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Stop Feeling Bad

How many times have you said, “I feel bad”? How many times have you been asked “What’s wrong?” or told, “Don’t be sad/mad/worried/_____”?

About a million, right?

And therein lies a problem. 

We are taught from early on that certain emotions are good. They’re ok to have. They are desired. Other emotions, in contrast, are bad. We shouldn’t want them, or worse, we shouldn’t even have them. We’re taught to believe that when they show up, there’s something wrong. There’s a problem – our EMOTIONS are a problem – and problems need to be fixed. This leads to working hard to get rid of those “bad” feelings. Unfortunately, avoiding, suppressing, getting rid of, or otherwise fixing feelings doesn’t actually work. Worse, we might even pile on to them by beating ourselves up for having them in the first place.

What most people aren’t taught is that emotions – the full range of emotions – are normal and natural. By virtue of being human, you are destined to feel sad. And mad. And guilty, jealous, joyful, embarrassed, confident, ashamed, happy, disheartened, peaceful, confused, surprised, ambivalent, horrified, empty, excited, etc. You will feel them all, whether you want to or not. In fact, we’re wired to have twice as many negative emotions as positive ones, and we have them for a reason.

Emotions Serve an Evolutionary Purpose

Our brains have the enormous job of processing every bit of data coming in through our five senses all of the time so that they can keep us alive. As a result, they’ve developed a lot of shortcuts. Emotions are one.

Emotions are messengers designed to give us a lot of information very quickly and motivate us to act in certain ways, aimed at ensuring our survival. Think about it. The message of anxiety is danger, and the action urge is to avoid or escape. That’s very helpful when a threat to our bodily safety is near. The message of guilt is “I did something wrong,” and the urge is to make amends. Again, helpful for a social species whose survival depended on being part of the community. Even in present day when we’re not likely to be eaten by predators or die if we are shunned, emotions are incredibly useful…when we understand and have a healthy relationship with them. 

 

Redefining Your Relationship with Your Feelings

Bad is not feeling. Neither is good. Those are judgments, another brain shortcut. Our brains quickly categorize things as good and bad, safe and unsafe, desired, or undesired to speed up information processing. When it comes to feelings, though, judging them is part of the problem. That’s not promoting a healthy relationship with them. Consider this. How healthy is your relationship with that person who constantly judges you?

When we designate natural, normal experiences as “bad,” we’re setting ourselves up to struggle. Feeling sad or anxious or angry or guilty at some point is unavoidable (remember, we are literally WIRED to feel them). Yet, when we call something “bad,” we are saying to ourselves that we shouldn’t have that experience, that there is something inherently wrong with what’s going on inside of us. That would be like saying that having to go to the bathroom or eat or sleep is bad. It’s just a part of being human. We accept those experiences, throughout the course of our day, and move on.

We need to do the same with feelings

When we can learn to recognize the emotions that show up and call them by their proper names, not good or bad, with the understanding that they are there for a reason, we are now open to receiving their messages. From there, we can decide whether the message is helpful or not and whether to act on the urge or override it.  

 

Dealing with Painful Emotions

Once we are able to pause, take a step back, and call our emotion by its name, we’ve already begun to make space for it, to allow it to be there. As we examine our emotions with curiosity, we can reflect on whether acting on them is in our best interest. The goal is to take the input from your feelings under consideration but to stay in the driver’s seat of your actions. And sometimes the best course of action, the one that keeps you moving in the direction that is right for you, is simply to be patient. All emotions, even the most intense and difficult ones, will pass if we let them. If we do not add fuel to the fire and, instead, know that we won’t drown in them if we just stay mindful and compassionate, they will burn out.

I heard this quote the other day that so deeply resonated. 

Emotions aren’t math problems to be solved. They’re sunsets to be experienced.

If that didn’t immediately make you pause, read it again.

Emotions are not math problems to be solved. They are sunsets to be experienced.

That shift in perspective leads to a fundamentally different way of relating to your emotions, a new way to be with them, especially the unpleasant ones. It allows you to make space for and explore with curiosity the very human experience of emotions.

