The Growth Mindset

Have you ever made a goal, tried to meet it, and thought to yourself, “I can’t do this.” The problem might not be your abilities; it might be your mindset. A growth mindset describes a mentality characterized by the following:

  1. I can grow from failure.
  2. Constructive feedback is not an attack on my work; it’s a chance for me to improve. 
  3. With enough effort, I can do anything I put my mind to. 
  4. You have the power to change your intelligence.
  5. Embracing challenges will help me grow. 
  6. The success of others inspires me.

Conversely, a fixed mindset describes a mindset characterized by believing that your intelligence cannot change with effort. Some people believe that you are either born with particular skills or not. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our brain has something called neuroplasticity, meaning our neurons can form new connections as we have new experiences. Neuroplasticity is at its best when we are young, but that doesn’t mean it completely goes away as we age. To learn, we need to take action and practice skills. Doing so will literally rewire your brain, leading to new knowledge and skills. Just believing your brain can grow will cause you to behave differently. You will achieve more if you think you can work to get smarter. It’s kind of like manifestation (turning the ideas in your head into a reality). When you tell yourself you can’t, you won’t. But when you tell yourself you can, you will. So next time you think to yourself, “I can’t,” see if changing your outlook changes your success.

What Would Your Higher Self Do?

Last month, we talked about internal family systems, which is the idea that we have different parts within ourselves that are often in conflict. For example, there may be part of you that feels betrayed and excluded when you find out your two best friends went out to dinner without you, while another part of you completely understands, does not take it personally, and is happy your two friends are able to connect with each other so well. You may be confused how you can feel both things so strongly at once. We all have an inner child who craves love and approval, and is sensitive to any signs of rejection or critique. We also have a protector side that is quick to come out to defend this sensitive inner child. This is often the side that comes out during an argument, or is your first reaction to a rude email. When we pause and breathe instead of reacting immediately, we are often able to summon up a part of ourselves that is wiser and more equipped at peacefully handling the situation. This part has more empathy and understanding for the person on the other end of the conflict. Some people consider this side of themselves their “higher self.” The higher self is the part of you that is less affected by your ego and sees things from a broader perspective. This part is able to interact with the world from a deeper place of love and understanding. This part is always in reach, but it may take some practice to be able to summon it when needed. When you are in a difficult situation, practice taking a pause to breathe, and simply asking your higher self to make an appearance. You can ask yourself, “What would my higher self do?” The more you practice this over time, the more naturally your higher self will come to you. You will slowly begin to experience more of your life from this place. When we can step into our higher selves, we are stepping into wisdom, maturity, empathy, and love. 

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, there are many online resources that may be helpful. We recommend the spiritual coach Bunny Michael, who has a book, podcast, and Instagram page which explore the concept of the higher self.

Internal Family Systems

We tend to think of ourselves as having a singular identity, but really we have different parts of ourselves that are often in conflict. For example, have you ever been around someone for too long and gotten annoyed of them? Maybe one part of you is saying mean things in your head and wants them to leave as soon as possible, but another part of you loves that person, wants them around, and feels bad for having those thoughts and feelings. Maybe two of your best friends are going out to dinner and don’t invite you. One part of you, your inner child, may feel the harsh feeling of exclusion. Another, more adult part of you knows that it has nothing to do with you and there is no problem with them having dinner without you. After observing clients in therapy in the 1990s, Richard Schwartz proposed that people have different parts of themselves which make up an internal family system (IFS). The more we acknowledge these different parts of ourselves, the more we can untangle the conflicting web in our heads, and use the different parts to help each other and aid in our overall healing. For example, when your inner child is upset about not being asked to dinner, your inner mother can comfort the inner child. As children, we are often helpless when bad things happen to us. For example, if you had an angry dad, there might not have been any way to escape that at the time. When you are exposed to yelling or anger as an adult, your inner child might have a strong reaction, as if it were still in that same situation with your father. Your inner mother can soothe the inner child, and tell her the situation is not the same as when you were young. You can even create your own inner father, who treats you like you should have been treated and helps fill holes that may have been left by your childhood. Parts work can also help us deal with the sides of ourselves we aren’t proud of. We can see these sides as a specific part, and recognize that there are other parts who wish to be better and who can guide this part. It may be most helpful to do IFS in therapy, but there are also several resources online that can help you get started on your IFS journey on your own. 

