Cowed by Overthinking Negative Thoughts?

All of us can be vulnerable to the overthinking trap. But ruminating on your negative thoughts will lead you away from a solution instead of helping you find one.

Black CowDo you ever catch yourself replaying hurtful arguments or remarks again and again in your mind?  If so, you’re ruminating—or overthinking—your negative thoughts.

Like all animals classified as “ruminants,” cows swallow their dinners and store them in their first stomach.  (They have two.)  Then later they bring the meal back up to chew it over again.  It helps their food digest well.  But ruminating doesn’t help us humans digest the negative incidents in our lives at all.   Instead, it makes the original hurt worse.

Consider the story Sara told me about a fight she had last Friday night with her boyfriend, Bob.  They each said some ugly, hurtful things to each other.  And Sara was still trying to get over it the next morning.  The more the argument played in her mind, the angrier she got.  She vented by saying even more hurtful things, and he did the same.

In tears, and wanting some relief from it all, she went to the kitchen to get coffee.  His piercing words followed her there.  She poured coffee for them both, stirring the cream and sugar into his, and then carried the cups back to the living room—only to realize, with a shock, that Bob wasn’t actually there.   He had stormed out last night and gone home.  The entire morning’s argument was just a fiction in her head.

“I just stood there, staring at the two cups of coffee in my hands,” she said, “realizing what I had been doing to myself.”   She wisely decided to go for a brisk walk to get a change of pace and to put her anger away for a while.  She would be able to find a better solution for things, she realized, once she had calmed down.

Overthinking’s Destructive Path

Sarah was lucky, in a way.   Seeing the two cups of coffee in her hand, and then realizing Bob wasn’t even there, brought her back to reality.  It’s easy, once you start ruminating about a negative incident, to get sucked in deeper and deeper.

When we experience negative emotions, positive psychology researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson explains, we dredge up all kinds of related incidents from the past.  “That’s simply the way our brains work,” she says.  “We create a chain of thoughts that are linked by their negative tone.”  And these just add fuel to the fire.

“You start out a little bit worried, ruminate, and your worry expends toward a full-blown where to buy legit arimidex anxiety attack.  Take a little bit of sadness, add rumination, and you bring on the symptoms of depression.”  Ruminate over your anger, she says, and you can end up turning to violence.

We tell ourselves we’re trying to think things through, to figure out a solution.  But what happens instead is that our overthinking only makes us more miserable, until we think the whole situation is beyond hope.

And because negativity narrows our perception of possibilities, we get lost in a downward spiral:

  • Depressed ManWe generalize our negativity onto other situations and events;
  • Our motivation gets sapped;
  • Our judgment becomes impaired;
  • We can’t concentrate;
  • All our initiative disappears.

We end up living in a world dominated by memories of past hurts and begin to see the world through a web of pain, missing all its beauty and possibilities entirely.

The Way Out of Rumination

Obviously, none of us wants to be stuck in such a dreary world.  Yet all of us can be vulnerable to the overthinking trap.  It can be compelling.  You can feel that you really need to get to the bottom of things and you’re going to chew on your situation until you figure it out.  But rumination will lead you away from a solution instead of helping you find one.
The first step to rescuing yourself and moving back toward a broader, more realistic perspective is to admit that you’ve been trapped.   Once you do that, a whole range of strategies is at your disposal.  Grab one, and you’ll immediately feel empowered.  Instead of feeling like a victim of the situation, you will have claimed your personal power again.
The “Stop!” Technique

One powerful “first aid” technique is the “Stop!” Technique – As soon as you catch yourself tumbling helplessly downstream on a river of negative thoughts, simply command your mind to stop.  Actually say, “Stop!” with all the firmness you can muster.  Then refocus on something more pleasant—a pet, someone you love, an activity you enjoy doing, a task you could do.  Read something.  Watch a movie.  Call a friend for a chat about some other subject.  Simply refuse to let yourself step back into the river.

