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

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.

Let It Go For Improved Mental and Emotional Health

I am aware that what I am about to talk about is a challenge for most people. However what I am about to say is possible for ALL people.

Feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, and frustration are normal human emotions. These emotions were adaptively necessary to help our early ancestors survive dangerous situations and these emotions help us adapt to our situations. What you feel is 100% OK. Although these feelings are normal and necessary it is not normal and necessary to hold onto these feelings for an extended period of time.

Holding onto grief, sadness, anger, frustration, worry, and fear can harm all areas of your life.

  • Relationships with others can be negatively impacted by holding onto upset feelings.  These feelings can cause isolation and withdrawal, and rather than spending time with loved ones you start to spend time alone.  Feelings like anger and frustration can cause one to yell or lash out at loved ones.  Excessive worry, fear, and anxiety can make others in our lives feel powerless to help.  These issues will limit others desire to spend time with you.
  • Your health will decline if negative feelings control your life.  Feelings not only create an emotional reaction in the body, but a physical one as well.  Upset feelings cause increased muscle tension, increased heart rate, decreased sleep, fatigue, and decrease the bodies ability to fight illness, disease, and infection.
  • Holding on to upset feelings can impact your mental ability.  Prolonged emotional upset causes negative thinking.  It can be difficult to think positive thoughts and challenging to see the “silver lining”.  Emotional upset leads to thinking that becomes distracted, distorted, and unfocused.
  • Decreased mental and cognitive ability can make completing tasks at work or school challenging.  Rather than focusing on what needs to be done in the present moment, upset feelings keeps you thinking about the things that caused the upset.  This causes increased forgetfulness, distraction, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
  • Spirituality beliefs can be challenged when upset emotions take over. This becomes a problem because rather then turn to a higher power, moral beliefs, and prayer and meditation to cope one may shy away from these practices.  Upset feelings can cause use to abandon helpful, positive, and effective coping skills.

I think most would agree it is unhealthy to hold onto upset emotions, particularly when these emotions get in the way of enjoying life. However it is not easy to let go of emotional upset. There are numerous reasons why emotions are hard to let go of.

  • Loss of a dear loved one
  • Betrayal
  • Lost trust
  • Emotional hurt from another
  • Physical hurt from another
  • Repeated disappointments in others
  • Limited resources or options available
  • Limited support
  • Conflict with others

This list is not exhaustive. There are other, numerous situations and life events that cause feelings to linger. However in my practice and therapy with others I have found it is most difficult to let go of upset when we feel as though we have been hurt (emotionally), betrayed, and left vulnerable by others.

In those situations we want the wrong done to us to be made right. We want justice. We want karma. We want retribution.  It seems that holding onto the upset is a way of maintaining control over self, others, and the situation. At the end of day the only one being hurt by harboring upset is you!  The other person continues to live their life and go through their day unaware of the upset you have toward them. However when you lie in bed at night you suffer with the thoughts and the upset.

Letting go is for you!  Letting go benefits you!  Letting go does NOT excuse the wrong done to you, nor does it make it OK. You were hurt and wronged and that’s ok. But allowing yourself to let go of some emotional upset helps you live life on your terms. Here are my five suggestions for living life on your terms, letting go of upset, and finding the silver lining daily.

  1. Exercise – beyond the health benefits exercise helps increase happy feelings, lowers stress, and gives you some “you-time”.
  2. Forgive – forgiveness is not forgetting!  Forgiveness is releasing harboring upset so that you can make room to enjoy life.
  3. Spend time everyday doing something you enjoy. I call this vegging out. Find that activity (watching TV, cooking, reading, take a bath, etc) that causes your mind to shift focus and settle down.
  4. Acknowledge how you feel and know the upset emotions are OK!  You are justified for feeling that way. No one can tell you how to feel. You are in control and you can take active steps to change how you feel.
  5. Release those upset emotions. Cry!  Yell!  Whatever you need to do to express the feeling do it. The thing about expressing emotions is that it will eventually stop. You may feel like if you start crying you will cry forever but you won’t. The crying will stop. Expressing emotions is like a coke bottle that has been shaken and opened. Eventually the coke stops exploding from the bottle and it settles. Then you are left with a refreshing beverage. Express your emotions so that once they are released you can enjoy life a little better.

it is not realistic to be happy all the time, but allowing yourself to feel and then release the feeling will create room for more pleasure and enjoyment in your life. You have one life. You have one day, today!  Fill your day with whatever feeling you choose. The good news is, tomorrow you get another chance.

