, start by practicing with other people in the room, and invite more and more people over to listen.

2. Imagine the worst-case scenario

Prepare yourself by imagining how you would handle the worst-case scenario. For example, at a Nationals water ski tournament, I saw a slalom competitor respond beautifully to a worst-case scenario. After falling at the one ball on her opener, which is about the worst performance possible, she came out of the water without any hint of anger or embarrassment, and simply shrugged it off. She laughed and said that she felt fortunate to be competing at Nationals, and that she hoped to do better the following year. Because she had such a great response and demeanor, other people did not feel embarrassed or sorry for her. Instead they felt comfortable, and retained respect for her.

It also helps to have a sense of humor about yourself and to remember what Michael Jordan once said:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, lost almost 300 games, missed the game-winning shot 26 times. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.

3. Practice getting centered.

During practice or performance, we need to be prepared to deal with self-defeating thoughts that do nothing but intensify our anxiety.

“What an idiot I am! That was horrible!”

“What if I can’t remember?”

“Oh no. Look who just walked in.”

When people get distracted by a negative thought or an unexpected interruption, they get centered again in very different ways. Here are some examples of how to get your focus back quickly:

1. Take a slow deep breath.

2. Focus on others rather than how you appear to them.

3. Focus on kinesthetic feeling rather than on your thoughts about how well you must perform.

4. Imagine a relaxed place — a serene beach or a loved one appreciating you.

5. Practice simply letting go of distracting thoughts and moving on. Meditation is a great way to practice getting centered.

6. Pretend you are someone who exudes the right kind of confidence or does your activity well. Mirroring is the fastest way to learn new attitudes and behaviors, just as infants and children do. With practice, you will own that energy and embody it in your own personal way.

4. Gain Perspective

Given personality traits, upbringing, and other environmental factors, people develop unconscious assumptions of what will happen if they fail or make mistakes. For example, they may feel that they will be unlovable, a failure, worthless, or unhappy.

To put your fears in perspective, it helps to investigate what makes people feel happy, worthwhile, or lovable. Research shows that the greatest happiness comes from activities such as maintaining meaningful relationships, helping others, having a sense of community, meditating, smiling, and laughing. Exercising, adequate sleep, and eating healthy foods also have a serious impact on our well-being. Learning and executing skills does positively effect our well-being as well, but it is lower on the list than having good relationships, helping others, and feeling a sense of community. We want to make sure that our perfectionist thinking about performing skills doesn’t sabotage the more important ingredients for a happy and meaningful life.

Living life

Life is rarely stress-free because life by its nature requires us to deal with the unknown on a daily basis. However, the more practice we get in handling the unknown, the more confidently we can approach life and its challenges. If we are experiencing anxiety, we are living. Only by doing mundane activities mindlessly do we get relief from all stress — by sleeping through life. Is that what we really want?

Look at the adventure, challenges, and growth we would be missing if we chose to eliminate all stress! Through facing the anxieties of living life, we learn to handle new exhilarating and challenging situations.

Sometimes it takes years to become an overnight success.

~Prince

by Dr. Alison Poulsen