What Causes Lack of Motivation?

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On a biological level, what poor motivation looks like in the brain is a depletion of neurotransmitters in the brain reward and motivational pathways. Specifically these neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, and are typically triggered in the brain by two primary factors, psychotropic medication and thoughts.

Yes, thoughts are the primary and organic influences of chemicals in your brain as well as the pathways created in your brain by the electrical exchange of signals. So in short, the primary reason you struggle with poor motivation boils down to what you think. However it gets more complicated that this, as the thoughts you are conscious about are not necessarily the only thoughts you are engaged in.

Thinking in the brain happens on two levels, the first being thoughts within the sphere of your consciousness and thoughts outside of your consciousness, with the latter being more significant. Thoughts that occur in your sub consciousness are more significant because these are the thoughts we often act out upon. Exceptions would be when the behavior we are about to engage in is deemed socially inappropriate.

So you may be asking yourself, “how do thoughts get into our sphere of sub consciousness to begin with?” The answer to that question is much the same way we learned to swim, ride a bicycle or drive a car. In short, ideas and values we learned, which we then taught to the inner mind. Further, because we find ourselves engaged in other thoughts, we find that most of our core beliefs and values have been relegated to the auto pilot functions of the subconscious mind. So if you already are seasoned in riding a bicycle, the technical steps involved in the riding of the bicycle are so familiar to you that you execute them effortlessly without thinking.

When it comes to the issues with poor motivation, it more than likely that you subconsciously operate on a core set of beliefs and values you learned as a child, which have been triggered by your current circumstances. Take for example, years ago at a former job, I began noticing that some of the employees where no longer taking their tasks and duties seriously. When on the job they seemed to move deliberately slowly, further there are on uptick in people not showing up to work and calling in sick.

In a team management meeting, we readily acknowledged that something was wrong, but none of us could accurately identify why morale among the employees seemed to have taken a hit. Until one day it was revealed that someone had anonymously or accidentally, left a list of all the employees and their salaries on the photocopying machine in the main office. It also turned out that another person had taken the liberty to make copies of the salary list and distribute among staff.

That was the answer, the employees whom had suddenly began demonstrating a disinterest in the job, also happened to be some of the lower earners on the list. They were clearly no longer happy about what they were making, once they learned about what some of their coworkers in similar positions where making compared to them. It became easy for me to conclude that they probably felt taken advantaged of, and this line of thought most likely triggered a belief system that caused a decrease in their motivation to come to work. I also did find it interesting that there where other workers whom were among the lower to the lowest paid and even though they learned about what they were earning relative to others, their levels of motivation did not decrease.

So your struggle with low motivation boils down to what you believe about your situation. Do you feel like you are wasting your time? Do you feel you are competent and good at what you are supposed to be doing? Do you feel the playing field is fair? Or, do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you believe you have to do, and have concluded that it can’t be done?

Regardless, asking yourself these questions will begin the process of challenging your perception about your situation which will hopefully lead you to accurate answers. Which will no doubt restore within you, healthy levels of motivation. This being written, the process can be complicated and depending on how severe your issues with poor motivation are, you will likely benefit from the services of a therapist.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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The Relationship between Regret and Anxiety.

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There are two types of regret, big regrets and small regrets. An example of a big regret would be accidentally killing a someone, while driving drunk. Obviously, this would be a difficult experience to recover from, giving that you have no way to truly make amends to the family of the person. Your process of healing would take a great deal of courage to self-forgive, improve your life and experience the guilt free happiness you desire and deserve.

Then there are the small regrets. As painful as big regrets are, small regrets are more difficult to deal with, because they are difficult to identify, all the while influencing your every decision making. Small regrets come from issues such as procrastination, and feelings of shame from experiencing everyday failures people typically experience in life. The primary problem with small regrets is that unless identified, they keep people stuck in old and detrimental habits. Every day you engage in the same types of routine, while life outside of yourself progresses forward.

People with unresolved small issues of regret, are stuck in their non-conscious states of anxiety, related to making the same mistakes again, that they seldom make steps in improving their lives. The good news is that it is possible to move past small and accumulated issues of regret, even if you are having a difficult time, identifying them.

