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“Don’t Go Off Half Cocked”: How To Prevent Yourself From Self-Inflicted Wounds

“Don’t go off half cocked!”- Unknown

Being reminded that we shouldn’t go off half cocked is one of those expressions that we’ve all heard, been reminded of the dangers of doing so, and did it anyway, all the while having no idea what the expression meant. We knew all along it wasn’t good to be half cocked, we kind of knew we were half cocked, we did it anyway, and of course there were consequences.

What is half cocked and why are so many of us functioning in half cocked mode much of misfirethe time? Half cock is a term used to describe the safety mechanism that existed in firearms during the days of flintlock weapons. In those days the shooter had to pull back the hammer partially in order to ready the weapon to fire. These guns required setup time in order to be fired, making spontaneous shooting difficult and in some cases impossible. There was a notch on the weapon where the hammer could be set in an intermediate position, neither half closed nor open entirely, the position being referred to as “half cocked” position. The term “going off half cocked” came from the failure of the half cock mechanism to prevent the gun from firing unintentionally, thus making going off half cocked a bad thing.

Today, when someone goes off half cocked, it refers to irrational behavior that usually occurs from an ill thought out decision to act or say something without thinking it through before hand. We usually respond too quickly without thinking about what the consequences of our actions could be, and what impact our behavior may have on ourselves and others. Anger, violence, verbal abuse, and overwhelm are some of the consequences of a person behaving is a half cocked manner. “Don’t go off half cocked,” is intended to be a reminder to think things through and make a conscious decision on how to act in the face of an emotionally triggering event. Failure to do so could be, in some instances, just as damaging as that musket that misfired during the War of 1812.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term, action oriented type of psychotherapy that focuses on thinking patterns and behavior in order to allow a person to more consciously choose the results that they get. There is a simple cognitive behavioral strategy that can prevent you from going off half cocked. It involves a simple, four step process that is simple to remember because it rhymes:
Name-give what you are feeling some descriptive words. This can be done internally or out loud depending on where you are and what is triggering you. If you are in a volatile situation, it may be helpful to take a deep breath first. You need to know exactly what you yellingare experiencing before you can make a rational decision on a course of action. Name the feelings. What’s going on for you at that moment? Describe it. This advice may sound trite, but it is critical. You cannot act rationally if you are not fully aware of what is going on for you. The triggering event could be something that is instantaneous, such as being cut off in traffic, or some unpleasant situation that is unfolding over a long period of time, such as losing a job or a significant relationship.
Claim-accept your feelings, don’t deny them or pretend they don’t exist. This is that therapeutic cliche that one needs to “accept responsibility.” You’re not necessarily accepting responsibility for the outside triggering event, what you are accepting responsibility for is what you are feeling. Don’t be too judgmental about your feelings. Feelings are not literally real, they are internal representations of an outside event. They serve a purpose in that they give you an indicator that a triggering event is unacceptable to you at that moment. Feelings serve the same purpose for the emotions that pain serves for the body; they let you know that something is wrong and give you the opportunity to make things right. Feelings are not facts. They are however experienced as very real to the one who has them. Make sure that you are not exaggerating your feelings importance or making more of the situation they have it requires.
Tame-now that you figured out what you are feeling, it’s time to make a conscious decision on whether or not to take action. Taming the emotion allows you to attack the situation, if that’s what is required, with a rational and clear head, fully aware of what the consequences of that action might be. There are many strategies that can help you tame whatever it is that you’re feeling such as deep breathing, cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive restructuring, and defusion techniques. You can refer to the “therapies” tab to the right of this article to get some helpful ideas. Start with http://mindbodycoach.org/is-your-thinkin-stinkin/
Aim-after you have gone through the first three steps you are more aware of how you want to cope with the challenging event or events. You may want to shoot to kill, fire a warning shot, wave the weapon menacingly, or not even draw your weapon at all. The important thing is that you are in control, fully aware of what you are feeling, less reactive, and more rational. You may decide to use actions, words, nonverbal behavior, silence, or even choose to ignore responding at all. When you have thought through your options and choose to ignore responding you are not being passive, you are making a conscious response that you have decided is your best option at that moment. What’s important is how you feel about your choice and whether or not it gives you a better chance of getting a result that you are looking for.

This four step process, Name, Claim, Tame, and Aim can slow things down just enough charleton-hestonto allow you to make a decision that you are more comfortable with. Whether the event is in instantaneous confrontation to your ego or a challenge that builds over a longer period of time, this four part strategy will keep you from shooting yourself in the foot. Practicing this strategy on a regular basis, combined with a practice of exercise and meditation could be what it takes to make you that mellow and thoughtful person that you’ve always wanted to be.

“The fascination of shooting depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”- P.G. Wodehouse


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Evolutionary Origins of Depression: Why Depression Always Returns

“Sadness and low levels of depression are adaptive since they lead the individual to try and make up a loss. By contrast, severe or clinical depression is not adaptive, but can be thought of as sadness having become malignant.”- Lewis Wolpert

Major depression, also known as major depressive disorder, clinical depression, or simply depression, is a leading cause of disability worldwide. In and of itself it is a devastating affliction, but it also is the fourth leading contributor to all diseases. Approximately 50% of all people will meet the criteria for major depression at least for some portion of their life. Despite its prevalence, people tend to whisper when they talk about this disease, making it hard to identify and hard to treat. In fact, the average person doesn’t think of it as a disease at all. The disease of depression has no Race for a Cure, no car washes, fundraisers, or people dumping ice water over their heads on Facebook. The crushing and debilitating effects of depression are usually borne in silence, a private cross carried alone.

Occurrences of depression are so common in the human animal that there must be some reason and logic behind it. Mankind has been trying to eradicate depression since the depressedStone Age with only moderate success. Depression is largely thought of as a dysfunction, modern psychiatry usually labels it as a “mental disorder,” perhaps further stigmatizing with this label. Evolutionary psychologists who have studied the disease believes that the disorder may have an evolutionary and adaptive purpose and explain its prevalence as a hardwired behavior that at one time in human development was a survival mechanism. This theory, although controversial, would explain why depression is so prevalent and often treatment resistent.

Dr. Jonathan Rottenberg, author and professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, has researched the evolutionary purpose of depression and has come up with a number of plausible, if not probable, reasons that humans have historically been plagued with treatment resistant depression. He is the author of a fascinating book called The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, in which he discusses reasons that depression serves and adaptive function for the human animal.

Rottenberg believes that humans are, in fact animals, albeit highly intelligent and insightful animals. Humans have competed for millions of years with other forms of life on the planet. What has allowed us to survive is the adaptive abilities that come from human intelligence and the human psyche. He cites the comparative way that a human mother and a chimpanzee mother would grieve the loss of an infant: “A chimpanzee cannot report I’m feeling sad. Nevertheless, when the modern chimpanzees sees the baby chimpanzee die, it has a very similar behaviors and very similar things going on inside the mother chimp’s body as human’s do when they’re grieving the loss of their own infant.” He goes on to explain that grief, depression, and profound sadness are not only universal in these situations, but serves and adaptive purpose. “Death,” he says, “is always a sign to pay attention to what’s going on and what we can learn from it. Low mood makes us stop. It makes us analyze the environment really carefully, so you don’t repeat the same mistakes that got us into a situation in the first place.”

