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Wednesday
Oct292014

How to Embrace Your Dark Side

What do you want out of life? Most people answer, “I want to be happy.” Unfortunately, my friends, happiness is a problematic request. Why? Because it’s not a realistic goal. Happiness is not a constant, in fact, it can be pretty fleeting. And defining what we need to make us happy can be as elusive as achieving it. So, rather than attempt the impossible by trying to sustain a a state of happiness, it’s a much better and more positive idea to shoot for being whole…which is far more fulfilling than “just” being happy.

That’s the brilliant proposal from Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, two luminaries in the field of positive psychology, whose most amazing book was just published. This is the book I’ve been waiting for! The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your "Good" Self— Drives Success and Fulfillment! I had the chance recently to speak with Todd about their latest work. You can watch the video here.

I highly recommend you grab a copy of this book. In it, you will learn how to get in touch with all of your emotions and accept them without judgment. In other words, to not feel badly for having “bad” feelings. In the book, the authors explain how our negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt—so much of what we’d rather not feel—are there to serve a purpose….The point is to learn to see our “more dark” emotions in this more productive way.

Kashdan and Biswas-Diener have identified the three most common ways humans typically deal with things that bring out these darker emotions. Which one is your go-to?

Suffering: trying to deny or ignore what’s bothering us

Tolerating: white-knuckling it or holding our breath, trying to just get through it

Harnessing: feeling and using our negative emotions elicited by the incident to create a more favorable outcome

Choosing, however subconsciously, suffering or tolerating as a coping strategy in order to not have to experience our dark side (aka, our negative emotions) actually denies us opportunities and resources and can make us feel powerless. For example, when we acknowledge our sadness (or anger or whatever darkness we’re feeling), we have a better chance of determining what’s causing it and then working on a positive or productive resolution. But when we try to deny our sadness (or anger or whatever…) or just tolerate it, we have less to no chance of addressing the underlying issues and effecting any kind of favorable outcome.

That’s why it’s ESSENTIAL, explain the co-authors, to develop our emotional vocabulary: to discern what we’re truly feeling and have a language for describing the feelings. All too often these days, we lump our negative feelings together under the label “Stressed” instead of identifying it. How can we expect to fix a problem without actually knowing what it is and why we’re feeling this way?

The big take-away: Being whole may not magically solve all problems, but it does give us a complete arsenal of emotions and insights with which to more effectively take things on and deal with them.  

Watch this video—it’s a bit on the long side but so worth it. (The sound is a bit off in the beginning but it clears up). Then read the book! Would love to get your thoughts and feedback afterwards.


Best,

Stella

 

 

 

Tuesday
Oct072014

Positive Coping Skills for Dealing with Negative Emotions

Hi Everyone,

This week’s conversation deals with a topic that’s been in the collective consciousness lately, an offshoot prompted by the sorrowful news of Robin Williams’ suicide last August. Which in and of itself is an example of something positive resulting from something tragic...but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

I’ve found that this subject of sadness, negative thoughts, depressive emotions particularly resonates with perfectionists and overachievers, which describes pretty much most of you, plus many (if not most!) of the people you associate with. (We do tend to hang with our own kind....) 

Which is why I’m happy to introduce you to Andrea Kuszewski, a behavior therapist and research scientist who I like to call a “convention challenger.” Together, we talked about the benefit of negative emotions. It’s not as oxymoronic as it sounds once you hear some of the ways we can learn to reframe our negative thoughts and emotions in order to feel better. It’s like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the 21st Century. You’re going to want to watch this video more than once to really internalize the ideas, but here are just three “brain-reframing” strategies Andrea discusses:

  • Talk to yourself. (Seriously!) Make it a little meditative session, as often as you need: Lie on the floor and say out loud all the negative things you’re hearing in your head (what Andrea calls, “the inner A-hole”). When you actually hear these “loser lines” spoken, they begin to sound ridiculous. Then follow up with saying your accomplishments and your strengths out loud. Slowly, this helps put things in a whole different perspective.
  • Face your worst-case scenario with some fantasy. Andrea calls this “catastrophic thinking.” You know how you can obsess about something that could have a negative outcome (like, last week’s job interview or a promotion you put in for)—and how if it doesn’t go your way, your whole life will be ruined? Hold that thought and come up with two fantasy scenarios as a result of the worst happening (say, finding an even better job in an exciting city or starting your own business). Play out the scenarios, even think up more things you’ve always wanted to do. Suddenly, you realize good things can follow failures, that a negative outcome is not the end of the world.
  • Come up with a list of your greatest hits. Create a folder, journal, or file filled with references to your past unexpected triumphs, remind yourself how you successfully resolved situations that hadn’t gone according to plan before. This is guaranteed to build resilience!