Instead of judging feelings and falling into the trap that comes from having “bad” feelings, we need to accurately recognize them and precisely name them, open ourselves up to having them so that we can explore them with curiosity, glean their message, then move forward intentionally. We need to bask in those sunsets. Doing so isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Fortunately, we can all build psychological strength, including those skills of emotional intelligence and acceptance, which, among many others, we teach inside our Ascend program. If you are interested in building your own psych strength, consider enrolling in Ascend or our brand new live Quarterly Workshop Series (or bundle them and get the workshop series free for a year).

“Emotions are not math problems to be solved. They are sunsets to be experienced.”

– Dr. Robyn Walser

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Blogs

Is Your Inner Critic Ever a Good Thing? 

Do you have an inner critic? You know, the voice in your mind who tells you you’re not good enough, reminds you of times you’ve messed up, compares you to others who might be doing better, and generally makes you feel smaller than you actually are? 

In the Ascend program, we talk a lot about the “committee in your mind.” This is the set of voices that we all deal with on a constant basis, every single day. They chatter at us constantly, and some of them are incredibly unhelpful.

For many of us, our critical inner voice is an extremely loud committee member. But, have you ever considered whether our inner critic is a good thing?

Stayin’ Alive

If the Bee Gee’s are currently playing in your head right now, you’re welcome!

As we explore this ridiculous-sounding question, it’s important to remember a basic principle of our mind: it’s job is to keep us alive, while expending the least amount of energy possible.

To accomplish this, our mind relies on a very small toolkit of tactics that attempt to keep us from doing anything that is:

  • New
  • Uncertain
  • Risky
  • Ambiguous
  • Bigger than we’ve done in the past

It does this by sending us a slew of anxiety-producing, self-doubt-producing, unhelpful chatter….many times, in the form of our inner critic.

So, from that standpoint, your inner critic actually has your best interest at heart. It’s trying to keep you safe. It’s trying to direct your thoughts and feelings in a way to positively shape your life experiences. 

Build Your Relationship

Trying to keep us safe or not, for many of us, our inner critic isn’t all that helpful. We set a big goal, speak up in a meeting, talk to someone new, pursue a new project, and our inner critic steps in to deter us. 

And here’s the thing, you can’t stop it from happening. Contrary to what internet gurus will try to tell you, hard science shows that we can’t control our thoughts. (Bee Gees, Bee Gees, Bee Gees….see!)

But, even though we can’t completely silence our inner critic, we CAN decide the relationship we want to have with them.

In the case of your inner critic, think about what kind of relationship would be most HELPFUL for you to have with this roommate in your mind who isn’t going anywhere.

Many of us naturally gravitate toward a relationship where we’re somewhat of an employee and our inner critic is a boss figure. This is why our inner critic controls our behavior so easily.

But, what if you took a different approach? What if you cultivated a parent-child relationship?

What if you are the parent and your inner critic is a 2-year-old child? What if you responded to your inner critic’s chatter in the same way you’d respond to a 2-year-old’s tantrum. You’re aware of it, but you’ve simply decided not to engage with it or give it any more fuel.  

Or, yet another example, what if you decide that your inner critic is your paranoid friend? They love you and have your best interest at heart, but you just don’t put a lot of stock in their cautious warnings.

Choose Your Relationship

You can see how each of these examples shifts the power balance from your inner critic holding all the power to you being in a position of power over your inner critic.

They still squawk at you constantly, but your relationship with them is different. You don’t give as much credibility to what they’re saying. And as a result, they have less real influence over you and your behavior.

You get to choose the relationship you have with this inner voice who is just trying to save you from yourself. 

Maybe you don’t need saving.

Try It Out

As with any psych strength building exercises, this one won’t work unless you do it. So, try it out!

Decide now the relationship you want to have with your inner critic. Then, the next time it gets loud, respond compassionately from the position of this new relationship. 

Tell it, “Thank you. I know you mean well, but I’ve got this. I really can handle myself.”

Try this out and see how you feel. And check out the Ascend program if you want to know more about the “committee in your mind” and how to lessen their impact on you.

