Categories
Podcasts

Improve Your Mental Wellbeing with Process Based Psychology

Powered by RedCircle

The self-help and personal development space has EXPLODED over the past handful of years, and that explosion in content and complexity has left us asking one, simple question:

How DO we live the best, most aligned life possible?

Today we’re digging into this big, complex question with some cutting-edge research on process-based psychology.

Health problems and mental illness are often intertwined. Good mental health extends beyond positive feelings, but spending time taking small steps can improve your physical health and wellbeing as well.

Recently Dr. Steven Hayes and other researchers on his team examined over 55,000 research studies to uncover the 30 or so core processes that we can focus on in order to improve our mental wellbeing and the way we experience life. That’s what we’re digging into on today’s episode.

Today’s guest is Dr. Diana Hill. She is a clinical psychologist and co-author of ACT Daily Journal: Get unstuck and live fully with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Through her online teachings, executive coaching, clinical supervision, and private therapy practice, Diana encourages clients to build psychological flexibility so that they can live more meaningful and fulfilling lives. She is the founder and host of the new podcast show Your Life in Process and a co-founder of the Psychologists Off the Clock podcast. Diana blogs for Psychology Today and offers regular workshops in compassion and ACT for clinicians and the general public.

In this episode, we talk about what process-based therapy is. We talk about some of the core processes included in it and how to use them to thrive in our lives. We get face to face with some of the most basic processes of mindfulness and our relationship to our thoughts and how we can use these processes to pivot into taking the actions we truly want to take in our lives…rather than the ones that are holding us back.

Categories
Blogs

How to be Happy: 15 Practical Tips

You may not know this about me, but I’m a giant nerd, truly a scientist at heart. That means that when I got really serious about figuring out what it takes to be happy in life, I delved fully into the science of happiness by reading, learning, thinking about, and testing out everything I could get my hands on – studies, theories, philosophies, memoirs.

There is still much to learn, but certain themes keep coming up again and again. While I don’t believe that the quick fix/instant gratification route is necessarily the one to lasting happiness, this cheat sheet will get us well on our way.

1. Be nice!

Don’t be a jerk, and don’t let your children be jerks. That statement right there sums up a lot of the ones below, but let’s be a little more specific.

2. Do something for someone else.

Small scale, big scale. Doesn’t matter. Acts of kindness make you feel good mentally and physically. Believe it or not, altruism can even lower your blood pressure! You’re also making someone else’s day, so there may be ripple effects. 

3. Move!

Seriously, you have to move your body. Our lifestyles are so sedentary these days, yet our bodies weren’t designed that way. You can’t expect your brain, a (very important) part of your body to work optimally if you’re not maintaining the system. Besides, tons of data coming out suggest that exercise has antidepressant and antianxiety effects. 

4. Similarly, eat real food.

Real foods (with ingredients you can pronounce and without added sugar) will nourish you and keep you full longer. Hanger is real. You’re not happy, and neither is anyone around you. Moreover, see above for the whole brain/system running optimally argument.

5. Stop complaining.

Complaining brings you down and trains your brain to notice all of the negative things. Besides, complaining doesn’t usually change or fix anything, does it?

6. Instead, be grateful.

Gratitude is more about choice and mindset than it is about external circumstances (e.g., physical possessions). You can be a billionaire yet unhappy if you’re not grateful, or you can be a prisoner with nothing and yet be happy. Look around. There are so many things to be grateful for! Try focusing on all the things you appreciate, that went well, and that made you happy instead of all the reasons why today sucked, or try this simple exercise. 

7. Connect with people. 

Reach out to loved ones. Talk to strangers. Don’t worry about feeling weird about being judged or stepping out of your comfort zone (which is actually really good for you to do, by the way). And, if you are worried, DO IT ANYWAYS! We’re all navigating this thing called life and probably have more in common than we realize. Taking a minute (or more) to connect with another human being helps us feel less lonely and gives a mood boost. Here are two easy ways:

Basic manners, please.

Make eye contact. Smile (or nod or wave if you’re masked). Hold the door for someone. Say “please.” Say “thank you.” Like you actually mean it. It feels good.

Give someone a compliment.

It takes 2 seconds, and I guarantee it will boost your happiness and theirs. By the way, say “thank you” if someone gives you a compliment. Thank you is the appropriate response. Do not let your mind dismiss it with some self-deprecating, “Oh, I’m not really XYZ” comment.