Other Strategies

In her book The How of Happiness, Dr. Sonja advises that overthinkers take a three-pronged approach to the battle against persistent rumination:
1.  Break Loose – Distract yourself from the pull of the negative thought-loop.  “Good bets,” says Lyubomirskry, “are activities that make you feel happy, curious, peaceful, amused or proud.”   Admit that your overthinking isn’t getting you anywhere-and won’t.  Then make the decision to get involved in any activity that will let you be fully engaged.
2.  Act to Solve the Problem – The key word here is “act.”  Take some small step to make your situation different.   Brainstorm a written list of everything you can think of that might help and them put one of your ideas to work.  Make a phone call, set an appointment, write a resume.  If you can’t decide, ask one of your wiser friends or a mentor to help you choose.  Every step you take will open up new possibilities—just the way a car’s headlights illuminate the path ahead in the dark.
3.  Avoid Triggers—If possible, avoid the places, things and people who trigger your ruminating.  Take up some new interest that will let you build self-confidence, like  a new hobby or a course that interests you.  Not only will it distract you, but it will give you a broadened perspective of yourself.  And if it’s appealing to you at all, learn to meditate, or get back to a meditation practice if you have had one in the past.  The relaxation will be a definite aid in freeing you from overthinking.

Finally, Lubromirsky says, get some perspective on your problem.  Ask yourself, “Will this matter at all five years from now?”  Or think about outer space and how vast it is, how small we and our planet and our squabbles are in comparison.

Emotion-Based and Action-Based Solutions

Fredrickson says the solutions to overthinking are either emotion-based or action-focused.  Although both approaches are effective for everyone, because it is not their usual approach, women tend to do a bit better with action-focused solutions like those in #2 above, while men benefit from emotion-focused solutions, such as getting emotional support from a friend, or using the distraction techniques described in the “Break Loose” and “Avoid Triggers” techniques.

The Victory

Because overthinking is so compelling, it takes determination, effort and practice to break free—especially if it’s a familiar pattern for you.  But by putting the strategies to work, you can recover. When you free yourself from its grip, you begin to see greater possibilities and greater potentials within yourself.  In short, you begin to thrive.


Want Happiness? Be Truthful!

Introspective Man

Of all the traits the happiest people share in common, one outshines them all.  In fact, without it, genuine happiness can’t exist.  That trait is truthfulness.

Without exception, truly happy people are committed to telling the truth about themselves to themselves—even when it’s scary and difficult.  And they extend their truthfulness to others.

It sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?  We all tend to think of ourselves as honest people for the most part.  And in fact, for the most part we are.  But when it comes down to looking our fear or sadness or anger in the face, it’s easy to back down.

We hide our darker feelings from others, too, fearing their rejection, criticism or judgment.      Author, consultant and workshop leader Christopher R. Edgar says in his blog post, Self-Honesty and Self-Love, that it can feel risky to admit to ourselves, or to someone else, what is actually going on inside us.

“But,” he goes on, describing a time when he confessed a personal truth to a friend, “I’ve found that when I’m willing to fully accept how I feel in the moment, no matter what it might be, that’s when I get access to the joy and lightness I want in my life.  Any energy I was using to avoid what I’m feeling gets freed up and becomes vitality.”

That’s the discovery that all happy people make about truthfulness.  It’s liberating, joyful and empowering.


What Truthfulness Brings

Truthfulness grounds you in yourself. It helps to defend you against the outside forces of:
•    Emotional storms
•    Attacks from others
•    Peer/ cultural persuasion to do what’s not good for you
•    Reliance on self-approval, not approval from others.

Truthfulness makes you trustworthy—both to yourself and to others. Other people see your transparency and feel that they can easily know you.

Truthfulness deepens relationships.   It opens the door for genuine intimacy.  Your honesty promotes honesty in others.  It empowers them and gives them permission to be honest themselves.    When people share honestly with each other about their feelings and their needs, everyone is more likely to have their needs met.

