Focus on the Good

Focus on the Good

I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m getting awfully tired of watching the violent protests that seem to be erupting almost daily around the globe. Sure, I understand that a lot of things need fixing in our world, and I appreciate dedication to promoting a worthy cause. But those who practice violence and destruction do nothing to further the betterment of our situation, especially when they utterly fail to carry any message proposing workable solutions to the problems they are railing against. What if, instead of focusing on perceived evils and shortcomings, we devoted ourselves to identifying and promoting the things that further the flourishing of humankind?

Almost 20 years ago, professional psychology asked itself the same question about its own direction. It had been focusing almost exclusively on illness and giving little attention to identifying the factors that promoted individual well-being. When it turned its attention to searching for the life-promoting traits in people, the science of positive psychology was born. And studies world-wide are now proving that we live happier, more productive, creative and satisfying lives when we focus on building our strengths than we do when we focus on trying to improve our weaknesses.

Remember the saying, “What we focus on expands.” Focus on what’s wrong and you get more of it. Focus on the good and it increases.

What Goodness Is

Don’t fall for the idea that goodness is relative, that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. The good in life is what supports it, what lifts burdens and alleviates suffering. What’s toxic is action that produces suffering where it doesn’t have to exist.

When the founders of positive psychology got the idea to identify what things contributed to the Good Life, they looked at the qualities that people found most worthwhile across cultures and across centuries of time. They ended up finding six general categories of time-tested values that were held in high esteem all over the world:

  • Wisdom and Knowledge
  • Courage
  • Humanity and Love
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

These virtues form the pillars that uphold civilizations that give rise to the Good Life.

Under these virtues, the positive psychologists identified character strengths that were linked to each category. (See: The 24 Personal Strengths: An Overview)

Strengths and Virtue

These strengths are the vehicles by which we creatively and productively move forward in the world, the means by which we bring the six universal virtues into existence, both in our individual experience and in the world as a whole.

When individuals become aware of their signature strengths, they can use them as a channel for joyfully pouring energy into work that contributes to the well-being of all. Strengths such as curiosity and “street smarts,” for example, are expressions of the virtue of knowledge and wisdom. People who possess them invent new and unconventional ways to get things done. They value practicality and look for ways to make things work in the real world.

Instead of bowing to the mob or basing their choices and actions on currently popular slogans and memes, people who use their strengths to foster the expression of universal values discover genuine depth and meaning in their goals. They focus on creating the Good Life for all, and they work to understand more and more clearly what the Good Life truly entails. They look for ways to increase the deliciousness of life, to promote the things that make living worthwhile. The torches they carry are the torches of truth. The fires they build are the fires of freedom.

If we want to build a better world, one that is just, and balanced, and wise, we need to hone our focus on the Good and to promote it, each in his or her own way, each with his or her own strengths. The wrong is all too evident. The way out is to focus on the Good.

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Focused Intention: Remembering Your Best Self

Your Best Self

 

Whether you’re trying to improve a relationship, get to the gym more often, finish that report, or clean out the garage, one of the keys to achieving your goals is remembering your best self—the you who you want to be. The things we’re aiming to achieve, after all, are a reflection of the values we hold and the traits we want to express. Maintain a focused intention on those things and watch the barriers to achieving your goals melt away.

Here’s a simple two-part process you can use to move more easily toward any goal.

Identifying Who You Want to Be

First, think about what you’re hoping to get from achieving your goal. Ask yourself the classic “WIIFM” question: What’s in it for me? Even if the result you’re aiming for is represented by something tangible, like that finished report or a clean garage, if you think about it, what you really want is the feeling that you lived out a value that you hold in high regard. You want the experience of holding the mindset or attitude that the process of achieving your goal asks of you.

Suppose, for example, that you want to improve your relationship with your partner who has been irritating you lately. What mindset or attitude could you adopt that might smooth things out? Who do you really want to be when you relate to her? Someone who is more patient, maybe? More caring? More empathic? More cheerful?

Imagine setting an intention to express those traits. Imagine how it would feel being that person in your relationship. Imagine how your partner would respond to a person like that.

Or suppose you have to work on an assignment that you’ve been putting off. Who would you have to be to dive into it? What traits could you express? More curiosity? Keener interest? A heightened sense of responsibility? More inventiveness?

No matter what you’re aiming to achieve, your goal is asking you to focus on being who you need to be in order to achieve it. When you identify the traits you want to use and develop a focused intention to live them in your daily life, they will carry you toward your goal. It’s just a matter of remembering who you want to be—and step two, below, will show you how to remember.

If you need a little prompting to decide what traits you might want to adopt, check out this handy little list: Positive Traits for Building Your Best Self.

Focused Intention

The second step in remembering who you want to be is creating a focused intention using a simple practice called the PARK technique. It anchors your intention to live out the traits you want to express, and doing it takes only a minute or two.

Begin by choosing two or three traits you think will work best for accomplishing your goal. Then say to yourself, preferably out loud, “My intention is to be filled with ___________ and _________ .”

