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6 Steps to Combat Overwhelm

We’ve all been there before, feeling stuck and drowning under a sea of to dos and pressures. We feel anxious, stressed, irritable, or even hopeless. Our thoughts are scattered, our bodies are uncomfortable, and we’re not able to take effective action. Here are 6 strategies to help combat overwhelm and stay afloat.

Tips for dealing with overwhelm

1. Get everything down on paper

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, our minds often race, bouncing back and forth among all of the things we have to do, the pressures we’re under, the obstacles in our way, and the possible things that could go wrong. A great first step to start to organize the mental clutter and devise a plan for getting on top of everything is to get it all down on paper.  

Take a deep breath and take 5-10 minutes and brain dump onto a sheet of paper. Write down all of the demands, expectations, hurdles, or other factors contributing to your sense of overwhelm. 

2. Pare down and prioritize

Now that you have a list of all of the things on your plate, it’s time to pare down and prioritize. Take a first pass through your list and cross off anything that is a “what if.” What if is a worry, a hypothetical problem to be solved in the future. It doesn’t get addressed now. 

Next, ask yourself the following questions and be honest about the answers. Use those responses to help you cross off additional items and prioritize the remaining ones.

  • Are all of these tasks actually on me to do? 
  • Of those, what do I really have to do?
  • And of those remaining, are these tasks actually important
  • Finally, are these important tasks urgent? Must they be done now?

Take steps to reduce your load, which will reduce your stress and anxiety. Revise your much shortened list so that only urgent, important tasks that absolutely must be done by you remain, and rank those tasks according to how critical they are to the big picture. Instead of feeling stressed about this “to do” list let it instead make you feel organized. 

3. Make a plan

Oftentimes, when we feel overwhelmed, we spend a lot of time with our thoughts swirling around all of the things stressing us out…and very little time actually taking action steps toward addressing those things in a lasting way. So, once you’ve pared down and prioritized, it’s time to make a concrete plan including what you will do and when you will do it. 

Schedule tasks into your day, but be realistic about how much you can accomplish in any given day. It’s important for your mental health to also make time for self-care, rest, eating, moving, connecting, working, play, and sleeping – all of the things that a human being needs to be healthy and happy. If you do not prioritize your self-care, you’ll never stop feeling overwhelmed because you won’t have the energy levels to do what you need to.

4. Break it way down

Sometimes we know what needs to be done and can even outline a plan, but the plan itself feels daunting. Maybe it’s wrapped up in an anxiety-provoking situation, we’re not sure about our abilities to do it, or we’re dreading it because it’s hard or boring. Whatever the reason, a helpful strategy is to break any overwhelming plan down into smaller steps. You’ve likely heard that before, so here’s the kicker. Break it down, then break those steps down even smaller. Keep breaking it down into smaller and smaller steps until the next step seems absolutely doable. 

Here’s an example: I have to create a Powerpoint presentation for a speaking event I’m nervous about. I know the general plan is:

  1. Pick a topic
  2. Map out the key points
  3. Create slides

But let’s say that still feels overwhelming, and I find myself spinning out or stalling. Instead, I might break it way down and use the helpful phrase: “All I have to do next is…” On a really granular level, this might look like: “All I have to do next is open my laptop.” “All I have to do next is open a document.” “All I have to do next is brainstorm some possible topics. I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes and just write down any possible ideas.” And so on. 

5. Get started right away

Procrastination is a common response when we’re faced with anything we find anxiety-provoking, hard, or boring. You’ll notice, though, that procrastination isn’t actually an effective strategy for reducing overwhelm and stress. While you get to avoid the task in question for a period, the psychological weight of it remains. Studies show this actually increases your stress. You’re not actually relaxed. In fact, you may even be adding guilt or dread or anxiety to the mix. Moreover, as you procrastinate, other things are pilling up, and your initial overwhelm grows. 

