I’d been struggling with what to write about this week, especially after last week’s blog. I was happy to get my monthly subscription of Psychology Today that went straight from my mailbox to my sofa, where I sit to write. I try to pick topics that I feel need to “get out there”. The article that instantly caught my attention is titled, “10 Life Skills – – Lessons for happiness that are never taught”, by Jena Pincott. If there’s one thing that I can say I want for any of you, no matter what your circumstance or situation, happiness is it. The long-term benefits of happiness being added to your life are priceless, and beneficial to your health and well-being. None of us will ever be perfect, or will have every day go perfectly. But, we are always, “becoming”, and can focus on self growth--in order to make ourselves the happiest we can possibly be.
Here is a summary of the 10 life skills in the article. I hope one, some, or maybe all of them, proves helpful.
Understanding that not everything that happens to you is about you. This reminds me of The Four Agreements.
The more we personalize experiences, or take things personally, they can become our identity. There will be times when your hard work is not acknowledged by others. There will be times that you do not get a job you really wanted. Times like this can cause you to feel baffled, offended, or upset. You then can be sucked into your own emotional state, and maybe even act on your emotions.
In order to lead a life where you are less reactive to what happens around you can only help you cope. We can work on prompting ourselves to recognize that our point of view is not the only one, working towards seeing situations with clarity, and be able to approach them effectively. We might be able to even find wisdom in the points of others, and learn from them.
This past week, I was reminded of the impermanence of life. Besides the emotion of it all, it personally made me feel grateful to be alive. There are some studies that show that this reminder causes us to displace ourselves from “center stage”, which can help increase happiness.
Focusing on other people without dwelling on how they view you. As the center of your own world, you naturally tend to believe that you’re also the center of everyone else’s. Another way to put this might be what I learned in my studies: We tend to think that other’s think like we do. The consequences of this is that, in your interactions, you might find yourself thinking less about them, and more about how you appear to them. However, evidence shows that this spotlight is not so bright. People do not notice us nearly as much as we think they do.
How can we be gracious in our interactions when we’re not feeling that way? My friend that recently passed left a wonderful example of this. She never fully disclosed the pain of her illness. She appeared at her best in her conversations, so that is how I saw her before she was no longer able to communicate well. I have an idea that she did not want others to feel her pain more than we already did.
Realizing that you don’t have to act the way you feel. Events like the one mentioned above can absorb us in sadness. Other events can consume us with anxiety. But, we are not transparent, and do not wear signs as to what is going on inside us. I learned in a graduate class called Evolutionary Psychology, that when we have things like a hurt foot, we tend to not show our limp as much in public as we do when at home. It is a survival instinct. In the same respect, we can preserve our dignity, our privacy, and our self-respect when we are not at our best.
Another tip I’ve learned in my profession is to, “look at things from a balcony”. This can help you to process your feelings from an outsider’s point of view. This is basically how I look at situations my clients are in--in order to be able to provide a different perspective than the ones my clients are seeing. This then can allow me, and then you as you practice it, how to hold back emotions of defensiveness, aggression, and anger. Looking at the situation, “from a balcony” can give you the mental space to react to a bad experience less emotionally, and then have more control over the way you act or react. This is based on studies by Ethan Kross, which he calls self-distancing. If you don’t mind reading research-type articles, here is some more information on this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2881638/
Giving yourself a, “pep talk” can also help. Think of how you might counsel somebody else. Instead of using, “I” or “me”, an example of what you might say to yourself might look like, “Look, Jane, getting fired is an opportunity to examine your strengths, and what you’d like to do next.” You could also use the universal words, “you” or “one”. We sometimes use this unconsciously to normalize and make meaning of experiences.
Being able to reframe (and manage) disappointment and adversity. Many of us suffer disappointments, but it is our resilience that keeps us going. The most resilient people give themselves mental latitude, and see setbacks as opportunities for growth. They see failure as an event, not taking it on as their identity.
Bad times are temporary. Emotions are not an accurate reflection of reality. Finding this kind of mindfulness takes practice, and it can be attained. A way to help you along in this process is to go back to looking at situations, “from the balcony”. Ask yourself questions like what was in your control, what you can learn from the situation, and if the same thing happened to a friend, what would your advice be?
Knowing how to solicit honest feedback. According to Tasha Eurich, author of Insight, there are two types of people—ones who think they’re self-aware, and the few who actually are. If we knew how other’s perceived us, we wouldn’t feel blindsided by criticism or interactions that seem to come out of nowhere. Then, in asking ourselves, “why”, we may make up answers that aren’t true.
The life skill to work on here is to find the confidence and humility to ask others specific questions on how they perceive you. Asking, “loving critics” such as friends, co-workers, or employees questions like, What am I doing that I should keep doing? What should I stop doing? What about me annoys you? The answers you get may shake up your reality. Take some time to process the new information.