We feel less  tension and stress when we’re honest, too.  Lies, even “white lies” are stressful.   When you tell them to others, you have to remember what you said and to whom you said it.  When you tell them to yourself, a part of you knows it’s not true.   Lies are never kindnesses.  You can learn to tell the truth tactfully and with respect.  Truth comes from love, from a willingness to honor the importance of each relationship – especially the one you have with yourself.

Uncovering Hidden Truths: An Exercise

Here’s a little exercise that happiness researchers Foster and Hicks suggest to discover truths you may be hiding.  Get out a notebook and write out as many statements as you can that let you fill in the blanks in this phrase:

“I pretend that_____, but the truth is ______”

It’s a great way to discover what you really believe and honestly want.

To develop greater intimacy with a partner, take turns completing the above phrase out loud to each other for ten minutes.  Then spend time discussing what you discovered.

If the Truth is so Good, Why Do We Lie to Ourselves?

Dr. Gerald Goodman, author of The Talk Book: The Intimate Science of Communicating in Close Relationships, explains how we fall into the trap of self-deception.  Truth can be painful, he says.  “It gets in the way of ‘our universal urge to be better than we are.’”

We go on pretending that our behaviors, our relationships, our careers and family lives are just fine.  We bend reality to make us more comfortable with the status quo.

The problem is that this kind of self-deception can become addictive.  Rather than facing the unpleasant parts of ourselves that self-honesty reveals, we ignore the little pieces of reality that paint a less than perfect picture of ourselves.

We tuck our unwelcome feelings, our uncomfortable thoughts and our unsettling beliefs away in a mental trunk in the basement of our minds and pretend that we have risen above them.

And while that may seem to make us more comfortable, it means we’re living in delusion about who we are and about our true feelings.   Our authentic self shrinks as our pretend self grows.  We wind up having  no clue who we really are.  And that is a sure recipe for misery and suffering.

Writer Dragos Nicolae says living with self-deception “can lead to poor self-image, a lack of self-confidence, and a constant depressive, negative mood at the back of your mind.  You start to feel that life treats you unfairly, when the truth is that buy effexor xr online australia life wants to help you out.  You’re just not paying attention to it.”

Truly happy people, people committed to positive living, strive to have honest knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses and to know what they really want.  “They are searching,” say Foster and Hicks “for what is real in their responses to life.  In short, they strive for authenticity and accurate personal evaluation – to live in a state of integrity with themselves.”


“Where Will this Lead?”

As therapist Erika Krull, MS, LMHP points out, one of the prime benefits of self-honesty is that it lets you see where you need to make changes.  In addition to the discomfort it can stir up, the call to change is another reason that it feels risky. We tend to resist change.  It can be scary.  And it’s work.  Nevertheless, you only have the power to make your situation better if you admit the reality of a problem.

Nicolae suggests that one powerful way to motivate yourself to make needed changes is to ask, “Where will this lead?”  If you don’t change your undesirable behavior, what are the consequences likely to be?

To add a more positive twist to his question, also ask yourself what possibilities might open up for you if you do release your unwanted behavior in favor of one that’s more in harmony with your true self.

Living Truthfully:  A Life-Long Process

Discovering who you are is a life-long process.  We don’t get the whole truth about ourselves in one blinding revelation.   We sort things out a little at a time in what Dr. Goodman calls “ordinary moments of clarity.”

These moments of clarity are the little insights we get on a daily or weekly basis that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we need to face.

They come with nagging little feelings of uneasiness to show us that “we can:

  • Be thoughtless
  • Be impatient
  • Be selfishly unfair
  • Be not quite honest with someone close
  • Monopolize the dinner conversation
  • Brush off a friend’s concerns
  • Give cheap advice
  • Fear to reveal warmth
  • Drink more than we thought.”