Next, take a couple minutes to close your eyes and remember a time when you felt each of them and let yourself experience that feeling as fully as you can. Feel a little smile on your face and, as you feel your first intended feeling, say its name while you tap the heart region of your chest three times—“Capable. Capable. Capable.” Then do it with the next intended feeling.

Great! You have created your focused intention. Next, you activate and strengthen it with these two daily practices:

First, as soon as you wake in the morning, before you get out of bed, remember your intention, repeating the traits to yourself.

Second, as you go through your day, do the PARK exercise to reinforce and nurture it. (A great way to remember it is to do it on the hour, or to do it before each meal.) Here’s how:

PPause in whatever you are doing, momentarily setting it aside.

ABecome Aware: Allow yourself to become aware of the present moment. Do a quick body-scan, closing your eyes if you like, and let go of any accumulated tension. Then notice the data your senses are bringing to you: What are you seeing? Hearing? Smelling? Tasting? What is your skin feeling? Also, do a quick review of all you have accomplished in the past hour and acknowledge yourself for it. You can do all of this very effectively in a matter of a 10-15 seconds. If you can take a full 30 seconds with it, enjoying the richness of the moment, you’ll find it especially relaxing.

RRemember: Briefly touch your heart center and allow the feeling of your intentions to be in your awareness for a moment. Know that they are alive within you and gently guiding you. (If you’re in a public situation and uncomfortable touching your heart center, simply turn your attention to your heart.)

KKeep on Task: Return your attention to the task at hand or with the next one on your list.

That’s it! Choose two or three traits as vehicle for reaching your goal, install your intention to be immersed in them, do a morning reminder when you wake and practice PARK as you go through your day.

This practice is one of the favorites of my coaching clients, by the way. I hope you’ll give it a try and experience the wondrous well-being and success that it can bring you as you move toward your goals.

Wishing you delicious intentions!

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In Celebration of the Nurturers–A Tribute to Mothers

Mom and Son

As I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you today, it dawned on me that it’s Mother’s Day here in the States.  For me, it’s a day filled with happy and meaningful memories of a woman whose character I find myself appreciating more and more deeply with every passing yea.  I genuinely hope that you can say the same, and that, if your Mom is still living, you’ll tell her so.

The thought occurred to me that in today’s climate of speech policing, this day set aside for honoring mothers will probably soon become “Parents’ Day” or “Carer’s Day” or some such thing.  But that’s a topic for another time.

Right now, it’s still “Mother’s Day,” and I asked myself what the essential quality is that all mothers share.  I had to think about it for a while, because mothers, being human after all, span the whole spectrum from “bad” to “good.”  But I think I finally put my finger on it–at least if we set the truly pathological ones aside.

What Mothers Do

The one thing all mothers do, the one quality that behooves us to be grateful for them, is that they nurtured us.  Even the most disadvantaged ones, the most disinterested, the most careless, did what was needed to keep us alive.  Even if that meant, in some cases, giving us away.  Here we are; they did what it took to make that happen.

For the ones who did the bare minimum, let’s use this day to offer them our forgiveness and compassion.  They don’t know what they missed.  And they did the best they could.

And for the ones who took the time and spent the energy  not only to feed, clothe, and house us, but to nurture us with an abundance of love, let’s take the time to reflect that love back to them, whether they’re still with us or not.

Let’s think about what they nurtured in us—what they taught us to value and appreciate, how they instilled manners in us and showed us ways to successfully negotiate in the world, how they passed on traditions so we would feel linked to the past, how they said that the only thing they wanted was for us to be happy in our lives and how they did all they knew to do to make that possible.  Let’s think about the pride they took in our achievements, and their unqualified forgiveness when we fell short of the mark, about the way they comforted our hurts and celebrated with us our moments of joy, about how they instilled in us the meaning of the word “home.”

Let’s think about the sacrifices they made for us, the events they attended they didn’t want to attend, the things they did without in order to serve our wishes and needs, the fulfillment of some of their own dreams so that some of ours had a chance to come true.

That’s an awful lot for one human being to be able to do for another.  And the wonder of it is that most moms–and stepmoms, and foster and adoptive moms–consider it a privilege and wouldn’t trade their roles for anything in the world.

It kind of gives you hope for the world, doesn’t it?

Wishing you a day of happy and grateful reflection about the special nurturers who mothered you.

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Slaying the Dragons of Chaos

Dragons of Chaos

I’ve been listening lately to lectures by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson,  a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, whose complex thoughts attract me with their depth and insight.  When you listen to him, you need to stop doing anything else and truly listen.  He speaks quickly and packs each sentence with layers of meaning.  But listening thoughtfully is worth the effort it requires of you.

One of the ideas he conveyed in the lectures I heard this week is that dragons, in mythology, represented (among other things) chaos.  And that slaying them makes you a hero.

Our own lives are a constant battle between chaos and order, and to be a hero in your own life means you slay the dragons that are bringing chaos to it so that you can have less confusion and greater clarity and competence in your life.

The first step in battling your dragons is the toughest.  You have to face the fact that they’re there.  You know that they are, and that they’re keeping you from being all that you can be.

