(Post originally featured on Rodale's Organic Life. Now found here.)
I'm honored to have been featured!
8 Little Ways To Build Mental Strength Every Single Day
By Shelby Deering
Simple steps to becoming a more resilient, mentally tough person.
You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama or Oprah to achieve mental clarity and toughness. With some practice and armed with tips and tricks, you can find mental strength and in turn, improve your thinking patterns.
We asked a gamut of mental health pros—a therapist, a mindfulness coach, and an Olympian—to weigh in on what methods lead to better mental strength. They all have gone on personal journeys to discover their own mental toughness.
Nick Holt, LCSW, a certified cognitive behavioral therapist, shares that he is a “professional and personal survivor of suicide,” facing substance abuse and mental health challenges since he was a child. Lara Jaye, CEO of Lara Jaye LLC, is an author, speaker, and mindfulness expert who once dealt with depression, a marriage that was falling apart, and substantial health issues. Joanna Zeiger, PhD, is a professional triathlete and Olympian who says that she’s not a “natural” and lived an athlete’s life littered with injuries and unmet goals.
What do these three have in common? They dug deep and uncovered grit and determination to reach their versions of mental strength. Here are 8 practices you can start doing today to build up your own.
Increase Your Awareness Of Your Thoughts
Mental strength is important, says Holt, because “the world is full of uncertainty, change, and negativity.”
“In empowering ourselves to have a more connected, disciplined, and resilient existence, we increase the likelihood of having more contentment, support, and intimacy in our lives,” he says. And all that mental strength often starts with something that is equal parts simple and challenging—awareness.
“Personally, it’s taken me a long time to connect to many of my thoughts and feelings,” Holt says. “For the majority of my life, many of my thoughts and feelings passed by without much attention. They were fused into my daily behavior. These thoughts and feelings guided my life without much consideration of the validity or usefulness of them.”
Now Holt harnesses their power by observing his own life experiences, especially when negative situations occur. “As you enter this new level of connectedness to yourself, your thoughts, and your body, you enter a path of improving your confidence and self-esteem. You become more disciplined, experience more comfort within discomfort, and ultimately, become more mentally tough,” says Holt. (Here’s how to quit your negative thinking once and for all.)
Jaye believes that awareness starts by “silencing the mind chatter.” She says, “Become aware of the radio station that is running in the background. How are you talking to yourself? What do you really believe about yourself? Journal your thoughts.
Visualization is a technique commonly applied by athletes, something that Zeiger writes about in her book, The Champion Mindset. But it’s a method that’s not limited to athletes.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of visualization,” she says. “Visualization is an opportunity to mentally practice a situation so when the situation arises you are ready to conquer it. Most of the time, people use visualization to imagine perfect scenarios. In sports, it would be the perfect race, and in business, it could be closing an important deal and going over the conversations and actions that would lead to the deal being made. These types of visualizations, where everything occurs smoothly, are important rehearsals that can instill confidence.”
She adds that visualization can result in mental preparedness for whatever may happen, saying, “Most situations in life do not go smoothly. So, imagery during visualization does not only have to be just about success, but also how to handle glitches. I call these ‘disaster scenarios.’ At some point, disaster will strike, and you will be empowered through your imaginary practice to figure out how to navigate the difficulty.”
Jaye practices visualization every morning, setting her alarm a half hour before she needs to get up for the day. “I use that time to focus on what I am grateful for in my life, and then I do a 15-minute meditation focusing on my ideal outcome of some specific situation, including how I will feel when it happens. Sometimes I’m creating my life five years down the road, other times, I’m seeing my next speaking gig and what I’m communicating to the audience. Sometimes I’m envisioning myself happy, healthy, and fit, living on a warm beach. Every morning, it resets my mind and body to remember my goal and to feel what it will feel like when it arrives,” says Jaye.
