Tip 3: Focus on the Positive Aspects (Part One)

July 16th, 2015

"Create a good mood"

"Create a good mood"DSC02292Information is only useful when it helps you reach productive conclusions and take effective action. Information that is limited or irrelevant will hamper your ability to create positive outcomes and keep your positive energy flowing. How do you know what information to pay attention to and what information to disregard?

The answer, interestingly, comes from research on marriage and divorce. Initially studies focused on unhappy marriages with the objective to learn how to avoid divorce. Not surprisingly, these studies revealed that in unhappy marriages neither partner understood the other well. From this perspective, the advice to strengthen a marriage was for each spouse to make a clear-eyed assessment of the other in terms of strengths, weaknesses and values.

While it seems sensible that an accurate understanding of who your partner really is would prevent divorce, it turns out that this is not the best practice. In the past two decades, investigation has shifted away from unhappy marriages and towards identifying the distinct characteristics of great marriages. The idea is to discover what lies at the core of these great marriages in order to help people build more lasting, rewarding relationships.

In his book The One thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham summed up the research this way: Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behaviors and believe it. Thus, the happiest spouses aren’t the most objective. On the contrary, happy spouses choose to focus on positive aspects, creating an upward spiral of love.

How can you apply this finding to unleashing your positive energy? Think back to the Cherokee chief’s story of the positive and negative wolves.  At the heart of this parable is the notion of choice, in this case, choosing your perception. Gathering data in an objective, unbiased fashion is only the first step. Your positive energy lies in how you choose to perceive that data. If you want to feel happy and put yourself on an upward spiral to experience a positive outcome, then you want to deliberately focus on a “generous explanation.”

This seems easy in theory, but harder in practice.  For example, if you live with someone long enough, they will drive you crazy. Work with someone for a long time and they will get on your nerves. Even if this person is the love of your life, or the best friend you ever had, at some point they will become problematic. You will be staring at your negative wolf!  Guaranteed. Why?

Because one day those quirks, idiosyncrasies, and eccentricities that you once found adorable, or at least tolerable, will become unbearable. This is likely to happen when you are under stress, when tasks are piling up or when someone else is also driving you crazy. Under these circumstances, your best friend becomes a pain, your spouse becomes insufferable and your boss becomes inhuman.

Notice that the person in question is now a pain in your neck not because of a change in their personality, but because of a change in your perspective. When you are stressed out, tired, worried, or frustrated, for example, your brain misinterprets incoming data, which results in negativity, distorted perceptions, invalidation and criticism. All you can see in another person is the negative aspects. It’s as if your brain is shining a spotlight only on the negative, so that is the only information you are paying attention to. No wonder your positive energy is shut off!

What can you do to get yourself into a positive flow?  Try this experiment the next time you are on a downward spiral, angry or annoyed at an individual or situation in your life.  Initially, you may not be able to find any positive aspects in these circumstances because your brain will not let you focus on those particular details. The first step to finding the positive aspects of a difficult situation may be to get yourself in a more neutral position. You can do this by focusing on the positive aspects in other areas of your life. These might include your children and home, nature, an upcoming trip, a successful project. Once your positive pump is primed, your brain will begin to see things in a more constructive and generous way. You are now ready to find the positive aspects and get your positive energy flowing again.

(Look for Part 2 to discover the powerful tool of reframing.)

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Tip 2: Get In Your Control Zone (Part Three)

June 4th, 2015


Here’s another way to show the relationship between your response and your situation.  It’s the equation: Situation + Response = Outcome

Oftentimes, we must deal with negative situations that are beyond our control to change. In these circumstances, to affect the outcome, you must concentrate on what can be changed by you—namely, your response to the situation. It is your response that places you on an upward spiral. Interestingly, we usually think about this in reverse. We assume that the situation itself produces the outcome when in reality it is our responses to that situation that lead to either negative or positive results.

Once I went to conduct a workshop and found that the room wasn’t ready and there were twice the number of people I’d been told to expect. That was the situation, and my response was up to me. I was annoyed, of course, but the situation was what it was and I couldn’t control it. I knew that if I remained irritated and angry, the workshop would suffer and I wouldn’t enjoy the day. Moreover, the people who had come to hear me wouldn’t enjoy the day and wouldn’t get any benefit from being there for four hours. The outcome was bound to be negative and not helpful for anyone. So, I changed my response from irritation and decided to just let things unfold. I decided my response would be one of spontaneity and that I would enjoy myself no matter what. The workshop was not just successful; it was one of the best I’ve ever done! By shifting my response, the outcome became positive, and everyone benefited.