First you must identify where you would currently like to be in your life. As simple as this exercise is, some people have a difficult time completing it, because they get caught up with what they perceive as possible and what they don’t. The key to successfully completing this exercise, is to suspend your beliefs and create the life you want for yourself on paper. Suspending your beliefs is beneficial for this exercise, because you are trying to access your feelings of joy. A joyful mindset is exactly what you need towards tackling and overcoming challenges in your life.

Secondly, it’s important to note that feelings of joy can not be accomplished from external sources, most notably, approval and acceptance of others. Your feelings of joy can only be accomplished from your unconditional approval and acceptance of yourself and subsequently others. The exercise helps to rekindle you with feelings of joy because it puts you in a mindset where you are no longer anxious, overwhelmed or depressed with the current challenges you experience in your life. The joy does not come from the imagined acquisition of material possessions or approval of any second or third parties, but instead the joy comes from the recognition that you possess the power to influence peace in your life.

It is with this joyous mindset that you can transition past feelings of regret regarding past decision making that have led you to experience unwanted consequences in your life. Further, this joyous mindset will aid you in identifying steps you will take in real life to begin the process of creating the life you want for yourself.

This process is easier said than done, as most people who attempt this exercise on their own, will get lost in their unhealthy thoughts which reinforce their experiences of anxiety and depression. As common sense as the exercise is, you will experience a high chance of success working with a trained professional who will guide you through the challenges created by your perceptions.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

Feelings of stress and anxiety are predominantly influenced by the bio chemicals adrenaline and norepinephrine. The chemicals come into the play during situations the brain perceives as dangerous, activating a fight or flight response. The problem is that most times people experience stress and anxiety are related to situations that are not life threatening. The fight or flight response system is perfect for life threatening situations, such as a house fire, or narrowly avoiding a car accident. However, the fight or fight response system is grossly ineffective for inconveniences such as the possibility of job loss or an ongoing feud with a neighbor whom you perceive as aggressive.

When the fight or flight response system is employed for non-life-threatening situations, the bio chemicals involved remain in the system for longer than necessary and begin to cause health issues in the person who is experiencing prolonged stress and anxiety. A common unwanted effect of prolonged stress and anxiety is a compromised immune system, which leaves the sufferer susceptible to a wide range of illnesses.

With this being written, there are three strategies to effectively cope with and move past issues with stress and anxiety. These strategies are as follows.

Control your thoughts.

The space between what you think and how you choose to behave, lies your feelings. Therefore, all feelings are influenced by your thoughts. What you think produces a spectrum of positive or negative feelings to the degree that things are going your way or otherwise. Your thinking influences your perception of everyday events, which include your perception of your ability to get your basic and psychology needs met, regardless of the challenge. This in turn influences your overall sense of confidence and subsequently your behavior. To control your thoughts means that you should begin practicing positive and reality-based thinking. So even when things are not going your way, your positive thoughts will help you in practicing resiliency through challenges and in resisting the temptation in resorting to old negative thoughts.

Recognize your triggers

Once you begin practicing strategies for positive thinking, you need to become aware of people, places and things that trigger your old negative thoughts. After all your brain is still wired to think this way, and it usually takes about 30 consecutive days of practicing the new thoughts, for you to develop significant resiliency to the old ways of thinking. Once you have successfully identified people, places and things which trigger your old ways of thinking, and subsequently behaving, you have two options. Your first option is to avoid these identified triggers. In most cases this isn’t feasible, this leads to option number two, which is to change your thoughts on how you perceive these identified triggers. Ideally, it is best to exercise both options, if possible.

Create your new reality

This is synonymous with controlling your thoughts, in fact it is the same thing, but taken to another level. To create your new reality, is to identify what types of people, places and things you would ideally engage with. The next step will be to identify the pragmatic steps towards making your ideal situation a reality. This is the most powerful step in the process of dealing with stress and anxiety and the most challenging. Because in the process of identifying the types of people, places and things you prefer to be surrounded by, you are now tasked with the difficult step in orienting yourself towards becoming more compatible with your ideal reality. So yes, this involves the process of picking up where you last left off in changing yourself for the better.