“It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life. It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power.”
― Robert Kiyosaki
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Blogs

Watch Out for These Red Flag Words

Language matters, perhaps more than you might realize. Take, for example, the scenario you’re running late to meet a friend. When you arrive, you say one of two things

“I’m sorry I was late.” vs. “Thanks for your patience.” 

One signals to both you and your friend that you messed up. Cue guilt for you and irritation for them. The other primes you both for positive emotions like appreciation and respect. Both acknowledge that you were late, but the language used produces very different results

Let’s take another example. You have a hard task to do, and you say to yourself:

“I have to…“ vs. “I get to…

The first leads to dread while the second promotes something else, perhaps gratitude, excitement, or motivation. The second may help you tap into your values and make the difficult task feel more worthwhile. Notice that there’s only one little word that’s different, yet the sentiment changes pretty significantly.

Language shapes out thinking, which, in turn, influences our feelings and actions. That makes language incredibly important. In the 15 or so years that I’ve been working with people within my psychology practice, I’ve learned to pay attention to red flag words.

Red Flag Words

 Red flag words are ones that consistently signal problematic patterns of thinking; that is, thinking that is likely to drive unnecessary anxiety, sadness, guilt, or anger and/or urge you to take unhelpful actions. Training yourself to catch and change these red flags – or at least notice and disregard them – can be incredibly powerful. 

1.     Should

If you’ve been with us for a while (or have ever had a conversation with me) then you may have heard my soap box about should. It’s the Mean Girls of the English language – criticism and judgment packaged as something helpful. Shoulds are expectations, and they are often unrealistic. Even when the expectations sound realistic, though, reality often doesn’t match them, which leads to internal ick. Don’t take my word for it. Pay attention to what happens when you should on yourself or someone else. I can almost guarantee that the outcome is a feeling of anxiety, guilt, or anger. One of the best things I’ve ever done for myself is ban the word should from my mental vocabulary. A handy trick to start with is to catch the should. Then, try to rephrase the sentence with “I want to _____ because_____.” If you can’t accurately and realistically capture the same sentiment, it’s an unhelpful should. Kick it out! 

2.     Yeah but

This red flag signals negativity, specifically a negative thinking pattern called discounting the positive. Our brains are wired for negativity, which makes them really good at noticing all of the problems, flaws, and downsides. Yeah but is your mind essentially honing in on the negative, like a heat seeking missile. How’s this for an illustration: “I just won the lottery! Yeah but, I’m going to have to pay taxes on that free money.” Kind of dampens things, doesn’t it? When you catch the yeah but, follow it up with a but at least. “But at least I’m getting a whole pile of unexpected money, and it only cost me $1 for the lottery ticket!”

3.     What if

What if is a worry. Worry is your mind looking for and trying to predict anything that could go wrong. While helpful at times, the effect is that you feel anxious or worried in the here and now…even though NONE of those potential bad things are actually happening. When your mind starts to throw out those what ifs, I encourage you to respond by saying, “What if is a worry.” Then shift your attention back to the present moment and what is actually happening. If you can’t disregard the what ifs, at least make your mind do some work to balance the picture. For every negative (and they’re almost always negative, aren’t they?) what if, make your mind find a potential positive what if as well. “What if I tell them how I really feel about it, and they get mad?” “Well, what if I tell them how I feel about it, and they listen appreciatively, and we resolve the whole situation?”

4.     Always and Never

Extremes like always and never or everyone and no one signal black-or-white thinking and are another sneaky form of negativity. Very rarely does someone always or never do something, and when you generalize in the extreme like that, you’re creating problems for you and them. Notice how different “You never listen to me” sounds from “Sometimes, you don’t listen to me.” (Better yet, soften it even more with “Sometimes, it seems like you’re not listening.”) Which one is likely more accurate? When you catch the always and nevers, ask yourself, “Is this true 100% of the time in 100% of situations? There are truly zero exceptions?” If not, choose a more accurate word like sometimes/often/frequently or some/many/a lot of people.