Employ Positive Self-Talk
Positive self-talk is the thing that overtakes those negative thoughts when they creep in. Zeiger explains that when athletes endure long races, there are always rough patches that can easily lead to negative self-talk. “Athletes tell themselves things like, ‘I suck,’ or ‘I should just quit.’”
Anyone can experience similar thoughts, even if they’re not in the middle of a race. Negativity can surface when you’re sitting in traffic, having a disagreement with a partner, or facing a health crisis. “Positive phrases during these times, [such as] ‘This will pass’ and ‘I am a warrior’ will help alleviate the burden of the tough patch,” says Zeiger. “Every day, we are confronted with situations that can cause angst. The way we react will dictate the ability to move forward quickly. Our thoughts are powerful and can change our mood quickly from positive to negative or from negative to positive.”
Come Up With A Mantra And Use It Often
Once you’ve mastered the art of positive self-talk, pick a mantra for yourself and use it often, says Zeiger. It can be a favorite quote or a personal phrase that you’ve devised that just feels right when you say it to yourself.
Having a mantra naturally arise in your thoughts will no doubt take some practice and patience. Zeiger says, “Practice mental toughness. Just because you want to be mentally tough doesn’t mean you will be mentally tough. It takes a lot of practice.”
Be Mindful And Engage All Your Senses
Mindfulness is also something that can lead to more self-awareness. Jaye separates mindfulness from meditation, saying, “People often use meditation and mindfulness interchangeably, but they are different. Meditation is a way to practice being mindful. It’s to engage in contemplation or reflection.”
Jaye recommends using meditation as a way to become more mindful, alongside deep breathing, yoga, walking, spending time in nature, dancing, and eating. “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us,” says Jaye. “To become mindful, you can bring all five senses into whatever you are doing in the present moment.” That means allowing yourself to fully taste your food, slowing down to feel a warm breeze, or quite literally stopping to smell the roses.
Prioritize Self-Care And Quiet Time
Peaceful moments infused with self-care rituals can help you recharge your batteries so you can practice mental toughness the next day. Holt says to practice self-care and self-compassion “daily.”
Holt adds that self-compassion can only be experienced once we choose to be vulnerable. “Vulnerability is the portal that can lead to an appreciation of acknowledgment, empathy, compassion, nurturance, self-care, and much, much more,” Holt says.
Zeiger knows that even athletes need to power down. She says, “Mental toughness is not just about ‘going hard.’ It’s also about knowing when to fold your cards.” And she says not to judge yourself when you need a mental break.
Jaye is an advocate for using silence to get in touch with your true feelings and thoughts. “Be still. Take that quiet time each day to reflect, offer gratitude, meditate, and become mindful of the present moment without judging it,” she says.
Don’t Be Afraid To Experience Emotions
Emotions can undoubtedly be scary at times. None of us really want to face our confidence issues or the unhappiness we experience with a spouse. But Jaye says that it’s essential to feel all those emotions as they come up so you can begin to harness the mental strength you’re thirsting for. “Stop numbing yourself,” she says. “Welcome the emotions and thoughts. Allow your body to feel.”
Jaye also recommends using something called the RAIN Method when you become overwhelmed with emotions.
R: Recognize what you’re experiencing and thinking
A: Accept your emotions
I: Investigate these thoughts and emotions
N: Non-judgement of thoughts and emotions
“Just allow [the emotions] to pass naturally, because what we resist persists,” says Jaye.
Remove Yourself From Negative Situations
And if all else fails and mental toughness seems out of reach, it might be time to simply remove yourself from any negative people, places, or situations that weaken you or affect your thoughts.
Jaye says, “Notice the people and circumstances that are triggering you. Become aware and journal your thoughts.” In this same spirit, Holt says that it’s key “deepen your commitment to yourself and the people who make you feel good.”
“It is hard to be mentally tough if you are doing something you dislike,” Zeiger points out. “If you are stuck in a situation where you are unhappy or hate what you are doing, if at all possible, remove yourself from that situation into something more likable. If it is not possible—for example, you are stuck in a job you dislike and cannot move—make a list of the positives and focus on that rather than the negatives.”