 

* If you are having trouble letting go, it is Ok. Many people struggle with this concept. It can be hard, but extremely beneficial to ask for help. Don’t think that asking for help makes you weak or disabled. Asking for help gives you more power to overcome. If you need help letting go I can help!

You Can Do All Things!

On my forearm I have some beautiful words tattooed – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.  This comforting statement has profound meaning. It means that because of my Higher Power I can do anything. I can set goals, I can dream, I can live a life of passion, and I can have hope. 

 

Lately this reminder has helped encourage me. As I prepare for my first competition in 3 weeks I am more tired and I am training more. I am sore all over. I am doing more cardio than I prefer and I am hungry. I want to cheat or take it easy. I walk into the gym each day and have difficulty getting motivated. However I get started. And each and every time I push through. I push harder.  I get stronger.  I run faster. I keep going when I want to stop. Not because of myself. But because I have a strength inside me that allows me to do all things. 

We forget our power. We forget the power we have through our Higher Power. We allow our own flawed thinking and skewed perceptions of ourselves to hold us back. A friend stopped me at the gym the other day to compliment me in my progress. I accepted graciously and then proceeded to tell her where I felt I was lacking and cast doubt and skeptism on my progress. She reminded me my perception was not accurate and that what I saw was not what others saw. She related and talked about her own skewed thinking regarding fitness.  For my friend she was feeling tired, overwhelmed, and exhausted. She had personal issues that were impacting her life and her family. This would cause anyone to be more tired, stressed, and vulnerable. Yet she continued to do!  She kept working out, she kept taking care of her family, and she kept doing well at her job. 

The ability to keep going despite adverse circumstances or a desire to dedicate your self to an activity requires strength. I am not an athlete because of genetic or situational factors. I am an athlete because I have a Higher Power that allows me to do all things. Alone I would not be competing, nor would I have the displine or commitment to keep training. But because I believe in a Mighty and stronger Higher Power I know I can compete and I know I can stay focused and consistent. When we become self involved our thinking becomes narrowed and too focused on self. We start to evaluate our weaknesses and remember our failures. We compare ourselves to others. I am not an athlete. I never compete in anything, nor did I want to. I always quit when things get hard. I do not want to be challenged. Honestly if my training were up to me alone, I would have quit. However my inner power keeps me focused and shows me every time I workout that I can. 

I can do all things. I can!  When I remember the Power I have I am stronger. I am braver. I am more confident. You are stronger than you think. You are braver than you think. You can run faster and longer than you think. You can have self-control around food. You can do one more push-up. You can lose weight, find health, and love your body. You can if you remember your Power!  Your Higher Power is with you all day, every day, and it will give you strength, courage, and passion to all things!

Slow Your Role

We spend so much of our time being BUSY. We have work responsibilities, family obligations, social commitments, and leisure activities that compete for our time and attention.  Lately I have been focused on the future and all the things I need to do to complete my to-do list. I spend so much time making to do lists, setting goals, and planning my days that I have been forgetful to deal with my present moment. 

I am not the only one with lots to do. I am not the only one with goals, dreams, and aspirations. And although I believe we can do anything I worry we spend too much time looking forward. Recently I am working on being content and being in the present moment. 

Rather than worry about all I need to do later I want to be Ok with what I am doing right now. I want to strive to improve and strive to be a better version of myself.  I want to learn to be OK with who am I right now. I am trying to remember “I am enough”.  