5.     I’m just…

I’m just…making an excuse. Just is for justification, which is a fancy excuse or rationalization. It may seem harmless, and frankly, it may be in some scenarios. Other times, however, it undermines your message or keeps you from doing hard but necessary work like taking responsibility for missteps or making changes, especially within relationships. Imagine that a coworker raises a concern about the quality of some work, and you respond with “Well, I was just trying to get the project done before the deadline.”  While that may feel true, it’s coming from a defensive place with the intent of deflecting blame. It does nothing to acknowledge the situation, take ownership, or make a plan to address or fix it. Instead, something like the following seems a lot more helpful: “The deadline was tight, and I felt a lot of pressure to get everything done in a timely fashion. I didn’t intend to sacrifice the quality of my work. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.” The dialogue that follows is likely to feel a lot different. Instead of just justifying your actions, feelings, needs, or perspective, try owning them.

As Dr. April and I love to say, your mind can be your most valuable asset or your biggest barrier. You get to choose. So watch out for these red flag words and train your thinking to be more helpful and accurate. And if you want to learn more ways to make your mind work for you, check out Ascend, our comprehensive psych strength program.

“Change your language and you change your thoughts.”
 – Karl Albrecht
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Blogs

How A Skinned Knee Had Me Feeling Grateful

I have to share a painful/slightly hilarious story with you.

I’m currently training for my first half-marathon. Yesterday, I was a little over 7 miles into my planned 8 mile run, and I was feeling good. Really good, in fact, so I picked up the pace. I crossed 75th Street, the busiest intersection on my route, and the next thing I know, my face was plummeting toward the ground.

  • “What’s happening?”
  • “I’m falling!”
  • “This is bad!”
  • “My face is going to hit the pavement.”
  • Images of teeth shattering (one of my front teeth is already half fake because of a bike riding/pavement situation as a kid)
  • “I’m hurt!”

Those were the thoughts that blinked through my mind in a jumbled instant.

Thankfully, I was able to stop my momentum at the last second, with my face hovering an inch from the ground, teeth intact. Stunned, I pushed myself up as a red minivan pulled into the nearby parking lot to make sure I was ok (did I mention it was a busy intersection? There were SO MANY cars stopped at the light, witnessing my fall.)

I was also able to stop my mind. Paying attention to the present moment I began to look around and breathe through my emotions.

Then another thought entered my mind: “You fell. You can’t run anymore.”

Fortunately, I was able to set that thought aside before it could take hold. I quickly assessed the damage, realized I was shaken but not seriously injured, got up, and finished my run. I even beat my goal time.

I was on a path I’d traversed 100 times. I didn’t feel myself trip or stumble. I didn’t see it coming. Yet, I fell. Hard. And it sucked. Yet I called in some positive emotions. 

And I got back up and persevered.

As I finished my run then bandaged myself up at home, I reflected on what happened, and this is where the feelings of gratitude came in. 

Gratitude is more than a throwaway emotion. It’s a verb. An active, not a passive thing. Truly being grateful, meaning that we are actively feeling and showing that gratitude, is really more of an action taking place.

I was feeling grateful to my past self for all the hard work she’s done to build psychological strength. That work was the reason I was able to get up and move forward so quickly. I had my eye on the goal and a clear sense of who I am.

  • I’m the kind of person who can handle painful things.
  • I’m the kind of person who doesn’t let my mind take me off course.
  • I’m the kind of person who isn’t afraid of failure.

I can handle painful things.

I don’t like pain. I mean, who does? Yet, aspects of psychological strength help me move through painful experiences without getting crushed. 

Yesterday, it was my mindfulness and acceptance skills that allowed me to notice and assess the painful sensations throughout my body without my mind turning up the pain volume. I didn’t realize when I started cultivating these particular skills just how crucial and widely applicable they’d be.

I don’t let my mind take me off course.

Minds are masterful excuse generators. They are SO GOOD at making up reasons and giving us justifications for not doing hard or uncomfortable things. Part of the psych strength work I’ve been focusing on lately is noticing when my mind is giving me those excuses, even the really plausible, completely rational sounding ones like “You just fell. You can’t run anymore.”

