Specifically, each time you criticize an area of your life (or something about yourself personally), write down three positive aspects about the very thing you condemned. Hence, the 3 to 1 positivity ratio.
For example, each time you get down on yourself for not working during the COVID-19 pandemic, write down three benefits of sheltering in place. (E.g., more time for fitness, the space to try out new hobbies, meaningful conversations with family members). This daily practice helps to dampen the adverse impact of negativity bias, a type of cognitive distortion, common to all of us.
Likewise, stop comparing your lowlights to other people’s highlights. You never know what’s happening behind the scenes in another person’s life. Good or bad. FOMO is “a story” fabricated in the mind based on snippets of observable behaviour (video below).
How has COVID-19 eased (or increased) the pressure you put on yourself and the people around you?
What does acceptance “feel” like physically in your body versus fighting “what is”?
What have you surrendered lately? Let go?
You Can’t Add More to Your Life Without First Letting Go
Today I would like to shine a light on a local entrepreneur named Alex Binaei, the creative mind behind Windsor Updates and the video highlighted in this post.
Adversity → Creativity
Alex’s video for Windsor Updates is one of the best examples of how crisis and adversity create innovation and ingenuity. In both our community and in ourselves.
♥ Pass It On ♥
This video is a compilation of news, announcements, and local community members discussing the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic taking place in Windsor-Essex Ontario and around the world. Including offers of support, advice, and information.
“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
Research on Social Support & Psychological Health
Being surrounded by people who are supportive helps individuals see themselves as capable of handling stress and adversity. Research has also shown that having strong social support in times of crisis can help reduce the consequences of trauma-induced disorders including PTSD.
Every time we take a long deep breath, we are telling our bodies that we are safe.
Each breath connecting
our mind, body, and heart.
Bringing us back to present time.
Breathing Techniques To Try
Follow Your Breath Become aware of each inhalation and exhalation. Focus on the sensations you feel as air passes through your nose and throat. When you feel your thoughts drift, gently redirect your attention back to your breath.
Stand Up Straight Posture is especially important for breathing. Being upright enhances the rhythmic movement between the diaphragm and ribs. Hold yourself straight. Shoulders back. Feel the power of your breath.
Think Reassuring Thoughts While Breathing With each breath, think soothing thoughts (“I am inhaling calm”). With each exhalation, imagine that you are expelling your fears and worries (“I am exhaling worry”).
Abdominal Breathing Breathe through your stomach. Start by inflating your belly by inhaling, as if to fill it with air, then swell your chest; as you exhale, first “empty” your stomach, then your chest.
Balanced Breathing At the end of each inhalation, pause briefly while slowly counting “1, 2, 3”. Hold the air in. Then slowly exhale counting “1, 2, 3”.
The next time you imagine you are being watched, talked about, or judged by others, remember that imaginary audience IS AN ILLUSION heightened by social media, physiology (eg., lack of sleep), and overthinking.
When in truth, people are so focused on themselves (and their phones), that there is a 99% chance that no one cares what you are up to or how you are performing.
1. Student leaders first identified their triggers. Including emotional, cognitive, situational, and physical stressors. CATCH
2. Then they practiced taking a time-out (long deep breath) during high pressure moments. PAUSE
3. Finally, they shared both self-care (fitness, sleep, nutrition) and professional resources (counselling) that help them replenish unmet psychological and physical needs (as outlined on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). REPAIR
My number one intention for becoming a psychologist and psychology professor has always been to help people live a better life, no matter their life circumstances. And since there are only so many hours in a day, I’m always looking for new ways to reach and teach as many people as I can. All at once, if possible.
Which is why I created a Psychology Tips Playlist on my YouTube Channel that I contribute to often.
Psychology Thought for the Day
The purpose of my psychology YouTube Channel is to share key lessons from my three hour psychology lessons in as little as three to five minutes.
Giving people far and wide access to virtual classes, especially those who don’t have the money or means to an undergraduate education. I know how busy everyone is. And I love a good challenge! I also include videos of psychology interviews, workshops, and keynote speeches.
When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.
This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness. An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.
Sarah was a 42-year-old recently divorced woman who was about to face her first holiday season alone. Living in a new town, miles away from friends and family, she was waiting to begin a new job in January. Hours felt like days.
Days felt like months. Sarah had tried everything to fill the void inside. The mistake she made was running away from the one thing that would help get her to the other side: loneliness itself.
Knowledge is power
1. Understand the emotion
We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature.
This theory of emotion explains why two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different emotional reactions to it.
What matters most is the person’s interpretation of an event, not the event itself. After all, as they say, one person’s glass-half-full is another one’s glass-half-empty.
In Sarah’s situation, she interpreted her physiological response to idle time as loneliness, while another person might label it as much-needed relaxation. Ultimately, Sarah has a choice. One interpretation debilitates; the other empowers.