Experiences Make Us Happier than Material Goods: Here’s Why

We live in a consumerist society. We’re constantly exposed to advertisements telling us all the things we need to be better, and it’s easy to get caught up in this mindset. We all want to be happy, so what does the science really say? Research over the past decade has shown that experiences make us happier than material goods. Why is this the case? Psychologists believe happiness lies within moment-to-moment experiences. We can’t be in pleasant moments all the time, so while it’s still good to try and stay present regardless, the reality for most of us is our minds tend to wander quite a bit. Research shows that our minds actually tend to wander toward dark places, unless they have something positive to look forward to in the future, or something fond to remember about the past. So when you can’t live in the moment, the best place to reside is in the anticipation of the future. Research shows that anticipating an experience elicits more happiness, pleasantness, and excitement than anticipating a material good. Waiting for a material good involves more impatience. People also tend to have fonder memories of experiences than of acquiring possessions. Also, people are more likely to compare their possessions with others than their experiences. Furthermore, experiences are more associated with identity, social behavior, and connection, which lead to long term happiness. Even after the fact, people enjoy sharing their experiences and hearing about other people’s experiences more than they enjoy discussing possessions. It’s okay to invest in and enjoy material goods, especially ones you get daily or weekly use out of. But, with this information in mind, there are probably purchases you can forgo to save money and effort that you can then put toward bringing more experiences into your life–and the lives of those important to you! These experiences can range from bigger vacations to smaller weekend trips, to simple evenings at a restaurant or movie theater. It may be time to reconsider what types of gifts you are giving others, and what type of rewards you are providing for yourself. It’s time to create more happiness for you and your loved ones!

Are You Bottling Up Your Emotions?

There are many reasons we bottle up our emotions; we may be scared of being judged by others, we may be trying to “keep the peace,” we may not understand our emotions or how to deal with them, or we may be scared of our own emotions. Many people learn as children that their emotions are not safe to share; they may have been dismissed, belittled, made fun of, or simply ignored. You may have even gotten in trouble for expressing anger, fear, or sadness. This can lead to being a stifled adult. But hiding our emotions can backfire. It can put a strain on our emotional, physical, and relational health. Some signs you may be bottling your emotions include feeling like other people don’t understand you, feeling dissatisfied from your relationships, and experiencing a growing anger, frustration, and resentment with the world and others. You could be experiencing physical symptoms such as an upset stomach, digestive issues, headaches, a racing heart, and tension. Emotions need to be expressed in a healthy way, which isn’t always easy to do if you are not in the practice of it. Sometimes the easiest way to start is simply by expressing your emotions to yourself. When an emotion comes up, instead of pushing it down, let yourself get curious about it. Maybe start writing about your emotions in a journal, or start talking about them with a therapist. Eventually, you will want to be able to express yourself in your relationships. You can start with small, positive comments, such as, “I really enjoy eating dinner with you.” Gradually, you can begin to express yourself in more difficult ways, such as being able to say, “sometimes I feel like you don’t hear me.” While some people might push back, the right people will respect and appreciate you speaking up for yourself, and feel closer to you in the end. You will begin to feel more seen, understood, and connected with yourself and others.

Seasonal Depression

Have you been feeling in the slumps? Do you find yourself engaging in fewer social events because it is winter? Do the short days make you want to crawl into bed and avoid all responsibilities? You may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that is tied to changes in the seasons. SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Most people with SAD experience an onset of depressive symptoms in the fall that persist through the winter and are alleviated in the spring and summer. Symptoms of SAD include feeling listless or sad for most of the day, losing interest in activities that once interested you, having low energy, sleeping too much, overeating, having difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty, and having thought of not wanting to be alive. If this sounds like you, don’t just shrug it off as the winter blues. There are ways to help you feel better, because you deserve to. There are some things you can do without professional help. You’ll want to get outside as much as you can during the day to take advantage of the sunlight. Open the blinds to allow natural light in while you’re inside. You can buy a lightbox, and sit in front of it for about 30 minutes each morning. As always, it is important to exercise and keep a social life. Taking Vitamin D may also help. Especially if symptoms are severe, we encourage you to seek professional help. This may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy, and medication. Remember, you are not alone, and there are people who want to help!

Are you reverting to an old version of yourself around family?