Staying true to your own values despite what others expect of you. YOUR OWN NEEDS and values matter. If you don’t reasonably accommodate for them in all you do, you will be setting yourself up for a life of regret or resentment. A life of meaning requires the thoughtful exercise of your passions and skills.
Knowing how others see you, or what they expect you to be, doesn’t mean you have to change anything. There is a balance of what people expect of you, and what you want for yourself. What do you really want? How do you get to a place of pleasing yourself, instead of the needs of others? The skill here is reconciling a balance of what you want, and our need for meaning and identity in a social context. You are allowed to be picky with the people you confide in. Personally, as alluded to in this article, I choose the ones that want me to succeed. You can ask yourself “what” questions, instead of “why”. I leaned that asking someone why puts the blame on them. Productive “what” questions look like, “What don’t I know that I’d like to know? “What am I not doing that I should be doing?”
Being open to new information or revised thinking.
We can become emotionally attached to our own decisions. If we become too rigid in the way we’ve been doing things, yet things are changing around us, those decisions and perspectives may not serve us now. As we get older, we tend to conform, without regard to our own individuality. We become constrained by our principles. It is then hard to take new information in, unless we can find a way to make it conform to our preconceptions, we may reject it. That’s how our political views become so fixed.
Being more flexible cognitively can be trained, with exercise. Physical exercise actually helps in this area. There is also mental exercise—working on how to face new problems like a novice. Experience new places and things. When you try new things, curiosity should prevail over mastery. Not caring about the outcome can actually make you more exploratory, and ultimately more effective. If you watch young children, they are a good example of this. They have not had time to develop fears or anxieties.
Mastering a fail-safe way to motivate yourself, one that works when interest flags. Remember how Tom Sawyer was able to get his friends to paint his aunt’s white fence? He made the chore seem so fun that they bribed him to let them do it. That curious, internal drive that kids have can teach us a lesson here too.
What do we do when our motivation fails? We tend to get stuck in our struggle. Money is a motivator for some, yet studies show that money often robs people of satisfaction, turning once enjoyable tasks into chores. Money cannot buy your engagement. What can we do? You may have heard of the power of positive thinking. Visualizing what you want--in detail--has shown to activate areas of the brain linked to reward. Some people thrive with competition. Some use positive self-talk. For many of us, doing is believing. Having a habit of getting up at a certain time to make it in the gym, for example, may not always be a passion, but it is a habit. Momentum takes over, and it becomes more about determination.
Sometimes, the pleasure is in the process. That is how I feel about everything I do to build and mold my practice into what I envision it to be. For me, it is a passion and a purpose. Not every task I have to do is wonderful, but that’s when it’s a good time to take baby steps, setting small goals to reach the bigger one.
Zoning in on your purpose in a zoned-out world.
Purpose hinges on the ability to resist impulses in the service of your long-term goals. Unfortunately, with the advent smartphones, Facebook, and other media, our self-regulation is tested. You may have big ideas, but if your attention is jerked away constantly, they won’t come. There’s no time to process anything on a deeper level, or for creative daydreaming. Your brain becomes overstimulated. I have a friend that involves himself in many projects. When he is involved in them, I now expect his Facebook to be turned off.
Tolerating ambiguity. During my studies, I learned that it is most healthy to focus on the present, but also to look towards the future at the bigger picture. You’ll never know if the decisions you make today are the best ones, or what you may have sacrificed in making them—or where they will lead. You can’t know for sure what the other side is thinking during a negotiation, or what your date or partner really thinks of you. Uncertainty is a condition of life. Tolerance for ambiguity comes at the expense of clarity, but the rewards are rich. If we’re more able to shift gears, experiment, be more flexible, take in new information we’d otherwise reject, and let a situation develop before pulling away, we’re less anxious.
Clarity develops best over time. It’s been found that a tolerance for ambiguity increases after reading fiction. Stories pull us out of the present moment—as well as our own mindsets.
These past blogs might also be helpful to look at. https://www.amyenklingcounseling.com/blog/
If these ideas were helpful to you, they may be helpful to someone else. Please always feel free to share. If you are in a place where you are struggling to be happy in your life, please also always feel free to reach out.
1. Understanding that not everything that happens to you is about you.
2. Focusing on other people without dwelling on how they view you.
3. Realizing that you don’t have to act the way you feel.
4. Being able to reframe (and manage) disappointment and adversity.
5. Knowing how to solicit honest feedback.
6. Staying true to your own values despite what others expect of you.
7. Being open to new information or revised thinking.
8. Mastering a fail-safe way to motivate yourself, one that works when interest flags.
9. Zoning in on your purpose in a zoned-out world.
10. Tolerating ambiguity