The psychiatric world classifies depression as a “mood disorder.” Mood is a perceptual interpretation of what a person is feeling internally at a given moment in time. We know what kind of mood we are in, even if it’s not readily visible to everyone else. “Moods,” says Dr. Rottenberg, “also organize us. When we’re in a good mood, we not only feel good but we’re prepared to take certain actions. For example, I’m in a good mood and that’s when I want to get together with friends. That’s when I want to have fun. Conversely, when I’m in a really low mood, I tend to withdraw. The mood actually makes me more likely or less likely to do certain things. Moods actually have this ability to change our cognitions, they change what’s going on in our body. They’re more than just feelings, they actually organize our activities.”

Depression, in many who suffer with it, can be correlated with seasonal changes. People paleolithic-hunter-gathererswho live in climates that have contrasting seasons often are more prone to depression in the winter months of November to March. The same people usually find a lifting of the symptoms in the month of April. This also has an evolutionary component to it as primitive man had to slow down to survive during those long, cold Stone Age winters, almost hibernating as a means of survival. The Spring months were a time of gathering food and preparing to survive the rest of the year. The longer days provided more sunlight to utilize for the hunt for sustenance and, therefore, more energy and enthusiasm for life. As the human species developed, the tendency of mood to be influenced by seasonal changes remained.

Depression is also associated with low energy and diminished enthusiasm for normal activities of daily living, leading to staying indoors and other isolating behaviors. This deprives a person of sunlight, perhaps triggering an evolutionary cause of depression. Contemporary man, in many parts of the world, spends most of his time and conducts most of their his activities indoors away from the mood lifting benefits of sunlight. A study done in San Diego California showed that approximately 50% of the population there spent around a half an hour per day in sunlight, hardly enough to gain any mood elevating benefit. Sleep, also a major factor in combating depression, is something that virtually everyone struggles with from time to time. Even those who get the required amount of sleep don’t necessarily get the quality of sleep needed to be fully energized and to optimize their mood. Primitive man didn’t have clocks and technology forcing them to sleep at predetermined and artificially constructed times. These realities could be the reason that your doctor prescribes vitamin D supplementation and explains why you sleep great on a vacation. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/natural-ways-cope-depression/ )

Even those who do not struggle with clinical depression will experience its symptoms as a result of living a normal life. Depression is often referred to as the common cold of psychiatry. No sane and rational person can live life and not experience it periodically. Sadness, a normal human emotional experience, is usually caused by some sort of loss, from loss of person, money, a job, or a meaningful relationship. This too has a evolutionary origin. Man is a social animal whose survival is largely determined by his ability to remain connected to a larger group of his own kind. The loss that we feel from a relationship or the grief we feel from the death of a loved one is programed in us to reinforce the fact that we must be part in a larger group of humans to survive. These types of attachments are adaptive from an evolutionary perspective, driving mate selection, procreation, and to bond with and protect with our offspring.(See also http://mindbodycoach.org/going-tribal/ )

The research of evolutionary psychologists indicates that depression, rather than being a malfunction, is actually an adaptive mechanism. An understanding of this can allow for the acceptance of the painful emotions that follow many of the difficult challenges that normal life throws at us. Accepting these as a natural part of the human experience doesn’t necessarily dull the pain, but may allow you to keep it in perspective and prevent it from crossing over into a major depressive episode. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/acceptance-true-wisdom/ )

It’s also important to understand that humans are not meant to be ecstatically happy all the time. With the artificial community created by television and the Internet, many peopleadaptive-images.php believe that everyone but them is leading these wonderful, perfect lives, doing all these exciting things, and living free of emotional pain. They know this by looking at the Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Instagram selfies of the beautiful people and ask themselves, “What’s wrong with me?” The answer is nothing, you are a normal human being adapting to your world in a normal and entirely human fashion, and what you see on Facebook and the Internet is an idealized reality.

You’re normal, and so are your feelings. Feel what you feel and be patient. This too shall pass.

“Perhaps what we call depression isn’t really a disorder at all but, like physical pain, an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong; that perhaps it is time to stop, take a time-out, take as long as it takes, and attend to the unaddressed business of filling our souls.”- Jonathan Rottenberg


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Groucho Marx Syndrome And How To Build Real Self-Esteem

“I would never be a member of any club that would have me as a member.”- Groucho Marx

Self-esteem is one of those hard to quantify feelings that most people strive to develop. grouchoWhile it means different things to different people, having different characteristics depending on the individual, it usually implies that a person values themselves. It comes from how valuable we feel that we are to others as well as ourselves, effecting our work, our relationships, and our sense of trust. It plays a huge role in human motivation, without enough of it we will never try anything new, take any social risks, or live up to our full potential. Too much of it, and people can’t stand us, perceiving us as narcissistic, self-centered, and arrogant.

There are a few key components to what constitutes self-esteem:

· Self-esteem is important to human survival and normal, healthy development.
· Self-esteem is perceived automatically based on a person’s beliefs and consciousness.
· Self-esteem occurs in conjunction with a persons thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and actions.

As a practicing coach and psychotherapist for the past 18 years, I have sat with hundreds of people and listened as they have explored their self-worth and self-esteem. It’s amazing how frequently there is a disconnect between what you would think a person’s view of hitlerthemselves would be and what it actually is. We live at a time when a false sense of self-esteem is far easier to develop than true self-esteem. As evidence, take a look at what pervades the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. People take selfies, show you what they’ve had for lunch, allow you to follow their every move, update you on their relationship status, make public displays of their children, significant others, and share virtually every aspect of their lives. Most who do this type of thing are relatively healthy, but a fair percentage are not, seeking desperately to get some sense of self-worth from the reactions of others.

In psychotherapy, it sometimes becomes obvious that a client who should have a very healthy sense of self-esteem does not. Despite their many positive attributes and accomplishments, they just can’t see it. They usually have problems with accepting complements, recognizing self-worth, and viewing themselves objectively. I often say to these clients, “You are suffering from Groucho Marx syndrome.” I then site the above quote, which usually leads to a pretty productive discussion. After Groucho’s quote sinks in, clients are usually pretty good at identifying where their poor self-esteem originated, citing parenting techniques, their school days, poor relationships, and recent difficulties. Most of the obstacles to self-esteem aren’t real or actual, they are perceptions that exist in the client’s mind, nurtured by negative self talk and flawed logic.

There are literally hundreds of articles on the Internet giving people advice on self-esteem. They usually emphasize positive self talk, developing a can do attitude, and things like talking to yourself daily while looking in the mirror. Without doubt, some of these activities can be helpful, but actions speak louder than words in most cases. There is a cause and effect, yin and yang relationship between behavior and thoughts-thoughts influence behavior and behavior influences thought. Thinking, willpower, and positive self talk are not enough to develop self-esteem.

