Category Archives: Attitude

Irrational beliefs: “I feel like a failure because I failed a class.”

"Think" - Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

“Think” – Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

Einstein learned to speak late, at the age of four. Bill Gates’ first business venture failed. Walt Disney got fired for his lack of imagination and good ideas. Are any of these people a failure? Of course not. Most of us who are not famous are not failures either, even though we may have failed a class, gotten a divorce and much more.

Irrational thinking

Yet people often unknowingly hold faulty beliefs that cause them to suffer from their own self-imposed negative emotions. For example, people hold mistaken beliefs such as “In order to be a worthy person I must get great grades, I must make a marriage work, I must get the best job, or I must have the perfect life.”

Unfortunately, such irrational thinking will have unhealthy consequences. It may cause a person to feel depressed and miserable, which in turn will make him or her less effective and less capable of dealing with or improving any given situation.

The cognitive approach to psychology holds that unhappiness often stems at least in part from our irrational beliefs. These irrational beliefs distort the way we see others, ourselves and the world. If either our thoughts are inaccurate or our reasoning is irrational, our emotions and behavior can become disturbed and inappropriate, causing harm to ourselves and others.


1. Identify the irrational belief.

2. Analyze the facts more objectively.

3. Re-interpret your belief based on reality.

4. Adapt to improve the situation.

Our thoughts have great influence over how we feel about ourselves. Most of us are unaware of all the assumptions we continuously make. Therefore, the key is to learn to monitor your thoughts and then check them against reality by discussing them with your friends or a therapist.

Example: “I failed in my marriage.”

By exploring the assumption that divorce is a failure, for example, we find that there is no evidence that one must have a good marriage to be a successful, worthwhile and happy person. A good marriage might be great for some, but it is not necessary for health, fulfillment and happiness. Besides it takes two motivated and compatible people to have a good marriage. It is wishful thinking for someone to think that one person can be responsible for a good marriage on his or her own.

Through any disappointing relationship we learn about ourselves and others. We may learn, for example, that we need to set better boundaries, to have more fun, to be less controlling, to avoid people who are controlling, etc. By viewing a marriage and subsequent divorce as a meaningful experience including both joy and suffering, rather than a failure, we can learn from the experience, and perhaps even cherish some of the memories.

Example: “I feel like a failure because I failed a class.”

Similarly, when you realize that getting a bad grade does not make you a failure, your emotional response to bad grades might be sadness or frustration rather than self-loathing or depression. Sadness and frustration are often healthy negative emotions that may lead you to transform a situation, e.g., to study harder, get a tutor or change classes. Such emotions trigger reflection and the realization that something needs to be changed. Disappointment in life is inevitable, but can pave the path to improvement and change.

By becoming more objective, you can avoid feelings of self-loathing that cause people so much grief and make it difficult to move forward in life. Instead, appropriate negative feelings cause us to reflect and to focus on making changes rather than dwelling miserably on perceived failure.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Commonly attributed to Darwin

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Irrational thinking: ‘I’ll reject them before they reject me.’”

Read “Mind reading: ‘You just don’t like spending time with me!’”

Read “Catastrophizing: ‘I failed my test. Now they’ll know how stupid I am. I’ll never get into college and get a decent job.’”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

The psychological habit that is as unhealthy as smoking: Rumination.

"Allegretto" by Mimi Stuart Live the Life you Desire

“Allegretto” by Mimi Stuart ©


Have you spent too many sleepless nights or distressing days dwelling on bad feelings and experiences of the past? Rumination is the compulsive focusing on causes and consequences of your distress. While worry focuses on potential bad events in the future, rumination focuses on past and current failures, disappointment, or suffering.

Rumination interferes with the confidence you need to problem-solve and move forward in your life in a positive way. Moreover, ongoing repetitive circular thinking about failures and distress often leads to depression as well as addictions.


The solution is to learn to notice each time you start ruminating. Then immediately distract yourself with a healthy activity for at least two minutes. Only two minutes of distraction will stop you from ruminating. You may have to do this countless times a day when you first start, but if you keep it up, your ruminating will diminish and then disappear.

Depending on your personality, effective distraction may have to involve your mind, your body, or both. Think of a mental or physical activity that is engaging enough to distract you.

Here are some examples:

• Organize papers or your accounting.

• Read a book.

• Do fifty sit ups.

• Clean your house while listening to your favorite music.

• Call a friend.

• Do a sport or take a walk while listening to a book on tape.

• Do an interactive video or game, such as a language or geography game, or lumosity.

• Clear clutter, focusing on what should be thrown out or where to put things.