Procrastination is a complex habit, but working on your ability to get started quickly is a great way to start to break it. Any number of strategies might help you get started right away. Try these out and see what works for you. Remember, the first step is often the hardest. You just have to get going.

  1. Set a timer for a really small chunk of time. Tell yourself you only have to work until the timer goes off. Sometimes, that makes getting started seem a little easier. Practice some breathing exercises to get in the right headspace. 
  2. Practice “3, 2, 1, Go!” Anytime you find yourself with any urge to avoid or delay a task, practice a quick count down then take a step. Repeatedly doing this will help you build that mental muscle of diving right in, and that’s a really useful skill to master. 
  3. Make a deal with yourself. You can use rewards or consequences to help boost your motivation. Treat yourself to something you enjoy if you get started quickly or enforce a punishment (e.g., do something you don’t enjoy doing, deny yourself something you like, donate to an organization you despise – just any unpleasant, aversive thing that you like less than getting started on a hard task) for procrastinating. 

6. Be a good coach for yourself

When we’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, our minds tend to chatter quite loudly. We have thoughts like “I can’t do this!” “It’s too much!” and those thoughts are like mental ankle weights, weighing us down, requiring more time and energy for each step. Instead, it’s important that we make a point of being good coaches for ourselves. 

While we can’t necessarily stop those heavy, stressful thoughts from coming, we can intentionally use self-talk to bolster and support ourselves. Saying things like “You can do this. You always get through it” won’t take the stressors away but will help you feel more capable of handling them. After all, your track record for getting through hard things is 100%. You absolutely CAN do this.

Get a handle on stress for good 

Having an effective plan for managing stress and overwhelm on an ongoing basis is critical. After all, stress is an unavoidable part of life! In honor of Stress Awareness month, we’ve made our Stress Management Mini-Course available to our community. In addition, through this link only, you can also get our Self-Care [by Design] Mini-Course for only $10. That’s $19 off the regular price! Research shows your approach to stress management and self-care should be effective and personalized. You are unique and your self-care plan needs to be, too. Give yourself the gift of building psychological strength and transforming your life experience

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”
—Tyler Knott Gregson
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Cultivating Wellbeing Professionally and Personally

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If the last 2 years have taught us one thing it is this: people’s lives don’t exist in silos. The experiences, stresses, and challenges people face in their personal lives bleed over into their professional lives, and vice versa. It has never been more apparent that we need to support people in a more holistic, human way than right now.

As we look to the future and anticipate yet another stage of change, I wanted to have a conversation about how we support our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our teams and colleagues at work. To do this, I’ve enlisted the help of my friend, Ryan Wolf, Wellbeing Lead for Gallup.

During our conversation, Ryan and I dive into what wellbeing truly means. We talk about how it has changed in the last decade or so, and anticipate even more change in the coming few years. We talk about how critical it is for companies and employers to support their teams on a more holistic, human level, and we talk about how to go about it.

Finally, you won’t want to miss our conversation about our predictions for the return-to-office transition.

Additional Resources:

  1. Listen to a recent episode about how to design your WFH life: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/0331
  2. Want to help your team navigate change? Here’s en episode designed to hlep you do just that: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/0334
  3. Check out an article Ryan recommended about the 7 different types of rest: https://ideas.ted.com/the-7-types-of-rest-that-every-person-needs/
  4. Learn more about Gallup: https://www.gallup.com/home.aspx
  5. Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryan-wolf-57260835/
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Blogs

Stress Together: Social Support Protects Against Stress

I was thrilled a few years ago when M, my college roommate, decided to move to Kansas City. I loved the idea of having my oldest and closest friend within walking distance after years of being several states away. Sadly, this weekend is her last in KC. As conflicted as I am about her move (selfishly, I want her to stay. As her friend, I believe this is right for her, and I’m excited for her new adventure), I know she is stressed. Packing and preparing for a move is no small task…even when you think it will be…which is why I volunteered to help.