The best way to build self esteem and self worth is to do positive things for other people, expecting nothing in return. The logic here is that if you have something positive to give to others, then you possess something positive.

There are some action steps that one can take if they are looking to improve their self-worth. Here are some:

· Begin to seek out ways to do things for other people, at least five per day. Help family and friends, volunteer your time, check that box at the cash register where the cashier asks if you want to give one dollar to that charity, hold the door open for someone, let Jonah_and_old_lady2-F600x400someone go in front of you in line-anything.
· Notice what you have done positive. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice what you say to yourself. Keep your self talk positive and realistic. Don’t wait for a thank you, or a complement, your praise must come from you yourself.
· Develop some kind of program of exercise. Too many people base self-esteem on their physical attributes. It’s easier to feel good about your physicality if you physically feel better. Feeling better and inwardly is the first step to feeling better on the outside. We’re not talking hours at the gym and starvation diets here, we are talking about a healthy lifestyle, clean diet, and behavior patterns that lead to positive emotions.
· Drop the perfectionist thinking. Stop thinking you need to be perfect, begin to focus on being good enough. Not good enough for others, but good enough for yourself.
· Learn to accept a compliment. If you are someone who finds themselves constantly deflecting complements, STOP! This is the essence of the Groucho Marx Syndrome. You would never be a member of a club that would have you as a member. After receiving a complement, learn to say thank you. That’s it, thank you, and then learn to shut up. Let the moment sink in.
· At least once per day, sit and reflect on the behaviors that you have done that day which have given value to someone else, or an enhanced the quality of your life. Pat yourself on the back for the things that you did for yourself that day. Maybe you chose a healthy lunch over fast food, went for a walk or worked out, read a book instead of mindlessly surfing the Internet, or put some money in your bank. It’s not only okay to do this, it’s essential to notice these things and reward yourself with positive feelings.
· Learn to reward yourself through positive self talk positive emotions, and positive actions. Don’t brag about these things to others and don’t deflect any complements, praise, or thanks that comes your way. Simply accept these accolades through a simple thank you.
· Stop comparing yourself to others. They is always going to be somebody better, prettier, richer, bigger, stronger, faster, etc. Keep in mind good enough, and strive daily to be a better version of your self.

The most important thing about building self-esteem is to remember that it is self esteem. Your opinion of yourself matters above all else. Stop being a spectator to your own life, viewing yourself and judging yourself as if you were somebody else looking for flaws. Get out of your head and into some positive actions. Reward yourself for these efforts. You are as good as you tell yourself you are.

“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”- Mark Twain


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

“Bullshit!”- How To Adjust That Built In Meter You’ve Been Bragging About

“When the sky’s falling, I take shelter under bullshit.”- Scott Lynch

Bullshit, is a commonly used expletive in the English language, a euphemism often said in response to something that is perceived as deceiving, misleading, disingenuous, or falseBS. Generally, anything we perceive as nonsense can fall into the category. It’s one of those expressions that has become completely devoid of its original meaning, and on the cusp of being socially acceptable. Depending on who you are talking to, where you are, and a lot of other contextual things, a person may say the full word, or soften the blow by deferring to its initials, B.S., or by simply saying the word “Bull!” No matter how it’s used, we recognize it for what it is, a no-nonsense way of expressing our disbelief, unwillingness to be fooled, swindled, deceived, or cheated. Some of us are so proud of our lack of gullibility that we even claim to have a built in “bullshit meter,” that we refer to from time to time to protect us from others and outside factors that would otherwise take advantage of us.

Despite our sense of pride at being able to identify outside sources of B.S., most of us overlook the greatest threat to our B.S. meter: ourselves. All of us have preconceived notions about the world, others, ourselves, our abilities, government, politics, God, religion, medicine, and the meaning of life. These beliefs are shaped by actual and vicarious exposure to real and imagined events that have occurred, or may occur, over the course of our lifetime. Things that we are exposed to form the basis of our real B.S. meter: our Belief Systems.

We all have preconceived belief systems and we often think that we are not influenced by others. Most of us think this is how we have developed the healthy B.S. Meters that we believe we possess and because we believe this meter to be infallible, we dogmatically follow it, allowing it to shape our self image, establish our potential, create our view of the world, and direct all aspects of our lives. While in many respects, a healthy B. S. Meter can be a good thing, never questioning its results can lead to a life of disappointment and problems.

As humans, we have built in biases that we need to be aware of before we blindly accept the findings of our B. S. Meter. Some of these are uniquely our own, others are biases that all humans are susceptible to. Here are some examples:
Confirmation Bias-this is the tendency to search for, recall, or interpret information in a politicway that confirms a belief that you already have. Information is subconsciously gathered, arranged, processed, and interpreted with the goal of building evidence to support an existing position. This comes from overconfidence in personal beliefs already held, as a person desperately looks for evidence to support their viewpoint. It also serves a protective factor, as to give up a long-held existing belief can be very damaging to a person’s worldview and sense of themselves. Confirmation bias is often compared to and internal “yes man,” echoing back a person’s beliefs, reassuring them that they have been right all along. It’s likely to be strongest when dealing with fundamental issues of existence such as morals, politics, and religion.

Expectation Bias-this is the tendency in people to subconsciously create the reality that they expect. They act tentatively because they have a preconceived concept of what the outcome is going to be, setting themselves up to fail which, of course, they just “knew” they would. With the expectation bias, a person’s beliefs about their ability are so ingrained that they subconsciously create their own outcomes, receiving the very results they expect. They usually follow up with lines of thought such as:
⦁ “I knew that would happen.”
⦁ “This kind of stuff always happens to me.”
⦁ “See, I told you I couldn’t do it.”

Ingroup Bias-this is similar to confirmation bias, occurring within a group of like-minded individuals. In the 1970s it was commonly referred to as “Groupthink.” A group of individuals processes a belief or event collectively, feeding off each other and developing a common viewpoint. This viewpoint is perceived as being correct because others believe the same thing, and “That many people couldn’t be wrong.” Ingroup bias appeals to our logic, sense of community, and basic tribal instincts. It also tends to make us fearful, suspicious, and disdainful of other groups who do not share our beliefs, race, or nationality.

Negativity Bias-this is a human’s innate tendency to pay more attention to bad news than good. It’s hardwired in humans because it allo thewed the more cautious of our ancestors to survive, passing of on their genes on to their offspring. Those who were too optimistic had a greater tendency to be killed by animals, the elements, and natural disasters that they were not prepared for. Contemporary media caters to this tendency, creating more negativity, fear, and dread than at any time in history. The irony is that we are living in the safest time in the history of mankind, despite what most of us think.

