Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to become more optimistic about future
Stress for Success
October 26, 2010

Would more money, a nicer house or better health make you more content? Are these the same things that satisfy happier people, too? If not, what can we learn from them to become happier ourselves?

Last week I wrote about the Positive Psychology movement, which finds that you’ll get the most bang for your happiness buck by changing how you:
* Feel about your past (covered last week);
* Think about your future (this week);
* Experience your present (next week);

So let’s look to your future.

Future-oriented positive emotions include:
* Optimism;
* Faith;
* Hope;
* Trust;

You must be fairly optimistic for these emotions to augment your happiness. Optimism is hope about your prospects. In these tough times it’s more difficult to remain hopeful, yet many do.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the University of PA pioneer of Positive Psychology, author of “Learned Optimism” and “Authentic Happiness,” and world renown optimism/pessimism researcher, has shown through extensive research that:
* Optimists and pessimists interpret events very differentl. Pessimists are more realistic but optimists are more resilient, healthier and may live longer, and are better at work and in sports.

Seligman has narrowed down becoming more optimistic to changing how you explain why good and bad things happen to you through two dimensions of your “Explanatory Style:”
* Permanence versus temporary: for how long do you give up?
* Pervasiveness - universal versus specific: how much of your life is affected by events?

Permanence vs. temporary: Pessimists see causes of bad events as permanent, such as not getting a job interviewed for:
* “I’m all washed up.”
Optimists use temporary terminology to explain:
* “I wasn’t on for that interview.”
Whose stress lasts longer? Who’s going to give up more easily? Being washed up sounds very permanent.

Pessimists also use expansive and exaggerated words like “always” and “never:”
* “I’ll never get a job.”
Optimists use “sometimes” and “lately.”
* “I’ve had some bad interviews lately.”

Opposite terminology is used when something good happens.

Pessimists use temporary terminology to explain why something good happened:
* “I’m lucky to get this job.”
Optimist use permanent causes for good events:
* “I’m the best candidate for this job.”

The second dimension of your Explanatory Style is Pervasive: how much of your life is affected by an event?

For bad events pessimists explain with universal terms and may feel helpless in multiple areas of their lives, like not getting the job:
* “I’m such a loser.”

Optimists use specific explanations and limit any helplessness to the bad event:
* “I wasn’t feeling well that day.”
Who’s more resilient for the next interview?

Pessimists use specific reasons to explain why something good happened:
* “I got the job because I’m good at math.”

Optimists use universal reasons:
* “I got the job because I’m smart.”

So, to become more optimistic and happier about your future explain bad events with temporary and specific causes and good events with permanent and universal ones.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Depression more common now
Effort-driven rewards more meaningful than short-term pleasures
Stress for Success
October 12, 2010

Isn’t it odd that depression in America increased along with our affluence? Shouldn’t it work the other way around? Is there something in our relatively prosperous lifestyle that’s an actual cause of depression?

The pioneer of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of PA, described two studies conducted in the 1970s in which people of different generations reported on their lifetime episodes of depression.

One might assume that the older generation would have more incidents of depression because of experiencing far more hardships from the Great Depression and two world wars, not to mention having lived longer.

But the opposite was true. Younger people were much more likely to have experienced depression. In fact, one study found that those born in the middle third of the 20th century were ten times more likely to suffer from major depression than those born in the first third of the century.

Here are two reasons that may help explain.

Lifestyle differences: older generations were far more physically active than younger ones. Think about some differences:
* Today it’s throw-away diapers; yesterday it was cloth diapers that were soaked and washed;
* Today you buy microwavable, ready-to-eat meals; yesterday, they grew, hunted, and prepared their own food;
* Etc.

Why might modern life along with its hi-tech gizmos, cars and microwaves be part of the soaring rate of depression? What might we have lost when we went from labor-intensive lifestyles to our sedentary ones?