“You don’t have to help me pack and clean,” she said. “Uh huh. Where’s the tape?” I asked. Packing isn’t necessarily fun, but it’s a lot like 3D Tetris, which I happen to be surprisingly good at it. As we wrapped up that day, she was thankful and seemed a bit relieved, and it felt good to me to be able to support her and help in a very real way.

Share the load: Social support reduces stress

Did you know that social support is one of the biggest protective factors against stress? Having people who care there to lend a listening ear or a helping hand is invaluable during tough times. Not only do we feel cared for and less alone, which reduces stress, but social support also boosts our resilience (our ability to adapt in the face of adversity and bounce back from hardships). What’s more, having a social support network also impacts our stress response on a physical level by settling down some of our body’s reactions to stress. It’s no secret that reducing your stress level not only improves mental health, but also your physical health. The effects of stress run deep, so prioritizing stress relief and eliminating stressful situations by leaning on your social support network greatly improves your life. 

It’s not just receiving social support that helps us feel less stressed. Giving support does, too! It’s a similar situation, though, in that giving support not only feels good emotionally, but it also seems to have a calming effect on our body’s stress response. This is just one of the many health benefits of deepening our social support network and enriching social connection and social relationships. 

Types of social support

Social support during times of stress can take different forms. Often, we think about emotional support – someone being there for us, listening, sitting in the ick with us, expressing care, and being on our side. It’s a powerful thing to feel emotionally supported during times of stress, and that sense of connection buffers us against the multifaceted stress response.

Sometimes, however, what we need to give or get from our support system is instrumental support. We need concrete help alleviating the burden, whether that’s helping a friend pack, offering childcare, providing financial support, going to a doctor’s appointment, or making a meal. This type of support helps reduce or remove the source of stress. We are inherently social creatures designed to live in a connected community. We are not meant to be fully independent, and it’s not a weakness or a fail to need help sometimes. Life is hard. We’re human, and we need help.

Isolation and stress

We are literally wired for human connection. Yet, when we are struggling internally, many of us instinctively withdraw. We go further inward, pulling away from others. We don’t feel like socializing or being around loved ones.

We may worry about the impact our burdens will have on our loved ones. Concerns about weighing them down, making them worry, or bringing them down by not being fun or happy can all push us toward withdrawal as well. That’s unfortunate because doing so prevents us from using one of our best stress management tools and deprives them of that benefit as well. Next time you find yourself in the midst of a hard day or feeling stressed out, lighten the load and let a friend, family or community member, or a co-worker be there to support you. It’s good for you both.

The wrong kind of social support

When it comes to receiving and giving social support in the face of stress, I want to call out two pitfalls to be wary of: venting and invalidation.

Venting isn’t always a good thing

It can feel good to vent to someone about the things stressing us out, but it you pay close attention, you’ll realize that venting isn’t always that helpful. Rumination is a nasty mental habit of looping endlessly on the same, typically negative thoughts, and venting often turns into ruminating out loud. When you rehash the same territory again and again, without a resolution or new insights, you’ve crossed into unhelpful venting. While it may on some level feel nice to share your frustrations with another person, especially if they agree with you, you’ll likely notice that your emotional landscape is anger, stress, worry, or sadness. You’re unnecessarily feeling the same things all over again, like stoking a fire that needs to die out.

Keep in the mind the difference between processing (making sense out of a situation and your reaction), problem-solving (coming up with a feasible solution to change or address the situation), and venting (rehashing and complaining repeatedly). Spend your time and energy on the first two and skip the latter.

Invalidation

Validation is an important relationship skill that involves recognizing and affirming another’s emotional experience. Invalidation, on the other hand, takes the form of denying, dismissing, or rejecting their emotional experience. It is a sneakily damaging thing that negatively impacts our nervous systems and erodes relationships and trust over time.

While some people intentionally use invalidation as a tool to manipulate, most people are well-intentioned and don’t even realize that they are being invalidating.