For more information on Andrea, go to her website: AndreaKuszewski.com.


Let me know what you think of the ideas in the video—as well as your own coping strategies. Post a comment here and let’s get a whole dialogue going, or email me at Stella@woopaah.com. 

With love,

Stella

Thursday
Sep252014

What to Say If Someone Isn’t Listening

 

We’ve all been there:  In conversation with someone who has just checked out. It feels awful. You know the person is not listening. It makes you feel as though what you’re saying isn’t important…or worse, interesting. What do you do?

Last week, a client brought this up—that her boss just glazes over when she’s delivering her status updates, even though her boss requested the updates. She wanted some ideas for how to handle the situation. And since this is a pretty common issue (professionally and otherwise!), I decided to make it this week’s topic. Here is my five-step guide for what to say during those awkward moments at work. (Personal conversations can possibly follow a similar script….If you try it, please write back and tell me how it went!)


1. Request a pause.

  • "Do you mind if I pause for a second and check in with you?"

If you both agreed to be in this meeting, then you both should be present, body and mind. Let’s face it, it’s so easy (and tempting!) to get distracted by emails, texts, Tweets, whatev…but it’s a time waster for both of you if only one person is engaged. So, by pausing, you’re doing you both a favor. Besides, the other person may not even realize they've drifted.


2. Share your observation.

  • “I’m sensing that I may be losing your attention.”

 This is a transparent and authentic gesture, as long as you keep your tone light and inquiring as opposed to stern and accusatory. It’s possible the other person is listening…and that staring off into space is how she processes information. You’re simply making sure that “everybody’s” present.

 

3. Reiterate the conversation’s objective—and the other person’s role in achieving it.

  • “So just to clarify, I’m here to get your approval on Project Y’s last stage. Do you think that’s something we can accomplish in this meeting?”  

What’s the one thing you’re hoping to achieve from this conversation? Stay laser-focused on that. It’s easy to take personally one’s apparent lack of attention when you’re talking…but just don’t. Instead, concentrate on how to best accomplish your objective and don’t get caught up on principle.

 

4. Offer a few options to re-engage your listener...for example:

  • “What would be most useful to cover in this conversation? For example, I can skip through the status updates and jump right into our Q4 plans." Or

  • “Would it be better to reschedule or talk later?” Or

  • “What if we do this meeting while taking a walk outside? A little fresh air for 10 minutes.”  

 

Everyone has different styles of communication. Some people love chitchat before getting to the point; others want to dive right in; and there are others who process their thinking out loud. If you don’t know the style of this particular person, experiment a bit till you do. Understanding how to communicate effectively with your listener is the key to successful conversations with this person going forward.

 

5. Communicate your appreciation and have some honorable closure.

  • “Thanks for your time and attention - this was really productive. And by the way, I’m always open to feedback on how to best deliver XYZ - so feel free to let me know how to make these types of meetings more effective for you .”
Hope this helps! I know some of you may cringe at the idea of actually addressing this awkward moment head on. Well, I’m not saying it’s the most comfortable thing to do - but it can be incredibly beneficial for you both.

 

When you’ve had a chance to put this into play, please let me know how it goes. Also, if you have any topics you’d like me to address, send them on!

 

Love,

Stella

Wednesday
Sep102014

How to Stop Burnout Before It Stops You  

 

Hi Guys,

You know how Sunday nights carry a kind of dread, no matter how many years you’ve been out of school? Well, the beginning of September feels like the annual equivalent to me. Summer vacation is already a distant memory (even if we just got back!).

This is why I set out to talk with burnout-studies expert Paula Davis-Laack for this week’s conversation. Consider this a preemptive exercise.

Paula is a friend and fellow graduate from UPenn's Positive Psychology masters program. She has coached thousands of professionals, even military personnel, in reducing stress and building resiliency skills and has written about combating burnout for tons of publications, including her blogs on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.  

 Paula was a burnout victim herself, having spent seven years as a commercial real estate attorney before changing careers to help other “achieve-aholics” develop strategies for work/life balance. Nothing like getting the skills from someone who’s really been there, done that! 

So how do you know if you’re really burned out or “just” stressed? “Burnout is a chronic disconnect from one or more aspects of your life that once gave you joy and energy,” explains Paula. With the operative word being chronic. And unlike stress, burnout is not remedied by taking a weekend off to recharge. Burnout digs in its heels and moves in.

Its most common symptoms: Exhaustion with a capital “E”; trouble getting out of bed; toxic levels of irritability, cynicism, a perceived decline in personal productivity—all the way to depression, anxiety and physical illness. 