“Our brains are programmed to derive deep satisfaction and pleasure when our physical effort produces something tangible,” says neuroscientist and psychologist Kelly Lambert, writing in Scientific American Mind (and author of “Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-on Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power, 2008.) She calls our ancestors’ hard work “effort-driven rewards.” They had greater appreciation of their efforts producing their necessities, which very importantly gave them a greater perception of control, more positive emotions and maybe protection against depression.

Other social scientists have suggested a contributor to the greater affluence/higher depression formula has to do with modern humans taking short-cuts to happiness. With increased disposable income and leisure time we bought more things (note the past tense) that brought us pleasure. But pleasures are short term enjoyments. They are sensory experiences accompanied by strong emotions (ecstasy, orgasm, thrills, delight,) like eating your favorite foods, sex or watching spectator sports. Investing more energy into pleasures gives you frequent upticks in happiness, but they fade quickly.

It turns out that we’re happier and less depressed when we seek gratifications. These are activities you do for the sake of doing them. They:
* Involve thinking;
* Are an expression of your strengths;
* Stretch your skills to improve;
* Are often considered “flow” activities;

Gratifications also lead to an increase in important, positive emotion boosting neurochemical releases
which improves mood.

Consider fighting the blues and depression by seeking fewer short-term pleasures and more meaningful gratifications. Next week I’ll address identifying your strengths that are at the core of these gratifications.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Motivation is diminished by rigid, internal rules
Stress for Success
October 5, 2010

Humans have a strong desire to be the author of their own actions, which is inhibited by two kinds of external influences:
* Obvious ones like society, your boss or family - even that early morning alarm clock or your kids’ crazy schedules;
* The less apparent but equally if not more restrictive controls are your rigid “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts;”

Regardless of which control is operating, exert control by asking, “What are my options?” Do you have to allow your kids to participate in so many activities? How can you feel more rested when the alarm goes off? To passively accept that there are no options equals stress therefore leads to a loss of motivation, if not to burnout.

Your shoulds and shouldn’ts often operate beyond your awareness making them more powerful. Rules like, “You should be polite,” “You shouldn’t appear weak,” you most likely learned growing up. You internalized these and they now control you in largely unchallenged, unconscious ways. They reside in your head and you assume they belong there even if in the same breath you resist them.

For example, people who endlessly battle weight loss, stopping smoking or drinking have their share of rigid rules (who doesn’t?), which often create a “Master/Slave” relationship that’s more pronounced than in those with no addictions.

On the one hand “I should lose weight,” sounds like a helpful inner voice. But what if the “should” represents the Master commanding you to lose weight, rankling you so your Slave resists? You may diet and exercise as you “should” or as your spouse pressures you to and you make some progress - for a while. But your rigid rules and your spouse’s pressure are both extrinsic motivators, which don’t motivate well, nor for long. Your internal Master demands compliance, which can trigger your Slave to sabotage your diet.

Charlotte Selver, counselor to very famous students like Fritz Perls and Clara Thompson, said, “If you dare to be fat, then you can be thin.”

She was referring to this Master/Slave power struggle: you pressure yourself to lose weight with the threat of hating yourself if you don’t. This creates resistance through unconscious sabotaging of yourself. To lose weight – or quit smoking or drinking – you’ll be more successful if you move beyond the power struggle and its inevitable self-hatred.

Counter your rigid rules by substituting “should, shouldn’t, have to, must” vocabulary with “choose, want, prefer.” Instead of saying, “I should lose weight,” say, “I want to lose weight,” or “I choose to lose weight.” Whereas “should” and “shouldn’t” predict you’ll behave in rigid, Master-induced ways, the more flexible vocabulary bypasses the Master putting you in charge of deciding if you really want to or not, which is the essence of motivation.

Additionally, if you’re motivated to quit your bad habit in order to take control of your health (intrinsic reason) you’ll have significantly better success than if you do it for others (extrinsic reason.) So take control by consciously challenging your Master/Slave dichotomy or it will continue to control you.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.