 

Lately the above Scripture has been floating around in my head. Perhaps it is my soul telling me to slow down and be in the moment. I have all that I need right now.  I am fully equipped with the strength and emotional ability to manage whatever task I am working on right now. This verse reminds me to slow my role and be OK because who I am today is exactly who I am to be. This verse helps me slow down and reflect that I am truly blessed with so much love, respect, support, hope, and resources. All of those things will help me accomplish goals today and in the future. I can relax and be current with myself and others.

Psychologists refer to this as mindfulness. Psychology Today defines mindfulness as a state of active, open attention on the present. Mindfulness requires being ok with thoughts, feelings, and surroundings right now in the present moment. Mindfulness does not mean you enjoy being in a state of upset or distress but, rather acknowledging that and then accepting the upset so that steps can be taken right now to make the moment better. 

Focusing on the future or focusing on issues beyond our control keeps us from solving problems now. In order to be better problem solvers and more relaxed and focused we need to “slow our role”, accept the situation, and proceed. Here is why practicing mindfulness is in your (and my) best interest. 

  • Researchers found that individuals that practiced mindfulness had less worrisome thoughts and decreased depression.
  • Mindfulness reduces stress.
  • Studies found that mindfulness improved focus, attention, ability to ignore distractions, and improved ability to recall information. 
  • People that were more mindful became less emotionally upset and were better at self-reflection and self-awareness. 
  • Research studies support that mindfulness can improve the quality of relationships (Davis & Hayes, 2012). 
  • Mindfulness has demonstrated a strong ability to improve health as evidenced by improved immune systems. 
  • Mindfulness improves happiness. 
  • Mindfulness helped people remain practical and rational during a stressful situation (2011). 
Being aware in the present moment and achieving mindfulness requires some skill. However anyone can master it. You do not need to be a master at meditation or spend hours doing yoga or prayer to achieve mindfulness. Anyone can start practicing mindfulness at any time. The more mindfulness is practiced the easier it becomes. 
 
  • Observe your current moment and sense the current environment. This requires just looking at the current environment. 
  • Look at where you are, smell where you are, experience the sounds and feelings of where you are, and identify any feelings you are having.  Try describing the current environment and situation as if you wanted someone to read it and be able to see and understand your situation as well. 
  • Remember the “to-do” list will never be blank. We will always have something to do, unless we are dead. Rather than rush to clear a list that will never clear, slow down and take it one thing at a time. 
  • Ask yourself “what do I need to do right now”?
The key is to not label the situation and any feelings or people as good or bad. Mindfulness requires you to be an objective observer of the “now”. Once you are in the “here and now” you will relax, think better, and be able to focus. This will help you make a decision that will benefit you right now as well as in the future. For example over the weekend I had the difficult task of working to understand and efficiently communicate a very difficult statistical procedure. I was frustrated because it is a statistical method that is foreign to me and I was not sure how to proceed. To make matters worse I feel like I have been working on my dissertation for a very long time and I just want to be finished. I was focused on completing the tasks and finishing my dissertation. However that only frustrated me more. I realized that would not help me address the issue in the current moment. I chose to accept my frustration and let that motivate me to figure out the solution. I chose to stop thinking about the future and completing the task and I chose to think about what responsibility I had now.  Once I was more accepting I felt more calm and I was able to focus and solve my problem.  
 
Staying in the moment will keep us from missing opportunities. We will be better spouses, siblings, employees, coworkers, friends, parents, and ultimately a better self. I vow to work on being current, present, and aware. I vow to take one thing at a time and enjoy the time that I have right now. I know being present and mindful now will make me a better me in the future. Can you commit to be more mindful with me?
 
References: 
 
Davis, D., & Hayes, J.  (2012). What are benefits of mindfulness? Monitor on Psychology, 43(7), p 64. 
 
Doing and being: Mindfulness, health, and quiet ego characteristics among Buddhist practitioners. Journal,of Happiness Studies, 12(4), 575-589. 

Be Content to be More Fit

Living a fit lifestyle has a way of changing your perspective of the world and living healthier will change the way you think about things. Living a life that promotes health, wellness, and freedom causes one to be more self-aware, alert, and thoughtful. Living a fit and healthy life causes one to have more hope for the future, set more goals, and seek improvement.