In an effort to help others feel better, we say accidentally invalidating things that actually hurt more than help. These kinds of statements come from a good place, our desire to help them feel better, alleviate some of their burden, or help them navigate a difficult situation. Unfortunately, they tend to feel dismissive, rejecting, or denying. Keep an eye out for comments like these common responses:

  • “It could be worse.”
  • “But at least…” (Finding the bright side can be quite a helpful strategy at times but not others.)
  • “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
  • “Don’t be sad/anxious/embarrassed.”
  • “I don’t know why that bothers you so much.”
  • “You shouldn’t let that get you down.”

Instead, try reflecting back their feelings. Acknowledging another’s emotional experience does not mean you agree with it. It just means you see them and you understand them. Try something like “I can see how stressed you are” or “That sounds really tough” or (my personal favorite) “Of course you feel ____! That makes sense.” Once you’ve validated and offered support, you can shift into problem-solving or letting go or whatever the next step needs to be.

Strengthen your important relationships

Strong healthy relationships are important for more reasons that just managing stress, so it’s well worth the effort to develop effective relationship skills. In fact, relationships is one of the key elements of psychological strength. The next Peak Mind Quarterly Psych Strength Workshop is coming up on Tuesday April 12, 2022 and we’re focusing on communication styles. This workshop will help you understand your own communication style and characteristic ways of relating to others. It will also help you better understand important people in your life and gain more effective ways of communicating and connecting with them.

Develop a comprehensive personalized stress management plan

Last week, we made our Stress Management Mini-Course available to our community for the first time, and many of you took quick action to get a handle on stress. Kudos to you! If you haven’t yet, now is the time to redefine your relationship with stress and learn to navigate it with ease. Through this link only, you can get the Stress Management Mini-Course AND add Self-Care [by Design], our most popular course, for only $10. 

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
 – Fred Rogers
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Podcasts

Achieving Peak Performance (without Burnout)

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What does it mean for you to “perform well” or “win” today? Have you ever stopped to consider that? One more question, as a high-achieving person or a top-performing person, have you ever stopped to consider times when it might be ok for you to show up intentionally looking to achieve at a B+ level?

These questions sound like heresy when we put them in the context of our traditional, high-pressure professional world. However, as we’ve learned from the pandemic and from some very high-profile athletes more recently, no one, even high achievers, is infallible.

Achieving peak performance is difficult enough to achieve once, but maintaining that level often leads to burnout.

If you are a human being with a body and a mind, you have limits. You have needs. And, you simply can not perform at 150% all the time. And today, we’re speaking with an expert who will help us sort through all of that.

Today’s guest is Lauren Ammon. She is a certified coach who works with athletes of all levels. She helps people acknowledge and recognize their own humanity. She helps people create as much psychological and emotional support for themselves as they do for their physical wellbeing.

This episode is for you if you’re the type of person who holds yourself to standards that are nearly unachievable. I know you’ll get some valuable insight and action out of this powerful conversation.

Additional Resources:

  1. Listen to my conversation with Gail Golden about Curating Your Life and Managing Your Energy: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/0242
  2. Check out our blog post “Creating the Conditions to Thrive:” https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/Creating-the-conditions-to-thrive
  3. Connect with Lauren and grab a copy of her free resource: https://www.laurenammon.com/
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Blogs

Handle Stress Better: It’s Not All Bad

The end of my first semester in graduate school was probably the most stressed out I have ever been. It was finals week, and I had a ton of writing assignments due within an 18 hour window. Did I work ahead and plan my time out accordingly? No! Of course not! My best friend and I watched Beaches (so we’d have an excuse to cry) then hit the library afterward, leaving us less than 24 hours to write a 15 page paper and a few 3-4 page ones. Our plan was to rely on Dr. Pepper and adrenaline to write all night. As you can imagine…it did not go well.