Current Moment Bias-this occurs when a person assumes that they will act in the future with the logic of the present. For example, a person on a diet is going out to a restaurant with friends. They tell themselves that they’re “just going to have a small salad.” Of course, the meal starts with drinks, their resistance drops a little, and the result is a 2500 calorie meal. A person assumes that their courage of motivation and willpower will be there when they are in the heat of the moment, facing that very attractive menu. Current Moment Bias is a lot like junior high dance. You swear up and down you’re “just going to go, I’m not going to dance,” but before you know it you’re out there on that floor.

Questioning the findings of our built-in B.S. Meter from time to time is the only way of making any true change in any area of our lives. The first step in recalibrating this meter is to take a look at what you believe to be true about yourself, the world, and others. You may want to generate a list of some of these beliefs and then question them by offering alternatives. Ask yourself questions like:
How do I know this to be true?
⦁ Who says so?
⦁ Where is the evidence?
⦁ Could there be another explanation?
⦁ Where does my belief come from?

A well-adjusted and frequently re-calibrated B.S. Meter is one of the most important tools bullthat anyone can have. Periodically checking its accuracy and keeping it in good operating condition can alleviate a lot of pain and suffering. Use it wisely.

“To recognize bullshit, nose is better than ear.”- Toba Beta



P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Get Out Of Your Own Way: Why Behavior Speaks Louder Than Words

“What is it that you want, I mean really want, from your life?”

For the past 18 years I have spoken to thousands of people and have either directly askedThinking smiling woman with questions mark above head looking up this question or some variation of it. It’s a common question that therapists, counselors, and coaches ask in numerous forms to every client that they encounter. It’s a simple question, yet most people struggle initially to come up with an answer. After a period of time, most clients come up with what they believe to be the goals for their sessions. They leave the counseling room with the best of intentions-they’re going to make that phone call, apply for that job, begin that work out, do their daily meditation, make that list, and follow through. While some actually do follow through, an astonishingly large percentage will not. In follow-up sessions, we explore what their resistance is. Eventually, we get to the bottom of things. In counseling and coaching there are a number of expressions used to describe this client dynamic. Therapists talk about “resistance, self sabotage, and being inauthentic.” I often think that clients need to learn to get out of their own way.

Most times, when someone has a problem getting out of their own way, it’s not that they don’t want this new goal, they don’t know how to attain it. In sessions with the counselor or coach, a fair amount of time is spent examining, planning, and envisioning how someone wants their life to be. In the safe confines of the counseling room, it’s pretty easy to do that. When people get outside, in the real world, things change. Without a lot of insight most will tend to do what they’ve always done when confronted with familiar situations, people, and places. The human brain is wired for consistency and repetition, creating a predictability and safety that is a basic human need. A problem arises when this consistency results in a series of ingrained and destructive behavior patterns. People literally lose sight of what they truly want for themselves and do what they always have done. Quite often people don’t even know or recognize this pattern where there is a disconnect between what they say they want and what they do.

Here’s a few examples that you may be able to relate to:
⦁ An overweight guy decides that he’s going to cut back on his drinking before the summer, but make sure he has a 30 pack of beer in the basement fridge “just in case someone drops by.”
⦁ A woman decides that she is going to “find somebody that I can trust” to have a meaningful relationship with. She frequents bars in order to meet someone, finds few prospects and laments that, “All men care about is a brief fling, drinking, and watching sports on TV.”
1414099142202⦁ A husband and wife decide that they’re both going to lose weight in order to improve their health. They decide that they will go out to eat at least once a week in expensive and high end restaurants because “That’s what we do for fun.”
⦁ A 50-year-old male decides that he’s going to “get back into shape.” He impulsively buys some overpriced exercise equipment and videos that he sees on an infomercial. He gets badly injured overdoing it in the first week.
⦁ A husband and wife set up a college savings fund for their five-year-old daughter. Within four years they are withdrawing money from it because she simply has to go to gymnastics camp, because that’s the surest way to a college scholarship.

If you look a little closer at your own behavior and that of people around you, you’ll often notice that there is a disconnect between what we say we want and what we do. Goals are not well thought out nor are they analyzed objectively. In each of the above examples you’ll notice that there is a flawed logic, a justification that superficially makes sense in the heat of the moment. People who don’t attain long-term goals tend to make these kinds of impulsive and poorly thought out decisions more often than those who are successful. Getting some coaching or counseling from an objective outsider is by far the best way to overcome this tendency. We tend to get defensive when people that we have an emotional investment with point out the obvious flaws in our logic.It often makes us even more stubborn with our negative behavior because, “Who are they to tell me what to do?”

“Change will lead to insight far more often and insight will lead to change.”-Milton Erickson

There are many reasons why people keep doing the same negative behaviors over and over and have problems getting out of their way. Rather than complicate this, I like to explain it to clients as a metaphor. Doing the same behavior repeatedly creates neuropathways in the brain, hardwiring connections and making it easier for us to perform the same behaviors over and over, even if our conscious minds don’t want us to. These pathways become our go to reactions, we become creatures of habit, and tend to perform the same behaviors consistently. On one level, we want to stop and we want change, but the behavior becomes ingrained, making it hard for us to get out of our own way. I compare it to a path that the kids in the neighborhood wear across your lawn as they cut through your yard day after day. You never see the little buggers because you’re not home, but you know they’re doing it because each day the path gets deeper and deeper and more obvious.

The first step in changing any behavior is to recognize it and accept that you are doing it. Push the denial aside, look at your behavior rather than your logic. I often tell my clients:
“Behavior speaks louder than words.”

A close examination of your own behavior is very hard to do alone. Denial is a go to denialdefense mechanism that most of us throw up a little too quickly. Working with a coach or counselor is the best way to examine the inconsistencies between what we say we want and what we do, but a lot of insight can be developed with a pen, notebook, and some quiet introspective moments. Try to find the gap between what you say you want and what you do. You simply cannot get out of your own way without this insight.

“The first step to success is getting out of your own way.”-Robert Kiyosaki


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

What’s Your Story?: Five Fables Not To Tell Yourself

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”- Virginia Woolf

For the past 18 years I have been a practicing psychotherapist and life coach. It’s a writfascinating career, and even when I tell myself I don’t want to go to work, I’m always glad that I did. I’ve learned a lot about how people think and view the world. I’ve sat with thousands of people and heard their stories. Many times the problems that they have in their lives are the product of the stories that they tell themselves. When I meet a client for the first time, I find myself silently saying to myself, “What’s your story?” The story that they tell often gives some pretty solid information about their world view, but more importantly, why they struggle with various aspects of life.

Each of us has an internal story that we tell ourselves. The story comes from our life experiences and the way that we process what happens to us-the good, the bad, and the ugly. The stories get repeated over and over again every time we mentally relive events, reflect, process, and review things that have happened to us. It’s a characteristic of human thought that once we attach thoughts and a story to an event or experience that experience changes for us. Each time we tell ourselves our story, the story becomes ingrained in us and becomes our reality. The stories that we tell are not real in and of themselves, they are as real as we make them. As a therapist and coach, sometimes my job is pretty simple-get my client to tell themselves a better story.