• Catch up on social media or emails.

• Plan a dinner party or a trip.

Remember that you only need to distract yourself for two minutes. But if you distract yourself with something positive or productive many times a day, you’ll also have accomplished something worthwhile in the meantime. You’ll be better read, in better shape, caught up with friends, and you will have a cleaner house. These small satisfactions will also help you to stop ruminating about past negative events.

If you don’t have two minutes to spare, consider doing what a friend of mine did during a painful break up to keep her from dwelling in negative thinking. She wore a rubber band around her wrist and snapped it each time she started to ruminate about the past or worry about the future. Her wrist turned red, but her emotional health remained stable and empowered despite the losses and transition she faced.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Fear of failure: ‘I’m worried about failing.’”

Read “Regret: ‘I shouldn’t have yelled at my friend.’”

Read “’I don’t have time for this huge project.’ Ten minutes: One box, one call, one block.”

Self-doubt: “I’m afraid of looking like a fool.”

"Courage" by Mimi Stuart Live the Life you Desire

“Courage” by Mimi Stuart ©

Perfectionism is an imperfect way to live

The desire to excel encourages achievement. However, when aspiring for excellence turns into the pursuit of perfectionism, then you are creating unnecessary anxiety in your life. Perfectionism is an attitude often fueled by a fear of failure or criticism. In contrast, willingness to make mistakes and look a little foolish will help you improve your skills, accomplish excellence and enjoy your life. Most successful people have “failed” their way to success.

Note that avoiding perfectionism doesn’t entail becoming careless. There is a happy medium between perfectionism and being carefree. Too little attention to external feedback can lead to thoughtless, reckless and offensive behavior.

The benefits of handling a little discomfort

People who are not afraid of being a novice or making mistakes tend to get good at many things quickly because they are not held back by their doubts and a lack of confidence. Think of the possibilities you miss out on if you avoid the following situations because of your fear of failure:

• Striking up a conversation with someone despite the possibility of being rejected.
• Asking for a job despite potential for disappointment.
• Telling a loved one how you feel.
• Requesting that someone treat you differently.
• Asking someone for help.
• Talking to your children about awkward subjects.
• Starting a business venture.
• Participating in a sport or class when you are a newcomer.
• Practicing a foreign language.
• Singing and dancing.

The benefit of making mistakes

We should welcome mistakes because they show us how we need to make adjustments to improve our life. If we look objectively at the feedback we get from others, we will speed up our learning curve about how to execute tasks and interact with the world around us.

Socializing and dating

Think about dating and making friends. If you avoid the risk of looking foolish, you will have a hard time socializing. How can you learn interpersonal skills unless you put yourself out there? How would you learn to read body language and to hone your communication skills? No one is a master at making friends or reading the hidden meaning generated by body language without having some experience of engaging with people. You need to make mistakes and make adjustments in your behavior, desires, and expectations. You learn to modify your style of communicating, your openness, the topics of conversation you engage in by learning to be sensitive to feedback from others.

So it’s important to accept and even embrace discomfort and mistakes and to risk failure. Making mistakes is part of the human experience. That is how we learn and evolve – and succeed! By embracing the risk of failure you will be rewarded by a reduction in the negative anxiety associated with fear of failure, leaving only the healthy and normal anxiety associated with the excitement about future possibilities. A whole world of opportunities opens up to you.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Perfectionism: ‘I’d like to have people over more often, but I rarely do, because it’s so much work to cook a great meal.’”

Read “Fear of failure: ‘I’m worried about failing.’”

Read “Fear of Making a Mistake: ‘I’m deathly afraid of investing more time, money and energy in something that could be doomed no matter how hard I try.’”

“My ex was the worst….”

"Mississippi Blues" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Mississippi Blues” by Mimi Stuart ©

Talking about your ex in a disparaging way is tedious and draining to others and reflects poorly on you as a person. Nobody will be impressed that your last boyfriend or ex-wife sent abusive emails or stalked you. They will merely wonder whether you are a victim or a bad judge of character.

If asked about your past relationships, rather than starting on a diatribe of complaints, you could simply say, “We went our separate ways,” or “We grew apart.”

Grow up, don’t put down

Better yet, find a way to view your difficult relationships of the past with perspective and find a silver lining. After all, you were together for a reason and probably got something out of the relationship.

It is often through the very gridlock and troubles in a relationship that we learn who we are and what our boundaries are.

We all live and learn from experience, especially from painful episodes that cause us to grow.

