Reflection.

Reflection.

My experience this semester has been very growing. I completely believe that this course has changed me- irrevocably. It has made me exam my attitudes and behaviors. The course has encouraged me to take a deep, honest, holistic look at my intentions and myself. During this process, I have found certain actions or behaviors that don’t match my goals or authentic purpose. Such behaviors include: being down on myself; judging myself or others; bringing negativity into situations; acting on feelings of negativity or making decisions based on negative emotions; complaining when things are challenging; generally just not looking at situations in positive light.

Now whenever I feel the urge to take one of those actions, I think about a why I am feeling that negativity, and try to fix that instead of acting with a negative behavior. Sometimes it doesn’t work! Sometimes I still get grumpy. Sometimes my partner or friends have to remind me not to be down on myself.   But more and more often, I am catching myself before I have that negative reaction. I am beginning to be able to change the tone of the narrative in my head to one of acceptance and gratitude- one of love and non-judgment. I attribute this to both the tremendous amount of work I have put into myself, and the teachings from this course that have helped steer me in the right direction, that have been my road map showing me where to put my energy into.

I also have now truly come to believe that simply studying happiness and thinking about happiness makes me happier. It makes sense- we are all shaped by our experiences. Because of this course, the pathways in my brain that are about happiness have gotten a lot more firmly established. The energy that I used to put into thinking about how to fix my negativity, or reflecting on why I felt negative, now go to instead, focusing on how to be happy. This course introduced positive psychology into my life, and made me realize that I BELIEVE! IT WORKS!

I was in a pretty rough spot at the end of last semester. Coming into this semester, I knew I had to change my attitude if I wanted to change my life. I knew I had to actively try to be more positive and happy. Which is why I literally checked for an open seat in this class everyday for about two weeks. I’m pretty sure it was something like a day or two before add-drop that I actually got in. Thank goodness I did. I knew that I needed this course- I needed help achieving my goal of a positive mindset. I knew it would be hard, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. And while I still have much growth ahead of me, I can firmly say that this class has positively impacted me so much, and helped me get closer to living my authentic life. I will carry the teachings and lessons for the rest of my happy days.

Journaling About Food: A New Area for Mindfulness?

Journaling About Food: A New Area for Mindfulness?

 

I’ve kept a food journal at several points throughout my life, as nutrition was a huge deal in my household. A lot of what Professor Mountcastle shared with us in class was things I already knew from my mom- someone who researches nutrition and biology for fun. In my house there were no preservatives, grain fed meats, or any sort of processed foods allowed. I actually put all this knowledge to use serving as a TA for the class “Food for Thought” another topics University course about the food industry. Basically, through several avenues of my life, I know a lot about food and it’s really important to me.

 

I was a little late to the game on my food journal, I only actually got to record two days, yesterday and today. But what’s surprising to me is that yesterday I really didn’t eat much at all. I skipped breakfast, only having coffee, and then had a small meal, a few snacks and a huge dinner. This is unusual. I also actually exercised three times yesterday, so you’d think I would be famished. But I guess it makes me reflect on how I am inconsistent with food. Today, I ate like every other hour. I’ve been trying to cut out most dairy and processed foods in my diet, which has become much worse since I got to college. It got pretty bad for a while. I have always been pretty sensitive to dairy; it makes me feel sluggish and congested. But sometimes I get in phases where I reach for the ice cream every night- especially when I’m stressed. But since I’ve been making an effort to avoid it, and trying to reach for the broccoli or nuts or bananas instead, I’ve felt like I had more energy and more control. I don’t feel constantly bloated after meals like I did when I had lots of cheese, nor do I feel the need to immediately lie down and take a nap.

 

The food journal did a good thing for me- it made me think before I put things into my body. I am a vegetarian and I cook almost all my meals myself, as well as grow a few of my own greens and herbs in a raised bed in my back yard. Knowing where food comes from is imperative to me. I only eat meat and eggs if I know the farm that they came from, if I know that the conditions were humane and also that there aren’t any pesticides or hormones involved. I am very privileged that I can afford this luxurious lifestyle- but I also prioritize and shop smartly.