Because at the end of the day, that is the foundation of mental strength. Focus on the positives, cast the negatives aside, and fixate on being the very best version of yourself.
#anxiety #tools #techniques #cognitivebehavioraltherapy #cbt
For me, the end of the year is a time of reflection, appreciation and gratitude. It's when I carve out time to be proud of myself and my accomplishments of the year. It's when family rejoins, and tradition and ritual come to a focus. During this process of reflection, I find it natural to reflect on areas for growth, development and change.
However, over the years as I've progressed through my experience as a certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT therapist in West LA, I've noticed difficulty in executing some of the New Year's goals I set for myself. I know I am not alone in this. Much has been written about the importance of setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals. In thinking about my past goals and in remembering discussions with friends and family, identifying goals is rarely the main barrier.
Too often I think our year-end reflections get filtered through a negative filter. Instead of dwelling on my accomplishments and successes, I tend to set goals that tap into my perceived inadequacies and dissatisfactions over the past year. Sadly, the outcome of this type of filtration is that I leave myself with a sense that I am, and/or my life, just isn't good enough.
Goals of this nature can become a checklist of tasks I "need" to or "must" do, and become a basis for my own feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence and esteem, and tend to gain momentum throughout the year. Conducted through this lens, in the generation of goals, I struggle to finalize a thorough list of SMART goals and commit to executing them.
If you are someone who is able to carve out SMART goals for yourself, hold yourself accountable throughout the year and move forward in creating your ideal self and environment without distress, BRAVO! Keep up the excellent work!
However, if you find yourself struggling to set SMART goals or executing change within your life, I have a proposal for you.
In a prior post, I recommended:
We all drift from our good-enough selves. Being adaptable, resilient and committing time to reconnecting with our passions, purpose and cultivating a process to do so is most important.
Similar to the above quote, it is important to remember that we all drift from our true intentions and goals -- each and every one of us. Therefore, it is not helpful to berate ourselves for this sort of drift.
It has been much more helpful to think about the times in my life when I have lived according to my desired goals -- going to the gym on a regular basis, cultivating meaningful relationships, treating loved ones in a loving, compassionate manner -- and reflecting on how I was feeling at those times, what I was thinking in those moments and factors that led to drifting away from those ideal behaviors.
Typically, I find that when I cultivate such compassion for myself, I'm in a much better position to share compassion and nurturance with the world and others.
If you are interested in working on your goals in 2018 and think a therapist might be helpful in keeping you on track, please contact my West Los Angeles psychotherapy practice today for a consultation.
#goals #newyear #change #psychology #inspire #reflection
Men, anxiety and psychotherapy
It took me a long time before I realized the depths of my anxiety. For much of my life, I self-managed my discomfort by doing -- sports, hobbies, education, friends, family, writing and more. My checklist of "to-do's" helped regulate an early experience of feeling out-of-control, and gave me a sense of empowerment over my life.
It has taken me even longer to breakout my nuanced thoughts and feelings encompassing my anxiety. I am still learning, and still reminding myself of the importance of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be an important space of safety for exploration, understanding and compassion, and in rekindling my awareness and intention.
With clients, I sometimes share a lighthearted prompt: "I'm not only the hair club president... (I'm also a client)." It's meant to be a reminder that mental health and psychotherapy is not only about knowing but remembering.
We all drift from our good-enough selves. Being adaptable, resilient and committing time to reconnecting with our passions, purpose and cultivating a process to do so is most important.
We (men) struggle to do this, and this is one of the reasons why I love working in the field of Men's Mental Health in West LA.
It is hard enough for men to care for their physical vulnerabilities, let alone exposing our emotional selves. From a young age, boys are encouraged to "suck it up" and "walk it off." Messages of repressing pain and discomfort still permeate our culture.