Goal-setting is necessary to establish and maintain healthy life choices. I have discussed the importance of goal setting for living a healthy and fit life in several posts. Scientist also understand the importance of goal setting and cite that a future goal will maintain focus and lead to greater future success. Specifically a study suggested that in order to maintain health a person must consistently and frequently set goals, evaluate these goals, think about the goals, and pay attention to goals (Mann, de Ridder, & Fujita, 2013). What this means is that when trying to maintain health one must often and frequently think about individual goals, evaluate progress toward those goals, and take any additional steps required to achieve the goal. As I aprepare for my competition I daily evaluate my goal to be ready and able to compete on show day. This helps me stay motivated to work hard and follow my plan. Goals give us reason to move forward.

Setting goals keeps one looking to the future.  Looking forward helps provide motivation to achieve goals. Studies indicate future orientation, looking to the future, can change behaviors in the present. For example one study found that individuas focused on the future were able to decrease aggression and anger (a goal of study participants) in the moment (Stoddard, Zimmerman, & Bauemeister, 2011). Clearly goal setting and having a direction pointed toward the future helps achieve success. As I am focused on my future competition and all the work that is necessary to achieve my desired physique I also wonder what I am missing in the current moment.

If you are like most people pursuing a goal, patience can be difficult.  The outcome becomes a longing and as we yearn for our success and achievement we grow impatient, weary, and perhaps a bit frustrated. I know I personally struggle with this. I want to achieve my desired outcome and constantly looking to the future makes my goal seem unattainable. I, then start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated and fight the urge to quit. I feel confident I am not the only one that feels this way. Perhaps setting goals and focusing on the future distracts us from the present moment. This notion is supported by research. A study found that individuals focused on diet and weight loss goals had increased distraction and experienced increased failure of tasks in the moment (Jones & Rogers, 2003).

What this means is that if I am thinking about my goal at my competition at a later date I may become too distracted while working out. This distraction will keep me from successfully completing reps, progressing in the exercise, or improving my performance. You do not need to be a body builder working toward a competition to experience decreased focus and lack of progress. If you are working to maintain a diet or lose a certain amount of pounds you may struggle  to feel satisfied when eating or working out. Future orientation and remaining focused on goals may be stealing your joy. Constantly thinking about the future keeps us preoccupied, lacking, and feeling unsatisfied. I understand how all this information can be conflicting. On one hand it is apparent remaining fit requires goal setting and thinking about the future, while on the other thinking about the future can limit progress in the current moment.

During my quiet time the other morning it occurred to me the problem was that I failed to feel contentment. The following statement cued me to my problem: ”

“Contentment isn’t a matter with being content with your situation in life and never trying to improve it. It’s a matter of being content with what you have — but realizing that as humans, we will always try to improve, no matter how happy we are. If we don’t, we have given up on life”. Leo Babauta

I always want to improve, grow, and live my passions and goals in the future. Although hope for the future is great and necessary to become a better person, it keeps me from realizing all the blessings and positives I have in the moment. Becoming content is a key component to maintain balance and overall health and wellness.

Finding contentment is needed to enjoy the work, the progress, and the journey. Contentment brings pleasure to the current moment and brings joy in life. Rather than focusing on what is to come it is important to evaluate and appreciate what is now. The current moment is all that is guaranteed and, although we can hope for the future, the future is not guaranteed. Contentment is easy to achieve.