All these steps are possible, and they involve commitment towards practicing the necessary cognitive behavioral strategies towards dealing with and moving past issues with stress and anxiety.

Ugo Uche is a psychotherapist with Road 2 Resolutions.

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Change Takes Time

Imagine if you sought to lose a significant amount of weight, and you decided to pursue the traditional route of adhering to strict diet and exercising. How long do you think it will take you to lose the weight? Well, consider this, the average person who rigorously pursues this type of change is going to experience noticeable results in three months, from there on it takes an additional six to nine months before he gets closer to his goal.

This is an analogy for transitioning from an undesired state to a desired state. Now that the public has begun to catch up with new knowledge attained in neuroscience, regarding positive thinking and feeling being an effective conduit for achieving positive change in a person’s life, there seems a new cliché regarding the importance of positivity. Specifically regarding, thinking, feeling and doing. There just seems to be this message that if you think positively everything is going to be alright.

To be fair, the proponents of positivity and optimistic thinking are fundamentally right. However, change takes time. Just like someone who has been over weight for a long time, it becomes unrealistic for anyone to expect them to drop pounds overnight, likewise people who have struggled with anxiety and depressive symptoms are going to have a difficult time adopting a new mindset overnight.

The information out there on the power of our beliefs and feelings is optimistic, and inspirational, but the process of change is a gradual one. It must be, otherwise the person is going to become frustrated, and wonder why they keep reverting to old patterns of thinking, feeling and doing, then give up. This is especially true for people whose behavioral issues are neurologically based, such as persons diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or Asperger syndrome.

Change take time, even for those who experience a faster process, it is still a significant amount of time. In the nearly sixteen years I have practiced psychotherapy I have come to learn that there are five stages a person goes through the process of change to successfully achieve the change they desire.

These stages are as follows:

Shock

In the stage of shock, the person who has lived in ignorant bliss for quite some time experiences a rude awakening regarding the true state of his or her situation. From the student who has procrastinated all semester, who finally sees his grades, to the addict who comes to the realization that he has burned several bridges through his addiction, the moment of realization can be a traumatic experience for some people.

It is at this stage; the person finds himself at a cross road. On one hand, he could take a path that leads to more despair and suffering, or he could take another path that leads to the change that he desires. The path he takes, depends on how he has processed his initial shock. Albeit, the better he has processed the shock, the easier it is for him to transition to the next stage.

Inspirational

Serendipitously, those who transition out of the stage of initial shock, often, (if not always) find the information they are looking for. They are excited, they are full of energy and they are inspired about the idea of changing their lives for the better. At this stage, they soak in stories about others who have been in a predicament like theirs and how they changed for the better. At this stage, they take in all the information they can, to begin their journey of change.

Resistance

Resistance is the most difficult stage in the journey of change. This is where people begin practicing the actionable steps for achieving their desired goal. Often, these actionable steps require them to let go of behaviors they engaged in, in which they found comfort in. A significant amount of people will find it too much of an inconvenience to change their lifestyle and quit. For those who quit, depending on the severity of their situation, they will often restart the process from the inspirational stage. For those who do move on to the next stage, this is the slowest and most difficult path of the journey for them.

Bargaining

For this who reach this stage, after the difficult time they experienced with resisting the changes they needed to make, they make bargains with themselves. To control factors beyond their control, they tell themselves that they will continue to engage in their newly learned behaviors under specific circumstances, so long as things go their way.

Usually at the bargaining stage, the person has experienced mixed results, with the changes they have practiced to date. Naturally, they are looking for guarantees for the happiness they seek, as motivation to give it their all. For this who are successful with this stage, they realize that the mixed results they are experiencing come from not fully practicing the change of thinking, feeling and doing for the healthier. For those who are not successful with this stage, they slowly revert into their old life style.

Surrendering

This is the final stage of the process of change. It is at this stage that the person commits to fully practicing his newly adopted ways of thinking, feeling and doing, regardless of the outcome. People at this stage have usually come to a second awakening, regarding how much is beyond their control. They have decided not to fight the process any longer, but take things slowly, one day at a time, while striving to be a better person. Most importantly, they have decided that their practice of change is more important than their desired goal.