There may be times when you do want to talk about a painful relationship with a close friend in order to gain insight about yourself or the relationship or to share what you have learned. Yet self-reflective conversations are very different from complaining about and belittling others. Remember to stick to the former, where your intent is to understand, grow, gain peace, and become more whole.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen
Twitter: @alisonpoulsen

Read “My ex was a psycho!”

Read “My negative emotions bring me down. I tend to dwell on feeling hurt or angry.”

Watch “Why do people gossip, and when is it malicious?”

How To Ask Your Partner For Help

Click on the picture below to watch the short video:

Attacking someone is not a good way to motivate someone to help you. Instead, make a specific positive request, and show them that you’d appreciate the help.

Also when you look at your life, most of the moments of a given day could be viewed as ordinary moments of work and doing chores like cleaning, cooking, and raking the leaves. If you decide to make the most of those ordinary moments instead of dreading them and slogging through them, you will change your life. By bringing a positive attitude to work and chores, you will bring enjoyment and vitality to all those all the ordinary moments and to your relationships.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Healthy Relationships and
Effective Communication

Watch “Effective Communication and getting what you want.”

Read “Breaking Patterns through Dramatic Practice: ‘I have good intentions, but…’”

Ten Reasons Not To Complain:
“She is so annoying. I can’t stand it!”

"Tuskegee Airmen, American Royalty" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Tuskegee Airmen, American Royalty”
by Mimi Stuart ©

If you want to improve your life it’s important to be able to be assertive and speak your mind. However, if speaking up turns into a habit of complaining, your life and the lives of those close to you will suffer.

Here are ten reasons not to let complaining become a habit:

1. It is unattractive. When people complain, they tend to use a whiney tone of voice, which in itself is a turn off.

2. You will push interesting people away. Who wants to hang out with someone who complains all the time? It is boring and tiresome.

3. You will attract insipid friends. The friends you end up with will be uninteresting and tend to be victim types because they have nothing better to do than to participate in vent sessions.

4. Your negative emotions become ingrained. Just think about all the things you might complain about—bad service, annoying people, or faulty technology. Simply thinking and talking about these things makes you feel irritated. Complaining triggers your negative emotions and ingrains them deeper into your neural pathways as your normal way of being.

5. It is ineffective in improving things. If you want to improve life, you need to be discerning, and you may have to speak up to change something. Complaining, however, tends to focus on the negative aspects of a situation rather than on how to change it. So instead, focus on how to fix the problem, or, if that’s impossible, change your expectations.

6. It makes the problem worse. What you focus on tends to gain energy and get exacerbated. For instance, if you complain to your partner that he or she is too shy with new people, focusing on it will make him or her uncomfortable and constricted rather than relaxed and outgoing, resulting in increased reticence. If you were to focus on his or her positive traits, e.g. being thoughtful or well read, for example, then he or she is likely to feel more confident. Focus on the positive – it will be rewarded.

7. It is a waste of time. Complaining takes up time that you could use to enjoy life or to improve it. For example, instead of talking about an annoying friend, you could be calling a friend who is not annoying, going for a walk, reading a book, or having an inspiring conversation.

8. It will wreck your relationships. John Gottman found that relationships will be fulfilling over the long-term if 80% of your communication is neutral or positive, that is, appreciative or respectful. If, however, more than 20% of your communication is disrespectful or hostile, then your relationship is likely to deteriorate.

9. Complaining furthers your lack of self-control. When people complain, they are embedding the bad habit of saying everything they think. It is helpful to be observant and discerning. But having the self-discipline to not say everything you think is a crucial skill for enhancing relationships and life.

10. You will cheat yourself of pleasure. Research shows pleasure is derived from anticipating something positive. There’s more joy in improving a bad situation than in complaining about it.


If you have a valid complaint to make against someone, it may be important to speak up. Speaking up with a request for change is different from complaining. If you are complaining you are venting, making negative judgments, reinforcing victim status, and preventing closure.

Simply explain to the appropriate person why something bothers you, and request that a change be made. Pay attention to your choice of words, your tone of voice, and your body language. If that person can’t or won’t accommodate a reasonable request, then take other steps or change your expectations or your relationship to that person.


In essence, to avoid the detrimental effects of complaining, grumbling, and bellyaching on your relationships and wellbeing, focus on transforming negative circumstances into positive ones. Have the courage to take action rather than to complain. Focus on improving your life and appreciate what is already good about it. Your positive vitality will attract people who are self-empowered and your focus on what’s possible will bring amazing possibilities into your view and your reach.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Triangulation: ‘My ex can’t stop complaining about me to my child. I feel like doing the same right back.’”

Read “Getting over your Victim Story:’My brother got all the attention.’”