You Are Stronger Then You Think You Are. Don’t let thinking trap you in a negative cycle.

We live in a society where strength is valued.  Our culture values physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strength.  According to Ran Zilch (2010), strength means having physical power, having great mind and moral power, and having resources.  In the extreme culture we live in we see the strongest, the smartest, and the richest as the most successful and powerful.  As a result those of us that are normal and are not Dana Lynn Bailey,  not Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg, or are not Donald Trump believe we are not enough.

If this what we think then this is what we will start to believe.  If you believe you are not strong enough you will feel not strong enough.  This is not because you are weak it is because of automatic negative thoughts.  Every single day you engage in behaviors and make decisions, all of which require thinking.  Because of automatic thinking most decisions and behaviors are performed with ease and minimal effort.  Imagine how your life would be if it took great thought to brush your teeth, drive to work, or have a conversation with a friend.  Automatic thinking keeps us functioning from day to day (Epstude & Roese, 2011).  Negative automatic thoughts develop when we compare our realistic situation to our expectation.  Here is an example of how negative automatic thinking works, “If I am feeling depressed then I must not be emotionally strong enough” (Byrne, 2005).  This thought will develop in the mind with minimal effort and because your evaluation of the situation seems true to you, this thought will stick. Negative thinking can cause isolation and depression.  Because we value strength it can seem shameful to share these thoughts and feelings to someone else.  You may think something like, “if I say how I really feel people will think I am weak”.  People think that negative emotions means they are flawed.  Therefore people tend to keep these thoughts and feelings quiet. Research after research study cites the importance of support to improve health and accomplish goals.  However if we are letting our negative thinking get in the way then we are not allowing ourselves to accept support from others.

Negative thinking can be corrected.  It takes effort but using support from others will help correct harmful negative thoughts.  When in doubt, when unsure, when scared, when sad, and when upset one of the best things to do is reach out for support.  Here are some common negative thinking patterns that cause depression, frustration, and emotional upset and how you can use support to challenge the negative thinking to feel better.

  • “Should”‘ing all over yourself.  Thinking things that include “I should”, “I must”, “I ought” only cause us to feel guilty.  Thinking this way increases shame, frustration, and is a form of self-punishment.  Escape this messy trap by sharing this thinking with a trusted friend or loved one.  Allow yourself to be open to their feedback and listen to what they have to say.  Their perspective will eliminate your guilt and remind you do not “have to” do the thing you think you “must, should, or ought”.  Allow your loved one to tell you it is OK to break the rules from time to time.
  • What we feel must be true.  In other words if you are feeling sad and lonely you believe no one wants to be with you because you are a depressing person.  However research shows that interacting with people daily influences thinking (Lakey & Tanner, 2013).  If you want to counteract your negative thinking  encourage your family members to focus on the positive.  Or spend more time with people that are full of energy and positivity.
  • Focusing on only the negative aspects.  There are situations, circumstances, and trials in life that cloud the daily good things that happen.  Rather then recognize the positive things that can happen daily people become focused on only thinking about the bad and ignore the good.  To overcome this thinking trap try using capitalization.  Capitalization is the process of sharing the daily positive things that occurred with a loved one (Otto, Laurenceau, Siegel, & Blecher, 2014).
    Believe it or not, more positive things happen in a day then negative things (Gable & Haidt, 2005).  One study found that when women with breast cancer shared the positive daily events with a partner they experienced increased positive emotions and improved relationship satisfaction (Otto, Laurenceau, Siegel, & Blecher, 2014).  If you are struggling to see the good start a daily journal where you write all the good and all the bad things that happened in a day and share with a close friend or partner.

Resources:

Byrne, R.M.J. (2005).  The rational imagination: How people create alternatives to reality.  Cambridge, MA: MIT. Epstude, K & Roese, N. (2011).  When goal pursuit fails.  The functions of counterfactual thought in intention formation.  Social Psychology, 42(1), 19-27.

Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9, 103–110. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ 1089-2680.9.2.103 Lakey, B. & Tanner, S. (2013).  Social influences in negative thinking and affect.  Cognitive Therapy and Research, 37(1), 160-172.

Otto, A., Laurenceau, J., Siegel, S., & Blecher, A. (2014).  Capitalizing on everyday positive events uniquely predicts daily intimacy and well-being in couples coping with breast cancer.  Journal of Family Psychology.  Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/fam0000042 Zilch, R. (2010).  Building inner strength. What does it mean to be strong?  Psychology Today.  Post published August 17, 2010 in Confessions of a Techie.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/confessions-techie/201008/building-inner-strength

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Confessions of a Bikini Competitor

I have neglected this blog for way too long. So first let me apologize. I plan to be more consistent. Now let me explain why I “fell off the bandwagon”.

