Category Archives: Love

Can I be Positive?

All you need is by Ari Hahn
All you need is, a photo by Ari Hahn on Flickr.

People who live with mental illness, whether it is themselves or a loved one, love with too much stress and negative emotions. Much has been written about stress and certainly everybody has heard of the dangers of being over stressed.

Most medical professionals and psychotherapists work under the assumption that of you get rid of the negative in your life you will fill up your life with positive. People want to be happy and to flourish so if we remove the obstacles you will seek, find and fill your life with good healthy emotions and activities. Unfortunately, we see that it doesn’t work that way. It would if, for instance, love and fear were opposite ends of a real continuum. But if they were, you couldn’t both love and fear the same person at the same time. I sure you know of that possibility.

Science tells us that negative emotions help us focus on protection. If you are walking down a dark city street and a bunch of rowdy teenage boys come up behind you, you might get anxious or afraid. Your muscles tense, your heart beats harder, you listen more carefully, etc. Your only thought is how to stay safe.

If your kid is beginning to act out, your whole being focuses on what needs to be done to get through this episode. Hypervigilance reigns as you watch for signs that hospitalization might be needed. You ignore other tasks that seemed important just a short while ago. You feel all sorts of negative emotions and they actually can help you (in some ways) keep you and your family safe.

But what about positive emotions? How do they work? How do they effect our thinking and actions?

Positive emotions and positive interactions tend to move us in an opposite direction. When we engage in positivity our minds and hearts open up to new possibilities. Emotions like joy, gratitude, hope, pride and love help us feel expansive and we are able to be more creative. We build stronger relationships and live healthier lives. Not because of the lack of stress but because the positive emotions actually enhance these processes in our brains.

However, people do not automatically move into the positivity mode. If you have been overwhelmed with problems you might be stuck in a negativity rut. The real good news is that we all can train ourselves to cultivate feelings of joy, gratitude, awe, serenity, hope and love. If you can find even a few moments of these feelings then those moments are the seeds of a flourishing life. And there is research to show that for many people nurturing those seeds can be just as effective as antidepressants. With no side effects.

Some people need a personal coach. A positivity trainer. A professional who can teach you to refocus and cherish the good feelings through overwhelming times. I cannot think of a better investment.

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Filed under Coaching, Love, Positive Psychology, PTSD

Seven Steps for a Great Morning

I pride myself in being both a scientifically-based psychologist and a very religious person. This combination has provided me with some huge, practical insights into improving my life. I have found it wonderfully rewarding when I realized how the science of psychology and the traditions I have received from my religion work together to make meaning and purpose. I truly believe that there are lessons here that every human being on the face of the globe can apply benefit from.

 

Many people will readily agree that that first hour of two of the morning will set the tone for much of the rest of the day. If you implement these guidelines I can assure you that within two or three weeks you will feel a significant improvement. There are seven steps that can make a significant improvement in your life.

 

A great morning starts just before you go to sleep. It is really difficult to have a great morning if you haven’t started the night before. There are two exercises which are really important before retiring at night. While I learned of these from religious writings dating back hundreds of years, they’ve been given specific names and forms to the modern science of positive psychology.

 

The first one is called the “Gratitude Journal.” Every night, at the beginning of my bedtime routine, I write in a journal three things that happened during the course of the day that I am thankful for. Next to each item I write some reason that the event occurred. It makes no difference whether it is a big and important event in your life or is a minor one. Also, it makes no difference whether or not the reason that it happened is a logical reason or one that other people would understand. What is important is that it makes sense to me.

 

Many people who start with a gratitude journal find it difficult at first. If this happens to you, be persistent. It just means that you are training your mind to focus on positive and happy events. Everybody that I have worked with has gotten the hang of it within a week or two.

 

The second step could be called “the forgiveness journal.” According to my religious tradition, I express my forgiveness to people who have wronged me immediately prior to going to sleep. The idea is to end the day with a clean heart. In positive psychology terms, is another portion of a journal in which you can note three people who you can forgive for something that occurred to you either today or prior to today. I have found this to be occasionally pretty tricky. Too many people think that they must start forgiving others for major wrongs or major hurts. It is important to start by forgiving people for things that you’re absolutely ready to forgive them for. Forgive your child for throwing a tantrum in the supermarket. Forgive your mother for reminding you too many times to do something or another. Way down the road you will be able to forgive your big brother for bullying you when you were 12 years old.

 

The third step in preparation for wonderful morning is to go to sleep with enough time to wake up rested. (That is a skill that needs to be discussed in a separate blog post.)

 

Step number four for a great morning actually occurs in the morning. Wake up early enough to get everything done even when things go wrong. I always wake up with enough time to avoid any stress. I know plenty of people who get out of the house in 10 or 15 min. I give myself a minimum of one hour. You might not need that much time. But it is important to budget enough time for emergencies.