8. Practice mindfulness. 

It’s been around forever, for good reason, and neuroscience and all sorts of other research is now confirming what yogis have known for millennia: a mindfulness practice is good for you. (Please know that I say this as a former skeptic. It took compelling data and arguments for me to really embrace this practice. Now I think it is one of the most critical practices for success and wellbeing.)

9. Get off social media, or, better yet, screens in general.

Maybe not all together, but definitely set some limits. You’ll have more time for other things that are more meaningful or more likely to boost your happiness, and you won’t be getting all the input that increases the icky “not good enough” feelings and concern for the state of the world.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

10. Sleep

It’s hard to be happy when you’re tired. It’s hard to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and anger when you’re tired, and inadequate sleep can compromise our health. Get your Zzzzs.

11. Learn something. Anything.

Be an active participant in life rather than a passive consumer. I firmly believe that stimulation is critical for happiness. Technology makes it possible to learn absolutely anything these days. Don’t tell me it’s boring. Don’t tell me you can’t.

“In this world, you are either growing or you’re dying.” – Lou Holtz (and a bunch of other people) 

12. Speaking of, start looking for the reasons why you can, instead of the reasons why you can’t, do things. 

Don’t let limiting beliefs, circumstances, or other people hold you back. YOU are in charge of your life, and you CAN make choices to improve it, even when the deck seems stacked against you. It is up to you to choose to be happy!

13. Practice compassion.

For yourself (silence that Inner critic) and for others. Operating under the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can really cuts down on anger and negativity. It may not change events or circumstances, but it definitely makes me happier.

14. Spend less. 

There’s a widely accepted cultural myth that money leads to happiness. The happiness that comes from acquiring is fleeting at best. Besides, if you spend less, you need less money, and how many people would be a whole lot better off if they didn’t stress so much about money?

15. You do you, and let me do me.

This is two part. One: be yourself! You’ll be happier if you’re not trying to fit some mold or live up to someone’s perceived expectations. Two: don’t worry about what I do (as long as it doesn’t actually hurt anyone or prevent you from doing you). Accepting others rather than trying to control them leads to a lot more peace, internally and externally.

Simple steps, right? At least in theory! What are your favorite tips and tricks to be happy?

“Happiness is not a goal…It’s a by-product of a life well lived.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Categories
Blogs

Peak Mind Pro: Finding Flow at Work

By now, you’ve probably heard abysmal statistics about employee engagement (only 1/3 of employees are fully engaged in work) and presenteeism (physically present at work but mentally checked out), which brings with it staggering costs in real dollars. Fortunately, we can turn to psychology for solutions. A robust body of research on something called flow is particularly relevant for helping employees find engagement and satisfaction at work, in turn, boosting productivity and bottom lines. 

Flow is a state of mind in optimal experience, a perfect melding of being your best and doing your best. Some people refer to it as “being in the zone” while others might call it peak performance or flow theory. Research shows that being able to frequently and intentionally put yourself into a state of flow is important for wellbeing and life satisfaction, and the workplace, despite grumbles about not wanting to be there, provides ample flow opportunities. 

What is flow? 

Flow is a mental state characterized by intense concentration and enjoyment. When we’re in a state of flow, or in the zone, we lose our sense of time and self. Time simultaneously speeds up and slows down, and we lose track of it. 

We are so fully immersed in the activity at hand that we stop being self-conscious and stop being distracted by worries, doubts, and that pesky mental to-do list. Interestingly, when we’re in a state of flow, our productivity goes way up. 

Positive changes occur in our brain, and we’re just generally better off all around. In fact, we gain more confidence in our abilities and ourselves after being in flow. 

Flow activities share a few common characteristics.

  • They are intrinsically rewarding. 
  • They have clear and meaningful goals.
  • Feedback is immediate. We know right away whether we’re on track or not.
  • We feel a sense of control.
  • We have intense concentration and no distractions.
  • We are completely present. 
  • The activity is challenging, and we believe we have the skill to meet the challenge. 

This last piece is especially important when it comes to identifying activities likely to achieve a state of flow. When the challenge exceeds our skills, we may feel anxious. In contrast, if our skills exceed the challenge, we feel bored. The goal is to meet in the middle, where the level of skill matches the challenge, thus creating a flow experience and increasing intrinsic motivation. 