For the last 5 or 6 years I have been a “fitness nut”. Since I began I would say I have consistently averaged 5-6 days a week in the gym and have had a healthy diet. It started out as a means to save money from eating out. Quickly working out became my sanity and it saved me from the stress and emotional upset of my full time therapy job. About 3 years ago working out became my part-time job when I started teaching group fitness classes. It was during this time that working out became not just a hobby but a passion of mine. Working out and eating well was fun for me. Over the course of time I found I wanted to challenge myself in the sport of bodybuilding.

I was always happy with the way I looked and felt very comfortable and confident with my body but I wanted to see how my body could change with discipline and focus. So in March 2014 I started prepping for my first bikini bodybuilding competition. With my excellent coach and my motivation to be successful I walked on stage July 5th, 2014 and placed 6th. I felt very proud of what I accomplished. The road to the stage was fun. It is exciting to watch your body become lean and vascular. My body really became a fat burning, muscle building machine. I am a competitor at heart and can honestly say I feel accomplished with my performance in my first competition. I believe that others found inspiration in my progress and dedication, and my accomplishment really does show that with hard-work and discipline anything is possible.

However over time I stopped enjoying eating well and working out because these things were now a chore. Most days I dreaded going to the gym but went because “I had too”. When I wasn’t in the gym I was obsessing about working out. I literally laid in bed at night and visioned myself doing the next days workout and cardio. Images of food and meal prepping consumed my every thought. The food I ate no longer tasted enjoyable because it was solely fuel. When I wasn’t eating, I was starving and literally counting down until I could eat again. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally.

As my contest drew closer I hired and worked with a posing coach (one of the best in my opinion). So every Saturday after my workout, rather than spend time with family and friends I drove close to 2 hours (one way) to practice my posing. I spent money I could have been saving for a retirement or starting a new business for me and my husband on supplements. I thought my food bill would decrease as I just ate the same thing daily, but our grocery bill doubled and I was spending over $200 a month on supplements. The food is not only expensive but it is also costly to compete. There is a fee to join the Federation, there is a fee for each contest, tanning costs about $300 dollars, there is the cost of hair and makeup, plus the cost of a hotel stay and travel. Alas, the bikinis the girls in the bikini division wear are gorgeous. They are also very expensive. Yet I choose to once again spend HUNDREDS of dollars on a bikini instead of saving, investing, or bettering my families future.

Sure my waist and my body fat decreased but so did my wallet and my self-esteem. Suddenly it became about being a certain standard and fitting into a mold. I prefer to stand out, be different, and quite enjoy not always fitting in. Yet consuming myself with working out and competing I found I wanted to be like other competitors and fitness professionals. On contest day I saw myself with my tan, my hair and make up done, my beautiful bikini, and did not recognize myself. I was no longer Stephanie, but rather some obsessed meat head.

I spent the weeks following my show thinking about my next show. I was now obsessed with not “getting fat” (whatever that means). So I continued to obsess about going to the gym and counting calories and macros. Still working out and eating well was not fun. As I began to gain normal fat back I felt self-conscious and disgusting. This is about the time I stopped writing and stopped trying to help, motivate, and encourage others. I was so over working out that I stopped teaching at my gym, and this was something I love to do. Was I depressed? Not clinically but I think I was in a dark place. I had become something and someone I did not want to be.

You see, I had found balance in my life. Working out and eating well was fun because it did not control my life. I made it fit my lifestyle. I took it to the extreme of restricting calories, food, and WINE! I was working out to an extreme. When all you can talk about, think about, and dream about is working out and eating vegetables and lean protein you can be sure you are off balance. I remember a few meals following my show I literally had anxiety about eating. I ruined a surprise my husband had planned for me because I was so anxious and worried about what the meal would entail. Because I had become so obsessed with working out, eating, gaining fat, and staying lean, I was no longer able to enjoy friends and time with family. I felt embarrassed and insure to be at the gym. The gym was once a place where I felt confident and in control. But after my show it was as if I was a beginner again just walking into a gym for the first time. I was lost. I even kept my coach and had a plan but found I was not able to follow through. I withdrew from family and friends and wanted to spend my free time doing nothing and resting rather than being active and outgoing. I became lazy! I stopped feeling motivated to work on my career. I gained weight and body fat back but my confidence was destroyed. I felt I did not deserve to teach others. I felt I was not good enough to inspire and motivate.