2. Witness the emotion
Now that Sarah understands the interpretative power she holds over her environmental triggers, the next step is to witness loneliness in a neutral, curious state rather than fighting it at every turn.
In doing so, Sarah neutralizes the intensity of her emotions, allowing them to flow through her, rather than getting stuck in a repetitive loop of pain.
Here are four simple ways to create space between triggers and responses:
Taken one step further, each time that Sarah experiences a challenging emotion during the holidays, rather than running from it she needs to lean in and ask that emotion, “What are you trying to teach me?”
3. Reframe the emotion
The final step for Sarah is to learn how to reframe the situations that trigger her loneliness, and understand why sometimes she overreacts, while other times she lets go without a second thought.
Solitude is perceived as isolation by one person and freedom by another.
Identify a situation that triggers loneliness.
Imagine the best-case scenario: “This situation is temporary.”
Look for evidence of the best-case scenario: “The longest I’ve been single is two years.”
Describe the worst-case scenario: “I will be alone forever.”
Name the benefits of the worst-case scenario: “I am free to do what I want.”
Finally, ask for help in reframing triggers, especially when feeling overwhelmed.
Once Sarah learns how to change the story “behind” the story, her instinctive loneliness lessens. And her ability to choose a higher thought improves.
At 55 years of age, Jack was also feeling the pangs of loneliness. His wife of 25 years died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.
Unexpected was an understatement. They had run in three marathons together and had spent their weekends sampling new vegan restaurants in their local community. Ever since his wife had died, Jack struggled to face the holidays alone.
Jack’s story is as much about him as it is about the family around him. His family and friends’ automatic response was to feel sorry for him, a response that compounded his feelings of disconnectedness and misunderstanding.
Jack did not want people to feel sorry for him. He was a proud man who was ready to move on.
Get out of your own head
1. Meet with “experienced” widowers
As much as Jack missed his wife, he also missed his ability to connect authentically with friends and family. Having been treated with kid gloves since his wife died, Jack longed to be seen as a victor rather than a victim
As such, I encourage Jack to connect with like-minded individuals who had been through a similar situation: widows and widowers. Specifically, ones who had been on their own for several years.
The benefits are twofold. One, Jack would learn new ways of relating to friends and family. And two, he’d be given the green light to grow and acclimate to his new circumstances.
2. Connect with others in unexpected, low-pressure ways
The other component missing in Jack’s life was fun. Simple, cheerful, good-time fun. Everything had become so serious since his wife died, with almost every conversation beginning or ending with his wife’s death.
There was no doubt that he missed her with all his heart. But equally, he longed for moments where he could be free of the loneliness and pain.
I recommend that Jack reintroduce sports into his life. Something non-competitive that would get him out of the house on a Wednesday night. Better yet, if it involved people that he had never met, it would allow him to continue his journey of reinvention and rediscovery.
Equally therapeutic for Jack would be joining a cinema group or regular euchre meetup—both would offer him a chance to be in the moment and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
3. Honour the old, create the new
Finally, I advise Jack to examine the memories and traditions that he wanted to keep alive during the holidays—and, equally, the ones of which he was ready to let go.
Jack took the practice one step further. Declaring December a month of renewal and reinvention, he revived a strength and peace inside that radiated out to his entire family.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Jack and Sarah have a lot to teach us about loneliness and how important it is to honour the unique ways in which we process adversity.
One size does not fit all. Fellowship and fun were vital for Jack’s growth and recovery, while Sarah needed a more analytical approach to processing difficulty.
Lean into loneliness
Approach it with openness and curiosity
Make space for the lessons beneath the suffering
Video of Post
How do you cope with difficult emotions during the holidays?
What strategies do you use to make peace with the heightened pressures of the Christmas season?
What are your unique traditions and one-of-a-kind celebrations?
Disclaimer: This post and article are for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. To protect the privacy of individuals, names and identifying details have been changed.
1. Do you consider yourself a patient person, an impatient person, or an impulsive person? Give situational examples for each.
For example: You may be more patient at work, but not at home. You may be able to control your impulses when it comes to food, but not when it comes to yelling at your spouse or children.
2. Identify a time in your life where delayed gratification led to a superior outcome over immediate gratification.
For example: Saving money for a house versus buying impulse purchases on Cyber Monday. Working 2 jobs to pay for college tuition versus going out with friends every weekend night. Working out to strengthen your mental and physical health versus watching tv all day.
3. Which factors determine your ability to be patient in challenging situations?
For example: faith, trust, comfort, financial security, long-term vision, full stomach, good night’s sleep.
In this study, a child was offered a choice between one small but immediate reward, or two small rewards if they waited for period of time. During this time, the researcher left the room for about 15 minutes and then returned.
The reward was either a marshmallow or pretzel stick, depending on the child’s preference. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment,body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.