At 5 a.m., I found my way-over-caffeinated-beyond-stressed-out-in-desperate-need-of-sleep self in the bathtub trying to relax enough so I could finish those papers. I seriously thought I was having an aneurysm. It was terrible. Somehow, I got it all done by the deadline, but I was a wreck, completely convinced I wasn’t cut out for graduate school or being a psychologist. I even called the school district in my hometown to find out if I could become a teacher instead. Fortunately, they never called me back, and I got to recoup over the holiday break. That experience taught me some hard-won lessons, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten near that level of stressed out again. Thank goodness because that really sucked.

Is Stress Bad?

After that little gem I just shared, you might expect me to answer with a resounding YES! And you might say the same thing. It seems that we’ve been taught to think of stress as a bad thing to be avoided, and that’s problematic for a few reasons. One, stress is unavoidable. Absolutely and completely unavoidable. Any demand for your time, attention, or energy is going to cause some measure of stress. So even if you withdraw from life completely – no work, no relationships, no nothing – you’re still going to get hungry, and that requires your time, attention, and energy to resolve. Viola, stress! Albeit, that would likely register as a very minor amount of stress (assuming you have ready access to food). Still, the idea that we can avoid stress is faulty because it just isn’t possible. 

The notion that we should avoid stress because it is harmful or bad for us is also faulty, but it’s a little more complicated. Yes, stress can be quite harmful for us, when it is chronic and poorly managed. That caveat is an important one, so keep it in mind. 

Unchecked, chronic stress can lead to all kinds of health issues and even premature death. It affects the quality of our minds, making them more negative and less effective problem-solvers. Stress can impact our moods and turn us into snappy unpleasant people to be around. All considered, chronic poorly managed stress has a negative impact on virtually every area of our lives and functioning. 

But Stress Can Be Good for You

Here’s the interesting thing to consider…stress can actually be good for us under the right circumstances. 

My little brother and Dr. April, my co-founder here at Peak Mind, have something in common. They both lift weights. Not like I do, taking a strength class here and there, working enough to be a little sore. They lift heavy. They intentionally put their muscles under a lot of stress to hold that heavy burden, causing tiny tears and microtraumas in the tissue…and that is absolutely necessary for building muscle mass and increasing strength. Our muscles must be taxed – they must be stressed – to get stronger. 

It’s not just our muscles that benefit from being stressed, though. A growing body of research suggests that other stressful conditions such as cold and hunger (e.g., intermittent fasting) can have a positive impact on our bodies and brains as well, triggering biological responses that help optimize our DNA.

Other Benefits of Stress

Beyond the increases in strength and health that can come from taxing our bodies, stress can be good for us psychologically as well. Consider the hero from your favorite action or fantasy movie. Did they have an easy, stress-free life? Doubtful! The journey for most heroes includes adversity and challenge, which they learn from and overcome, and it often becomes the source of their strength or power. We are no different. By overcoming challenge (aka stressful situations), we can build mental toughness, resilience, and find wells of inner strength we did not know we had.

How to Handle Stress Better 

Whether stress is good or bad for you depends on a few factors like how much stress you’re experiencing at any given point in time (stress compounds – it adds up), how much stress you can handle (your psychological strength and stress management skills), and your mindset (turns out, believing that stress can be good for you can make it so). You may or may not be able to control how much stress life throws at you at any given moment, but you can definitely do something about the last two factors. Rethinking your relationship with stress and taking intentional action to improve your ability to manage stress is critical. After all, stress is an inevitable part of life. It’s time to develop the tools, skills, and mindset necessary to prevent those freaking-out-in-the-bathtub stressed out moments.  

In honor of this being Stress Awareness month, we are making our Stress Management mini-course available for the first time. This little powerhouse of a product will help you redefine your relationship with stress and learn to manage it skillfully, transforming your experience when under pressure. This mini-course is multi-faceted to help you learn and grow more. You’ll get:

  • A short educational video
  • A beautifully designed digital workbook that includes additional information and 6 hands on exercises to help increase your awareness and understanding of your stress response and develop your own personalized stress management plan
  • A 2 week email challenge that will introduce you to a wide range of stress management strategies and tips
  • 3 in the moment tools to use any time you feel stressed, tense, or are having a difficult time

In addition, only through this link, you can get our popular Self-Care [by Design] mini-course for only $10 (normally $29) when you bundle the two courses.