I had to find balance again. I wanted so badly to enjoy working out and eating well and not worry about my body if I did not do things 100%. I am not sure when things started to come back together for me. I can say it did take about 6 months to feel like myself again. I am enjoying working out again. I can eat well but I can also not eat well and not freak out. I can eat out with friends and family and not binge. (A cheat meal used to contain well over 3600 calories). I am teaching again and I love it! And I am finally feeling motivated and passionate about writing again and finding ways to help others live well lives.

So many fitness professionals preach balance. But I caution you and warn you, they are professionals. Their living is spent in the gym working out. It is their job to stay lean and we only see their professional self. We do not see the other parts of their life that involves family, friends, and fun. Your job is not to be a workout professional. (I don’t think this is a bad profession, it is a needed and valuable profession, but not one that everyone should seek). Your job is to live a healthy, fit, and happy lifestyle. Life should never include obsessing about what to eat, when to eat it, and when to get to the gym. I do think life is about making healthy eating and working out a priority. When we make time for what is important we find health, fitness, and happiness.
I saw this quote and thought it perfectly expressed what happens when we compete or take diet and exercise to the extreme.

“You begin to change your food, your friendships, your sleep habits… you change what you talk about, the stuff you buy, and what you think about… and it all happens without effort – like it was meant to happen. You just find yourself consumed. Then, after awhile, you grow perspective. Regular life comes back and you enter the maturity stage, where all the fitness and training stuff still interests you, but just doesn’t engulf your mind”.

Let fitness and health fit into your life rather than trying to fit into a life of fitness. Fitness is something you do, not who you are. I eventually noticed that many competitors are so consumed with competing and looking and staying lean it becomes what defines them. Seeking to obtain a certain physique is an accomplishment and should be a source of pride. However it should not be something that is sought forever. Yes I obtained about 10% body fat, yes I had abs, I was vascular in my legs and arms, but those things did not make me happier or more fulfilled.

When we all die and face Judgement we will not be judged on our weight, body fat, abs, hamstrings, or glutes. We will be judged by what we do and how we positively benefit the lives of others. Fitness can do that. Fitness truly does save lives. Eating well and working out gives us the energy to do good deeds and live meaningful lives. Many fitness professionals help so many people find health and even balance, but so many also comply with the stereotypes and cause insecurities and doubt. Don’t let a picture of legs, butts, or abs on social media be your motivation. That is a false world and the consequences of that world can be worse than what is described above. Let us be fulfilled by spending time with family and friends, traveling, and trying new things. Find what makes you happy, find what makes you fulfilled. That is what determines your worth. Not how you look in a mirror or how you look to others.

You Don’t Have to Always Hustle to Be Successful

I read a blog this morning about the behaviors of emotionally strong individuals.  Initially I asked, “what is emotional strength?”  Emotional strength is the ability to experience positive feelings.  There are some studies to suggest that certain personality traits are linked to greater emotional stability, an indicator for emotional strength (Guswell & Ruch, 2012). A particular study by Guswell and Ruch (2012) suggested there are innate characteristics that can either support or hinder a person’s ability to manage emotions.  In other words some personalities have an easier time managing emotions and remaining positive.  Although research claims it may be easier for some more than others it is not likely that only certain individuals with certain personality traits are allowed happiness.  All people are allowed happiness and all individuals can have a happy disposition despite character, experience, or previous thought patterns.

Individuals can learn emotional strength.  If you struggle with something in life you can learn to improve; you can learn to emotionally improve, as well. Your emotions do not control you.  Your thinking does not control you.  (It seems that way most of the time because turning “off” thinking and emotions is challenging).  The source behind the thinking and the emotions is YOU and the one in control of you is YOU!  I understand my posts talk a lot about choosing to be happy positive and I understand this can be very frustrating to most.  But, that truly is the issue; choice.  How you think and how you feel is up to you!  It is that simple.  The hard part is applying the skills, tools, and techniques to make that choice stick.

There are lots of tools and behaviors one can apply to increase emotional strength.  One behavior that stood out to me as a read the blog on emotional strength was ,”They (emotionally strong people) are not afraid of slowing down”.  This really stuck with me and caused me to ponder.

Emotional strength equals success.  Early research clearly demonstrated that people with an ability to evaluate their emotions, identify their emotions, and rationally handle their emotions are better able to reach and achieve goals (Allport & Allport, 1921).  To consider that emotionally strong people can slow down and relax challenged the belief that successful people are “go-getters” and “busy-bees”. Success coincides with work.  So many of us are chasing dreams, aspirations, and goals.  Motivation is inspired and we are challenged to keep going, keep pushing, and work daily to achieve success.  Then why is slowing down a sign of success and emotional strength?  How does rest and slowing down accomplish goals?