  • Count your blessings. Recalling what you have, the people in your life, and what you have accomplished thus far brings to perspective the realization that we have much and have achieved much.
  • Look at where you have been compared to where you are now. You are not the same person. You have grown. You have changed. You have experienced success and have achieved goals.
  • Appreciate the people in your life that support and encourage you. Feeling loved and supported brings peace of mind and a sense of relaxation and joy. Knowing we are loved helps us settle into the moment and focus on the task at hand.
  • Recall future goals but do not remain focused on them. Remember the reason for the hard work and recognize the overall goal and then move on. Think about what you are doing in the present. Think about what can be done right now to bring you happiness.
  • Focus on the task at hand and the current moment. This moment in time will influence your future so use this time now to be present, aware, and engaged.
We find peace and contentment only by focusing on the present. You can choose a behavior and an action that is beneficial to the future or will stall future goals. We are better equipped to make positive and helpful choices when we choose to be happy with what we have, where we are, and who we are with in the current moment. I can choose to change the outcome in the future by making a choice to benefit me right now. Choose happiness, choose acceptance, and choose confidence that you are capable of improving your future right now!

References:

Jones, N. & Rogers, P.  (2003).  preoccupation, food, and failure: An investigation of cognitive performance deficits in dieters. international Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2), 185-192.

Mann, T., de Ridder, D., & Fujita, K.  Self-regulation of health behavior: Social psychological approaches to,goal setting and goal striving. Health Psychology, 23(5), 487-498.

Stoddard, S., Zimmerman, M., & Bauemeister, J.  (2011).  Thinking about the future as a way to succeed in the future: A longitudinal study of future orientation and violent behaviors among African American youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 48(3-4), 238-246.

Are you Fully Well? 31 Steps to Find Happiness in Life

We all want to be happier, healthier, fitter, richer, and more successful.  As humans, we fundamentally have this right.  Although we have this right, I question if many of us are truly well.  Wellness is having  happiness, physical, emotional, and spiritual health, success, loving and supportive relationships, and ultimately satisfaction in life.  Millions of Americans are constantly pursuing this yet so many struggle to find it.

All seek wellness but many struggle to achieve it.  There are many reasons people struggle to find life satisfaction.  A major reason people struggle to obtain wellness is because limit their focus on improving only one area of life.  Wellness includes many different facets of being human.  Wellness is what makes a person whole and wellness involves all human thoughts, actions, beliefs, experiences, hopes, and expectations.  Rather than working to improve the whole person many people become fixated on fixing one area of life.  The expectation is that improving in one area of life will bring ultimate wellness.  A common belief is that to become more fit and lose weight means more success in relationships, health, emotions, thinking, and behavior.   It is true that making positive changes will increase confidence, health, thinking, behavior, and interactions with others.  However people are more than physically fit creatures.  Achieving physical fitness will not improve relationships, job happiness, emotional health, or spiritual health unless individuals work on these areas daily as well.  The “psyche” (who you are) strives for balance in all areas of life.  When one area starts to decline, other areas will all decline.  Whereas when areas of a person start to improve, other areas also need to improve to achieve wellness.

Lisa Rankin, MD describes the concept of wellness and explains that in order to find wellness a person needs to achieve satisfaction and happiness in different areas of life.  Lisa describes the areas of wellness as, physical health, mental health, finances, environment, creativity, sexuality, spirituality, work and purpose in life, and loving and supportive relationships. (You can read more about Dr. Rankin and her wellness model by clicking the link associated with her name above).

Finding happiness in these areas brings happiness with self and with life.  Part of achieving wellness is honoring your own beliefs, morals, values, expectations, hopes, and dreams.  The heart of wellness is connecting to “who you really are”.  I know this is a concept that millions struggle with.  Age does not mean a person has achieved wellness and many will waste a lifetime questioning who they are and their purpose in life.  However working to find balance in all areas of life can help people figure this out.  A person can achieve wellness in life by daily practicing behavior that will strengthen and improve these areas.

1.  Seek pleasure!  Find something that makes you happy and do it every day.  If you enjoy chocolate have one piece of dark chocolate a day.  You do not have to limit yourself or deny yourself things that you like or enjoy.  That is the opposite of wellness.  Do not over indulge either.  You are allowed to enjoy while you work to achieve wellness.

2.  Volunteer and help others.  We live on a planet with billions of others and all of us are connected.  We can make the world a better place when we decide to help others.