Tips to Try

Finding ways to increase flow at work is important for employee wellbeing as well as for the health of your organization. Focusing on their skill set and your needs positively impacts you both. Just as chess players know their move three steps ahead, we as leaders must gauge this as well. This month, we’re offering tips for both individual workers as well as for leaders.

For Individual Employees

1. Minimize distractions. Flow requires your entire focus, so limit anything that pulls your attention away.

2. Similarly, get off autopilot. We spend a lot of time on autopilot, barely paying attention to what we’re doing, particularly with tasks we do repeatedly. Instead, make an intentional effort to fully concentrate on what you’re doing.

3. Connect with your why. Regardless of the task at hand, even the monotonous ones you do daily, can you set a goal that challenges yourself? Can you find a way to make the task meaningful and important?

For Leaders

Curate an environment that encourages flow states.

1. Offer opportunities for agency and control. Allow team members to make decisions about how, when, and/or where they do their work. Find ways to give your employees choice and control whenever possible. 

2. Set clear goals tied to meaningful causes. When employees understand not only what is expected of them but why it is important, they are more likely to engage. 

3. Provide clear and immediate feedback. Offer praise and recognition.

4. Challenge your employees but provide adequate support. Remember, flow requires a balance of challenge and skill. 

5. Promote competence by providing opportunities for growth. Are there ways team members can mentor others? Develop their skills further? 

Additional Resources

Our quarterly workshop series is designed to provide powerful and interesting information and skills to help you and your team(s) build psychological strength. Delivered virtually, live, or on-demand, these workshops are an excellent way to help support your team’s wellbeing and resilience. If you’re interested in learning more, we would love to talk with you about how partnering with Peak Mind can help. Email us at info@peakmindpsychology.com or contact us here.


Peak Mind is partnering with Heart Mind Institute to host the 2022 Best Year of Your Life online summit. This 10-day virtual event is jam-packed with sessions from some of the most influential psychologists, teachers, and visionaries, and it’s FREE!

Join a world-class lineup and get a jump start on your year. 

“It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur or to something resembling a work of art.”
-Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
Categories
Blogs

Mindfulness Practice, by a Former Skeptic

My mom and I are close. I’ve always adored her but, when I was younger, I scoffed a bit at (what I used to call) her Zen-Buddha-karma hippie interests. Like meditation. She had a mindfulness practice before people even knew what that was. She was into yoga before it was cool, so I was exposed to it as a teen in the mid-90s. I didn’t mind yoga as a physical practice, but the meditation piece, though, no thank you. 

In fact, I turned down a trip to Costa Rica with her about 10 or so years ago because of it. She called to tell me about this amazing yoga retreat she was going on. I was in until she shared the schedule, which included an early morning meditation class. That was a hard pass for me.

Keep in mind that when I rolled my eyes at her meditation, I wasn’t some young kid who couldn’t sit still. I was a full-fledged doctoral level licensed psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders. I knew a lot about the human mind and how it works, and I. Was. SKEPTICAL.

Make your mind go blank? I called B.S. MINDS DON’T GO BLANK!

Which is true, they don’t. The mind wanders if you don’t focus on the present, but it doesn’t just go blank. The issue was that I didn’t really understand what mindfulness meant. I didn’t get the point of meditation.

And that was a HUGE oversight on my part.

Thankfully though, as a scientist at heart and a clinician who continually strives to learn and stay current, I couldn’t help but delve into this world, and I am now a fully reformed skeptic. I’m 100% on the mindfulness bandwagon and strongly encourage everyone to hop on it with me. It is for your mind what working out is for your body…nothing short of transformative.

Here are some of the factors that made me change my tune.

The Data

Hardcore research studies may not do much for you, but they do for me, and the results are compelling. Scientists and researchers have been studying the effects of mindfulness practices (such as mindfulness based stress reduction or MBSR), and it is nothing short of a miracle. Regular mindfulness exercises:

  • Decrease anxiety, depression, anxiety
  • Decrease stress
  • Increase happiness
  • Increase focus and concentration

I’m into all of those effects. Mental health and wellbeing is my business! But here’s where it gets even more crazy cool and convincing. Mindfulness – a mental practice involving awareness of the present moment, simply paying attention to the here and now – affects your body. too. Studies have shown that mindfulness has done amazing things like:

  • Decrease physical pain
  • Turn off 7% of the genes involved in your stress response. Literally switches them off.
  • Boost your immune response (for example, researchers injected people with something known to cause skin rashes, but the people who had been practicing mindfulness didn’t get one!)
  • Even slow down the aging process on a cellular level

Seeing data like these was enough to convince me that this practice, which has been around in various forms for thousands of years, was legit. My direct experiences, though, keep me believing.

