In a previous blog, I decided to highlight some of the best pieces of advice we’ve developed at Queendom after 21 years of studying human behavior. Here are some more bits of wisdom:
Dealing with emotions and emotional people (i.e. emotional intelligence):
Recognize emotions for what they are. We have been taught that emotions are reactions, often uncontrolled, to situations or people around us. This isn’t the case. Your emotions are a signal; they are messages that have the potential to offer you important information if you’re willing to take the time to reflect on what you’re feeling. So when you get upset with your partner because he/she doesn’t wash the dishes, or with your colleagues when the printer is always missing paper, stop and ask yourself:
“Is my anger really related to the dishes/paper, or something more?”
Maybe you’re upset because deep down you’re feeling disrespected, or think that people take advantage of you. Maybe you’re using the dishes/paper situation to vent your anger about a more serious, unresolved issue. The point is, don’t let negative emotions simmer (or boil over) unchallenged. Milk them for information.
Don’t fall victim to “The Fundamental Attribution Error”. We’re always trying to figure out the cause of other people’s actions. And all too often, we attribute bad behavior on the part of others to dispositional rather than situational factors – like writing someone off as jerk because he was rude to you, rather than looking for external causes (he’s sick, he was fired that day, he just heard bad news about someone he loves). As a result, we are less forgiving than many situations call for. Try to understand that other people are under just as much pressure and stress as you are and therefore, their behavior may not always represent who they really are.
Dealing with days where life just keeps kicking you down:
Refuse to be a victim. Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, renowned author and noted expert on positive psychology, states that the feeling of being a victim leads to learned helplessness. If you blame your problems on other people or on seemingly uncontrollable circumstances, you will avoid taking personal responsibility for your life. While it may be true that there are things beyond your control, the majority of what happens in your life is up to YOU. Life may throw you many curve balls, but it is up to you to decide how you’ll react to them.
Practice “TSE”. Pessimists see problems as permanent, pervasive and personal. Optimists, on the other hand, view unpleasant events as temporary, specific, and external (TSE). Imagine, for example, a friend is upset with you for a comment you made. Instead of thinking “I’ve lost that friendship forever” (permanent), tell yourself that you will talk to her and clear it up, and in time she will probably see that you are sincere in your apology (temporary). Replace your reaction that you “always screw up good friendships” (pervasive) with “I shouldn’t have made that comment, but I am a good friend” (specific). Lastly, avoid dwelling on thoughts like “I am an awful person” (personal). Instead, tell yourself “I’ve hurt my friend’s feelings and should address that” (external).
How to take control of your life:
Keep a journal of your thoughts, moods, and daily activities. Observe your automatic reactions to life events and how you feel about yourself in your daily life. If you make what you believe is a horrendous mistake and feel like the biggest loser on the planet, write down the event, how you feel about yourself and how you interpret the situation. Chances are you’ll blame yourself for the mistake and chalk it up to another failure that is your fault. Well, it’s time to stop seeing things through your own self-scathing eyes and conduct a serious reality check. Try to think of the situation from other perspectives. How might someone else perceive your mistake? If an admired teacher or friend made the same mistake, would you think it was because he or she was dumb or incapable? Write down these observations also. Then take some serious time to determine the actual causes of your mistake. If there are things that can be changed in the future (inattentiveness, lack of knowledge, etc.), then make the effort to do better next time. However, if you can’t do anything to avoid similar failures in the future, then move on!
Eliminate “cognitive shortcuts”. Cognitive shortcuts are thinking patterns that you’re stuck in. For instance, you might automatically blame the fact that you haven’t had a steady relationship in two years on your looks or personality. You might think, “I’m unattractive” or “I have no charisma”. These negative thoughts are success killers. In short, you are single-handedly extinguishing your hopes and dreams by convincing yourself of these ridiculous judgments that probably have no bearing on reality. What happens is that you fulfill your own prophecy by telling the world (in indirect ways) that you are indeed ugly and boring. The solution is to learn to rewire your brain. Become aware of your negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. Or, every time you think something negative about yourself, stop yourself with a predetermined buzzword. For example, you might say to yourself, “Stop!” or “Enough!”
Add an element of fun to nasty tasks. Got something really annoying or just plain boring to do? Try to find a way to make it more enjoyable. Put on your favorite CD and dance while you’re sweeping, dusting, and tidying up. Study at a park or in some other appealing (and quiet) environment. This can take the pain out of having to do some unpleasant tasks.
Take big projects one step at a time. If you have a rather large and formidable task to do (like writing a term paper), break it up into smaller chunks. Think only of completing those smaller portions of the job. For example, if you’re having trouble getting started, you can devote a short time to reading a couple of research articles. An hour later, you can take notes and brainstorm, and maybe write an outline. During the same day, you can sit down several times for half an hour each time to write one paragraph. Little by little, you’ll start chipping away at what seemed to be a huge task. Each small step you complete will not only improve your morale, but you might find yourself becoming energized and doing more than you had anticipated.
Boosting your self-esteem:
Practice positive affirmations. Write down 5 or 10 positive statements, like “I love myself. I am beautiful, inside and out. I give out love and it returns to me tenfold.” Every morning after waking, stand in front of the mirror, look into your own eyes, and repeat your affirmations about 20 times. Do the same before going to bed (taking a few moments to do this throughout the day would be even better). Before rejecting this as new age nonsense, know this: The basic premise of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, a highly successful therapy, is that our thoughts have a major impact on how we feel and behave. It is believed that many psychological issues, like depression, are a result of how we interpret our experiences. The goal of a CBT therapist is to help you modify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and replace them with more positive ones.
Affirmations will feel fake and untrue at first, but with time, you can and will rewire your brain and will start to believe them. It takes about 30 days to create a habit, so try to keep it up for that long. The process will take a bit of time (especially if you’ve spent most of your life re-enforcing negative beliefs about yourself) but you will see positive changes happen soon enough.
Make a list of your accomplishments. Include anything that made you feel good about yourself, without thinking about whether it is technically an “accomplishment” or not. (Your ability to relate to children, your chess talent, the amazing cookies you make, the great short story you wrote, etc.). Refer to it whenever you need a boost.