The irony about the stage of surrendering is that it is at this stage where people experience the most success in achieving their desires. The very stage when they care the least about their desires.

While most people follow this path towards change, there are a fee who skip stages and transition straight into surrendering. These people are few and far between. Regardless, people change for the better faster, when they move at a slow and steady pace.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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Hopelessness is an Illusion

If life where an onion and you peeled it down to its last layer, what you come to is choices. Life is about the choices we make, while the meanings we ascribe to these choices are secondary. A sense of hopelessness arises when we encounter pain and difficulties based on a series of choices we made and we have come to believe that there are no alternatives.

Perhaps we believed that these choices would lead us down a path of happiness (as is often the case) perhaps we have come to believe that these choices which led us to our current predicament, are the only path we could have taken to fulfill happiness. The latter is a primary and recurring cause for feeling hopeless.

Consider another analogy, you are traveling down a path in a cave, and you come to a dead end. There is no where else to go, there is a slab of rock in front of you, to the left of you, to the right of you and behind you. Such a scenario is highly improbable, (except if you fell into a deep hole in a cave) which most people (if not all) in that scenario would feel hopeless. Yet, this is the illusion people create in their heads that results in the feelings of hopelessness. There are three reasons for this, and they are as follows:

Believing Your Choices are Your Identity.

While the choices you make in your life, definitely influence whom you are as a person, they are certainly not you. So a doctor, a boxer, an engineer, an uncle, etc. are nouns used to describe persons who engage in certain professions, and relationships. They are under no circumstances genuine descriptors of a person’s identity. When people become enmeshed in certain choices they have made, be it a profession or a relationship, they often resort to a sense of hopelessness when things in regards to their choices don’t work out. This is because this choice has become (falsely) an integral part of their identity, making it difficult for them to thoroughly consider other options.

Social Status and Pressure.

Then there are others, who have done a good job of separating the choices they have made from whom they are. However even when they find themselves thoroughly unhappy with a life decision, they remain hesitant to change due to social pressure and perceived status they have earned from adhering to certain norms via the choices they have made. In these situations, it is not the specific choice the person has made that keeps him miserable, it is the choice to give into social pressure that keeps him miserable. Further, as long as he continues to hold unto the beliefs that encourage the pursuit of status, when faced with life changing decisions he will see no options better that the choice he made, which he is currently unhappy with.

Lack of Knowledge.

The third reason some people struggle with hopelessness is simply a lack of knowing. In worse cases, the person may not even have a clue that a better life awaits him or her other than the life he or she is currently experiencing. This third reason is the most predominant when it comes to feelings of hopelessness, because until we know what we don’t know, our frames of references will remain limited.

The solution.

When I work with clients who struggle with depression, I always encourage them to consider that there is a brighter alternative to the path they are currently taking. Further, in order to consider this brighter alternative they have to practice keeping an open mind and taking accountability for unhealthy thoughts which create fears for them and keep them stuck.

At the end of the day, we are our own prisoners and consequently our own liberators.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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The Mindset for Dealing with Disappointments.

A disappointment is an expectation that has not been met. There are two types of disappointments, disappointment with self and disappointments with others. This post is going to focus more on dealing with disappointment with others, because it is the type of disappointment that people get more upset about. When dealing with disappointment with self, more than likely you put in effort into achieving a goal, with a desired result and that result did not happen. So, in the absence of a self-defeatist attitude, disappointment with yourself is easier to get over, because you can always change yourself for the better.

However, when it comes to dealing with disappointment because of the actions of someone else, feelings of being upset, perhaps resentful and in some cases hurt are going to be the case for the person experiencing the disappointment. In more severe cases, some people will wish you better luck next time, some will remind you that it is the nature of life, you win some, you lose some. But here is an important question to ask yourself when you experiencing this type of disappointment, in whose reality are you living in?

Reading this question, might catch you off guard as it seems u related to the title/topic of this post. But really, whose reality are you residing in? The ideal answer when you ask yourself this question should be “my reality” but if you ever find yourself struggling to cope with disappointment then it means you have been living in someone else’s reality and that person has let you down.

