In addition to spending time in self reflection and reality testing, it is important to open up the conversation to the community at large.
In doing so we move into collective problem-solving, empowering solutions, and public health education.
Be Yourself: Happy. Healthy. Hopeful.
Turning Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion
“In this episode, Stephani and Dr. Dinardo speak about what positive psychology is, turning your perceived flaws into strengths by moving from self-criticism to self-compassion, posttraumatic growth and how adversity can be beneficial to us, boundaries around social media use, the magic of prevention work and maintaining hope”. Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association (BANA)
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.“
With time, I have come to realize that failure has always been my greatest teacher. Each failure pointed me in a better direction and helped me to develop strength and authenticity, ultimately unveiling who I was and what I was destined to become
F. A. I. L. = First Attempt In Learning
• The failing grade I received on my first exam in graduate school taught me how to ask for support when I needed it most, no matter how shameful I felt or embarrassed I was.
• The end of a long-term relationship taught me how to value my time alone and make tough decisions for myself, no matter how weak I felt or lonesome I was.
• The layoff from a job I loved taught me how to let go, look forward, and trust in something so much bigger than myself, no matter how scared I was or irrelevant I felt.
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Is it possible to see failure in a positive light?
Under the right conditions, failure strengthens us, adds to our self-knowledge, and enhances the quality of our lives
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not have met my husband John.
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not be a psychology professor.
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not have written three textbooks.
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not be the person I am today.
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.
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.
This is a very good thing!
Today’s Freedom Mantra
Live like nobody’s watching. Love like nobody’s watching. Succeed like nobody’s watching. Fail like nobody’s watching. Write like nobody’s watching!
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.
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.
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.
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
In Celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month in Canada
In this video, I share an overview of my latest psychology article in The Drive Magazine (May, Issue 121). An issue devoted entirely to mental health awareness, treatment, and prevention. With the ultimate goal of ending the stigma of mental illness.
Instead of thinking of mental health as a burden to be shouldered, imagine it as an opportunity to experience peace and joy. In the same way that we make time for our physical needs (eating and sleeping) we must devote attention to our psychological needs.
Dr. Dinardo explained to us all about positive psychology while sharing with us some of the struggles she faced earlier in her career as a psychologist.
The main focus of her discussion was about protecting yourself from everyone’s problems.
One of the main things that Dr. Dinardo struggled with years ago was protecting her own mental health when she had all of these patients who needed her help.
She taught us that we should be focusing less on the PROBLEMS in our lives, and more on strengths and goodness in our lives.
When someone comes to her with a problem, she believes it is best to speak 15 minutes about the problem, and 45 about the solutions, strengths and goodness.
Dr. Dinardo explains that we must build on what is STRONG, not on what is WRONG.
If you spend too much time talking about the problems, you will never find a solution.
She also explains that we must protect ourselves from other people’s problems.
We should be respectful of other peoples time and energy, and ensure that it is okay to talk about our problems with other people. (We often word vomit our problems onto so many people in our lives and this is not okay to do all the time.)
Dr. Dinardo explains one of her favorite practices is the 10 minute timer. She allows friends to vent for 10 minutes, and after that time it is over.
Overall, it is important that we protect our energy and respect others energy in order to stay sane and happy.
This blog post and classroom video above are dedicated to all the students around the world struggling to stay motivated midway through the winter semester. I am cheering you on! Encouraging you to not give up. This post is also meant for you – My Fellow Student of Life. 📕❤️