 

But, despite all this effort and thought that I put in to acquiring my food, this journal has made me realize that I don’t always put as much energy or purpose into consuming the food. I scarf food down- often to the point where I feel kind of sick after I eat. I eat too quickly- I don’t savor. I am not mindful in my eating process, despite the fact that I am so grateful and mindful of how the food got to me. Journaling about eating made me realize how unintentional I was being, and how this might be a reason I get nauseous so often. I don’t slow down to eat. I eat when I’m walking. I eat when I’m talking. I eat mindlessly while watching TV or writing an assignment. I spend all this money and energy on food and then I simply shove it into my mouth without a thought!!

 

I am trying to be more intentional with my actions in general. It’s funny, because I believe my self to be a very thoughtful person. I over-analyze everything; I put care and emotion into things that I feel others often overlook. Yet I am often careless myself. I am careless with my material possessions- I am very messy and throw my clothes everywhere; I am thoughtless with my body- I often flail my arms when I speak, or when I climb, I just scramble up the wall without making purposeful movements. I trip on a daily basis because I don’t place my feet with intention.

 

 

Long story short, this journaling process (even though I didn’t complete the full assignment as I should have; this is important for me to note, I’m trying to take more ownership of my shortcomings. Sometimes I make mistakes or have oversights- this makes me human) has really made me realize that eating is an important part of my life that I need to be more mindful of! My body is my home- I need to treat it with more care!!

Learning Self Worth through my Strengths

Going forward I want to start extending compassion to myself. I want to learn how to accept love and affection as much as I am able to give it. My personal mission statement is to “ foster active kindness, fierce compassion, omnipresent gentleness and militant positivity.” I was thinking about how I can improve on this statement and was drawing a blank for a while; the way I interact with friends, family, colleagues, and strangers is all dictated by these values. The only place I wasn’t expressing these values, I realized, was towards myself. It is a whole lot easier for me to be actively compassionate to others than it is to be kind to myself. I have high standards- I know I can achieve greatness, so I do not allow myself to strive for anything less than my best. I give 110% to everything that I do- it is emotionally painful for me to give anything less. I need to learn that I will not always meet my expectations- and that is okay. I am a work in progress, I am learning and growing and I would never talk to another being the way that I talk to myself.

 

One of my favorite poems by Sierra Demulder holds the line

 

“ Your body is not a temple. Your body is the house you grew up in. How dare you try to burn it to the ground. You are bigger than this. You are bigger than this”

 

 

Another thing I would like to do to improve the quality and authentic of my personal and professional development plans is to be more selective with my time. Because I am an activator who has a strength of input and is zestful, creative and appreciates excellences, I want to do everything and help everyone. I am constantly assisting people with projects or creating my own. I have so many interests and ideas it is almost impossible to keep up with them all. I want to start being more purposeful with my time, actions and words. I speak out a lot because I process things out loud. This is good in brainstorming spaces but can be a drawback in certain settings (such as annoying everyone in class with my constant commentary haha). I really feel like I take up too much space- I am working on this. I have always felt that I was too much; too emotional, too passionate, too meta-cognitive, too talkative, too energetic, too loud. The inside of my head is a constant barrage of “ stop being so much- you are going to make people leave.” I have been told before by others that I am overwhelming- this is my greatest fear. I am working on allowing myself to take up space.

 

“You are a child of the universe, no less than any of the stars; you have a right to be here.” – Max Ehrmann

 

I am working on learning this. I will use my strengths of gratitude, kindness and generosity, bravery, capacity to love, forgiveness, and positivity to try and overcome this doubtful and critical voice in my head.

Emotions, Connections and Mindfulness.

Emotions, Connections and Mindfulness.