Getting the client to tell a better story can be incredibly difficult or incredibly simple, depending upon the life experience that they have had. Abuse victims, trauma survivors, and kids raised in horrible family situations do have a difficult story to overcome. The process, however always remains the same-getting them to work through, and eventually change the internal representation, the story that they tell themselves. Other clients tell themselves stories that are not helpful for less traumatic reasons. Regardless of the issue, getting to the meat of the story and allowing the client to process it in a different way, shape, or form is necessary.

There are general categories of stories that emerge. All of us, regardless of emotional wellness tell our own stories. Here are a few types of stories that we tell ourselves that are often counterproductive:
The “Victim Story”
People who identify themselves as the victim in the story of their lives often set themselves up for more of the same. Because they identify subconsciously as a victim, they often put themselves in situations where they cannot possibly succeed. Many of the messages they tell themselves begin with internal statements like, “why me,” and “everything always happens to me.” Quite often these are people who believe that they are victims of quality problems such as “my Lexus needs a new transmission,” “the flight to Arruba was delayed,” or “it rained two days on my vacation week.” Victims tend to see the world through the filter of an “everything always happens to me” attitude. What’s your story about being a victim? (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/cause-effect-choice/ )

The “Money Story”
Many people have a strange relationship with the concept of money. For some, there are automatic thoughts that go with it. “We’ll never have any money, “Rich people are selfish,” “We’re destined to be poor,” and “Poor people are fundamentally better than the rich,” are examples of the kinds of automatic thoughts that provide the basis for a counterproductive money story. Usually, the story that one tells themselves about money directly correlates to their economic situation. And, many who accumulate money are unable to convert it into happiness. What’s your story about money? (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/attitude-gratitude/ )

The “Terrible Toos”
This is a story that provides a great excuse for failing to take action. We don’t take action storybecause it is “too,” as in too hard, too old, too expensive, too far, too, too, too….. This story is terrible because it creates an attitude of passivity and often spills over into all kinds of other negative stories. It has the potential to put somebody on life’s sidelines for their entire life beginning in adolescence. As little children, we believe we can do virtually anything. In adolescence we begin to accept a lot of the negative feedback that we get from parents, our peers, and our teachers. The Terrible Toos often sets up a lifetime of helplessness, but it can rear its ugly head any time over the course of the lifespan. Too bad.

The “Used To Be Story”
Many of my coaching clients are middle-aged men who have lost their way. They’re going through life, apparently successfully, but they’re not happy inside. The dirty secret of mental health is that there are millions of “successful” middle aged men out there that are depressed and don’t even realize it. They are masking their depression through words like angry, pissed off, bored, and tired. When they tell their story, their affect usually brightens when they tell you who and what they “used to be.” They weren’t always like this, and listening to their story, punctuated with the phrase “used to be” inserted over and over, is pretty depressing. Usually my challenge with these clients is to get them to realize that, while they’ll never be what they used to be, they still may have a lot in the tank. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/woulda-turned-pro-myths-glory-days/ ) So, who did you “used to be?” Did you ever think that you might be able to be that person again?

The “Conspiracy Theorist”
This type of person tends to view the world as if it is a rigged card game or professional wrestling. They believe that major events in the world are orchestrated by dark forces intent on keeping people in their place. They usually get overly fascinated with the workings of the government, big business, banking interests, and major world power brokers. These people will rant and rail about “them,” “they,” and “the man,” whose major purpose and goals are to keep the rest of us down. They spend an exorbitant amount of their intellectual life verifying this world view that they have by watching, listening to, and reading biased news reporting that fits the beliefs that they already have. They don’t seek out news sources that give them new information, they seek out news sources that confirm what they already believe-that the world is a mean, cold, and nasty place and there is not a damn thing that they or anyone else can do to change it. So, what kind of stories do you tell yourself about government, big business, and major organizations? Do your thoughts contribute something positive to your worldview? (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/media-madness-media-influences-mental-health/ )

These five stories are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the negative narratives that most of us have lurking just beneath the surface. Telling your existing stories to a counselor, psychotherapist, or coach can be helpful, but you can do a lot to change the story on your own. An exercise I do with my clients is to ask them to write their life story from the third person, changing the name of the story’s main character-them-if necessary. When they read the story over, they can often find themselves in one of the five storylines that I mentioned above. Sometimes I’ll ask them to go back after some reflection and rewrite the story, focusing on resiliency factors and positive attributes that they had not included in their first narrative. These methods can create changes in the story that a client tells themselves. It’s a very simple activity, but if done thoughtfully and diligently, it can be transformative.

So, what’s your story?anthony-hopkins-john-quincy-adams--large-msg-135248381831

“Whoever tells the best story wins.”- John Quincy Adams, in the movie Amistad


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

What Stands In The Way Becomes The Way: Ancient Wisdom For The Modern World

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

In counseling and psychotherapy there is a therapeutic technique that is often referred to as the “paradoxical intention.” This technique, although highly effective, is seldom applied or even suggested by psychotherapists. It is based on a strategy thumbfrequently used in medical treatments were a small dose of the disease is prescribed in order to allow the body to develop a tolerance, thereby becoming more capable of resisting that disease. What results is immunity. Most childhood vaccinations that you received worked on this principle. It is also the reason that stimulants are often prescribed for people who are hyperactive, sedatives, such as benzodiazepines can cause agitation, and is the basic mechanism that makes antibiotics effective. When applied as a part of psychotherapy however, it is usually met with deep and stubborn resistance.

The psychotherapeutic strategy of the paradoxical intention was a strategy first introduced by Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor. If you’re ever feeling sorry for yourself, I suggest that you read his book Man’s Search for Meaning, his story of concentration camp survival. The book can be read easily within one day and is freely available on the Internet. In it, he explains what that experience of survival was like in the first part, and in the second part he outlines his therapeutic philosophy which he called Logotherapy. After surviving his ordeal in World War II, he returned to the counseling room convinced that the best way for most of his clients to improve their situations was to challenge them to take on brief challenges in order to increase their tolerance for what he believed was the realities of life. Frankl’s usage of the paradoxical intention was adapted by later cognitive behavioral therapists such as Albert Ellis and Donald Meichenbaum (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/healthy-dose-fear/ )

There is a historical basis to the paradoxical intention. Stoicism, a school of Greek philosophy founded in the third century BC by the philosopher Zeno, has a similar logic. Contrary to the contemporary interpretation of the word stoic, ancient Greek Stoics were not dour, negative, or unhappy. They considered themselves to be realists, determined to have a fulfilling and happy life despite the harsh realities that life throws at us. For them, pain, suffering, rejection, and isolation were simply are part of life to not only accept, but to expect. A stoic would expect that these negative things would happen, and work through them anyway. The Marcus Aurelius quote which starts this article hits the nail on the head: the best way out of a problem is through it.