My Own Experiences

The actual details of how I incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my life vary over time, from informal to formal guided practices, and I’m not always consistent. Fortunately, there is always the option to simply begin again when I get off track. For me, personally, the top changes and benefits I’ve seen from this lifestyle practice include:

Self-awareness and understanding

Mindfulness has allowed me to observe my inner workings, gaining a better understanding of myself and my patterns of thinking and reacting. My ability to see these processes unfold in the moment has increased, too, which leads to…

Less emotional reactivity

I seem to be much more even-keel emotionally, less reactive in the moment, which is great because I feel more in charge and in control. I’m also much better able to sit with my emotions (to observe those sunsets, if you caught this previous post).

Pleasure in small moments

Because mindfulness is essentially an attention training process, there are some, perhaps, surprising side effects. One is that I’m more attune to the small pleasures and joyous moments in life. I noticed that I literally stopped to smell the roses on a walk not too long after starting my practice. Pre-mindfulness and meditation (Pre-M), I most likely would’ve just glanced at those flowers, if I had noticed them at all.

Patience

Another benefit, for me at least, is patience. Pre-M Ashley was ants-in-the-pants restless on a 3 hour road trip. Post-M Ashley handled a 13 hour flight…with an extra 3 hour delay…in stride. Very little misery. A surprising amount of pleasure. I blame mindfulness.

I’ve heard that boredom is an attention issue, that nothing is boring if you pay close enough attention to it. My own experiences echo that. I have rarely found myself feeling bored since starting a mindfulness practice, even when there’s very little apparent stimulation. I can be quiet and still (believe it or not).

Develop Your Own Mindfulness Practice

There are an endless number of ways to start to build your own mindfulness practice, ranging from apps like 10% Happier to Peak Mind programs like Ascend and our Quarterly Workshops (and, of course, you’re welcome to join those), but where I really want to direct you is to this amazing FREE online summit coming up in January 2022. 

Dr. April, Peak Mind co-founder, is teaming up with Dr. Fleet Maull of the Heart Mind Institute to host the 2022 Best Year of Your Life Summit. It’s 10 days of free content from THE leading psychologists, meditation teachers (including one of my personal favorites, Sharon Salzberg), and visionaries. (Seriously. I flipped when I saw the line up). It’s way more than mindfulness, but what a great place to start (or strengthen) your practice. See you there!

Categories
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. 

Categories
Podcasts

Tips to Survive and THRIVE through the Political Season

Powered by RedCircle

Brace yourselves, friends. It’s election season. Politics and mental health issues have gone hand-in-hand in recent years as high levels of stress have created negative impacts amid the political climate in the United States.

We’re officially in the full swing of election season, and most of us are FEELING IT. The gluttony of information, constant negativity, divisive content, and the importance of the outcomes have us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even checked out. 

There are a lot of blog posts and podcast episodes focused on the different mental biases that come into play during the political season. This is all-important content, but it is not what we’ll be reviewing today. 

Instead, today’s episode is focused on ways you can lean on your psychological strength to thrive through this season. To avoid some of the anxiety and worry that can arise that increase mental illness, even on a temporary basis. To feel more balanced and centered during political stress that threatens to upend even the strongest of us with the impact of political engagement long-term. 

We’ll begin the episode by talking about some key reasons why you might be feeling out-of-sorts during this time. We’ll cover our mind’s tendency to focus on topics in a black and white fashion, our tendency to focus on negative information, our bias toward creating ingroups (us) and outgroups (them) and our illusion of control. 

All of these tendencies are very natural and normal occurrences, but they make our experience during election season particularly difficult. 

Toward the end of this episode, we’ll turn to things you can do to support yourself through the coming weeks. This information is particularly important for those of you who might find yourself in an advocate or activist position. If you are fighting for something important to you, you need to take care of yourself in the process. We’d love to arm you with some tips. 

Friends, take care of yourself in the coming weeks.  If the 2020 election cycle was any indication, social media-driven politics can be a significant source of stress and even mental health professionals have to prepare patients to avoid a mental health crisis.