Unfortunately, there is a consequence to this. Learn more about the challenges of men seeking support:
Studies show that men who equate seeking assistance with weakness, or the appearance of not being able to handle their own problems, experience more soured relationships with their significant others, higher rates of debilitating illnesses, and earlier death.
Let us remember to take good care of ourselves and one another. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. I am happy to share my perspectives.
#men #masculinity #love #caring #anxiety #psychotherapy #thoughts #feelings #empowerment #reachingout #trust
A little bird told me ...
I was talking with someone today about how difficult our lives can be. Our conversation intensified as we entered the specifics -- working, families, politics, exercise, hobby, income, retirement, safety.
As we hit a high point in the conversational anxiety, a small Finch plops down on the chair in front of us, stares into our eyes, flicks his wings and barks at us before flying off.
In that moment, he understood so clearly what we needed.
Here's one of my favorite #breathing exercises I use to reconnect with myself in times of #distress:
According to the people I learned this from, if you wish to gain energy, take longer inhales and shorter inhales. For less energy, breathe shorter inhales and longer exhales.
#grounding #love #earth #stillness #letgo #peace #breathe
-- Enjoy your day
The Burden of competency
I've spent a large part of my life living within core beliefs of not good enough, inadequacy and incompetence.
Out of an almost obsessional pursuit to disprove these internal fallacies, I have been driven to do more, hold myself to "higher" standards and take full responsibility for many neutral-negative encounters I have. As I reflect on a lifetime spent in this default mode, I recognize it's had a significant impact on my contentment, confidence and self-compassion.
In my personal life, I've had moments of desperately seeking validation from the external world, which rarely comes. It's taken a long time to build reserves from within, find peace with uncertainty and be confident within my voice.
I know these thoughts and beliefs have distanced me from others -- "less people around me, the less 'burdens' to take on" -- and framed many encounters as a way to get my needs met rather than just sharing space and connection.
I LOVE this piece. It's short but addresses these traits in direct way and acknowledges the impact of highly competent traits in the workforce and in our personal relationships.
“If someone (in the workforce) is doing more than his fair share, compensate him for it. If not, he may ultimately leave and seek recognition elsewhere. Similarly, in our personal relationships, we should recognize that just because our high-ability partners can do something for us, doesn’t mean that we should let them. And if they do help us, we should recognize it and thank them for it. Otherwise, they too may end up feeling burdened by us, and less satisfied—and that should be the last thing we want to do to a good employee or a good partner.”
#competence #work #relationships #burden #incompetence #inadequacy #therapy #therapist #beliefs #ocpd #perfectionism
From the article:
"An addiction, goes the emerging understanding, begins with a flash of pleasure overlaid with an itch for danger: It’s fun to gamble or to drink, and it also puts you at risk (for losing your rent money, for acting like an idiot). Addictions bring pleasure, though they also build up a tolerance over time, as the addict requires more and more of the behavior (or substance) to get the same hedonic hit."
"Compulsions, by contrast, are about avoiding unpleasant outcomes. They are born out of anxiety and remain strangers to joy. They are repetitive behaviors we engage in over and over to alleviate the angst brought on by the possibility of negative consequences. If I don’t check my phone constantly, I’ll miss an urgent demand from my boss or will feel like I don’t know what is going on. If I do not religiously organize my closets, my home will be engulfed in chaos. If I don’t shop, it will be proof that I can’t afford nice things and am headed for homelessness. “A compulsive behavior is one that’s done with the intent of decreasing an overwhelming sense of anxiety,” said Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation. The roots of compulsion lie in the brain circuit that detects threats, which is abnormally active in people with OCD and other compulsions."
Great work and an informational piece. Read more here.
What to do with Worry?
This post was originally featured on WellnessUniverse.com.
I recently became a Diplomate in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (ACT). The ACT is the only cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) certifying agency in the world.
Joining this elite group of therapists is quite an honor. There are many therapists in the world that can say they are CBT trained but only 750 people in the world can say that they are CBT certified.