As you can imagine, introducing these kinds of paradoxical strategies in a therapeutic setting is likely to be an invitation for client resistance. Fighting through this resistance is the reason why therapists often refer to interventions that they suggest to clients as “doing the work.” Paradoxical intention is an invitation for a client to admit their fears and anxieties and “do it anyway.” The therapy often involves breaking down the challenge into manageable, smaller, mini challenges, designed to build the client’s tolerance and confidence. The beauty of this type of intervention is that any exposure to that which is feared is viewed as a success, regardless of the outcome. Therapist and client celebrate rejection, refusal, and exposure to stressful events because the goal is to go through, rather than around, the problem. This has the exact opposite effect from what a client would expect. “I asked her out and she said no,” or “I interviewed for the job and got rejected” become the small, painful events that a client learns to tolerate, be comfortable with, and sometimes even to expect.

In challenging a client to take on this strategy, I often use a quote from cognitive behavioral theorist Albert Ellis: “What’s the worst that can happen?” We begin to explore, in the safety of the counseling room, the feared event with the intention of taking that fear and exploring it in the real world. Follow up, Ellis stolen questions such as, “Would that be so terrible? How do you know? Do you really think that you would die? Would you ever get over it?” and so on, often give the client a glimpse into how unrealistic their fears truly are. The goal then becomes to get out there and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This strategy was used by a company whose revenue was based on cold sales calls. Salesman make cold calls daily and were expected to make as many calls per day as possible.. Trainers of the phone sales persons used the paradoxical intention as a way of getting the sales personnel comfortable with being rejected. New salesman were encouraged to get as many rejections as possible each day and were initially given a bonus for calls that resulted in a sale, as well as a smaller bonus for the number of rejections that they received. Statements such as, “I didn’t make any sales today, but I got 47 rejections!,” became a reason to celebrate. Over time, employees who had this training became the most adept at making these dreaded cold calls.

The strategy of the paradoxical intention works extremely well because it allows a client to personally experience something that would otherwise be hard to nounderstand unless they had gone through it. I once saw an interview with Gene Simmons, bass guitarist for the rock band Kiss. Simmons, who admits to not being very good-looking, was asked by the interviewer why he was so successful with so many women. You would have guessed that he would’ve said something to the effect that it was “Because I’m a rockstar,” but that wasn’t his answer. He said that “It’s because I have no fear of being rejected. I just move on to the next woman.” He went on to explain that “It’s simple mathematics. There’s gotta be at least 5% of women in the world would go out with anybody, regardless of how they looked. I’m just willing to ask those 100 in order to be accepted by those 5.” While Gene is certainly no Victor Frankl, he is certainly onto something here.

There are some basic principles at play here:
⦁ Stoic philosophy can be useful to create behavioral change. Sometimes, the best way around an obstacle is straight through it.
⦁ When it comes to human behavior, Frankl’s idea of the paradoxical intention works as well as paradoxical medical interventions such as inoculations. Overcoming a little bit of emotional stress does, in fact, make one stronger, more capable, and more resilient. Human resiliency can only be developed through experience.
⦁ The meaning we attach to life events is more important than the event’s themselves. It’s not what happens to us, as much as it is the meaning and significance we attach to what happens to us.
⦁ Rejection is only truly a rejection if a person accepts it as such. Remember those salesman with the phone calls and Gene Simmons’ logic. Simple math, the more rejections I get, the closer I am to success.
⦁ When life becomes overwhelming, learn to ask yourself the tough questions. “What’s the worst that could happen?” “Would that be so terrible?” “Would it kill me?” Don’t catastrophize, project, or magnify events. Attaching a better personal meaning to the stories that we tell ourselves can radically change your world.
⦁ The Buddhist philosophy that life is painful, but suffering is optional, is worth considering frequently. Victor Frankl’s life story bears witness to this fact.winston

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston S. Churchill



P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Natural Ways To Cope With Depression

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Depression is one of the most common and debilitating illnesses that a human can suffer from. It is subtle and cunning, making it hard for the victim to recognize, invisible enough so that others often don’t know, and is often misunderstood even by depressedthe medical community. It is the common cold of emotional problems, effecting 340 million people worldwide, 16 million Americans annually, and it is estimated that as many as 25% of American women and 10% of American men will meet its clinical diagnosis at any given point in time. 50% of all Americans will meet the criteria to such a degree that they would qualify for inpatient psychiatric care at least once during their lifetime. It would appear that many of us are quite sad a lot of the time.

Over half of all cases of depression go untreated, largely because those suffering with depression misinterpret the symptoms, attributing them to something else. Here is a short list of some of the more common symptoms:
⦁ a lack of energy, and more fatigued than usual
⦁ a sullen mood that differs from what’s normal
⦁ decreased ability to concentrate
⦁ decreased ability to tolerate normal, everyday frustrations
⦁ feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and anxiety
⦁ changes in sleep patterns and appetite
⦁ loss of interest in things that normally are sources of pleasure

Depression, like most mood disorders, will come and go during the course of a lifetime. Many who suffer from depression pass it off as something that they “just have to ride out for a while,” not seeking help because they are embarrassed, ashamed, or because they pass it off as part of their personality. “It’s just the way I am.” For those with mild to moderate depression, it will pass, usually within 6 to 8 weeks time. For those that are unaware of their own patterns, it will return, seemingly without warning, over and over again during the course of a lifetime, wreaking havoc on relationships, work, finances, and health. Untreated major depression can lead to major medical problems, substance abuse, chemical dependence, being incapable of routine functioning, or suicide.

drunkMost suffering from depression who do seek help are first seen by their primary care physicians. Because physicians are schooled in a more medical model, victims are often diagnosed with a physical ailment and treated for that when mental health treatment is a more appropriate approach. Primary care physicians have limited time with patients, and many are prescribing psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, without having done a full psychiatric workup on the patient. Many insurance providers require all patients to be screened for specialty care by their primary care physician, with the PCP referring the patient as needed. This has resulted in primary care physicians becoming the front line providers for mental health care in the United States. The Journal of Mental Health and Family Medicine states that primary care physicians identify 33% of their patients as psychiatric, rather than medical, and that PCPs are prescribing approximately 75% of all psychiatric medications.

The combination of patient misunderstanding of depression, societal stigma, and primary care doctors’ time constraints usually leads to the PCP prescribing a medication and the depressed patient is out the door, on their merry way, changing nothing except the ingestion of a medication 1 to 3 times per day. Patients usually try the medication for a while, often discontinuing it because “it didn’t do anything,” or “I didn’t like the side effects.” The patient usually gives up on treatment because “I tried it and it didn’t work.” They believe that they have been treated for their depression, but this is not the case.

Treatment for depression, and most psychiatric issues, is best started with non-medical interventions focusing on thought processes, behavior, routines, and nutrition. For clients struggling with depression, it is also important that an assessment is done focusing on lifetime patterns of depression, seeking to identify common situational and internal triggers that can give insight into the patient’s unique relationship with their depressive symptoms. While a complete physical examination done by your primary care physician is necessary in order to rule out any physical causes, do not rely on your PCP to be your sole treatment. There are many steps that should be taken first, before medication is tried. Often, behavioral and lifestyle changes make medication unnecessary, and results are more permanent than those that could be obtained by medication alone.