        The Kabat-Zinn article really resonated with me because this notion of “now what” has been in the forefront of my mind for the past 6 months or so. I went through a pretty life-changing experience that was a turning point in my life. I found myself  in a situation that left me doubting every tenant of my being, all the ideals I had held close for so long had suddenly changed. I was quite literally faced with the question- now what? Once I realized that I could decide “now what”, that even though I was in this unknown and scary situation I got to choose where I would go, what my future would look like, and how I would handle the present moment, everything changed. I started seeing “now what” in all of my days. Every time I found myself in a predicament, I thought about the outcomes. “Either I’m going to fail this test or I’m going to pass it; either they’re going to like me back or they won’t; either I am going succeed or I am going to learn from failing.” Once I learned that things would either work out the way I wanted to, or they wouldn’t, and it was up to me to figure out how I wanted to handle either outcome, everything became simpler. I really love the Buddhist definition Kabat-Zin gives of stating how mindfulness is “being in touch with this not knowing”. This definition hits the nail right on the head. It is learning to live within the discomfort of the unknown. I choose to let the unknown inspire me instead of make me scared- it is a skill it has taken me a long time to cultivate.   As the Brown paper explains, and we spoke about in class, mindfulness helps promote attention. I have been the most scatterbrained person my entire life- I loose my keys on a daily basis. But through the practice of being in the moment and focusing on the present, I’ve gotten that number down now to loosing my keys about once every week (I like to think of myself as a work in progress). I have also definitely experienced an overall improvement of Psychological well-being; I feel much more secure and mentally healthy now than I did 6 months ago. I also feel more positive and motived just as the Davidson et all (2003) study Brown cites indicates.   I interact with the concept of emotional contagion every day. I am a smiley person- it’s just my nature. I notice that people tend to smile and laugh around me fairly often and I really attribute this to always exuding positivity, both actively and passively. I know that when I get around grumpy people, it tends to make me more grumpy and to stifle some of my optimism. I think it is really interesting, as the Goelman paper elucidates, that mirror neurons prompt followers to mimic the leaders emotions and actions. I was amazed that we can physically study the biology of how sharing emotions works- and it definitely back up my preconceived hypotheses. Mindfulness promotes positive social connections- I have both read this and lived this. I can say with certainty that since I have tried to be more mindful, I have been friendlier, I have been more in tuned to others feelings, and I have become a better listener. I have a hard time remaining in the present, so working on this has really helped my conversation and connection skills. Everyone wants to be heard; I think it makes obvious sense that our behaviors and emotions and connections with people are all linked to mindfulness. Just as we learned in class with the gap drawings, mindfulness helps you align your behavior with your core beliefs. I believe that most people have good intentions- it’s the ever present stress and anxiety and sadness of living in this often cruel world that often skews our behavior outside our ideals. I don’t believe anyone hurts out of pure malice; I believe people hurt others because they are hurting themselves. If you can view sadness, or happiness, or any emotion in a mindful way, you can recognize it and learn to sit with the uncertainty or discomfort.      

Using and interpreting my strengths

Zest, enthusiasm, and energy –

“Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.”

 

The strength finders assessments and exercises in class were extremely informative and fun! It was so interesting to learn all the different ways that we’re all awesome! The lessons we learned really hit home for me this week. I’d say that I’m pretty aware of what I’m good at- it’s always pretty clear to me what areas I succeed in. What are also always clear to me however, are my weaknesses. Reflecting back now, I realize that I spend a lot of time focuses on areas for improvement in my life. I am very goal oriented, which drives me to succeed, but also pushes me to be highly self-critical. I very rarely live up to my own standard. It’s funny because when it comes to other people I am always positive and grateful and compassionate, but I have a very hard time extending that to myself or taking my own advice.

 

Learning that it’s best to focus on building my strengths is a huge eye-opener. Beating myself up over faults was never successful; I never saw very much progress. I never thought of using my strong suits to overcome my weakness. Now that I have this knowledge and have my strengths listed out I can begin to shape my goals around them. I can use my zest, enthusiasm and energy ( my top VIA skills) to become a better listener. I can try to slow my thoughts down and appreciate beauty and excellence (my second trait) at a slower pace. I often get frustrated when people take a long time to speak or understand things. By the time they are halfway through their sentence I usually have formulated my response and have assumed what they mean. This has always frustrated me about myself, I want to give people room to put their full self out there; I want to make everyone feel heard. I also want to start showing myself kindness and gratitude. I am proud of my accomplishments but I want to learn how to accept my shortcomings.

 

As an activator, I am constantly turning out new ideas. I am interested in and care about absolutely everything and everyone. In the short term, I want to put this energy to good use. I think that some ways I can use this is by writing ideas down as I have them- I have so many great thoughts that many of them often get lost. On the other hand, perhaps I can try to be more selective with the ideas I share and follow through on. Maybe I can use my positivity and self-control and diligence to really cultivate my best ideas to put forward to the world. One of my strengths is fairness and justice and another is the capacity to love; these are really the marks I most want to leave on the world. I want to use my activator potential and energy to color all I do professionally and personally with these traits.