Go to bed visualizing three new things you’re grateful for that day.
Joy needs room to breathe.
And so do you.
Remember when you were a kid playing with friends, and before you knew it the street lights came on? If it wasn’t for your mom yelling your name, you would be outside playing all night long. In that moment, you were in a state of flow.
You were completely engaged in what you were doing, independent of everything around you.
Your mom could have called your name for hours, and you wouldn’t have heard a word.
One hundred percent of your attentional capacity was taken up by the activity right in front of you.
Most likely you still experience a state of flow and engagement, but not as often as you like.
Consider the following when you spend time with people:
Do you feel uplifted or drained?
Do you feel listened to or ignored?
Do you feel encouraged or criticized?
Stay close to people who feel like sunshine.
Meaning comes from serving something bigger than ourselves.
Whether it be family, charity, occupation, or community, meaning unites us in a common vision and gives us the will to get through adversity.
Students Are My North Star
That said, meaning can appear elusive to some, so why not consider one purpose each day.
Begin with a typical workday. Choose one purpose, and do something to give meaning to that purpose.
I’ve listed a few options, as well as an example for each:
Pick one person — thank a custodian for their hard work.
Pick one place — post uplifting notes and quotes on a section of the wall.
Pick one time — declare 3 pm gratitude hour.
Achievement is the final component of the PERMA model, and, in many ways, its foundation. Goals give us a sense of achievement and satisfaction, helping us to know if we are headed in the right direction.
The key is to balance our drive and determination with the right level of difficulty. If we set a goal that’s too easy, we get bored. If it’s too hard, we experience learned helplessness.
Set daily goals that are achievable and tied into your highest dreams.
Cultivating mental health daily prepares us for the big things in our life. Every little bit counts, everything adds up. Small things on repeat change the world.
In this short video I share the thoughts that go through my mind as I walk into a classroom and meet my psychology students for the first time. I also discuss the specifics of how I connect with and encourage students each new day.
What goes through your mind when you walk into a room?
The audience was filled a very special group of people. Individuals that have been battling the chronic condition of Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) their whole lives.
Optimism and Health Empowerment
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) describes a group of conditions, the two main forms of which are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD also includes indeterminate colitis.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are diseases that inflame the lining of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract and disrupt your body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrition, and eliminate waste in a healthy manner.
Individuals with chronic health problems such as IBD often feel a sense of helplessness and disempowerment over their bodies.
Which is why teaching concrete strategies for focusing on what’s within one’s control (beliefs and attitudes; deep breathing; present moment awareness) and letting go of what’s not (waiting times; IBD diagnosis; doctor availability) is so important.
Believing you can is half the battle.
Research in health psychology shows that optimism and having hope in one’s future has a significant impact on whether patients follow through on medical advice.
Optimism has also been found to improve overall quality of life, well-being, and happiness of cancer patients.
Click Here for Research on Health, Hope, and Optimism
Optimism Can Be Learned
The good news is that optimism is a skill that can be learned.
Optimism / pessimism are not fixed personality traits that someone is lucky (or unlucky) enough to be born with.
Optimism / pessimism are states (not traits) that are malleable and open to change.
Optimism / pessimism are attributional styles that can be taught and reinforced over time.
Using Attribution Theory, I can tell a lot about someone by the way they interpret the events that happen in their lives, particularly the explanatory style they use in analyzing setbacks versus successes.
The pessimist perceives failures as personal, permanent, and pervasive, and thus has difficulty moving beyond setbacks. They often get lost in a recurrent loop of negativity.
In contrast, optimists see setbacks as universal. to everyone, temporary in time, and limited to one or two areas of their lives.
1. Identify a problem you have faced as a student leader.
2. Determine what’s “below the surface” that could potentially be the source of the problem.
3. Explore the problem from the perspective of the student.
4. Describe the problem and potential solution using both the leader’s and the student’s perspectives.
5. Summarize the lessons and potential opportunities of the original problem. Eg. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about the student?
1. What are your goals as student leader for the school year?
2. What are your goals as team member for the school year?
3. What are your greatest assets for the team?
4. What areas do you need assistance from the team?
“While traditional psychology focused its attention on pathology and problems, in the relatively new field of positive psychology, researchers strive to explore and understand the strengths of individuals and communities that contribute to their flourishing.” Source: Psychology Guide
I am passionate about what positive psychology can do for students and educators in and out of the classroom. By first focusing on what is right, before examining what is wrong, students are motivated to move beyond, and in some cases, be transformed by their current limitations, history, and circumstances.
Positive psychology is not about being happy and successful all the time. Instead, happiness is aspirational like a delicious meal at a 5 star restaurant. Wonderful but not to be expected, at every meal, all the time. (Otherwise, we set ourselves up for disappointment on the Kraft Dinner days.)