These ordinary day-to-day realizations, Dr. Goodman says, are the major shapers of our self-awareness.  They are where we come face to face with ourselves and make the choice whether to confront them honestly or not.
These ordinary moments of clarity represent the moments that Foster and Hicks are talking about when they say this about the authentically happy people in their studies: “The choice to be truthful is a rich and deeply personal statement that happy people make about themselves, to themselves.  It is a kind of truth that speaks to the ability to confront our personal mythologies, to look at our behavior honestly, and to do what is right for ourselves, regardless of the social pressure to do otherwise.”
Over time, we get better and better at hearing our Inner Truth Detector when, with feelings of unease, it signals us that we’re painting a false picture of reality to others or to ourselves.  As we experience the liberation and empowerment of living truthfully, we learn to welcome its voice and to make our corrections immediately and with increasing grace and ease.   And so we become happier and whole.


The Extraordinary Happiness of Heartfelt Giving

The happiness of giving isn't limited to giving money. Happy people give of their time, their skills, their labor, their expertise and wisdom.

Heart in HandsHappy people love to give.  They give of their time, their skills, their labor, their expertise and wisdom.  They give emotional support and acts of kindness.  They give material goods and money.   But whatever they give, say happiness researches Foster and Hicks,  they share one trait in common: They give from the heart.

The Science of Giving

Happy people give without expectation of return or reward.  But the reward is inherent in the act of giving itself.  Dr. Timothy Sharp from The Happiness Institute quoted a study on his blog last Christmas that took place at the University of Oregon.   The people who took part in the study were given $100.  Then they were shown scenarios in which they contributed to charity and their brains lit right up.  Giving makes us feel happy.  It’s a gift we give ourselves.

A study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and two of his colleagues from the University of British Columbia, Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin, bears the University of Oregon study out.  They found that giving as little as $5.00 per day to others produces happiness in the giver.   Their overall research showed that the percentage of one’s earnings that one spends prosocially—whether through gifts to individuals or to charities—is the predictor of happiness.  The more one gives, the happier he is.

Giving is Empathy in Action

But the happiness of giving is hardly limited to giving money.  Happy people, say Foster and Hicks, practice giving across the whole economic spectrum.  They share their smiles and their joy; they listen, thank and appreciate.

The bottom line is that giving is a generosity of spirit, rooted in giving ourselves as a caring response to others’ needs.

Giving might take the form of volunteering, or of helping your spouse with washing dishes or cleaning out the garage.  It might mean devoting time to playing with your children, or running errands for a homebound neighbor or friend.

It might be an appreciative comment to a harried store clerk or waitress, or giving your seat to someone on a bus.

The trait of giving is labeled “generativity”—being generous—by psychologist and researcher Paul Wink of Wellesley College.  He’s overseeing the longest-running social science studies of our time and has co-authored In the Course of a Lifetime that describes the study’s findings.

One of the key points he’s discovered is that generativity leads to a beautiful, long and healthy life.

People who are generous, he says, are empathic and warm; they relate to the suffering of others, want to help, and believe they can make a difference.   They reach out with acts of kindness and support.  And their giving provides them, in return, with a long-lasting protective effect on both their mental and physical health.

Giving is a Sign of Self-Worth

Both the Foster and Hicks study and the findings of Paul Wink describe giving people as people who have a strong sense of self-worth and personal value that they want others to share in as well.

Wink sees generativity as a spiritual trait, reflecting “a strong, self-expansive focus on making creative contributions that will affect others and endure beyond their lifetimes.”   Spiritually buy modafinil com motivated people want to have a positive impact on others and to pass on their skills and knowledge.

Small Acts, Big Rewards:  Keeping a Kindness Log

You can prove to yourself how rewarding giving is by keeping a kindness log.

Positive psychology expert Dr. Barbara Fredrickson found that people who kept track of the way they expressed their generosity in acts of kindness saw their positivity rise considerably.

They noted every little thing they did that was an act of giving themselves to others.  Keeping track made them more aware of opportunities to make a difference in others’ lives, and the resulting good feelings from giving their personal energy, time and helpfulness motivated them to be more generous still.

If you want to give your own happiness level an extraordinary boost, be mindful of ways that you can give to others.   Keep a written log for a day or two.  See what happens.

Then come back here and share your experiences, would you?  Encouraging others with your comments is, after all, yet another way to give.