HQC

Compassion and acknowledgment are the two greatest gifts that I believe can be extended to a friend. As humans, we are all just trying to be seen in this busy world; seen for our authentic selves, and acknowledged for whatever way we contribute to society. I think true acknowledgment of another person is hard. It requires them first to show you a true part of their soul, and for you to reflect it back to them; I see you, I recognize the space you take up, thank you for being here. I think this goes hand and hand with compassion. Having compassion for others is taking the time to recognize joy and vitality in them. It is taking time to say thank you for being you, exactly who you are in this moment. No one else could be you. Compassion is sharing a human connection, for a gentle second in time.  Compassion and acknowledgment have really helped me form deeper connections. What I have come to realize is that when I extend them to others, not only does it create a positive high quality connections, it also helps me be more compassionate and acknowledging towards myself and my own needs.

 

I think that the “High-quality Connections” article makes a good point about context having a lot to do with forming high quality connections. I also loved the Menlo’s use of daily stand-up meetings. I think providing a supportive work context, and giving everyone room to share their thoughts is what creates HQC in the workplace. This method creates an environment of compassion and acknowledgement by putting everyone on equal footing, and acknowledging their views and hard work. I also think that the reason that High-quality connections are linked to improvement in cognitive performance is because having compassionate, deep interactions provides your body and brain with all sorts of good chemicals and sets off positive physical processes (such as smiling, laughing, maybe a friendly touch of the arm).

Competence in Romantic Relationships

Competence in a romantic relationship at this age means being a positive, supportive partner that fosters both your own and your partners self-growth. I think that these ideas are also true for later adulthood, but that the process is different in a college context. Young adulthood is a time of great growth and self-discovery. College is the time to figure out who you want to be in the world. Because of that, I think having true competence in a relationship at this age means giving your partner room to pursue their own interests and to make their own mistakes. Of course both of these are also important in older adulthood, but if you have a family or are living together, giving the other person space is going to look a lot different than when you live in separate dorms or houses. Also, you have to take into account the party/ binge drinking/ fraternity/ sorority culture of college, and how that might affect the dynamics of a healthy relationship. I think that the traits of healthy relationships and romantic competence are the same across development, but they interact in different ways at different periods.

 

 

The couples I admire most can make fun of each other. They are fiercely independent, and fully competent on their own, but they enjoy the companionship and support of the other person. They don’t spend every second together. They don’t get jealous, and if they do they discuss it and they don’t act on it. They don’t hold things over each other’s heads; they don’t keep score. Some challenges they’ve had to overcome are others liking their partner because they are so wonderful, and how to deal with that without being jealous or cruel. Also they’ve had to create a system of settling conflict that works for them, and of resolving fights. They’ve had to learn to overcome fear in their hearts, to reveal to each other, as Jean Vanier expresses, “you’re important. You might be important in the things you do. But there’s something even more important than what you do. It’s who you are.” I think embracing this in yourself and extending this feeling to your partner is the true meaning of romantic competency.

Depression and Anxiety: Helpful and Harmful?

Depression and anxiety can be helpful because they are both traits that have evolutionary purposes. Anxiety survived as a trait because our parasympathetic nervous system kept us alive back in the early days of humanity. The first humans had to overcome challenges of predators, food scarcity, and weather conditions. Just as our bodies’ physiology evolved to drive us to eat the most highly caloric foods we could find and rest as much as we could today (because we did not know where our food would be coming from or how hard it would be to attain tomorrow), our parasympathetic nervous system evolved to be able to switch on in an instant and provide us the energy we needed to fight off any attacker. The issue with both these traits is that now, we do know where our food will come from tomorrow (probably McDonalds), and the “attacker” that sparks our fight or flight mode is more often speaking in front of a class or hearing a startling noise outside- that is to say, usually not the instance of life or death it once was.