The reality is, I was stunned, slightly embarrassed, and in pain, but I wasn’t really injured. I saw the Excuse Generator for what it was and quelled it before it even had a chance to really get going.

I am not afraid of failure.

This one hasn’t always been true me. As a (mostly) recovered perfectionist, I’ve had to do a lot of work to redefine my relationship with failure so that it doesn’t hold me back, and it’s an ongoing process. Even after all the work I’ve done, deep down I still don’t like being wrong, making mistakes, or failing. It’s disappointing, and it hurts, especially when you’re feeling really confident and don’t see it coming.

That said, I am getting much better at picking myself up, dusting myself off, and persevering despite bruises (to my body or my ego). I’m steadily working on becoming the kind of person who Is not afraid to falter, who can own mistakes without internal angst, and who can even find the humor in my biggest fails.

I am grateful.

So here I am, a 40 year old woman with a bandaged up skinned knee and a deep sense of gratitude. I am grateful for the work I’ve done to build my psychological strength, for the community who supports my journey, and for the opportunity to help others.

I practice what we teach at Peak Mind every day, and it’s had a real impact on my life experience. I want the same for you.

That’s why we created ASCEND, our most comprehensive endeavor to date. ASCEND includes the best of everything we know that goes into building psychological strength.

You, too, can have a strong sense of who you are and be the kind of person you want to be. You, too, can pick yourself up and move forward through painful times. You can build skills like mindfulness and acceptance, and you can learn to find the bright spots even in the darkest moments. 

You won’t regret the effort you put into building psychological strength. I know I haven’t. 

“Failures are like skinned knees, painful but superficial.”
– Ross Perot
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Podcasts

The Annoying Roommate in Your Mind

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Deciphering the inner voice that deserves our attention is our focus today, and prioritizing the internal monologue that is most beneficial.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. The pretty Instagram post that says, “You are not your thoughts.” Heck, we’ve even posted that exact post from the Peak Mind account! 

But, you might be wondering what that even means, and that’s what we’re diving into with this week’s episode of the podcast. 

You see, here’s the thing: our minds are thought-generating machines. It’s their jobs. Our minds sending us a constant slew of thoughts is as natural as our stomach growling when we’re hungry. 

Deciding which internal speech to listen to, and which internal dialogue to pay attention to especially when problem-solving or working through critical thoughts can be a challenge. There are good types of inner speech that people experience but the most beneficial are those that help us see other points of view. But some forms of inner speech can be damaging to our mental health.

Like a bad roommate, you know the type, the one that sprawls their mail across the living room table, is late on paying the rent, only wants to watch TV when you need to study or work, leaves a collection of drinks never on the coaster – we have all had that roommate. You might have even thought, how to get rid of your annoying roommate, bendy straws and all; but when that roommate, full of distractions and carelessness is inside your head, it’s hard to find the peace of mind you need. Some might benefit from a restraining order against that roommate, but you can’t do the same with aspects of your subconsciousness. 

But, many times, those thoughts feel “authentic.” They feel like they’re something we’ve intentionally decide or believe. They dictate our feelings and even our behaviors, even if it means we avoid doing something we really and truly want to do. 

In the short amount of time during this podcast, we’re diving into the ways in which our minds generate thoughts. Times when those thoughts are helpful, and times when they aren’t.  

Finally, we talk about a set of tools and techniques you can begin using RIGHT NOW to start separating yourself from the thoughts that are unhelpful.  

You’ll be hard-pressed to find an aspect of your life that isn’t impacted by the processes we’re digging into in this episode. For that reason, I hope you’ll give this episode a listen and implement some of the techniques we describe.  

Your thoughts are separate from you, and you do not have to obey them, but it takes psychological strength.  

INTRODUCING ASCEND! 

During this episode, we announced the beta release of our signature psych strength building program, Ascend. We couldn’t be more excited to send this baby out into the world! 

As a beta program, we’re releasing it at the lowest price it will ever be. If you’ve ever considered doing something for yourself. To build your own psychological strength and resilience. To dive deep into understanding yourself. To design your life around YOU. This program is for you. 

Learn more at www.peakmindpsychology.com/ascend