One of the greatest benefits of being an ACT Diplomate is joining their ListServ. Some of the most prestigious CBT therapists in the world are on this list and share their perspectives on a daily basis. Unfortunately, much of this information does not get outside this small network and the clients they work with.
In a recent ACT ListServ email from Reid Wilson, Ph.D., Dr. Wilson shared some helpful videos about anxiety relating to his new book Stopping the Noise in Your Head. I thought the videos were fun and demonstrate important concepts in CBT.
About Dr. Wilson: He has spent much of his 30+ year career providing free or inexpensive ways to help people combat anxiety and worry, and encouraging them to seek CBT services when appropriate.
In promoting his new book, Stopping the Noise in Your Head, he released a free video series called Noise in Your Head, which follows a young woman, Susan, in her struggles with anxiety.
Here are a few of the highlights from each video:
This post originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com
As a mental health professional, I can't help but think about how my favorite TV shows, books and music apply to healthy mental living. For instance, I am a big fan of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The images are striking. The writing, brilliant. It taps my imagination, and reinforces my thoughts and beliefs via scientific research and theory.
In a recent episode called "Unafraid of the Dark," I was struck by a discussion about how the factors that influenced the advancement of science and humanity parallel the tenets of a healthy philosophy for daily living.
Here is the excerpt:
It was the work of generations of searchers who took five simple rules to heart:
You can use deGrasse Tyson's five simple rules to encompass a broader view of personal growth, too. Taking them to heart can help us be more scientific in our thinking, which can lead to a more empathic understanding of ourselves and others in our daily lives.
For instance, I connected deGrasse Tyson's first three points to the biases we hold in our daily lives. As briefly discussed in my last blog, cognitive distortions (or biases, a slightly less judgmental word) are always in play. It is not a question of if we are biased in our thinking, but rather a question of if we are aware of such a bias influencing our thinking, e.g. personalization, emotional reasoning, etc.
A tool for all of us to better examine our thinking, and how our thinking influences our moods and behaviors, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). From its inception, CBT has become the most widely researched and evidence-based form of psychotherapy. In some cases, research has demonstrated its being as effective as psychotropic medication.
As Tyson talked about his fourth and fifth points, the frame of CBT was screaming through my mind. Some of the ways CBT provides a more structured and scientific approach to our thoughts, feelings and actions includes identification and evaluation of feelings, "automatic thoughts," intermediate beliefs and core beliefs, role playing, behavioral experimentation, examining the evidence, and many, many other mechanisms.
The most important portion of Tyson's commentary is the fifth point. Tyson talks about how "even the best scientists were wrong about some things," and it's similar to how we can and should move forward once we accept the inevitability of our own errors.
We do not achieve growth in our lives without missteps along the way. Ideally, acknowledging this will help soften our own tender approach and playful response to adversity in our lives when it comes. If we can't acknowledge our missteps, a real danger emerges in which we believe ourselves to be unequivocally right. In doing so, we often lose empathy towards ourselves or others.
Research demonstrates what happens when we lose empathy in our relationships, and communicate with vehicles such as criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. The effects can be devastating on marriages, leading to a host of negative effects like lack of communication, emotional flooding, withdrawing from the relationship, even leading to affairs (1).
By better examining our thinking through a more scientific process and softening our internal and external response to failure, we are better able to continue our journeys in personal growth in order to advance ourselves, those around us and, hopefully and ideally, mankind.
(1) Gottman, John M., and Nan Silver. (1999). "How I predict divorce," in The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work (Chapter Two, 25-46). New York: Three Rivers Press (Random House, Inc.)
This post originally appeared on PickTheBrain.com.
‘I feel the most fulfilled and perform best when I am helping others in a direct capacity, and am learning in a collaborative work environment.’
I recently told a friend this. Being able to put such thoughts into concise expression hasn’t always been easy for me. In fact, in my past, I’ve actually had different ideals, which I’ve gravitated toward. These ideals had little to do with my aforementioned paraphrase.
