Negative Thinking: A Luxury You Can’t Afford

It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” – Dale Carnegie

We’re all prone to putting ourselves down from time to time. We may tell ourselves a few discouraging words about what we see int he mirror, how we performed at work, or the impression we think we made in a social situation. When that negative self-talk becomes habitual, we’re setting ourselves up for a poor sel-image, and even depression: if everything we do is a failure, why bother trying to do anything? That attitude can lead to withdrawal, and retreat into food, alcohol, or other addcitive self-soothing behaviors. And that will surely lead to more negative self-talk.

If you find that you frequently burden yourself with discoraging words, it’s time to break that habit. Start by simply observing your thoughts and the way you talk to yourself. Once you learn the nature of your negative self-talk, you can begin to reality-test those negative statements.  Ask yourself the following questions:

1) Is this self-statement really true, and if so, is it true all the time?

2) What evidence do I have that this thought is true?

3) What are the costs and benefits of believing this?

4) Am I looking at the whole picture?

5) Would I say this to a friend?

6) Is this statement at all useful – that is, can it lead to an action plan to make improvements, or is it just a put-down?

As an example of this last question, “I’m a loser and no one will ever like me” is a dead-end, useless statement. “I’m not happy with my social life and I’d like to do something about it” is reasonable, and it gives you something to work with.

Negative self-talk is useless, and it holds us back rather than motivating us to move forward. Change your thoughts and you can change your life.

What to Do If Your Relationship Is Running Out of Gas

Relationships take work. Patience, perseverance, and compromise are mandatory. There are times when you have to stretch out of your immediate comfort zone and do what is important to your partner instead of what is comfortable for you.

 If it feels like all this effort is draining your emotional gas tank faster than it is being replenished, then you need to find ways to fill it back up. But how?

In so many ways, people, and relationships, are highly complex. But in some ways, they’re pretty simple. If you find a particular experience, place, or TV show to be unpleasant and unrewarding, you’re going to avoid it. If you like it and it makes you feel good, you’re going to keep coming back for more. Are you and your partner making it a rewarding experience to spend time together?

Research has shown that the single most important ingredient in a successful, long-lasting relationship is this: making five times more positive statements than negative ones to your partner. It’s inevitable that you’ll disagree or say things that your partner doesn’t want to hear. Your relationship can handle that - as long as the vast majority of what your partner hears from you is positive.

Appreciations, compliments, praise, and words of encouragement keep the gas tank full. Use them generously. Being stingy with these positive strokes will only work against you – especially if you’re not  being equally stingy with criticism and complaints.

Resilience: How to Bounce Back from Life’s Challenges

“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.” – Japanese Proverb

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – but how do they do it? Resilience is the ability to bounce back and cope with stressful situations. It means that we flexibly adapt to challenges, without compromising our own well-being.

Developing your resilience won’t stop stressful things from happening. But it can reduce their impact and the time it takes to recover from them. That includes everything from minor daily irritations to major stressors like illness, loss, and relationship problems.

Resilient people share certain traits that may be both causes and effects of their flexible approach: good health, good social support, a sense of control over their own lives, an ability to manage their emotional reactions, and constructive problem-solving.

How to Improve Your Resilience

Accept the things you can’t change: Challenges are inevitable – don’t fight the ones that you don’t have the power to change.

Nurture supportive relationships: A good support network can actually help you to live both longer and more happily. 

Set realistic goals and put energy into achieving them: This will reinforce your sense of accomplishment and control over your own life.

Be active, eat well, and rest: Taking care of your body will help you to feel better emotionally — in fact, it’s a pre-requisiste.

Stress: When Should I Get a Grip, and When Should I Let Go?

People are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln

 If I had to name the single most important key to happiness, it would be this: take control of what you have control over, and let go of what you don’t.

What happens when you focus on things that you have no control over? When you dwell on traffic jams, bad luck, and other people’s irresponsibility, you have a recipe for anger and resentment – which hurts only you.

When you focus on the possibility of future calamities that may or may not actually happen, you’re inviting anxiety.

When you take responsibility for solving problems that do not belong to you, such as those of a loved one, you’re asking for frustration – for both of you.

And what happens when you fail to take control of the things that are under your control? When you focus on your dissatisfaction with your job, your social life, or your accomplishments, without doing anything about it, you’re setting yourself up for depression and feeling like a victim.

If this is a problem for you, try this: when you find yourself expending mental or physical energy on a problem – either by trying to solve it or just by feeling bad about it – ask yourself a question: “Do I own this problem? Could I change it if I wanted to or knew how to?”

If the answer is no, don’t waste too much time or energy on it. Either let it go, or, if it’s a problem that belongs to someone else, just support that person as they struggle with their problem as best they can. After all, even if you came up with the perfect solution, you don’t have the power to implement it.

If the answer to the question is that you do own the problem, acknowledge that. Even if you don’t know how to fix it, acknowledging that you are not truly powerless is a helpful start. It tells you that you have choices – including asking others for help or advice.


“Trance”: Hypnosis in the Movies Is Not Like the Real Thing

The new movie “Trance” is an entertaining story about an art thief with amnesia. Unfortunately, the movie perpetuates some common myths about hypnosis. Hollywood has been spreading these myths since at least as far back as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” in which Ingrid Bergman helps Gregory Peck recover repressed traumatic memories.  

First and foremost, hypnosis is NOT a tool for retrieving lost memories – period. “Memories” that surface during hypnosis are notoriously unreliable. A vast body of research shows that, with a little influence from the hypnotist, the subject may “remember” things that never happened – from past lives to abductions by space aliens.  

Widespread misuse of hypnosis to recover repressed memories led to a slew of cases in the 1980s and 1990s of people “remembering” childhood abuse incidents that may or may not have actually happened. To be sure, childhood abuse does occur, at a horrifically high rate, and its effects can be devastating. It is also true that we do not fully understand the ways that the brain creates, stores, and retrieves memories, and that people do in fact suddenly remember significant past events that had previously not been available to the conscious mind. 

But any memory suddenly recovered in hypnosis — or without hypnosis – cannot automatically be presumed to be valid. Instead, the memory must be corroborated independently in order to be confirmed.  

I have known people, both clients and friends, who have had previously-repressed disturbing memories come suddenly to the surface. They were not trying to recover repressed memories – it just happened. These people were able to get family members to corroborate for them that yes, these incidents did in fact happen.

 Hypnosis is not a tool to retrieve those memories. In reality, clinical hypnosis is a powerful and effective treatment that can greatly assist with a wide variety of emotional, cognitive, and even physical issues. It is a safe and very extensively-researched clinical method that has helped innumerable people worldwide for many decades.   

It is absolutely essential that the person doing the hypnosis be a professional clinician who has lots of experience and solid credentials, such as membership in one of the major clinical hypnosis associations. Anyone promising miracle cures should be avoided at all costs. Your physician or clergy person would be a good source of referrals to therapists with great track records.  

Repressed memories are real. It is our natural tendency to want to find a fix or a cure for all the painful aspects of life. But for now, repressed memories remain one of the many unsolved mysteries of the mind.