Appreciation: Positivity's Power Tool

Learning to appreciate is one of the most life-transforming positivity practices of all. And the good news is that we all know how to do it; it’s built in.


The two men stood on a small rise overlooking a field of debris that, just yesterday, had been a town.   Both men had lost their homes and livelihoods.  But they were grateful that their families survived the disaster.  Many hadn’t.

It was hard to comprehend that so much could be wiped away so quickly.  “It really does make you appreciate the powers of nature, doesn’t it?”  Al said.

“Absolutely  awesome,” Mark quietly agreed, slowly shaking his head as the two men headed back down the hill.

That scene has been played out in countless towns across the globe this year.  People who have lost nearly everything find themselves filled with gratitude that they survived a natural disaster, and with a new appreciation for how truly awesome nature’s powers can be.

We sometimes tend to think of gratitude and appreciation as the same thing.  But there’s a difference. Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness, of wanting to reach out and give back to the source of something that has touched your heart. Appreciation is seeing something from a new point of view that affords you more respect for it and that lets you value you it more deeply.  Even when a quality is something you don’t like or want, you can appreciate it and admire it.

Appreciating Life’s Contrasts

Truly happy people open themselves to the duality of experience—the bad as well as the good, the ugly as well as the beautiful, the painful as well as the pleasant, the triumphs as well as the tragedies.

They allow themselves to feel all experiences because all events are scenes in this one, unique life each of us is experiencing.  “When we fight against the totality of our lives, we risk missing life altogether,” say happiness researchers Foster and Hicks.

Once you began expanding your perception in this way, you discover that every moment holds something to appreciation.  Every one, without exception.

“Every time you make an effort to activate appreciation,” say the folks at HeartMath, “It shifts your perception of the world around you for the better.”

Appreciation: The Practice

Learning to appreciate is one of the most life-transforming practices of all.  And the good news is that we all know how to do it; it’s built in.  All it takes to wield this powerful tool is to create an intention to pay more attention to it.   Try these exercises from Foster and Hicks:

  • Practice asking yourself what you can appreciate in the present moment.
  • Set a timer for five minutes and brainstorm as many things as you can that you appreciate.  As with all brainstorming, don’t censor or avoid the silly; just write quickly and dig deep for as many things as you can list in the time available.  Include life circumstances, your talents and abilities, meaningful relationships, life pleasures—whatever comes to mind.
  • Then review your list and note beside each item who you can thank for it—whether it’s a person, a higher power, or yourself.

May I suggest that you don’t merely read this exercise, but actually take a few moments right now to try it when you come to the end of this article?  It’s one of the most heart-warming and enriching positivity practices of them all.

Give yourself a bonus by starting an appreciation journal where you log the things you appreciate as a regular weekly ritual.

Appreciating Others: Three Steps

Appreciation works its magic in relationships as well—with friends and family, on the job, and even with strangers.   It can turn adversaries into allies, bring loved ones closer than ever before, turn casual acquaintances into cherished friends.

Few things increase enjoyment of life as powerfully as strong positive relationships.  Building them is one of the most important positivity practices we can do.

The magic of appreciating someone is anchored in the fact that appreciating him is wishing him well.  When we express positive recognition for people, it  lifts and encourages them, adds to their perception of their own value, and it elevates them in your eyes, too.

Within a marriage relationship, appreciation is a crucial element in an enduring relationship.  In fact, renowned marriage and family therapist John Gottman says he can predict the success of relationships by the ratio of positive to negative comments a couple makes to each other.  The standard to strive for is five positive comments for every negative one.

Gottman says, ““By reminding yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities—even as you grapple with each other’s flaws—and expressing out loud your fondness and admiration, you can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating.”

The formula works for all kinds of relationships.  It’s a practice well worth learning.  Here’s a formula from Foster and Hicks on how to put it to use:

The Three Steps of Active Appreciation
1.    Look for something specific that you can appreciate in the other;
2.    Allow yourself to really feel the appreciation;
3.    Express it out loud in word.  Tell people what you appreciate about them.  Drop an email to someone you’re thinking about with appreciation.  Send flowers with a brief note.