 

Anxiety used to be an act of survival. Now, it is an act of survival to withstand our anxiety. I don’t see the benefit to depression as clearly as anxiety, but I can speak for the importance of sadness. Our ability to feel connectedness and attachment is something very important to healthy human brain functioning. You cannot have attachment without fear of loss, i.e. sadness can be a motivating factor. Just as we spoke about in class, sadness is a normal reaction to life’s struggles and challenges. It is when it begins to interfere with our lives and become a constant that it becomes engulfing depression.

 

So it makes sense why we have such a prevalence of anxiety and depression- our physiology has not caught up to the fast-paced-city-social-media-instant-gratification-required society that live in today. But then why is it so taboo to talk about medication or admit to having a mental illness? The Kahn article highlighted a number of points that I found very indicative of the culture we have created around mental illness. We don’t want to be “crazy”, or a “zombie” or like “that girl/guy”. Another evolutionary trait humans have evolved is to blend in. When you embrace social norms you get to benefit from collective social resources. Just as in high school, life is a lot harder when you stick out. It’s easier to cruise by, lost in the herd. This is why it’s so important for primary physicians to be educated on mental health! Many people who need to see psychiatrist aren’t going to go because of the social stigma.

 

Speaking of social stigma, the readings about positive psychology really highlight another characteristic of our societal idea of mental health. You go to a psychologist because something is wrong with you. As Rashid posits, “ Clinical assessment has traditionally focused on identifying problems and deficits, assuming that they are real and strengths are clinical byproduct.” I think if we accept that anxiety and  depression are natural, normal parts of life and focus on the good they can serve us instead of the harm they can bring us, we would all be better off.

Reaction to Survey Results

It was interesting to see the results of my survey, because I never really have thought of myself as a thrill seeker before. Yes, I rock climb and love adventure sports; I love challenging myself. But on the other hand, I get exceedingly nervous in interviews and my hands and voice sometimes shake when I have to do a class presentation. I even have panic attacks sometimes when I’m high up on a tall climb. I get embarrassed easily, and if I notice my heart start to race I freak out! I scored much lower on the anxiety level than I did on the sensation seeking one. This really surprised me. I guess it’s because even though I am frequently nervous, my love for adventure forces me to leave my comfort zone. Pushing yourself to try new things is usually for the best.

I realize now though, in combination with my impulsivity, sometimes the voice in my head cautioning me should be listened too. I often end up saying or doing things I regret. I think what I really need is to take that moment of pause, of mindfulness, before I speak or act. I need to ask if the anxious voice in my head is simply being scared or is actually trying to look out for my best interests. A pro of listening to your gut is that it usually helps steer you towards the authentic you, but sometimes that can also be a con. Sometimes your wants and desires need a little bit of tweaking to be practical or healthy. My personality is loud, in your face. My cognitive style is frazzled, erring on romanticism and positivity, but sometimes lost to naivety. I am a very high-energy person, and my brain is always working overtime! I have been trying to work on slowing down recently, thinking things through. I feel that this is really the next step for me towards a more peaceful life that is truer to my long-term goals.

 

Week of Jan 25th Blog Post

The process of trying to be, create, and explore happiness is both deeply uplifting and deceitfully tricky. When first beginning to search for goodness, one assumes the answer must be simple; it is only after a few inclined steps that you begin to realize the hike to the top of the mountain is longer than you thought. I think that the secret to overcoming barriers of criticism, (both from the self and from others), barriers of ego and jealously and hurt, is to remember that we only have a certain number of days, and to choose to let this inspire us, not be our demise. We must strengthen our skill to “see into the soul”.

I know that in order to be my most authentic self I am going to have to let go of every part of me that doesn’t fit that image; I have a long relationship with bitterness and guilt. Although I see this in my mother’s heart as well, its impossible to tell whether she passed this to me from her stomach or from her hands. 50 percent of my disposition was given to me from my parent’s genes, I do not know which 50 percent of me this is, but I am choosing to believe it is the better part. I am choosing to believe that if I had a twin, what we would share would be our compassion and our strength. I can and will change the negative, the voice in my brain that questions and doubts. These parts are going to be hard to shake- perhaps I won’t be able to loose them at all. Maybe I will just have to learn where to put them, how to sit with them. The view at the top, my reward, my incentive, is painted only with kindness, with openness. With trust. The only way to build on this view is by bringing others along with me.