Here are some action steps that can help you cope with and prevent depression:
⦁ Try some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as self-help. CBT is perhaps the most immediate therapeutic intervention for many emotional disorders, but works particularly well for depression. It works to identify habitual, maladaptive thinking patterns that can lead to spiraling depression. While CBT is best done with a professional counselor, it is a great self-help tool that you can learn and practice regularly. Check the “Therapies” of this blog or the Amazon.com link to the right for access to my e-book “CBT Made Simple: A QuickStart Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” for some easy ways to implement CBT immediately.
⦁ Get into a well thought out, daily routine. Depression responds very well to structured activities. It is important that each day has a written plan, or a depressed person runs the risk of remaining in bed too long. Most suffering from depression will tell you that getting out of bed is perhaps the most challenging time of day. A pre-planned schedule of healthy activities and scheduled, positive, human interactions is vitally important to a wellness plan that is capable of keeping depression at bay.
⦁ Get adequate, but not excessive, amounts of sleep. I often tell my clients that there is no mental health or emotional issue that a lack of sleep will not imitate. Developing a system of solid sleep hygiene will improve your physical and emotional energy, making you more ready to combat the symptoms of depression. (Use the search links on this page to obtain more information and hints of how to maximize your sleep)
⦁ Exercise each day. While you don’t need to do a lot to obtain the mental health benefits of exercise, you do need to do something regularly. Yeah, it would be great if you had a formal structured routine that included resistance work, stretching, and walkcardiovascular activities, but that’s not necessary in order to reap depression fighting benefits. Brief, but frequent bursts of activity during the day of moderate to low intensity is all that it takes. It can be simple activities such as housework and household chores, a 5 to 10 minute stroll during your lunch break, parking your car farther from the entrances of places that you are going to, or taking brief stretch breaks during the day. When combating depression, the key is to make exercise sessions very brief, frequent, and interspersed them throughout your day. Do not run yourself down with this! The purpose is to create energy, not deplete it. This physical energy will soon carry over into emotional energy as well.
⦁ Be aware of your eating habits. Three or more small meals each day provide a steady source of nutrition, giving your brain the fuel that it needs to process emotions more positively. Food should be healthy, rather than quick and convenient. Adequate amounts of protein in your preferred form – lean meats, chicken, or fish, plus as many vegetable sources as you can take in – is your best bet. Avoid, or at least cut down drastically on caffeine, simple sugars, and carbohydrates. Processed foods may be unavoidable, but try to cut them down as much as possible. Many studies suggest nutritional supplementation can have a positive benefit in the treatment of depression. Don’t be too quick to jump on the latest fad with this. Stick to some form of Omega-3 fatty acid such as fish oil, a vitamin D3 supplement, and watch your diet. If you have any doubts about what other supplements you should consider, consult your PCP.
⦁ Get as much sunlight as you safely can. Try to get outside during the day as often as possible without over doing it. Modern man does not get enough vitamin D in the form of sunlight. Many are prone to seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that results from seasonal climactic changes. If you can’t get outside as much as you would like, try to get natural light through things like opening the shades and opening the sun roof on your car. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/reason-sad/ for more on seasonal affective disorder )
⦁ Develop some type of meditative practice. Learning to calm your mind enables you to think more clearly and rationally. Irrational thoughts are characteristic of both depression and anxiety, two emotions that go hand-in-hand in the thoughts of a depressed person. The Stress Management link on this page will give you some simple solutions and suggestions if you are one of those who believes that they cannot meditate. It’s not as complicated as you may think. Incorporate some form of meditation into your daily routine.

Make these suggestions a part of your overall wellness program. If you are prone to depression, or merely want to have a more aware and productive life, then these suggestions are for you. If your depression does not respond to these strategies within a month, or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, then contact your doctor immediately. For major depression it is sometimes necessary to combine appropriate medications along with the strategies that are suggested here. Research indicates that for major depression these activities plus medications work far better in combination. Don’t be so quick to have your primary care physician prescribe medication. Medication as the sole treatment for any type of depression is not enough. Depression responds better to a more comprehensive attack. If you suffer from depression, don’t delay getting treatment or creating a wellness program to fight it. Depression is one of the more treatable emotional issues that people face.


“You say you’re ‘depressed’ – all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human.” – David Mitchell



P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

It Can Be A Wonderful Life: The George Bailey Effect

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? “-Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a television staple that, for many, heralds in the holiday season. TheWonderfulLife film was produced in 1946 by movie legend Frank Capra and stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a banker and family man who is contemplating suicide due to the difficulty he is having financially providing for his family. He does so because he believes that his life insurance policy is the best way to provide for them, as he feels he is “worth more dead than alive.” Of course, George does not complete the suicide, but the real message of the movie is the reasons why and the thought process introduced to him by an angel in training, Clarence Odbody, who is assigned to save him. Clarence must complete this task on Christmas Eve in order to “earn his wings,” and become a First Class angel.

A strategy in the field of Positive Psychology is an activity called a “Gratitude Journal.” It consists of an exercise in which someone looks for three different positive things in their life each day for a period of 30 days, recording them in a notebook which becomes their journal. The three things can be virtually anything that one is grateful for providing that they are three different things each day. They can be simple things like “I’m grateful that I woke up, I’m grateful for my morning coffee, I’m grateful for fresh air,” virtually anything that you notice that you are grateful for. Each evening you will record three new things after reviewing and contemplating the list that you have compiled thus far. While it may seem rather simplistic, I’ve personally witnessed this value numerous times in programs and therapeutic settings where I have worked. The secret is in the reviewing and contemplating. Research shows that if it’s done for 30 days, a person is likely to continue it indefinitely or at least have their way of thinking changed. It works because our brains are wired to notice what we expect. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/really-power-placebo/ )

Many psychologists have proposed an activity that is similar in intention to the Gratitude Journal called the “George Bailey Effect.” It’s logic is based in the ancient Greek philosophy called Stoicism, which imagesteaches a person to see things as they truly are, rather than through the rose colored glasses of idealism. The activity is named after George Bailey because of how Clarence convinces George that his life is worth living. In his moment of despair, Bailey is focused on how his life has unraveled. A clerical error by his uncle Billy, who works for him and the bank, puts him on the verge of bankruptcy. After George is turned down from obtaining a loan, he gets drunk at a local bar, crashes his car on the way home, staggers to a bridge where he has an epiphany that he is “worth more dead than alive,” and decides to jump to his death, thereby providing for his family the only way he can think of. Clarence, angel second class, appears in the water below the bridge and pretends to be drowning. George, who’s been rescuing people in various forms his whole life, falls for Clarence’s trick, rescues him, and learns Clarence’s true identity and purpose.