The Empathy Factor

When you can learn to appreciate the motivation behind somebody’s ugly or upsetting behavior, you feel empathy for them—the ability to relate to what they are feeling without getting involved in their drama.

Empathy lets you understand that the other person’s point of view is valid from her perspective, even when you yourself look at things in a totally different way.    This is one of appreciation’s most powerful aspects; it can transform even hostile relationships.

Bringing appreciation to bear on a troubled relationship or overwhelming problem creates a space for healing and restoration.  Research by HeartMath shows that calming and opening your own heart has a measurable impact on the other person, helping them to calm down and experience more harmonious emotions as well.

It takes practice to apply it in a high-stress situation, but when you can appreciatie that someone’s anger or fear or struggle shows how much she cares about something, you can respond to the anger in a much more healing and positive way.

Self Appreciation

Finally, don’t forget to appreciate yourself.  We’re taught that self-congratulation is vain, but the truth is it’s a way of honoring your own uniqueness.

Learn to appreciate your skills and abilities, the depth and range of your feelings, your uniqueness.  To appreciate that you possess a consciousness that lets you realize what a marvel it is simply to be alive.


Now buy imitrex in mexico that you’re thinking about appreciation, what things come to mind that you’re appreciating right now?   Take a few minutes to try out the Practice described above and let us know what it revealed for you.


Options for Happiness: The Flexibility Factor

Happy people choose to be so, according to happiness researchers Foster and Hicks, through a series of specific choices they make about how they will respond to life.   One of the choices they make is to be open to change, to give themselves options.

It turns out that giving yourself options is a very wise choice.  It’s easy to get attached to an idea about what will bring us greater happiness.  But research by Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert has shown that we’re very poor predictors of what will make us happy.

We imagine scenarios where a different job, a different mate, living in a different locale, or having a lot more money would make us happy.  So we choose one of our scenarios, make it our driving goal, and then learn that it isn’t doing the trick.  What then?

If we’re unable to make good predictions about what will being us greater happiness, how can we go about directing our lives?

Opting for Adventure

Foster and Hicks discovered that the happiest among us tend not to have a sole outcome in mind.  They keep their prospects open.

“Happy people,” they tell us, “thrive in an ever-changing world by opening up their lives to a daily bounty of possibilities.”  Rather than holding rigidly to their plans, they approach each day with flexibility, open to seeing new options as the day unfolds.

Their only expectation as they begin a day is that it will hold new opportunities for adventure and discovery.  They let themselves remain flexible and open rather than rigidly clinging to predetermined goals.

That doesn’t mean you have to live without planning and structure to be happy.  It means being willing to alter your  plans or to create new ones if a new discovery or possibility presents itself.   Happy people embrace the “what if” scenarios that present themselves instead of dismissing them out of rigid adherence to a previous plan.

When setbacks and disappointments strike, they look for hidden opportunities.  They ask themselves how they can look at the situation in a different light and search for the options that might be available, aware that life is full of endless possibilities.

They don’t worry about what’s realistic or certain of success.  They follow their hunches and step out in a new direction.

Flexibility: The Risks and Rewards

Sometimes the options that come along are as scary as they are inviting: Giving up a settled career to pursue something that you love, leaving an unhappy relationship to gain the freedom to carve out a new life, moving to an unfamiliar city to take a new job.  The familiar gives us a sense of security, however unsatisfying it may be. Choosing another option threatens that security.

But security is an illusion.  None of us knows what the future may bring.  And to tie yourself to an unfulfilling or even miserable situation deadens your spirit and sucks all the joy from your life.

Taking risks allows you to find new ways to use your buy prescription nexium strengths, to grow into a broader, more well-rounded person.  It allows you to discover and develop more of your capabilities.   It adds a dimension of exhilaration to your life and makes you feel more connected and alive.

More than that, it leads you to an appreciation for life’s magic, as one option after another enriches your range of experience and reveals to you more and more of who you truly are.