Friday, May 30, 2014

Changing Habitual Behavior

The greatest weapon in our arsenal is our ability to choose one thought over another. But our choices must be wise. So how can you tell if you are making bad choices?

If  you find yourself in the  "different set of circumstance, different situation, same old crappy outcome" trap, then you are ensnared by habits that do not serve you.

To begin to make better choices it is necessary to go back and examine and reflect on past events in order to find the strengths you have within. Many psychologists today preach that it's not really until adulthood that people begin to surmount the difficulties of childhood and to rebuild their lives. But let’s set the record straight. That concept goes back more than 2300 years . . . back to Aristotle.

Aristotle wrote that there are two times in our lives when our character is shaped. The first is when we are children. At this time our habits and attitudes are shaped by our parents and our early teachers who taught us the best they knew how based on what they learned. These early attitudes and habit formations were central to our character development. However, sometimes those lessons were negative.

To adapt habits that make you flourish, you must learn how to manage and maintain balance in your life. To begin this process, you need to look at your past experiences and be willing to take small steps to change the patterns of behavior or attitudes that keep you in the cycle of dysfunction.

Changing habitual behavior is a process. Be patient and be compassionate with yourself. Each of us creates our own journey of releasing bad habits and adopting good habits through conscious choice. Embrace those choices; embrace the changes. They are the catalysts that will improve your life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

More on Resilience . . .

Resilience is that quality, that ability that enables some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than before. Rather than allowing crises or failure to drain their resolve, they tapped a reservoir of determination that allows them to rise up strong and resolute.

There are several factors that make someone resilient: an attitude of optimism and hope, the ability to manage strong emotions, and the ability to see failure as valuable negative information.

Let’s talk about that F word for a moment. Failure stirs up potent social emotions: humiliation, guilt, shame. Yet, Failure is, at worst, a mixed blessing: It hurts, yet, failure can pay off in the form of learning, growth, and wisdom.

Learning is error-driven. Nothing ever invented was created right the first time. I recall hearing the story of Robert Goddard, a physics instructor at Clark University constructed and tested the first liquid fuel rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts, in March of 1926. The rocket flew to an altitude of 41 ft and landed 184 ft away, crashing into the snow. The flight lasted 2.5 seconds. Although the experiment was primitive, the flight was epochal, setting the stage for era of space exploration that’s part and parcel of our history. The local paper picked up the story and dismissed its importance with a headline that said "Moon Rocket Misses Target by 238,799 1/2 Miles!" The lesson here is that for Goddard, experimental failures were ‘valuable negative information’.

Some psychologists argue that adversity, setbacks, and even trauma may actually be necessary for people to be happy, successful, and fulfilled. There’s even a term for it: "Post-traumatic growth." To support this they point to successful people such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey – folks who credit their accomplishments to earlier failures and childhood traumas that pushed them to the edge of the abyss. Nietzsche: “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”

Setbacks actually force us to take risks, to learn, and to grow. Failure is an opportunity to change course. We must learn to seize it, rather than be seized by it.

Each of us has a considerable capacity for strength. And while sometimes it is easier to embrace being a victim of circumstances, that role removes the obligation to change. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. Instead, they rise above adversity—poverty, abuse, neglect violence, molestation or war—and forge a stronger, more durable character.

Resilience is the means by which we are not immobilized by hardship, but rather bounce back from it stronger, determined, empowered, and able to lead gratifying, flourishing lives.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Thoughts on Resilience

We all need reminders of the strengths we have. And we can cultivate resilience by embracing these three directives: by knowing what you have, by knowing who you are, and by knowing what you are capable of doing.
  • What You Have: strong relationships and connections to others, structure and discipline, dedication and desire, role models and mentors 
  • Who You Are: a person who embraces that Holy Grail of attitudes – optimism, who has hope and faith, who cares about others, and who is proud of oneself 
  • What You Are Capable of Doing: communicating your needs and desires, being flexible in your thinking, critical and creative in solving problems, demonstrates genuine empathy and good emotional intelligence, fosters good relationships

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Giving and Receiving With Grace

The practice of giving is thought to be one of the most basic human virtues, a testament to the depth of our humanity, and for Buddhists, one's capacity for self-transcendence. Author Karen Armstrong makes the observation that the concept of self-transcendence is bound up with the golden rule: "Treating others as you yourself would like to be treated." When we transcend our limited self, this rule becomes an inherent part of our own nature, and other people an extended part of our own reality. For this reason, learning to receive is equally vital.

When we say, "Please don't get me anything... I don't want or need anything" -- while that may be intrinsically true, or we don't wish to burden someone who is stretching an already tight budget, we are essentially shutting that person out. Giving creates a relationship between the giver and receiver. Giving is a way people participate in our lives, a way people honor us. And when we say no, we deny them the opportunity to do so. Generosity, both in giving and receiving, opens the heart. We must learn to accept gratefully.

When we are grateful we experience grace. The words "gratitude" and "grace" share a common Latin origin -- gratus, meaning "pleasing" or "thankful." When you are in a deep state of gratitude, you may feel the presence of grace. Reflect on this. As we become more mindful of the present moment, we begin to recognize the things around us that we may have taken for granted.

Psychological research finds that people's happiness levels are remarkably stable over the long-term. A possible explanation comes from studies in the psychology of gratitude. Yes, you read that correctly -- being thankful just may be the secret to happiness. One study found that people who were in the gratitude condition felt fully 25% happier -- they were more optimistic about the future; they felt better about their lives.

Learning to practice gratitude is one of life's most valuable lessons. As Aristotle taught us, all virtues have value and the virtue of gratitude helps to increase feelings of satisfaction with our lives and keeps us from falling into the excess of a greedy or entitled frame of mind.

There are many simple, yet powerful ways to practice gratitude on a daily basis:

•  Thank, separately, both the cashier and the bagger at the grocery store.
•  Send a hand-written "thank you" note when you receive a gift, however small.
•  Make "thank you" a common phrase in your vocabulary.
•  Give someone a heartfelt compliment.
•  Keep a gratitude journal. Each night write one to three things for which you were grateful during the day.

Developing a regular habit of being grateful is a discipline well worth the effort. As Cicero wrote: "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others."