3.  Remember and recall your blessings daily!

4.  Hug the ones you love as much as you can.  A hug makes them feel better and will make you feel better as well.

5.  Be physically active every day.  Take a walk.   Walk the dog.  Play tennis or basketball with your kids.

6.  Eat more fruits and vegetables.  Try to eat a cup of fruit or vegetables at every meal.

7.  Do not be afraid to seek medical care.

8.  Journal for 20-30 minutes a day.  Find a pen, paper, and a quiet spot and simply write your thoughts and feelings in that moment.  Journal pleasant and unpleasant thoughts and feelings.  Journaling these things can help you release emotions, connect your mind to your body, and help control thinking and feelings.

9.  Do not hold onto emotions.  Many people are fearful of expressing feelings like sadness and anger for fear of consequences.  Feelings are never a bad thing, rather the reaction to the emotion may hold devastating consequences.  Find ways to express emotions in healthy and socially acceptable ways.

10.  Engage in positive thinking daily.  Negative thinking causes negative emotions.  Simply switching thinking will improve your mood.  Read affirmations, count your blessings, think of happier times, and engage in behaviors that make you smile.  These things will improve your thinking and your mood.

11.  Make a monthly budget.  Determine when bills are due and establish a budget based on spending patterns last month.  Keep this budget with you when you go shopping or leave the house.  Spend only money allowed according to the budget that has been established.

12.  Be in control of your money.  Tell your money where to go.  Your money does not control you.  You are the boss of your money and you can use your new budget to determine how and when money is spent.

13.  Limit spending.  We live in a society where we believe we need certain items to make us happy, successful, and satisfied.  Sadly these things do not love us back and continue to leave us lacking.  There are few things that we as humans really need (food, shelter, water, and connection with others).  All other things can wait until you have saved enough to purchase it.

14.  Where you live, work, and play determines how you feel.  Make your home comfortable.  Clean out and organized drawers and throw away any unnecessary items.

15. Rearrange items or furniture to give your office or home a new fresh look.

16. Take a walk in a park or sit outside in a place full of nature.  Spend time enjoying the ambiance of the outdoors and the creatures that live there.

17.  You do not have to be an artist to be creative.  Try reading a book or listening to music.  Let this inspire your mind.

18.  Journaling can also spark ideas and solutions.

19.  Take a class to learn more about a creative outlet.  Try a cooking class, a pottery class, painting lessons, or a dance class.

20.  Be proud of who you are!  You are you.  You are unique.  This is what makes you and the world special.

21.  Find confidence in your body by highlighting areas of your body that make you proud.

22.  Respect your body.  It is your body and it is only one you will have.  Express yourself and avoid limits but practice self-control and know your boundaries.

23.  Meditate/pray daily.

24.  Connect with your Higher Power.  You do not need to be a Christian to have spiritual practices and beliefs.  Know there is a source greater than you that is in control.  Letting go of control to a Higher Power gives freedom.

25.  Let go and forgive others.

26.  What did you want to be when you grew up? Ask yourself this question to help discover your passion and purpose in life.

27.  Make an effort daily to work toward or learn what you need to do what you want to do. Make a To-Do list of things needed to prepare you or start living your dreams.

28.  Find what you love and discover your passion by talking and serving others.  Volunteering not only serves others but will serve you to discover your purpose in life.

29.  Make time weekly to spend undistracted time with loved ones.  Turn off cell phones, TV, cancel all other responsibilities, and make a day where you can focus on the ones you love.

30.  Listen to your loved ones.  Hear what they are telling you and acknowledge how they feel.  This does not mean you have to agree, it only means you hear what they are telling you.

31.  Do not assume your loved ones can read your mind.  They cannot!  It is up to you to tell them what you need and what you expect from them.

This list is not exhaustive.  There are hundreds of ways to find wellness.  Wellness is unique to each person. The key is to seek fulfillment in all areas of life.  It is great to focus on your physical fitness, but are you neglecting those you love as a result?  It is great to have lots of friends, be kind to others, and serve others but you may neglect your self by not maintaining boundaries or allowing yourself to do things you truly enjoy.  Wellness is worth pursuing.  You deserve health and happiness in all areas of your life.