Have you ever noticed yourself reverting to what feels like an old version of yourself around family members? Our family dynamics as we grow up play a large role in the formation of our personalities. Maybe you had to take care of your younger siblings from a young age, so you became “the responsible one,” who is maybe a bit bossy as well. Maybe your sister was constantly picking on you, so you became shut down. Maybe you were always told you had to be a specific way, so you became secretive, hiding the real you from your family. Once we leave the house and surround ourselves with new people as adults, we are often able to shift and change a little bit, to outgrow some of these childhood coping mechanisms. But then, once we are back around family, perhaps for the holidays, we may see some of these tendencies start to arise once more against our will. Maybe there is that brother who is constantly bragging, or that aunt who always makes a comment about your appearance, and it sends you right back to how you felt growing up. We are here to tell you not to worry, because this is very normal. Family dynamics have a very strong pull over us, and can cause us to regress to our old ways of operating very quickly. If this sounds like you, we have a few tips to help you maintain your composure over the holidays. First, we suggest reminding yourself that you are an adult now, and things are different. You have more freedom to act how you want and to spend time with the people you want. This family time isn’t permanent in the same way it was growing up. You also know more about yourself and the world and don’t have to buy into your family’s opinions as much. These people have less power over your life than they used to. Also remember that the way people treat you is often a reflection of themselves and really has little to do with you. We suggest doing a little preparation before a family event to get your mind in a good, strong place. This could involve doing a meditation or taking a couple minutes to choose a mantra. You can repeat that mantra to yourself throughout the occasion. We also suggest having a little debrief after stressful family time. Maybe that means going on a walk to shake things off, journaling your thoughts, or calling a trusted friend. Try to prioritize your own peace of mind and focus on the positives of being together with family. Making a little gratitude list each night about the family moments you were grateful for from that day can help shift you into a more pleasant headspace!

The 2:30 Feeling

In our society, we often pathologize low feelings, like gloom or lethargy. But in reality, all of these feelings fit into the regular flux of human emotions. It only becomes a mental health concern if these feelings are pervasive and long-lasting. But sometimes thinking such emotions aren’t meant to be there at all can cause us to fixate on them and create a story around them, turning them into a bigger issue. How can we approach some of the harder emotions we face healthily? Take, for example, the 2:30 feeling. Many people get into a slump a couple hours after lunch. Science shows that this is in part due to our circadian rhythms. Because you probably woke up early for work or to get your kids to school, your body naturally wants to take a rest around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Some countries, such as Spain, actually incorporate a nap into their work days around this time for that very reason. If you start to feel fatigued or dismal around this time every day, and you don’t know this is fairly normal, you might critique yourself for being lazy or unambitious. Then maybe you start feeling bad about yourself, which can actually cause the low feelings to stick around, and could even hurt your self-esteem in the long run. However, if you know that this little slump is natural, you might instead get up and take a bathroom break or a short walk if your situation allows for it, and just tell yourself “this is just a midday lull, I’ll feel better soon,” or “all states of consciousness pass.” Or think of something you’re excited about once work is over, such as what you’re eating for dinner, or the movie you’re going to watch with your kids. And remember, this doesn’t only apply to the 2:30 feeling. Hard emotions can come at any time. What we can do is remind ourselves that it is normal and okay for hard emotions to arise, change our relationship to these feelings and what stories we tell about ourselves because of them, and know that they will pass and happier feelings are on the way!

Living in the Moment

You’ve probably heard many versions of the phrase, “Live in the Moment.” Sometimes, we like to reminisce about the “good old days,” recalling fond memories of a distant time. Taking a trip down memory lane is natural, but clinging to the past can prevent you from being fully engaged with the present. It can be hard to get excited about your current reality. Maybe you’re holding onto a past failed relationship, or you can’t forgive yourself for a mistake. Whatever it is, it is important to recognize what that barrier is for you and address it so you can start enjoying the present moment. One step you can take to stop feeling stuck is to talk to someone who loves you and can celebrate your strengths and dreams. You could also write gratitude lists to stretch your mindset beyond your interpretation of the past. Lastly — and this can feel unnatural to some — move your body! Getting in touch with your body, whether by dancing, running or taking a spin class, can physically help you shake the sensation of feeling stuck in the past days. If you do any of these three things with intention, they will prevent you from missing out on the life that you deserve! 

Routine vs Ritual

What is the difference between a routine and a ritual? A routine is a regularly followed sequence of actions. Many of us go through our daily and nightly routines mindlessly, or on autopilot.  A ritual is a practice that is done for a higher purpose, so rituals are often approached more mindfully and respectfully. What if we started treating our routines more like rituals? Afterall, everything we do is ultimately for a higher purpose. We don’t just prepare and eat dinner for the heck of it, we do it to take care of ourselves, to nourish our bodies, and to experience pleasure. In your morning routine, notice all the little things you do to take care of yourself. You brush your teeth for your lifelong health, you dress to feel comfortable or confident, maybe you drink a cup of tea or coffee to feel alert and energized. Routines are stock full of things that you are doing to contribute to your own well-being and optimal fulfillment. And if you treat these actions with more respect and mindfulness, they will ultimately serve you even more.