The answer then lies in getting back into discovering what is important to you. When struggling with disappointment, if you critically consider the situation, you will discover that you are morning the loss of something you never really had any control over. This could be the loss of a job, the ending of a relationship or an opportunity that did not materialize for you. In his book,  Victor Frankl is famous for his quote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. This means, that, no matter what you are mourning, your thoughts and feelings remain under your control.

Pertaining to dealing with disappointment, there is no rationale in mourning something over which you had no control over. Let’s say you accidentally dropped a glass cup on the floor, no matter how expensive that glass cup was, you can always take refuge in telling yourself that you will be more careful with glass cups next time. This is because a glass cup in your hands is under your control. Experiencing disappointment over the actions of someone else is a situation not under your control, and so the best course of action is to make peace with this fact. Otherwise you are just going to upset yourself even more, and the reason you find yourself even more upset is because there are no remedies in getting others to do what you want them to do. Therefore, if you encounter someone who follows through on their word, that is a blessing. A blessing because they chose an action that benefitted you, an action you had no control over.

You should only concern yourself with your thoughts and feelings and subsequent actions because these are easy to change. As for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others, the best you can do is practice allowance.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and a life coach.

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Support Groups and Therapy for People with ASD

As a therapist who specializes with adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum, I am often on a look out for online forums dedicated to such a population. Unfortunately, while the true intent of these forums is to provide support and validation for those on the spectrum who struggle to with adapting to the daily struggles of socializing in everyday life, there exist forums where the main theme appears to be who can throw themselves the largest pity party.
I have also witnessed this phenomenon with groups for depression and anxiety, and while I am a staunch advocate for freedom of speech and expression, I believe it is a dangerous situation of people supporting each other in unhealthy thinking. I also believe a big part of the problem is the victim based mentality that has become ubiquitous in popular culture. With this being written, there are three main mindsets people on the spectrum need to adapt, when seeking professional help or help from support groups.
Care is not Obligatory.
In the past decade, I have witnessed the rise of websites crowdfunding websites. As someone who adheres to libertarian principles, I can attest that the success of these crowdfunding websites is proof that most people are fundamentally good. There are no laws in place, or social pressures for that matter that mandate anyone go to these websites to donate money to people. There will always be people who are kind heart-ed, who desire to help those in need. So therefore, the idea that other people must care about your plight is an irrational one. Especially when a group of people come together and focus feverishly and complain about those people who don’t have compassion for their difficulties. This will always be unnecessary given that people who care already exist.
Seek to get Better.
A former client of mine once looked me in the eye, and insisted that his collection of symptoms and quirks were due to his brain wiring. I told him that I agreed with him. He then told me that what he needed was drugs and not therapy. I shared with him that after he had built enough tolerance to whatever was prescribed to him that he would be back in my office. After we had a good laugh, I then introduced him to the concept of neuro-plasticity, where the brain forms and strengths new pathways based on the thoughts and behaviors of its owner. It short, change is possible, and it all boils down to the practice of mental effort. So, when looking for a therapist or a support group, you are looking for help designed to help you move past your grieving process and put you into the process of thriving.
Ranking is Overrated.
Yes, we are social animals, and we have desire to belong to social groups. This is the chief complaint I habitually field with first time clients on the spectrum. Their feelings of not feeling welcomed or belonging to a group, clique or tribe. In truth, you already belong to a tribe, and you are already accepted. If this was not true, you would be dealing with several people actively trying to expel you from your respective community. In truth, what you are dealing with is a desire to rank well on the social hierarchy. As a therapist who has worked with over 800 clients, I have worked with all sorts of people, from high achievers to those who are content with a humble existence, and every one of them to some degree expressed feelings of alienation from the general populace and their respective community members. So, if you are feeling like a bit of an outcast, you are in good company. One does have to wonder if that tribe of people who are truly cohesive and all accepting of their member is a myth. Regardless, when looking for a support group, or therapist please keep in mind that it is not healthy is engage in an us versus them mentality. This is not healthy.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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How to Become an Expert Lie Detector

The television show,  “Lie to Me,” I suspect helped popularize the science of reading facial expressions and body language to ascertain if someone is lying or telling the truth. As someone who works in the field of human psychology, I can attest to have read a lot of literature on the science of how to tell if someone is lying.  And the result? Well, as far as lying goes, the results are inconclusive. The information on reading someone’s nonverbal cues, is primarily consistent in determining someone’s attitude and feelings towards you and others. I primarily use this information for my work with Asperger clients.

