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Videos

The One Thing You Should Know About Your Mind

Here’s the one, foundational thing that this psychologist wishes everyone knew about how their minds work. 

Licensed clinical psychologist and Peak Mind co-founder Dr. Ashley Smith shares the one foundational thing she wishes everyone knew. Stomachs growl, hearts beat, and minds think. Understanding that thoughts are just productions of your mind and not necessarily meaningful or truthful is important. Furthermore, learning about the glitches in our thinking and the ways in which our thoughts become distorted or twisted is important. With this knowledge, we can set our thoughts aside while we pursue our strengths, goals, and values.  

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Videos

How to get rid of negative thoughts and feelings

Do you have negative thoughts or feelings? Do you want to get rid of them? Here’s the secret for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings from a psychologist. 

Everyone has negative thoughts and feelings. Whether it’s worries, self-criticism, or rumination or emotions like anxiety, sadness, or anger, we don’t like having certain thoughts or experiencing certain feelings. And we try a lot of things to get rid of them. Unfortunately, a lot of the things we do to get rid of negative thoughts and feelings only makes them worse.  

In this short video, licensed psychologist and Peak Mind co-founder, Dr. Ashley, shares the secret for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings.  

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Blogs

Your (Obligatory) Holiday Survival Guide

Christmas and Kwanzaa are right around the corner (and Hanukkah snuck right past me). Maybe you love this time of year…and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re like a lot of folks who find it quite challenging. Personally, I don’t holiday like a lot of my fellow Americans, but I think it would be an oversight not to address the topic, even if it’s a bit late in the game.

In 2006, I was an intern at Children’s Mercy Hospital, and I had the bad luck of being on call for Christmas. That meant I was stuck in a city where I knew very few people, all of whom would be going home to their families for the holidays. My parents came to visit but headed home on Christmas Eve. I bawled the next day, alone in my studio apartment, missing everyone and everything.

The next year, I was in a different city at a different hospital but, again, stuck with the Christmas call. That year was easier. I had a friend in Omaha, and we did our own thing to celebrate.

The following years saw some holidays with friends in California, some with my family, and some with my partners’ families. I’ve gotten very unattached to any specific vision of what the holidays must be like, and, honestly, it’s been pretty freeing. My holiday stress level tends to be pretty low, but that’s not the case for many people.

The holidays bring with them changes in routines and schedules. Our self-care goes out the window. We hit the end of the year crunch time. Many people have the added task of holiday shopping, decorating, cooking,  hosting, traveling, planning, and juggling 9 million things. Others have salient reminders of what or who they’ve lost. Couple all of that with the pressure of meeting expectations (yours and others’) or not feeling as joyous as you think you should. While you’re at it, throw in (what’s typically) a cold and dark time of year and a pandemic we’re all tired of, and it’s no wonder that many people experience heightened stress, anxiety, or depression!

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to not just survive but thrive through this season. Now, I’m not advocating that you abandon your holiday traditions as I have, but I will encourage you to do ALL of the things on this list.

1. Let your values be your guide.

Get really clear on who and what is important to you, particularly when it comes to the holidays. Tune out the noise, the expectations, the perceived obligations, and put your time, energy, and attention into what truly matters.

2.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

When something less than desired happens, put it in perspective. Ask yourself, “On the scale of bad things, is this a paper cut or a nuclear disaster?” and react accordingly.

3. Make time for self-care.

Prioritize the basics like sleep, eating nutritious food, drinking water, and moving your body. Make time for whatever other self-care practices help you feel like you at your best.

4. Move with ease.

When we feel stressed, our movements get frantic, rushed, and hectic. Instead, intentionally relax your shoulders and move gently, smoothly, and a little more slowly than you might want to. This will help tell your nervous system that it’s all good. There’s no crisis. Relax.

5. Channel compassion – for yourself and everyone else.

You don’t have to be merry. In fact, there may be lots of reasons why you aren’t, and I bet the way you’re feeling makes sense when you consider those reasons and put them in context. So be kind to yourself! Offer that same compassion (empathy + kindness) to others, too. Adopt the attitude that everyone is doing the best they can at that moment. Try to understand what their perspective might be, how it might make sense when you consider the context, and offer them kindness, too, even if it’s just in your own thoughts.