Remember, stress is inevitable. Being stressed out is optional.

“You cannot remove struggle from life, but you can improve your ability to handle challenge.”
– James Clear
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Using Micro-Behaviors to Reduce Anxiety

One of the most common things we get asked is how to reduce anxiety. Talk about the ultimate question! Anxiety is SO incredibly common, yet the tools to reduce it can feel so elusive. In today’s episode, we’re leaning on cognitive-behavioral theory to help us use micro-behaviors to reduce anxiety (or induce any emotional state you’re after).

During this episode, I give a quick overview of what cognitive-behavioral theory is and the interrelationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I walk you through a great analogy developed by my incredible co-founder, Dr. Ashley Smith, to help you understand the true impact of this interrelationship in how you experience life. And finally, we turn to a practical way you can use small behavioral changes in your own life to influence your emotions in the direction you want them to go.

You’re not going to want to miss this one!

Additional Resources:

  1. Get the free guided experience I spoke about from Episode 338: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/0338
  2. Get 15 practical ways to boost happiness: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/happiness-cheat-sheet
  3. Get another analogy to illustrate the powerful relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/stop-feeding-the-dog-how-to-break-negative-self-fueling-cycles
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Uniting our World with Love

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The current state of the world has many of us feeling afraid, uncertain, and even disconnected. Given everything that is happening right now, it’s natural to have the impulse to pull away. To disengage. To disconnect.

However, the field of positive psychology shows us that it’s our interconnection to other people that drives much of our happiness and wellbeing. Beyond that, it’s our interconnection with other people that has the power to heal the divisive wounds at the heart of so much of the turmoil we see in the world today.

Today we’re speaking about interconnection with this week’s guest, Juan Lee. Juan is an author and teacher on the powerful principle of love. For over 30 years, he has studied organized religion to find the elements that unite humanity and share the message with those who need it. Based outside of Washington DC, Juan is a decorated US Air Force veteran and author of Love Made Simple.

Tune in today to be reminded of the importance of your role in humanity. My hope is that you leave this episode feeling optimistic and reengaged.

Additional Resources:

  1. Listen to a recent episode about uncovering what you truly desire in life: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/0338
  2. Check out our blog post “Social Connection: A Key to Happiness:” https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/social-connection-a-key-to-happiness
  3. Connect with Juan and grab a copy of his book: http://juanleetheauthor.com/about-the-book/
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Blogs

Affective Forecasting: Your Psychological Immune System

Two weeks ago, I went to Minneapolis to see Dr. April (my co-founder here at Peak Mind), work on some new super exciting projects, and catch up. While we regularly meet virtually, we hadn’t been in a room together in a pandemic. It was SO GOOD to be there and to spend time with her and her family. 

April’s kids are awesome little humans! As is common with little ones, though, her youngest got a nasty cold while I was there. Now, I haven’t been around a sick person in two years and have managed to not get sick myself in that time frame (knock on wood). So when I was hanging out in the dress up nook (read that as close quarters) and her youngest, who was talking to me, started coughing, I just knew I was going to get sick. There was no way I wasn’t inhaling her germs. I immediately pictured the glares I’d get from everyone flying home with a cough. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I never got sick. Not a sniffle, not a cough. Nothing. Thank goodness for immune systems! 

We are fortunate that our immune systems don’t just protect us from invading viruses and bacteria. What most people don’t know is that we also have a naturally built in psychological immune system of sorts. Our minds work hard to help us recover from events that throw us off balance. We just tend to underestimate their effectiveness.

Affective Forecasting

As humans, we like to predict things. In this case, we like to predict how we will react to future events or certain circumstances. For example, we anticipate how our emotional state we will be when we lose a job/have conflict in a relationship/miss a goal/etc. or how happy we will be when we get that raise/lose that weight/get that recognition/etc. 