Instead, the field of positive psychology helps bring out the best in us. In a balanced way. The ebb and flow of life. Negativity is to be expected. The question is – how long do you stay there.
Safe uplifting atmosphere.
As a professor, I believe it is paramount to create a safe and uplifting atmosphere in the classroom. A secure and consistent milieu where students know what to expect class to class, week to week, semester to semester. A place where students are encouraged to build upon their existing strengths, while feeling supported enough to share their current struggles.
As I teach mostly nursing students, it is critical that I practice what I teach in and out of the classroom. Nursing students will also be responsible for creating an encouraging and safe space for their clients one day.
The yellow t-shirts are from the Yellow Umbrella Project, an Ontario wide college campaign for battling the stigma of mental illness on campus.
Positive psychology and student empowerment.
My highest goal is to work with young Canadians in a way that empowers and encourages them to become the best version of themselves. Cultivatingsuccess in a way that is unique to them. I believe that interactive lectures combined with warmth and real-life stories is the best approach for achieving this goal.
Ultimately, I hope to remind students of their gifts. While encouraging them to embrace their challenges. For we are the sum total of all that is powerful and vulnerable – within and around us. And it’s this extraordinary combination of strong and weak, good and bad, light and dark, that makes our world and our classrooms such a fascinating place to live and thrive.
In this blog post and classroom video, I share strategies for transforming painful experiences. Especially those beyond your control.
Strategies include: Cognitive reframing (identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts) and the ABC technique (Antecedent, Belief, Consequence).
I also discuss my latest article in The Drive Magazine (link to article below) where I help a good friend transform the painful story in his life (house flood) into a more meaningful and empowering experience.
I would love your questions and reflections on the topic of why people refuse to change their minds and/or adjust their stance on a political, personal, relationship, or health issue — despite overwhelming factual evidence contrary to their personal opinions.
One of my favourite things to do as a professor is to stay after class and talk to students. They look at the world in a very unique way. Motivating me to think about psychology at a whole different level.
Especially when it comes to FOMO and happiness:
FOMO is an acronym for fear of missing out, which is a feeling of anxiety that manifests itself in various ways, from a brief pang of envy to more intense feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy. Source: Macmillan Dictionary
In the video below I share the insightful questions my psychology students asked about social comparison and happiness today. Each question underscoring the famous quote:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Happiness, FOMO, and Social Comparison
FOMO and “measuring happiness” against each other’s’s lowlight reel (difficult times) and highlight reel (celebratory times) was also an active discussion on social media
Motivation to make a change is as much about you, as the people all around you. And unfortunately, not everyone agrees with our decision to grow, change, and evolve. In whatever form it may take.
“Being different isn’t a bad thing. It means you’re brave enough to be yourself“
For when we change, we unknowingly push friends and family outside their comfort zone too. And that’s ok. The important thing to understand is that not everyone is going to support our choice to change. Something I learned personally.
This post was inspired by my own journey of quitting drinking in 2005, motivated by three reasons:
1. Starting a family with my husband.
2. Improving my health.
3. Being a role model for my students
Unexpected Side Effects
What I did not expect was the pressure to keep drinking that came along with my decision to give up alcohol over a decade ago.
The pressure to remain the same.
The pressure to behave like everyone else.
A resistance to change from others that I did not foresee.
My students’ stories
— Peer Pressure and Alcohol Use in College
Students over the age of 19 have a choice when it comes to drinking alcohol.
A decision to drink or not drink that is often overshadowed by peer pressure and the widespread culture of risky drinking on and off Canadian campuses.
Too often students drink to “fit in, reduce stress, numb anxiety” (their words) because they know of no other way.
Excerpt from today’s class:
Class Discussion and Solutions
Which is why it’s more important than ever to open up the conversation of what it’s like to be a young person amongst the culture of alcohol use and abuse today.
A hot topic that stimulates honest and open debate in my classroom each year. Including remedies to the pressures of college that extend far beyond alcohol.
In today’s psychology class, we discussed how important it is to empower friends, family, and clients going through difficult times.
And how even if we’re an expert in psychology, medicine, or business – it does not make us the master of someone else’s life.
Together we explored strength based techniques for uplifting and encouraging others in conversation and in daily life.
Acknowledging that we still have so much left to learn about friends and family.
And the only way to do this is to create an inviting listening space between ourselves and the people we meet to be themselves.
Helpful tips for enhancing conversations with clients and family members can be found in the June article in The Drive Magazine (click here) and in the psychology video below —
The Story Behind the Story
This post was inspired by my sister Noelle.
“When my sister was 19, she had a brain aneurysm. Every day since, she has struggled to maintain her independence and financial security.
Despite her trauma, Noelle continues to thrive in unexpected and beautiful ways. She never gives up, no matter what comes her way. Over the years, I have discovered the difference it makes when I support Noelle from her perspective, rather than dictating what she needs.”