When we slow down we can LIVE.  It is so easy to be caught up in pursuing goals and achieving success and to lose sight of daily life and the little miracles that occur.  I am no exception.  My goals and aspirations in life require me to have daily goals and a daily plan.  The drive to be successful causes me to become acutely aware of my daily goals and I can spend minutes of my day, hours of my day planning, working, building, doing, and analyzing.  What happens if I just stop?  What happens if I just slow down and approach the day as it comes?

When we can slow down we are left with seconds, minutes, hours, even days for freedom and to live.

  • Slowing down means we can be content with our present moment and our present blessings.
  • Slowing down means we can be thankful for what we have.
  •  Slowing down allows us to experience love and support of family and friends.
  • Slowing down means taking a break.
  • Slow down means we have time to do something else (perhaps read a book, talk with a friend, or sit in silence).

Today I challenge you to stop!  Stop planning and stop working.  Take time away from your “to-do” list and do something else.  You do not need to always be working on something and you do not need to always be focusing on your goals.  I challenge you to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy the moment and the people you are with.  When you slow down to live you will restore your heart, your brain, and your soul.  This renewal of mind, body, and spirit will help you achieve goals, accomplish tasks, and lead you to success.

 

 

References:

Allport, F. H., & Allport, G. W.  (1921). Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 16(1), 6-40.

Guswell, A. & Ruch, W. (2012).  Are only emotional strengths emotional?  Character strength and disposition to positive emotions.  Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 4(2), 218-239.

Get Over It…

“Get over it” is the worst thing we can say to ourselves or say to each other. I have heard various versions of this phrase working with families and individuals. Family members and loved ones may tell a person with upset emotions to “cheer up”, “get over it”, or “move on”. Although it is used to motivate or encourage the upset individual, these phrases have a way of shaming as well. These words can create greater individual upset and distress.

I am here to tell you to be upset. Be angry. Be sad. Be frustrated. Yell. Cry. Isolate. Whatever you feel is 100% OK. A mature and well-functioning person should be able to regulate emotions. In other words it is average for people to experience emotional upset but not sacrifice relationships or jobs and not cause harm to self or others. However when feelings are not managed correctly relationships and jobs may suffer and there may be emotional or physical harm to others. Rather to avoid feelings and try to “get over it” it is best to feel and deal with it!

Some emotions and situations are very difficult to just “get over”. A depressed person cannot get up and go enjoy activities. An anxious person cannot stop worrying. It is a shame we have made feelings such an insignificant matter. Feelings are very important and I am here to say, “You don’t have to get over yet”!

When feelings are shamed and ultimately suppressed the feeling only grows and gets bigger. Imagine an area rug in the middle of a hardwood floor. The floor around the rug is dusty so you sweep the dust under the rug. This is what happens when people are not allowed to express or feel their emotions. The dust is still there. You may try to ignore feelings but they are still there. Continue to sweep the dust under the rug and eventually the rug will no longer be able to contain the dirt and the dust will be exposed. Sadly when the dust is exposed it is a much bigger mess. The same is true for feelings. If feelings are suppressed long enough they will struggle to be maintained, the feelings will explode, and there will be emotional and perhaps physical harm to self and others.

Although the feeling is ok, feelings become dangerous, scary, and unmanageable when they are not addressed. If you have a loved one with upset emotions acknowledge them and let them know you see how they feel. Let them know that what they feel is ok and they can take their time to feel better. Let them know you are there to help them come up with ways and explore ways to make the feelings decrease. Tell them you see them and you see how they feeling.

If you have upset emotions feeling them may seem overwhelming. Perhaps you feel if you start crying you will never stop crying. Or perhaps you feel if you no longer worry you will no longer be in control. Remember the feeling does not control you. You CONTROL the feeling. You can choose to feel sad and worried and you can choose to feel happy and relaxed. You have the right to do something to improve your situation. Try talking to someone. Sometimes simply verbalizing how you feel is enough to feel better. Write down how you feel. This will help you identify how you feel but also helps express any thoughts that are contributing to the upset.

Feelings are like a wave in the ocean. At times they will appear very large but eventually the wave crashes and the water is calm again. The same is true for emotions. At times they will seem very large but eventually the feeling will decrease and things will be calm again. Feelings come and go. You are not bound to feeling depressed, anxious, angry, stressed, and scared if you deal with feelings rather than ignore them, and eventually you will “get over it!”

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