6. Speaking of kindness, do one for someone in need.

Not only does this help someone out and add just a little bit of goodness into the world, but altruism is good for us, too. It gets us out of our own heads and our own problems and, frankly, it feels good to do good.

To be honest, I think this is pretty solid advice for any stressful time, not just the holidays, but I sincerely hope you thrive through this holiday season.

“You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
 – (often attributed to) Maya Angelou
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Blogs

Daily Gratitude Exercise: Daily 3-2-1

Several years ago, over a shared steak dinner at a local restaurant, a friend and I talked about all kinds of things ranging from physics to depression. I happened to share this little daily gratitude exercise I use regularly at work called Daily 3-2-1 (full disclosure, I learned it from Dr. Caroline Danda). 

My friend later told me that she found the benefits of gratitude so transformative that she gave all of her family members 3-2-1 gratitude journals for Christmas. I hope it’s that helpful for you, too.

This exercise is structured in a way to directly counter depressive thinking, which tends to be overly negative about yourself, the world, and the future. You don’t have to be depressed to benefit from it, though. Think of this as a daily exercise to build your gratitude muscle. 

Practices like this cultivate gratitude and increase happiness. These can help train you to notice more of the positives in your day-to-day. Just keep in mind that this seemingly simple exercise can be a real challenge on days when you’re feeling down or days that really seemed to suck. 

Do it anyways! Especially on those days. The more times per week you do this, the more moments of gratitude you will have and the more you will naturally start to notice and pay attention to positive moments throughout the day.

Check out the Daily 3-2-1 Gratitude Prompts to elicit stronger levels of gratitude and lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. 

Much like a reflection of daily journaling, having a daily gratitude practice improves mental health, increases levels of happiness, and produces positive experiences. Practicing gratitude not only has a positive impact on your mental health, but your physical health as well. 

Even if you find it hard to feel grateful, try to parse out some good things in your life. Small gratitude meditations on a daily basis elicit stronger levels of positive emotions. These small daily routines to feel gratitude are truly a winning ticket to happiness. 

Are you interested in learning more ways to boost your mindset and build your psychological strength? Check out our foundational program, Ascend. Now, with your enrollment in the Ascend program, you can get access to our live virtual workshops each quarter…for free! Instill this sense of gratitude in all areas of your life. 

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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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Don’t Fall for This Sneaky Brain Trick

If you’re anything like me, you’re fascinated by how the brain works! I love learning about how our brains process information, the glitches in their programming, and how those natural tendencies influence us in helpful and not-so-helpful ways. Good thing, too, since I’ve spent the last two decades studying this kind of thing!

Distorted thinking patterns and brain glitches cause all kinds of problems. In the context of the upcoming election, though, one in particular stands out to me, and I want to make you aware of it, too, so that we can all work on keeping our thoughts healthy and helpful.

Black-or-White Thinking

A particularly common yet problematic brain glitch is black-or-white thinking, also called dichotomous or all-or-none thinking. Black-or-white thinking shows up when we think in rigid either/or terms. The issue here is that very few things in life are truly black and white. Black-or-white thinking creates false extremes that can lead to all kinds of problems, and it keeps us from seeing the world as it really is.

Take these examples, for instance.

  • “I ate a cookie, so my diet is blown.” What kind of choices are going to be made now, and how do those line up with health goals?
  • “Everyone is better at that than I am.”  What kind of impact is that thought going to have on continued effort and confidence?
  • “You’re either with me or against me.” (Hello, election season.) What’s the effect here on collaboration and effective problem-solving? What about on attitudes and emotions?
  • “If it’s not perfect, then it’s a failure.” How do those unreasonably high standards play out over time?

Are you starting to see how black-or-white thinking can create some problems? It becomes even more clear when we contrast it to more rational alternative thoughts like:

  • “I ate a cookie, but that’s not the end of the world. I can still make healthy choices for the rest of the day and minimize the damage.”
  • “A lot of people are better than I am at this, but I can improve with practice.”
  • “We have a lot of differences, but I bet we can find some common ground to work from.”
  • “No one is perfect. This is good enough.”