Bottom line: If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and overextended for some time, self intervention is in order now. Paula goes into greater depth about all of this in our conversation, but here are a few of her suggestions for putting the brakes on burnout:

 

  • Tell someone…everyone! Everyone relevant, that is. Confiding in a close colleague will most likely point out that you’re not alone, which can go a long way toward helping you understand burnout isn’t your fault. Talk to your spouse, clue in good friends. You might be surprised by their offers to take on some tasks in your personal life, thereby lightening your load and freeing up some time.

 

  •  Schedule a meeting with your boss. Come armed with suggestions for reassigning some of your responsibilities and/or pushing deadlines. A solutions-driven agenda will help avoid making you look (and feel) like you’re whining. Plus, there’s a better chance you’ll walk away with results that can be immediately implemented. 

 

  • Ask for help! If some in your inner circles haven’t offered assistance, it could just be that they’re not mind readers. Be specific with your requests and needs. Delegate. ("Honey, would you take over making dinners for a while," etc.) It takes a village...

 

  • Look for the good stuff. Undermine the negative emotions with some positivity. Notice three good things that happened during the day and write them down. Make it a regular habit and don’t be surprised if you start sleeping better. (Paula will explain.) 

 

As always, I’d love to hear your stories—the good, the bad and the fugly. Have you recovered from burnout? If so, what helped you? Share in the comments, or email me at Stella@woopaah.com.

 

Love,

Stella

Thursday
Aug142014

Thank you, Robin Williams + The Science of Laughter

 

I’m saddened by the passing of Robin Williams. And I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised by how much. 

Usually when it’s someone I don’t actually know, I can empathize, but I rarely feel super affected. But this feels totally different for me...and I’m guessing for many of you, too. 

The reason I believe we’re experiencing such a collective loss is best captured by the late comedian and entertainer Victor Borge: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” 

So, laughter literally brings us closer! And Robin’s amazing ability to make us laugh, together with his warmth and openness, made him feel totally accessible to us.

As a tribute to Robin Williams and his unique and generous comedic genius, I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the art and science of laughter (it’s crazier than you think!): 

1. Forget love, laughter is the oldest universal language.
It crosses genders, nationalities and yes, species. Researchers have found that chimps, gorillas, rats, even dolphins have a form of laughter (aka, “positive vocalization”) and are also ticklish. No joke! 

• Laughter is inherently instinctive, as anyone who has ever tickled a baby knows.
• In its earliest origins, laughter signaled playful intent. Still does. In fact, studies show that children at play typically laugh 300 to 400 times a day, whereas adults are more like 10 to 15 times a day. Seriously, what does that tell you?

2. Laughter is infectious. Pass it on.
Though we’ve all laughed when we’re by ourselves, we’re 30 times more likely to laugh in social situations. And laughter is a total bonding experience: Check out this amazing video of Robin and Koko the Gorilla. Talk about monkeying around....

• We’re way more likely to laugh watching a movie with a friend than when alone.
• Laughter has a way of deflecting fear, anger, shyness and embarrassment in public, as anyone who has ever introduced someone by the wrong name, congratulated a women on being pregnant when she wasn’t and a zillion other unmentionable mortifying behaviors.
• Interestingly, we tend to laugh more honestly when talking with others than when hearing a joke...even a funny one. Laughter doesn’t interrupt conversations so much as punctuate them. 

3. Laughter is like a secret-weapon aphrodisiac. 
At the very least, it makes us look more attractive. 

In a private study WOOPAAH conducted with a national dating site, we found that photos of people laughing got way more hits (over 400% more) than those photos with a smile or a provocative pose. Update those dating profiles, people!

• Studies show that women laugh more with men they’re attracted to, and men are more attracted to women who find them funny. 
• On a purely intuitive level, smiling and laughter help put others around you at ease. 

4. Laughter really IS the best medicine. Hollar! (Or rather, hahaha!)
Dr. Hunter Adams—not so coincidentally portrayed by Robin Williams in the film “Patch Adams”—showed that laughter could dramatically improve the quality of life for hospital patients...especially kids. 

• It can lower blood pressure, ease stress by stimulating our endorphins and actually be good for the circulatory system.
• According to the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, people diagnosed with chronic diseases who had a sense of humor had a 31% better survival rate.

5. Laughter is a natural at reducing pain.
Norman Cousins, who wrote Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing way back in 1979, found that 10 solid minutes of good belly laughing could relieve pain for up to two hours. Couldn’t hurt to try....

• It could be the next wonder drug. In a study of orthopedic-surgery patients, James Rotton, Ph.D., a professor at Florida International University, found that those who watched a marathon of comedy videos requested fewer pain meds and tranquilizers than those who watched only dramas. 
• As a natural mood elevator, laughter can help us reframe negative events, help lighten the darkness.

Again, thank you, Robin, you comedic luminary, for illuminating our lives with such brilliance. 

With love,

Stella