Does your brain produce a lot of negative internal chatter? If so, it may be because the part of our brain that is the center for emotions, the amygdala, uses about two-thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences or threats. This can result in our focusing more on the negative, even if we are experiencing as many – or more – positive things. This tendency is part of the human condition. While it still has usefulness in modern life, for many of us this system is over-active.
Our inner critic is looking for problems. However, we don’t need to listen to it. Being nicer to ourselves is a good strategy to improve our well-being and reduce stress. We can learn how to do this even if it is not our natural tendency.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher who specializes in self-compassion, says it has three parts:
- Self-kindness: “Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”
- Recognizing our experiences are part of the shared human experience
- Being mindful or non-judgemental
Learn more tips, watch videos and find additional resources at Dr. Neff’s Self Compassion website.
Negativity also has an impact on the people around us. For tips on how to counter this in the workplace, see this blog post from Psychology Today: Are We Hardwired to be Positive or Negative?
Wanting to achieve a goal can be useful to get us motivated. However, “keeping your eye on the prize” does not give any clues about how to get to that goal. Whether it’s completing all 10 sessions of structural integration, walking 10,000 steps per day, or accomplishing results on a project, the path to success is often a more gradual process rather than one eureka moment.
Making a plan is an effective way to get to the eventual goal. Identifying steps needed to get to the goal and some milestones along the way is a good start. Thinking ahead about how to get around roadblocks that might come up and establishing routines for your project can be really helpful.
Obviously, things will occasionally come up that put us off track. No need to give up, just return to the process. Some advice I received is to follow the plan 80% of the time and ask for support or assistance when needed. I try to keep that in mind, be patient, and enjoy the moments on my way to the eventual goal.
At some point in our lives, almost all of us will experience a challenging event. One friend had a tree fall on his house. I see clients who have been in car accidents or undergone major surgeries. In the face of hardship, some people cope well and some just can’t manage to pull it together afterwards. What can make the difference? Resilience.
The Mayo Clinic’s page on resilience defines it this way:
When you have resilience, you harness inner strength that helps you rebound from a setback or challenge, such as a job loss, an illness, a disaster or the death of a loved one. If you lack resilience, you might dwell on problems, feel victimized, become overwhelmed or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse.
Resilience won’t make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress.
What makes a person more resilient? A recent NIH study reveals two key characteristics:
- They have good social support.
- They feel like they have mastery over their lives.
What is mastery? It’s a sense the hard work counts and that you’re in control of your situation despite adverse events. A Psychology Today blog article from earlier this year, Why Some People are More Resilient than Others, defines mastery like this:
Mastery refers to the degree to which individuals perceive themselves as having control and influence over life circumstances.
Resilience is a skill that can be learned. To build more resilience, here are a few tips to use as starting points. For more ideas, see articles from the Mayo Clinic and WebMD.
ACL surgery – resilience can help with recovery and rehabilitation.
- Stay Flexible
- Stay Connected
- Learn lessons
- Take Action
- Take care of yourself
A conversation about resilience on The Friday Roundtable, from Minnesota Public Radio
Psychology Today’s resilience page
In a recent article, Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times summarized some important research. A new study confirms that children think better if they move more. The trend for many schools to reduce the time allowed for recess or cut PT is counterproductive. Play that includes running, chasing and jumping improved children’s ability to think.
This study evaluated 8- and 9-year old students. One group romped as guided by the researchers and a control group did only usual after-school activities. Children in the exercise group not only improved their fitness but also improved in tests of executive function. The executive function in the brain is what allows us to plan and achieve goals, focus on a task or curb undesirable behavior. The more exercise the children did, the more their cognitive tests improved.
I’ve written in other posts about the benefits of staying active. We need to start moving early and keep it up throughout our lives.
For more inspiration see this photo essay of children playing, from Bored Panda