I’ve done considerable research on my interests and passions as well as possible career options, which take advantage of the intersection of these areas. I’ve read numerous books on these subjects, seen documentaries and lectures on the topics, and sought out a variety of mentors and a number of individuals in my own career search and selection. I’ve even done career assessment through surveys. I recently took one of these types of career assessments.
The Strong Interest Inventory is based on Holland Codes, and is a common career assessment tool. I’ve utilized this testing in the past but for some reason my latest assessment provided a new perspective for me, and what I learned was quite revealing. Not only was the view interesting and relevant to me, but I believe my insights were not unique. This explains my reasons for writing about this subject. I believe my thoughts are relevant to many of you as well.
[**] While on a trip to my hometown of Santa Cruz, California, I took time to meet up with David Thiermann to chat about my current career direction. (I am refocusing from entertainment marketing to mental health.) In the past, I have worked in a few environments where I perceived people caring more about the work getting done than the conditions under which it was completed. However, in addition to noticing this, I began to feel a deep disconnect between my own interests and my work. In bringing this up to David, we began to do some refinement when it came to my own personal ethos.
To give a bit more of a background on the Strong Interest Inventory, I believe it would be helpful to better explain the Holland Codes. According to Wikipedia, the Holland Codes are as follows:
[**] Of course these self-rating and selecting types of surveys can vary by moment. At the exact moment I took this test with David, he found me to be feeling most capable and motivated toward the Social, Enterprising and Artistic categories. The most interesting part about this experience was David’s comment about our society and how it tends to treat Social categories. David mentioned that in his experience, he’s noticed that society tends to encourage people within the Social category to move toward Enterprising paths.
BAM! His statement hit me like a ton of bricks. Not only did I feel this exact stigmatization toward my Social skills and Social career options growing up, but I perpetuated them by believing that I could excise them by working in “Social” settings, parameters and frameworks within the field of marketing. Upon further reflection, leadership and management were, and are, of incredible interest to me. As I see it now, my main issue within my experience in entertainment marketing was that in order to achieve leadership roles, I needed two specific things which I did not have at the time: patience and active mentors.
I believe my issues surrounding “patience” are based on the fact that I didn’t enjoy my work. It gave me little in return for a lot of hours of hard work, commuting and stress. It paid the bills and developed my skill set, but the work was incredibly dull for me. What I wasn’t thinking about at the time was that I valued helping others not the work itself; and, in order to make my way up the corporate ladder, I would need to prove myself in an career path which provided little return back to me. What a revelation! I only wish I could have made this distinction a bit sooner in my life.
This is not to suggest that by working in more Social environments I will not run into political situations, frustrations, people who are burned out and miserable, and need to exercise patience on a regular basis. However, when I was able to put my career into a Social framework, for me, the pieces began to better fit together and my current direction made much more sense. My purpose is helping others, not about persuading, selling and dominating. I enjoy collaborative environments. Though I appreciate competitive environments, when it comes at the expense of other individuals it becomes intolerable for me. Now that I have had this realization, what is left for me to do? Simple. Now I need to take the next step. I need to figure out a way to tap into more S.E.A. tasks and farm out as many of the C.I.R. tasks as possible. This may seem like a simple concept but in better understanding it, it is truly making a monumental difference.
[**] This post is meant to serve as a reminder to you that no matter much effort and energy you put into your life, you are only going to be able to achieve a level in life that you permit yourself to through such vessels as reflection, dedication, motivation, honesty, openness and risk. Even when you believe your current path to be absolute in its representation of your own life, life can still surprise you. I know it recently did for me. I encourage you to reflect on your own paths and see how you can better tune in to your life whether it is through a career coach, therapist, and friend or loved one. As in the wise words of my dear friend David: “When people stop going through transitions, they stop growing.”
Read more at http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/being-stuck/#ywUkWAHmdOyXdb5z.99
Mental Health and Therapy Writer. As featured on Huffington Post, Vox Media and elsewhere.