“The benefits of positive emotions do not stop when the initial good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefits are an enhanced ability to solve problems and develop resources for life.” Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
Today’s story begins in the middle of a spin class. The point in time where you feel like giving up the most.
Because the middle is always the hardest. Whether it be the middle of a semester, the middle of a week, or the middle of a pandemic.
It was thirty minutes into class, and we had finished a tough uphill climb. I wanted to celebrate how far we had come, so I began clapping and cheering.
Despite my excitement, my instructor gave me a curious look and said: “Why are you clapping Andrea? We are far from being done.”
She was right. We still had a significant amount of time left in our workout. But I wasn’t clapping because we were finished. I was clapping because we had hit the wall and survived. I was clapping to energize.
Cheering in the Middle
A cheering strategy that I often use in my own classroom. Students are geared up at the start of the semester and pumped up at the end. It’s in the middle that their commitment starts to falter.
This is when I clap wholeheartedly simply because students show up to class. Both in person and online. A fun gesture underscoring how much I value their commitment to education. And they love it!
Small Gestures Energize
This year I am reminded how small gestures energize big time. Be it a high five. A wide smile. A kind word. Or calling a student by name.
Because beginnings have their own ticker parades. And endings take care of themselves.
It’s in the middle of a challenge where we need positive energy the most.
Applying these principles in your life
Celebrate small wins throughout the day. Keep track with post it notes.
Create a playlist of songs that remind you of pivotal wins and achievements.
Take frequent dance breaks in unexpected places.
Clap and cheer when family members arrive home from work.
Don’t be afraid to stand out. You may be the pick me up a stranger needs to keep going and not give up.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
3. Find Your Flow
In psychology, flow, also known as being in the zone, is the mental state where a person is fully immersed in the moment. Flow often occurs during sports and creative activities such as writing, painting, and teaching. In this state, people often report enhanced well-being, focus, and joy.
4. Commune with Nature
“Nature has the capacity of making us become one with the universe. Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. How still they are, how deeply rooted in just being. When you look at a tree and perceive its stillness, you become still yourself.” Eckhart Tolle
5. Practice Loving Kindness
“Be kind to yourself. And let your kindness flood the world.” Pema Chödrön
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.
You will hear the remarkable stories of teachers, social workers, and principals who suffered greatly through illness, injuries, and difficult pregnancies.
Eventually rising up (with time and support) to greater heights in their current lives.
Hear Their Stories in Video Below:
What is Post Traumatic Growth?
Post traumatic growth (PTG) can be defined as positive personal changes that result from the survivor’s struggle to deal with trauma and its psychological consequences.
The process of post traumatic growth can lead to 1. improved relationships, 2. more compassion, 3. openness, 4. appreciation for life, 5. spiritual growth, 6. personal strength, and 7. a renewed sense of possibilities in the world.
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.
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.
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