 

However, there is one way to become an expert lie detector, and that is to become more cognizant of the lies we tell ourselves. We are emotional creatures, while our emotions primarily act as a gauge to tell us whether things are going our way or otherwise, we also can be creative. This means that we can find more than one use, for tools and abilities. So, while our emotions serve as a gauge of things going our way or not, we also tend to trick ourselves into experiencing favorably emotions so as to avoid painful truths.

 

So, if you are in any type of a relationship with someone, and you are concerned about if they are lying to you. The answer to your question lies in your ability to determine if you are lying to yourself. From intimate relationships to relationships with colleagues, if you are concerned about honesty in the relationship, you should ask yourself if you have excused any behavior exhibited by that person which would be inconsistent with the formal and informal terms and agreements on how you two should treat each other in the relationship. If you have answered yes to that question, the next step you should take would be to identify the frequency of the behavior along with how you enable the behavior.

 

Chances are that you have lowered your expectations for relationships in general, and subsequently you have lowered expectations for yourself as person. This is usually due to low self-worth issues from early life experiences. To become effective at detecting your own self-deceit, you must first identify what it is you desire. This requires you to take a full accounting and inventory of yourself, this must be done objectively and with compassion. Often, people find it a lot easier to do this with a therapist or life coach.

 

By being honest with yourself, you are forced to habitually reassess your habits for the better, which makes it difficult, if not highly improbable for you to be manipulated by others. The con artist uses the greed and short sightedness of his mark to his advantage. Likewise, someone who lies to you, uses your character deficits, be it an eagerness to please, a desire to fulfil a role, or any other character flaw to their advantage for the lie to be successful.

 

So, the next time, you believe or suspect that you are being lied to, ask yourself what you could be doing on your end to facilitate the lie. Are you on an ego trip? Do you feel that you must control the situation? Are you taking things too personally? And so on and so forth.

 

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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Understanding Your Fear in Socializing

Some years ago, I happened to watch a reality television show. The show was about a group of strangers put on an island to “survive.” The premise being that after a series of competitions, there would be a last person standing kind of a deal. In the interim participants of this game would team up into various groups for competitions and they would often attempt to vote at least one person off the island after every competition. People voted off were often voted off due to performance issues.

What I found striking about this show was that the format seemed to mimic theories often put forward by evolutionary psychology regarding how our early ancestors behaved in the ancestral environment. For example, men are most often concerned with earning the respect of others, respect they often earned through efforts demonstrated in the hunter gatherer environment. Long story short, people who did not live up to the expectations of their tribe risked being kicked out of the group. In the ancestral environment, being on your own for an extended period, was essentially a death sentence. This is a popular theory as to why human being evolved to become social animals. In that we need each other to survive and thrive.

So, we could deduce, that fear comes from a concern about being abandoned. Not deemed valuable enough to contribute anything of meaning to the tribe, resulting in being ostracized. Then there is the other fear, that must do with a fear dying, but that deserves a post of its own.

A typical coping strategy, that clients I work with, who struggle with social anxiety employ, is avoidance. By avoiding social situations, they reduce the risk of experiencing rejection, for failing to meet various social expectations. The problem with this strategy is that they are already self-imposing what it is they fear the most, which is being ostracized.

The solution is to develop emotional resiliency through increased social interactions. While it is certain that you will experience rejection from increase social interactions, it is also true that you will experience more acceptance from others. Thereby it becomes an issue of tuning your attention into what you desire and modifying your behavior to experience more of what you want. Conversely when you are so focused on what you do not desire, and you resort towards avoidance strategies, your lack of experience only confirms your fears during the few times you interact. This is because your lack of experience leads you to become drawn to the same types of people who have habitually rejected you throughout your life.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and Life Coach.

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