We try to forecast the future and our emotional reaction to uncertain events. This is called affective forecasting (forecasting or predicting our feelings, or affect if you’re a psychologist). 

The kicker is…we’re TERRIBLE at it. 

We consistently suffer from affective forecasting errors, projection bias, and we make mistakes in our predictions. Or, put bluntly, we’re just wrong. While we are generally pretty accurate at predicting the tone of how we’ll feel (that is, positive or negative emotional impact) and perhaps even the specific feelings we’ll have, we are pretty bad at predicting future emotional intensity and duration of our emotions. 

 In other words, we overestimate how good or bad we’ll feel and how long those feelings will last. We think these events will have a bigger impact on our emotional wellbeing than they actually do. We don’t take into account our psychological immune system and how it will help restore equilibrium. 

I’m sure you can come up with all kinds of examples from your own life. How often have you found yourself thinking, “That wasn’t as bad as I expected” or recovering from the heartbreak you thought would last forever?

In case your own lived experience doesn’t demonstrate this point, we can turn to tons of research. Study after study has shown that people return to their baseline levels of happiness after a number of seemingly impactful events, everything from getting tenure to winning the lottery to testing positive for HIV to getting dumped. Because of our cognitive biases, we predict that these events will have long-lasting impacts of a future emotional state…but they just don’t. 

Now, I can understand that this information may not make that much difference for you at this very moment. But think about it. How much do you worry about your future affective states? How much do you pursue or avoid things on the basis that you just know it’s going to dramatically affect your future happiness or misery? For me, I used to worry a lot about losing my vision because, deep down, I was scared (and convinced) that I would be miserable if that happened (I have a degenerative retinal condition, so it’s not a hypothetical fear).

Then, I came across affective forecasting research and even a specific study showing that sighted and blind people have similar levels of happiness. While my mind told me vision loss would be devastating forever, science shows that my psychological immune system will kick in, and I’ll be ok if it happens. I find solace in this. I choose to trust science…and myself…over my mind’s predictions. Recognizing that things will likely not be as bad or uncomfortable as anticipated – or if they are that it won’t last forever – opens the door to take courageous actions and to let go of some worry. What would it be like for you if you trusted, too?

Your mistake was not in imagining things you could not know—that is, after all, what imagination is for. Rather, your mistake was in unthinkingly treating what you imagined as though it were an accurate representation of the facts.”
– Daniel Gilbert
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Blogs

Peak Mind Pro: The Power of Active Listening

Think back to a situation at work that did not go well. Perhaps it was an interaction with a colleague, a poor decision, or a costly mistake. What factors contributed to that situation? 

Have you considered listening as a factor? If everyone involved had truly been listening – to each other, to the information being conveyed, to the company’s goals or needs – would the outcome have been any different? 

Why We Don’t Listen

Listening is, arguably, the most important communication skill and is a cornerstone of most business activities, regardless of industry. Unfortunately, most people aren’t naturally great at listening. We get caught up in multitasking, so our attention is divided, all but ensuring we miss out on some critical aspects of the message. Or we jump to conclusions or interpretations that might be inaccurate, then react on the basis of misinformation. Alternatively, we might focus on our response, how to convey our points or press our agenda forward, bypassing the fundamental step of understanding. Ultimately, we want to speak, to be heard, and we often gloss over this crucial first step of effective communication: listening. 

That’s too bad because being an effective listener gives you a competitive edge, regardless of your organizational role.

Active Listening

So what does it mean to be a great listener?  It isn’t necessarily an innate talent. Rather, being a great listener means that you have mastered the skill of active listening, which essentially includes 3 main active listening techniques:

1. Pay attention. 

Multitasking or splitting attention is a myth. Trying to do so will result in you missing out on a significant chunk of information being conveyed verbally or non-verbally. 

