Monday, June 22, 2015

Redefining Success to De-stress

So often in life, we define success by the outcome for which we strive. We define success in school by the grades we receive. In sports, we define success as the final winner.  We define success in our careers by promotions, raises, or accolades received. We define financial success based on the items we can purchase or the number on our bank statement.  We define the success of our parenting, oftentimes, based on the behavior and success or happiness of our child(ren).
However, there are areas of life in which success is not so easily defined by the outcome. Relationship success can vary from person to person, relationship to relationship. To some, a successful relationship outcome is marriage.  To others, a successful relationship is cohabitation or honesty and communication. And yet, to others, a successful relationship is maintaining a fa├žade for their partner. And, the list can continue.
Life success can be even more difficult to define. There is no single definition to know when you have lived your life successfully. This is perhaps even more varied than how to define a successful relationship. Depending on one’s place in the life cycle, their definitions may vary and may take into account more or fewer contexts to define success. A child may define a successful life as having all the toys they desire. An older child may define a successful life as being popular in school. A young adult may define success by their relationship and/or career status.  A middle aged adult may define success based on a number of factors including career, finances, relationship/family status, community involvement, as well as accruement of material goods. And so the trend continues.
However, why wait until the end to determine success? Why not focus on the journey, rather than singularly focus on the outcome?  The journey often is more than it’s sum, or the outcome. The build-up of a relationship, the time shared and memories made are more than a wedding or commitment. The journey of the relationship is what is important.  Becoming a parent is one aspect of parenthood. However, it is the journey of being a parent, that is important—putting your child to bed, kissing their boo-boo’s, cuddling while watching a movie. It’s all those little moments along the way. 
And so it is in life. Noticing and being present for the little moments that make up your life. The moments of peace and happiness along the way, as well as the moments that build our strength and character.  Enjoying a cup of coffee early in the morning when all is quiet and calm. That moment while sitting in traffic when your favorite song comes on the radio.  Laughing with a co-worker over your break.  Comforting a friend in their time of need.  Celebrating small milestones made by your children.  Sharing a comfortable silence. Surviving a loss.  Stealing that extra nap on the train.  Staying up late to watch an old movie.  Holding hands. Feeling the wind blow on your face. These are the minute moments that make up our day to day lives that lead to the success by which we define them.

Perhaps rather than defining our success by the outcome, we should define our success as our ability to be present for our life. For showing up and experiencing our day to day moments. The little moments as well as the big moments in life. The happy and peaceful moments, as well as the hard moments. Living each day with presence and purpose.

Karen Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Overcoming Negative Thoughts: You’re Closer Than You Think

“I don’t want to have any more bad thoughts”

This is a statement to which most people can relate, and it’s the kind of statement many people make in therapy.  We work very hard to identify the thoughts that make us feel sad, angry, jealous, frustrated, and afraid, and when we find those thoughts we want to delete them from existence.  We want them emptied into the trash like yesterday’s garbage! It’s natural and normal to feel that way…. and completely unrealistic to accomplish.  Not only is it unrealistic to delete all negative thoughts from our minds but it’s unhealthy too. 

Negative thoughts serve an important purpose for our functioning and development.  The presence of negative thoughts acts as a reminder to be aware of danger around us.  Visualize how a person would act with no negative thoughts at all.   They would constantly leave themselves open to being hurt in relationships because they couldn’t remember the feelings of sadness and anger that comes with a breakup.  In addition, they would feel no sense of fear causing them to constantly putting themselves in danger, life-threatening situations.  Negative thoughts serve a valuable purpose, no matter how uncomfortable they make us.

The idea is not to eliminate all negative thoughts, but to reduce them to a level with which we can life and feel happy.  The only negative thoughts that we want to get rid of are the broken ones that cause us to feel false feelings.

In a study conducted in 1989, a group of patients in the psychiatric wing of a hospital were given a questionnaire to determine how often these individuals had negative thoughts.  This same questionnaire was given to individuals with no history of any mental illness.  The ratio of negative to positive thoughts in the depressed group was 50% to 50%.  That means that they had one negative thought for every positive thought.  In the group with no history of mental illness, the ratio was of positive thoughts to negative thoughts was 38% to 62%.  So for 100 thoughts identified, people with no mental illness have 62 negative ones while people with mental illness have 50.  That means the difference between being depressed and being happy is just 12 thoughts per 100!

Think about how changing just 12 thoughts out of every 100 you have in a day could turn you from a depressed or angry person to a happy, fulfilled person!  How much energy would it take to change just those 12 thoughts?  When we look at our negative thoughts from this perspective they don’t feel like such a mountain to climb.  Changing out negative thoughts is achievable and realistic.  Eliminating them completely is its own negative thought- and there’s one thought we can change right now.

“While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us”   - Benjamin Franklin

William Knor, 
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor