Mind Tricks: Positive Psychology and where do go next
Published4 September, 2015
It was the first of September and I had arrived back from Aranda de Duero with all kinds of thoughts in my head about what I was hoping to do in the future.
I have always been driven by a need to find the most effective tools for healing and health, both mental and physical. I never bought into the psychoanalysis of Frued, 1) because it goes against common sense 2) it is very misogynistic 3) the scientific research on this therapy has yet to prove its effectiveness and in fact, has proven that the constant revision of negative events (or ones that do not even exisit!!!) can make matters worse.
There is of course the behaviorist approach, but this theory pretty much turns people into machines and lacks the very important part of cognition which even animals have proven to display. Then comes the discipline of Sociology, kind of a result of behaviorism. But alas, dropping all the blame upon social conditions is not the entire answer either nor is it really very empowering or healing. It is useful and important to recognize various social structures that propagate destructive behaviors or ideas, but unfortunately can then result in a loss of individual responsibility. I dabbled a bit in Cognitive Behavioral Approaches but finally I found the most effective treatment for my own well-being, was the practice of Yoga.
I have taught Yoga for over five years now and practiced it longer. For me, it has been the solution to anxiety and debilitating fears. Nonetheless, recently, I have been feeling there was something missing in my Yoga experience. So I went to back to my old love, Psychology, and found that she had evolved into a wonderful and light being supported by scientific literature and studies. I spent the summer reading up on Positive Psychology. I read all the literature I could that was published by Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology. It was really no surprise to see many of the principals of Yoga (ie. Observing and re-directing thoughts) peeping through the various practices that Seligman proposed and tested. I will outline some of them below. Please feel free to try out these exercises on your own and let me know how they go.
Write out in detail three good things that happened to you every night before your go to bed or before you start your day. Often times our minds are habituated towards observing and re-living the negative which limits overall life enjoyment, dampens creativity, creates mind blocks and creates difficulty in problem solving. This activity can help break the habit. Adding WHY those good things happened is a great way to combat the sense of helplessness that proceeds depression. No matter how small the effort, write down what you did to contribute to that positive experience.
I totally aced my exam today and it felt awesome. I studied hard to achieve that grade.
I had a great conversation with my partner today and it is because I actually set the time aside to listen and ask him/her questions about their day.
My dog finally learned how to sit and roll over and it is because I spent a lot of time training him.
ABC (DE) of arguing with yourself
Everyone talks to themselves, and we are always harder on ourselves than anyone else, and learning how to refute and rebuttal those negative thoughts I found to be far more effective than ´just thinking happy thoughts´ or repeating time and time again positive affirmations that you and I both know, we don´t really believe. Below is a formula to help you nullify those negative thoughts.
A (Adversity) State the problem (I failed the exam)
B (Beliefs) State the beliefs/emotions associated with the problem (I feel hopeless and stupid)
C (Consequences) How does this problem make you act/think (I think I might just give up, drop the course, maybe just try something different)
D (Debate/Discussion) Have an argument in your head with a litigating lawyer and counteract every negative statement
Lawyer: Yes you suck. Always failing.
You: No, that´s not true. I passed the last exam with a great grade.
Lawyer: Whatever that was a fluke, why did you fail this one?
You: It wasn´t a fluke. I studied really hard and I enjoyed the material. I failed this one because I had fought with my partner the whole week and spent the entire night cramming instead of taking time during the week to study.
E (Energize) Write down the steps you will take to change
I will do better next time. I failed this exam due to lack of preparation. I will ask the professor what areas I need to improve upon and make sure that I space out my study time and make sure that before the night of an important exam I avoid discussions that might start a fight.
Always try to make negative events situational and positive events a permanent way of being. Use terms like always and never only when referring to positive events/aspects and avoid at all costs using ´always´ and ´never´ when referring to negative events/aspects.
Often times in psychology there is a lot of emphasis on the individual and not enough on how that individual is interacting with the world around him or her. We live in a very individualistic society that tends to create almost a kind of numbness or ignorance towards how we react to one another. This can be seen in work, everyday conversations and sex. This is a great error as relationships make up one of the most important components of PERMA, or well-being as measured by Seligman. No man is an island and if a human is stuck in pure isolation, even if provided for physically, they will either go crazy or die, or both. There is also a great emphasis in how to deal with negative or bad communication but less upon positive and good communication. This is yet another error. By increasing the positive-constructive communication between friends/partners one creates a kind of buffer so when there is a real negative topic at hand, the positives truly do outweigh the negative. For a business the minimum of such positive-constructive comments to negative interactions is 3:1 and for a successful relationship it is 5:1.
Here is a very basic guide to improving your positive communication ratio so that you can experience both greater happiness within your relationships and within yourself.
Active-Constructive: Ask in great detail that your partner/friend relieve the event with you. Ask who was there, what was said, how did they feel, what did they think than give your own ideas.
Hi Hun. I got a new client today.
That´s great! Tell me all about it! Who is it and how did it happen? How did you feel before the phone call and after? (Positive acknowledgement of the event and questions that further the conversation and re-live the experience)
Passive- Constructive: Congratulations or acknowledgment without asking for further details. Positive but not very warm or interested
That´s great. Congratulations (Positive acknowledgement of event but no further conversation)
Active- Destructive: Finding the negative in some good news that your partner/friend shared
Oh really? That would explain why you were 10 minutes late. Are you always going to be late when you get new clients? (Acknowledgement of event, but looking for the negative outcomes of the event)
Passive-Destructive: Not even acknowledging that your partner/friend shared something with you
Pass me the green beans . (No acknowledgment of the event)
Following these above exercises, I noticed a big difference within the first couple of weeks. I found myself observing my thoughts with more calm and when I felt that ever familiar swell of anxiety or uncertainty clouding my brain, I would search out a piece of paper and started writing down 3 positive things that had happened to me that day and why they had happened. So simple, but so effective. The arguing of negative thoughts is also a great tool and I am now much more aware of how my interactions increase or decrease my quality of relationships.
After learning and experiencing all the above and more, I was super excited to explore the world of Positive Psychology in more depth. One of my core strengths is love of learning. You can find out your core strengths here. I easily get obsessed and enthralled with learning and understanding new topics and ideas. In less than a month I had already read and digested the most important books of Positive Psychology, I had outlined all of the basics and I had recited the entire theory and the various practices to my friend as we drove back to Sevilla. I was even having him practice what I had learned. It was like a 7 hour positive psychology intensive! I was already pondering ways of perhaps pursing yet another Masters in the field or perhaps even a PhD, but then something changed…
I got home. I hugged my cat and I started to research various schools and opportunities and as I did this, the fire I had felt during the journey home, started to fade away. I felt tired. I did not want to answer the phone calls or emails from the schools I had contacted. I even stopped doing the Positive Psychology exercises that I had been doing so religiously.
I related this change of heart to a very good friend who I can always rely on for an honest assessment. She raised her eyebrow when I told her I was thinking of going to go back to school, and she asked if I really wanted to put myself back into the cold and very cerebral world of academia again…I had no reply.
The fact is that my head was super eager to be occupied all over again, but my heart knew better, my friend knew better and more than anything, my body knew better, I knew there was something else I had to learn, I just didn´t know what…
That was when, as I was watching yet another episode of John Oliver, Last Week Tonight in an effort to distract myself from this nagging feeling that I wasn´t quite in the right place, that there was something more I needed to study to in order to offer complete healing to myself and others, it was then that I saw to the right of my screen the prompt for a lecture titled: An academic overview of Tantra.
As John Oliver signed off for the evening, I clicked on the lecture and needless to say…my body, my heart and yes even my rebellious mind, alignedas I watched and began to understand with more clarity the ancient practice of Yoga, how deeply healing and practical it truly has the potential to be and where my next path of learning and healing should take me…
Stay tuned to learn more in my next post …Tantra: the sacred practice of sexual healing (no partner required)