Dr. Peterson says that the secret of overcoming your dragons is to take responsibility for them.   Taking responsibility builds you character and gives your life meaning.  It allows you to aim for a living on a higher level than you are now.

Here’s how he says to do it.  You know there are things in your life that aren’t in order, where you’re not together, and they’re causing you some discomfort or suffering.   Every morning, or every night, ask yourself what those things are.

Ask as if you’re asking someone you really want the answer from, not telling yourself or preaching, but sincerely asking what need to be put in order.  You can easily name five of them he says, “Bang. Bang. Bang.”  These are the little dragons of chaos.  “And they’re just little, but that’s good, because you’re not much of a hero warrior, so maybe little dragons are all you can put up with right now.”  So you name them and the begin sorting them out.

You ask yourself which one you’ll put some work into, even if the work is tedious or boring, or whatever it is that’s been allowing you to put it off.  And you do the work.  You sort those things out.

And what happens is it will bring more order into your life and when you wake up tomorrow, you’ll be just a little more focused and together.  Then you ask the same question, and the next problems will be a little more complex and challenging, and you sort those out.  And you keep going with this, and you become stronger and more clear-headed for the next set of dragons you take on.

If you continue to do that, you’ll find that your room gets cleaned, your health improves, and your house gets put in order, and then maybe you can stick a finger out and begin looking at the dragons in your community.  By that time, you’ll have some real personal power and self-confidence, and some practice at identifying dragons and taking them on.

Now that, he says, is an interesting and exciting game.  “If you started doing the things that you know you should do and you did that diligently, what the hell would you be like in ten years?”  You might not reach the very pinnacle, but you’ll be a lot better off than you are now, a lot less self-pitying and resentful, with a lot less suffering in your life, a lot less cruel to yourself and other people.  “And that’s a pretty good start.”

So here’s to slaying dragons.  Which ones will you start with today?

Wishing you a sharp sword and hearty determination!

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How to Be Your Own BFF

Serendipity led me this week to an interesting and beautiful YouTube video by Dr. Kirstin Neff on “Resilience and Self-Compassion.”    Neff’s done a heap of research on the topic of self-compassion and her way of sharing it inspires you to get a whole lot better at practicing it.

Essentially, self-compassion is being kind, supportive and caring toward yourself—learning to be your own Best Friend Forever.  It’s learning to treat yourself the way you would treat people you care about, especially when they are in pain.  And it’s adopting a kind of reverse golden rule:  Don’t do or say to yourself what you wouldn’t do or say to others.

We tend to be awfully self-critical, to beat ourselves up with our self-talk and self-destructive behaviors, when we feel we’ve failed at something, or acted badly in some way.  It’s almost as if we somehow believe that if we tell ourselves what louses we are, we’ll do better next time.  But in reality all we succeed in doing is making ourselves feel worse.

You know how we have this built-in self-defense system to protect us from threats?  Way back in time, it was meant to keep us from getting eaten by tigers or bears.  But in today’s world, the most prevalent threats aren’t to our physical selves, but to our self-concepts.  What happens when we beat ourselves up is that we become both the attacker and the attacked—a truly excruciating situation!  We generate floods of anxiety-producing cortisol into our systems when we do that.

So step one in learning to be your own BFF is to notice when you’re attacking yourself.  When you feel upset, pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself.  And if it’s words of anger or condemnation, stop it!  Instead, give yourself some caring understanding.

Use the phrase “Stop/Look/Do.” Stop what you’re doing.  Look at what you’re doing.  Do something kinder.

Self-compassion, like compassion for others, is a response of the heart.  It’s treating yourself with kindness, with soothing and comfort.  It’s like giving yourself an internal hug.

Another clue that you’re indulging in self-disrespect is to notice when you’re wallowing in your suffering, saying things like “This shouldn’t be happening to me,” instead of acknowledging that life isn’t perfect, that none of us are, and that bad things happen.  Recognize that suffering happens to everybody, even the kind of pain you’re feeling right now.  You’re not alone in experiencing it.  It’s part of the universal human experience.   Psychologist Tara Brach recommends saying to yourself, “This is suffering.  Everybody suffers.  May I be kind.”   It will save you from feeling isolated and singled out when life deals its inevitable blows.

Instead of running away from your pain or disappointment or trying to fight it, let yourself “be” with it, feeling it without judging it, allowing it, accepting it as pain.  “This is suffering.  Everybody suffers.  May I be kind.”   Then be kind.  Open your heart to yourself and feel compassion flowing toward you, from you.

A lot of dividends come from practicing self-compassion.  It creates more resilience in us.  One study found it was the single most important factor in how well people recovered from divorce, for example.  Another study found that those who practiced it were far less likely to suffer from PTSD even when they had experienced more warfare than those who didn’t.  It helps build better romantic relationships, too, and enables us to be more forgiving and to maintain a broader perspective on trying situations.

You can learn more about it at Neff’s excellent website  and can even take a quiz to determine how self-compassionate you are.   For now, a simple way to begin being kinder to yourself is to practice Tara Brach’s simple formula:  Attend and befriend.

Wishing you a week of deeper kindness and friendship with YOU, because you deserve it.

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