The method that Clarence uses to change Bailey’s mind is what has become known as the George Bailey Effect. Clarence asks George to imagine what the world would have been like had George never been born. He takes George on and Ebenezer Scrooge like journey in what George’s hometown would look like if he had never been born, and George becomes an observer of a lot of negative and painful potential events. For example George’s brother, whose life he saved as a child, died at age 12 instead, and the soldiers that his brother saved heroically during World War II all died tragically. George’s uncle, whom George employed for years, was in an insane asylum. The hundreds of customers in the bank where George worked and the positive impact George’s business had on the town never occurred. George’s wife, Mary, was a spinster librarian, and George’s four wonderful children never existed. In a moment of insight, George realizes that what he thought was a pitiful existence was, in fact, a wonderful life, and he returns to his family a changed and wiser man.

The George Bailey Effect technique takes about 20 minutes of your time. It has been studied and its-a-wonderful-life-clarenceresearched thoroughly. One study done at the University of Virginia breaks down the technique, explaining why it is effective. The idea is that by mentally “undoing” positive events from our lives, we initially experience a bit of sadness and regret. In contrast, however, the realization that these positive events and experiences do, in fact, exist makes us appreciate them all the more. It creates an appreciation for routine and mundane parts of our lives that we often take for granted. We, much like George Bailey, get a do over and move forward with a greater sense of the positive people and things in our lives, as well as the positive impact that we have had on others. This makes for the perfect, end of the year, holiday reflection.

Implementing it can be pretty simple. Pick a person, place, or event from your life that gives you joy and satisfaction. Write down some things that may have prevented it from happening. Then, as vividly as possible, imagine what your life would be like and feel like had those people, places, or events never become a part of it. Doing this exercise regularly can make it an habitual way that you process things, creating a greater sense of gratitude and appreciation for things that may otherwise feel routine. It’s a great exercise to do with your significant other if you are married and have a family. Processing the exercise with your partner after can get pretty interesting.

If you get a chance this holiday season, take a second look at It’s a Wonderful Life. I hope I didn’t ruin it for those of you that have never seen it, but you probably realized that George wasn’t going to jump after all. Do yourself a favor, and give the George Bailey technique a try. It could be the best 20 minutes you spend this entire holiday season.

“Remember, no man is a failure that has friends.”-Clarence Odbody, Angel First Class.

Happy whatever you celebrate.


P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

The Seven Habits Of Highly Happy People

“Habits of thinking need not to be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think.”-Martin Seligman

Despite the incredible amount of technological, medical, and societal advances of the past 50 years, many people continue to live unfulfilling lives devoid of meaning. Having access to so many things almost instantly can be somewhat overwhelming, and it can make attaining life satisfaction somewhat difficult. This is an age of instant news, instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant access, instant information, instant, instant, instant. There is an expression that you may have heard that applies to being impatient which goes, “I want what I want when I want it.” It’s kind of ironic that now that we can have what we want, when we want it, many remained dissatisfied and unfulfilled. What most people want is to be happy

What many are not aware of is that behavioral science, in the latter part of the 21st century, has happy-couple-1attempted to give people what most of us want, a source of happiness. Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have been working to quantify what makes human beings happy. Seligman is no fly-by-night, pop psychologist. In 1998 he chose Positive Psychology as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association, the premier scientific and professional organization in the field of behavioral health. His work was meant to offset the medical model used in behavioral health, which focuses on mental health problems as a disease. He decided to take an opposite approach, rather than focusing on why people were dysfunctional or “mentally ill,” he decided to study what made people emotionally healthy and what went into emotional wellness.

Seligman and his colleagues have published thousands of well research studies on the topic of what many call the Science of Happiness. Their work can be distilled down to seven basic principles to live by. Researchers have found that happy people live more skillfully in the following areas:
⦁ Relationships-People who have one or more satisfying and close friendships tend to be happier. What they found is that a larger social network is not necessarily fulfilling, and sometimes leads to the exact opposite. This would explain why people who have 437 Facebook friends may feel socially isolated. Researchers found that it is the quality, rather than the quantity, of relationships that makes the difference for happier people. It doesn’t matter whether they are friends or relatives. What does matter is that you have people that you can go to when life hits the fan.
img_1401⦁ Kindness-Happy people tend to be other orientated, meaning that they are more likely to volunteer, do things for others, and be considerate of the feelings of other people. These kind actions do not have to be huge or grandiose, in fact they are actually better if they are the opposite. Spontaneous and small acts of kindness, performed daily and routinely, lead to greater levels of happiness.
⦁ Exercise-Happy people tend to exercise, or at least keep moving. They tend to be more active than people with low levels of happiness. Studies indicate that exercise is a distraction from negative thinking, creates positive changes in brain chemistry leading to optimism. It creates feelings of self efficacy in those that exercise and are active. Your old coach was right, action trumps reaction every time.
⦁ Flow-Happy people have activities and goals that they pursue that put them in a joyful state which positive psychologists call “flow.” The flow state is a state where someone is participating in an action or pursuing a goal that gives them great joy and satisfaction. The pursuit of this goal is, in and of itself, satisfying. People with high levels of life satisfaction tend to have hobbies and interests that consume them in a positive way. (For more on this see http://mindbodycoach.org/find-flow/)
⦁ Spirituality-Happy people tend to identify themselves with spirituality and religion. Studies have found that whether or not the religion is formal is not the primary reason for the benefit. People who are connected to religion and spirituality, organized or not, tend to enjoy greater feelings of connectedness and attach deeper meanings and interpretations to negative life events. They see their role in the universe from a wider perspective and are more insulated from feelings of despair in the face of catastrophic life events.
⦁ Strength identification-Happy people tend to have a pretty good idea of what their strong points are. While by no means are they self-centered or conceited, they do tend to know and recognize their positive qualities. This acknowledgment of their strengths creates a better sense of self-esteem, enabling them to be more resilient and self aware.
⦁ Mindset-Happy people tend to have more optimism, gratitude, and awareness. They have a tendency to spend more time in the now, and mindfully appreciating routine life events. They tend to be more optimistic, seeing the glass as half-full, appreciating life’s simpler pleasures. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/optimism-bias/)

The first step in becoming a more happy individual is to recognize where you can implement these seven principles in your own life. If you are a naturally optimistic and happy person, congratulations and stay the course. If you are not, recognizing the seven principles and applying them to your day-to-day life can create greater happiness. A period of daily reflection, where you review these seven principles and seek to apply them to events that have occurred during your day, is a great exercise to perform. Studies at the University of Pennsylvania show that if a written exercise such as this is performed for a 90 day period, it can have a beneficial and positive effect on a person’s outlook on life and their worldview.

While Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 advice, “Don’t worry be happy,” might be a little simplistic, Martin 1318197330_bobby_mcferrin_dont_worry_be_happy_4Seligman’s is not. Recognizing and applying these seven principles have been scientifically proven to lead to happiness. Give them a try and see if you notice a difference in your life.



P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

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