A college student I worked with was experiencing difficulty in school, in regards to completing and turning in her class assignments. One day she mentioned to me that perhaps she suffered from attention deficit disorder . I responded by reminding her about how we had rescheduled our agreed upon appointment two weeks prior because she had to take an examination, which was three hours long. I further reminded her that during our most recent meeting, she had informed me that she had passed the examination.
“People with attention deficit disorder struggle to pull that off,” I added. As it turns out, her lack of motivation was caused by her not knowing what she wanted to study and that she was only pursuing the major of study she was enrolled in to impress her parents. This revelation came out after she came to realize that she was able to concentrate for hours at at time as evidenced by how well she had done on the three hour exam. The difference was that over the years she hadn’t been doing it on her own terms.
From time to time, I encounter people who become upset with me because I tell them they can get better, when they believe they can not. There is another story of a client who used the analogy of a blind man, he informed me that telling him that he could get past his depression was like telling a blind man that he could see again. I then informed him that while blind people certainly couldn’t see, they could still get around and function on par with their sighted fellow humans.
The human mind is neuroplastic, it has a remarkable ability of reorganizing itself to help us address our everyday issues in life and thrive, regardless of the trauma experienced and survived. What remains is for us to believe in our ability to adapt and change.
Consider this study, involving hospitalized depressed men for the effectiveness of fluoxetine in treating depression. The men were divided into two groups, one group which received the actual treatment and the second group which received a placebo treatment. Both groups showed dramatic and significant improvement in their depressive symptoms, as evidenced by self reports and scanned images of changes in their brains’ glucose metabolism using positron emission tomography (PET). This is one of many studies that shows that power of simply believing, through the effects of placebo.
The truth is that we are able to accomplish any feat we set our minds unto. So if you are experiencing difficulty in consistently accomplishing a task, or following through with agreed upon expectations, perhaps it has nothing to do with your ability but your willingness, influenced by other factors.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
If negativity is to water, then positivity is to the boat that keeps you afloat and takes you across.
The best way to explain this analogy is to substitute negativity as challenges and positivity as the courage to practice change in overcoming certain challenges.
From addictions to maladaptive behaviors, the key to emancipation from habits that weigh us down is practicing the courage to take risks. Imagine if you can, the look of disbelief when I tell a client who struggles with depression that he needs to go thirty days without using marijuana, or the look of horror registered on the face of the shy young adult who is given an assignment to ask someone out on a date.
These two examples have something in common and the commonality is people being asked to take the risk to practice change. For example, the client who uses marijuana, by quitting will be taking the risk of experiencing the inner turmoil and discomfort he has been using the drug to hide from. In his head, facing his fears is the worst thing that could ever happen to him even though it’s the best thing that could happen to him. The exact same thing could be said for the shy young man, afraid to approach females he finds attractive.
There are a number of research studies like this one on risk taking that seem to suggest that people are more willing to take risks when they feel happier or more optimistic. However, what if it works both ways? What if it is true that while happier people take more risks, that miserable people who practice risk taking also experience more happiness? More specifically, what if it turns out that people who are unhappy can experience more optimism if they take risks even when the outcome of their risk taking doesn’t yield success?
For example, what if a young man who is shy finally exercises the courage to begin approaching and making small conversations with women he finds attractive. What if he finally asks someone out and she says no? In my practice what I have witnessed is that even when turned down, young men who struggle with self confidence report feeling more optimistic, because being turned down wasn’t as horrible and as unbearable an ordeal as they had imagined.
Furthermore, risk is a term that’s often used to describe irrational decisions instead of everyday life in which it should be used. For example, driving your car is risky for obvious reasons, but gambling in a casino is irrational, as the odds are always in the favor of the house, which makes the probability of you winning any substantial amount of money slim to none.
People become adverse to the idea of risk taking when their definition of risk involves taking steps to improve their situation with a high likelihood of failure. This certainty of failure becomes so big in their minds that they become fearful of taking any steps to improve their situations. It is when I explain to clients how they take risks everyday in theirs lives that they become more willing to take the necessary steps to do things differently to improve their situations. When people start doing things more differently to improve their circumstances, they become more optimistic regardless of the outcome. They also begin taking about more opportunities that have come up for them as a result of practicing get the courage to change.
Happiness like any other feeling is feedback from the brain that tells you that you are either getting your needs met or in the process of getting your needs met. It is not something that occurs before the event or an action is initiated. For example, it would be equivalent to feeling wet outside on a dry day shortly before rain pours from the sky. We take risks everyday with no guarantees that things would go our way, and happiness is becoming more aware of this phenomenon and being at peace with it.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Recently I was speaking with a client of mine who expressed feeling handicapped with her feelings of fear. She is in the process of leaving a corporate job she works for, with plans to open up a small retail business. She reported being terrified of failing at her small business, more specifically she was frightened about what others would think about her if she was not successful with her business. Then she asked for suggestions about what to do about her fear.
I responded by asking her why she was leaving her corporate job, and after a few minutes of pondering, she stated that she feared spending the best years of her life working for a company that she disliked, in a position she found utterly miserable. She further stated that she feared becoming an older woman like some of her coworkers, having given the best years of her life to a company with very little to show for her years of hard work.
I then asked her which of the two fears she had identified, she feared the most. The one where she fails at her business and gets looked down upon by her family and friends, or the other where she gives away her youthful energy to her employer and matures into an older woman with having accomplished very little in her career.
Without hesitation she stated that remaining stuck with her employer was her biggest fear. I then informed her to use this fear as her fuel for motivation. So every time she finds herself fearing possible failure in her business, she considers the alternative, which is to remain with her employer. The idea is that she would be so motivated to not find herself in that predicament, that coping with her fear of failing at her business would become relatively easier.
This was part one for how to deal with fear. The second part is to practice positive thinking. We attract what we think, so instead of worrying about how her business could fail, I asked her to focus on how her business could succeed. In doing so she would pay more attention to how people in her niche have succeeded with their businesses, and incorporate their strategies for success into hers. This would then increase the likelihood of her business succeeding, thus leading to a positive self fulfilling prophecy.
While on the topic of positive thinking, you should really get a copy of Pam Grout’s E-Squared. The title is a play on Einstein’s theory of relativity and features nine do it yourself experiments that prove your thoughts really do create your reality.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.