 Problems with Black-or-white Thinking

1. Negative effects on your feelings and behaviors 

You’re probably getting the sense that black-or-white thinking can negatively impact your feelings as well as your actions, and it certainly can! In fact, black-or-white thinking can also contribute to broader and more pervasive depression and anxiety, too.

2. Limited choices

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you had to make a choice, but neither of the options in front of you seemed like good ones? For example: either I tell my friend she’s upsetting me and ruin the friendship or I say nothing and just deal with it. Yikes. Neither of those sounds particularly appealing, does it? Pay attention to this one: Either I send my kids back to school and they’ll get COVID or I quit my job to teach them at home. Again, neither sounds ideal. When black-or-white thinking is determining our choices, we’re limited. We can choose black or we can choose white. Often, though, there are gray choices available. We’re just not seeing them.

3. Relationship damage

When black-or-white thinking shows up in our relationships, bad things happen. Most people are a complex mix of strengths and flaws, of good intentions and mistakes. When we view people in black-or-white terms, though, we oversimplify and filter out important information. We miss out on that complexity and that can cause some damage. Consider, for a moment, what happens if you view your partner in all-or-none terms. Let’s assume your partner did something that he knows you don’t like, and your automatic thought was, “He never thinks about anyone but himself.” How is that scenario going to play out? And what happens if you repeatedly think of your partner in that way? Moreover, what happens when we think about children or coworkers or bosses or even strangers in black-or-white, extreme terms? I’m not seeing a pathway to solid, healthy relationships here. Are you?

Recognizing Black-or-white Thinking

Black-or-white thinking can be sneaky and isn’t always easy to recognize. Fortunately, there are some red flags that can alert you that you are falling into this trap.

Either/or

If you find yourself thinking or saying “either/or” take a pause. This is a signal of black-or-white thinking. Your mind is only seeing two options, and chances are that’s a false dichotomy.

Extreme language

Extreme language is often a sign of black-or-white thinking. Words like always/never” or everyone/no one” signal extremes.

Shades of Gray

When you notice black-or-white thinking, I challenge you to find the gray. You may be able to do that by simply asking yourself if there’s a gray option here. Other helpful questions include:

  • Can it be both/and instead of either/or?
    • For example, can I be a generally successful person who also made a mistake? Can she be both loving towards me and occasionally do things that hurt my feelings?
  • Are there any exceptions? Is this true 100% of the time in 100% of circumstances? 
    • Does my partner really never think about anyone else? Have there really been 0 times that he considered someone else’s needs?
  • Is that conclusion extreme? Could there be another outcome?
    • For example, does eating one cookie really mean that my diet is completely blown? Could it, instead, mean that I practiced moderation and can continue to make healthy choices?
  • What’s a third option?
    • For example, are these really my only two choices? How might I get the best of both? Or what else could I do in this situation?
  • And, one of my all-time favorite, most useful questions…is this thought helpful?

Beyond the Gray Zone

I hope you’ll embrace the gray and make efforts to counteract black-or-white thinking. Keep in mind, though, that changing your thinking patterns is an ongoing process. You’re going to slip into these glitches regularly, and it’s important that you don’t get black-or-white about your success! It’s possible to both make progress on your thinking AND slip into old habits. How’s that for gray zone?

And, if you are as fascinated with the brain as I am, you’ll love our Ascend program, especially Module 2: Your Mind. In this section of the program, we do a deep dive into how your mind works and why it does the things it does. Through the educational videos and hands-on exercises, you’ll learn about different forms of problematic thinking. You’ll get really clear on how your mind works and when it’s helping and hurting you. And most importantly, you’ll develop the skills to turn your mind into your biggest asset. Click the image below to learn more about the program. 

It’s up to each of us to learn how to make our minds work for us, and doing so can have a HUGE impact on your life experience. The gray zone, with its infinite shades, is a freer, more balanced place to live. I’ll see you there!

“Don’t define your world in black and white, because there is so much hiding amongst the greys.”
– Unknown