2. Convey that you are listening.

Demonstrate that you are fully engaged by using body language, nodding, making small verbalizations (e.g., “Uh, huh,” “I see”), responsive facial expressions, or asking open-ended questions for elaboration.

3. Focus on comprehending the message as intended.

Listen with the intent to understand, not respond. This also means suspending judgments initially. Clarify your understanding to ensure accuracy before you move on to responding. 

The Benefits of Effective & Active Listening

The benefits of active listening are multifaceted. At a minimum, being a good listener means that you will capture and retain more of the crucial information, which can increase productivity and facilitate better performance on projects. It also means that you will have more accurate and robust information to consider when making decisions, potentially improving the quality and outcomes of those decisions. Thus ultimately making your conversation partner feel heard and building trust with them. 

In addition, active listening skills strengthen relationships. By paying full attention to another person and ensuring that you are understanding their message as intended, you are communicating several key messages such as “I value you and what you have to say” and that “you can trust me to understand and cooperate with you.” Practicing active listening helps with problem solving. In contrast, consider times when you’ve tried to talk to someone who was distracted by their phone or email or something else, nodded mindlessly, or cut in to respond without actually understanding what you were saying. You likely felt frustrated, dismissed, or devalued in some way. 

Effective and active listening can help cut down on miscommunication and the conflict or subpar performance that can follow. Furthermore, it enhances your influence and ability to persuade or negotiate. The most persuasive people and successful negotiators start by truly seeing the other’s perspective, then guiding them to a new one. Understanding that perspective starts with listening.

Taken all together, active listening is a soft skill that can have a substantial impact on your performance across the board.

Tips to Try

Active listening is a skill that needs to be practiced in order to master it. Implement these helpful strategies and notice what impact doing so has on you, your teams, and your organization.

Pay Full Attention:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Put down your phone.
  • If you must use a device to take notes, tell the other person. Say something like, “I want to be sure I capture the important points, so I’m going to take some notes.” Spelling it out directly lets them know that you are still fully engaged, not somewhere else mentally. 

Fact Check:

  • Before you respond with your opinion, ideas, or retorts, make sure you have an accurate understanding. 
  • Paraphrase their take home points. Rather than verbatim stating what they just said, rephrase it in your own words. Start with a phrase like, “Let me make sure I’m understanding correctly. Are you saying…?” or “What I’m hearing you say is…”
  • If you notice that you start to get upset by something you are hearing, this is a powerful signal that you need to fact check. It is quite possible that there is a bit of miscommunication happening, and strong emotions cloud our ability to think logically, process new information, and make effective decisions. 
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
– Roy T. Bennett
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Combatting Burnout When You’re Tired As F*ck

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BURNOUT. It’s a topic in the news almost daily. Given the stress we’ve all been under over the last 2 years, burnout is at an all-time high. But is it? Really?

I mean, I agree that we’re burned out, but my instinct tells me that we’ve been that way much longer than we realize. The pressure of the pandemic has brought it to the surface more clearly, but the burnout itself is a tale as old as time.

Today we’re talking about burnout with the perfect guest. Caroline Dooner is a writer, humorist, and ex-professional actress & singer. She started writing about our relationship with food 10 years ago on thef*ckitdiet.com, after radically healing her own relationship with food. All of that became “The F*ck It Diet” book, geared towards helping others heal. Her second book, “Tired as F*ck,” is about her burnout & two years of rest, after years of running herself into the ground. 

This episode is part validation, part instruction manual, part permission slip, and part call-to-arms. It is time we start caring for ourselves as the human beings that we are. I hope this episode and Caroline’s book help you do just that.

Additional Resources:

  1. Listen to my interview with Dr. Margaret Rutherford about perfectly hidden depression: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/0161
  2. Listen to this episode focused on role engulfment: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/0276
  3. The link between self-compassion and self-care: https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/blog/0275
  4. Connect with Caroline & her work: thefuckitdiet.com/tired