 

Step number five is to dedicate a minimum of 15 minutes to some spiritual activity. I will spend a minimum of 30 minutes in prayer. On a good day, I can spend 20 minutes in meditation and 45 minutes in prayer. This sets the foundation and perspective for all of the activities for the rest of the day. If I am able to do this properly, I will be able to use just a few minutes of reflection later on to refocus and to gain proper perspective. In positive psychology terms, this is called giving meaning to your life. This foundation can be found in humanistic psychology and in 12 step programs, as well as almost all religious traditions.

 

Step number six is to put on a positive intellectual armor on before going out into the world. Read something positive. It seems that thousands of people read quotes from famous people. I typically learn a portion of the Bible, say a few chapters of Psalms, and learned some Chasidic philosophy. While the most proper suggestion is to do this prior to leaving your home, I must admit that most of the days of the week I will implement this stage on the train to work. With consistent effort you can learn to use some concentration while doing this reading and it will work wonders.

 

Step number seven is relatively easy. Prior to immersing yourself into the trials and tribulations of your daily grind, pull out your gratitude journal and read your prior entries. That is really good way to put yourself in a frame of mind to meet the challenges that inevitably appear.

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Filed under Coaching, Love, Positive Psychology

How to Love Almost Anybody

Think that somebody who you really don’t like, but you need to spend an awful lot of time with that person. Is there any way possible to get to actually like him or her?

Or maybe there’s somebody in your life who you used to love her very much but that love is faded and that saddens you. Do you wonder if there’s any way to reconstruct the love and build a new edifice?

I was thinking about these questions last week while teaching humanistic psychology and the concepts taught by Carl Rogers as part of his client centered psychotherapy. It disturbs me to think that although the tools that Carl Rogers taught and made available to the counseling or psychotherapeutic community are really very efficient tools, are they available and/or appropriate for the average person? Somehow I knew that they had to be, but I didn’t get an answer until Saturday afternoon when I read the words written 2000 years ago by the sages of the Mishnah. I will explain that later.

There are three conditions necessary for building a really good relationship. The first one is called, “unconditional positive regard.” This means that you will accept the other person as a human being with unique values and unique goals. As professionals we are taught not to impose our own world views, perspectives, or values on the people we are working with. Ken lay people do that? I certainly believe so. The big question is: what practical steps are needed to achieve it?

The second condition is called, “empathy.” I think it goes without saying that any human being can cultivate empathy. The challenge for most people is to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. If a person shares with you his or her hard times or difficult feelings that may make you feel bad. You will then be sympathetic. That sympathy comes because you feel bad about what that other person has gone through. It derives from your own feelings and not from the feelings of the other person. So let’s say, for instance, you see a young woman with two-year-old twins and an infant all eligible stroller struggling to get her children into her car just as it is starting to rain and she has bags of groceries along with her. You look at her and you feel bad for her. You feel sympathy for her. You go over to her and tell her how big you feel for her predicament. Is it your feelings or her feelings you’re feeling? She turns to you tells you that she doesn’t feel bad at all, on the contrary, she is quite overjoyed. She says that she had a long and hard struggle to have children and it is times like these when she realizes how small the effort really is compared to the struggle it was for to actually have the children. Empathy means that you share the feelings that the other person has. In order to cultivate empathy one must first cultivate the ability to get to know other people. Is this possible for the ordinary layperson to achieve? I certainly believe so. The big question is: what practical steps are needed to achieve it?

The third condition is called, “genuineness.” This means that the person can be open and honest with the other person in the relationship. At first glance this might seem much more basic than the previous two conditions. But in reality I think that this is much more difficult to achieve. But it is far from impossible. In my experience I have seen many nonprofessional people cultivate the quality of genuineness. The big question is: what practical steps are needed in order to achieve it?

There is an ancient book written by the Jewish sages of about 2000 years ago called, “Ethics of the Fathers.” This is a collection of moral statements brought together to teach proper ethical behavior. In the first chapter there is a statement by one of the sages which seems so obvious that one would think it’s completely unnecessary and superfluous to be included in this collection. He says, “and judge every person favorably.” When you look at this statement in its original language, Hebrew, something very curious becomes apparent. The word for “every person” does not actually mean every person but it means, “all of the person.” What this sage is telling us is that if you are able to judge all of the person, you would certainly judge that person favorably. Aha! This gave me the insight into the practical steps one needs to take in order to achieve the ability to absolutely accept and possibly love any particular person.

As you strive to get to know another person on a deeper and deeper level you get to appreciate that person to a greater and greater extent. When you ask your friend, lover, or acquaintance why he or she did something or how they were feeling about something you get to know the person on a level that was not previously experienced. The more you learn about your friends’ reasons, feelings, and motivations the more you will appreciate that person for who he or she is.

Be genuinely concerned and curious about your friends’ reasons, feelings, then motivations and your relationship will surely be able to get to that level that can make everybody feel good.

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Filed under Coaching, Love, Positive Psychology, Relationships