To sum up, getting into your Control requires you to actively choose your responses to situations and events in your life.  When you are in the No Control Zone, you will be wasting your energy and depleting your inner resources. For example, you may be spending time worrying about how much money you’ll have for retirement, yet it won’t do you any good to worry. When you stop worrying and start taking necessary actions to prepare for the future, such as going to a financial advisor or reading books on investing, you have moved into the Influence Zone. If there are no actions to take, you can still choose to stop worrying, recognizing that worrying is fruitless. If you are continuously thinking about the past, you can enter the Control Zone by intentionally choosing to let go of past events. Remember, you are in the No Control Zone when you look to others to bring you happiness and success. If your spouse is in a bad mood, for example, that doesn’t mean you have to take it personally. Your wellbeing depends not on changing others, but on your own interpretations and reactions to what is happening in the present moment. When you put yourself in the Control Zone, you are creating your own empowerment and letting your positive energy flow.


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Tip 2: Get In Your Control Zone (Part Two)

May 7th, 2015



The only thing you always have control over is your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This is the Control Zone. You have control over your responses, your interpretations and how you will handle a situation. You have control over what you will do. To build conditions for success by unleashing your positive energy, center your actions on yourself and keep your energy focused in the Control Zone. By intentionally choosing your response to a given situation so that you remain in the Control Zone, you can have the most positive impact for yourself. For every specific event, there will be elements that you can control and elements that you cannot. If you’re thinking, “This is what I can do,” that’s good.  You are feeding the positive wolf.  You’re in the Control Zone, and you actually can have an impact and respond in a way that will be successful for you.

Let me give you an example about from my professional life to illustrate the benefit of getting into your Control Zone.  When I first went into private practice, I spent a lot of time in the No Control Zone. I worried about what would happen if I didn’t get any clients, if no one wanted to hire me as a consultant and if I would make enough money. Lots of terrible images and scenarios played out in my mind: I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills; I’d lose my house; I’d be a total failure. Of course, I felt terrible. I then realized that I was completely stuck in the No Control Zone because all I was doing was worrying. My worry was not leading to any productive results, only sleepless nights.

Then I shifted my focus. I thought about what I could influence. In terms of my success with clients, I had responsibility for getting the best training possible and being as good a therapist as possible. I would continue to attend workshops and get supervision. In terms of my success as a businessperson, I could influence building my practice so it would be prosperous. I joined the local Chambers of Commerce and other groups so that I could effectively get the word out about my practice. I taught workshops and classes and advertised my services at those events. I designed and produced materials to help people find me, such as business cards, brochures and posters. None of these things guaranteed that someone would come to me as a client or that a company would hire me as a consultant, even if they saw my materials and heard me speak, but these things helped people learn that I was available and influenced their decision to hire me. I saw each of these activities as a positive step towards building a successful practice and as an investment in my future.

By taking charge of my own thoughts, feelings and actions, I moved into the Control Zone. I stopped worrying about the things that were outside of my control, such as the number of clients I had each week. Instead, I began to work on changing my negative that were clouding my vision. I appreciated my efforts to build my business and to invest energy and time in letting people know about what I do. I was grateful that my bills were getting paid, and I truly celebrated every success, no matter how big or small.

In Part Three, we will examine another way to show the relationship between your response and situation, and then we will sum up the three parts.


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Tip 2: Get In Your Control Zone (Part One)

April 9th, 2015


Whenever you are faced with a situation that requires you to expend energy, there are three possible arenas in which you can focus that energy: the No Control Zone, the Influence Zone or the Control Zone. Picture these zones like a target.  The outermost ring is the No Control Zone, the middle ring the Influence Zone, and the inner ring is your Control Zone.  To unleash your positive energy, to allow this energy to freely flow, you want to aim your responses in the Control Zone.

Unfortunately, many of us have a tendency, especially initially, to put all our energy in the No Control Zone. When you are not happy or satisfied with a situation, do you rail against the situation, thinking it is the cause of your dissatisfaction?  If so, you have sent yourself head-first into the No Control Zone.  Because the reality is you have no control over the situation at hand. (Yes, you may be able to influence the situation, but more on that later.) When you believe the situation must change in order for you to be happy, you have disempowered yourself.  You are now a victim to that situation.  Here’s another common experience.  You may know intellectually that you can’t control things such as the weather or traffic, but how many times do you still become stressed when it threatens to snow or there is a traffic jam?  I rest my case.  You have just zapped yourself of positive energy by landing in your No Control Zone!

You also can’t control what mood your spouse, child, boss or coworkers may be in. Yet how many times do you hear yourself saying, “I want you to,” or “Why don’t you” or “You should”? These statements tell you you’re in the No Control Zone because you want someone else to do something, but the reality is you cannot control the thoughts, feelings or actions of another person.

There are two other common No Control Zone responses which you can fall into without even realizing it. When you are obsessed about the past, you are in the No Control Zone. Remember, you can’t change the past. When you are worrying about the future, you are also in the No Control Zone, because you cannot predict the future. All of the negative energy you spend ruminating about the past or fretting about the future is wasted. In fact, you can only take actions in the present. Watch for your responses and thoughts that put you in the No Control Zone.  They are energy drainers, and block off your positive energy flow.

You enter the Influence Zone when you try to affect the outcome of a situation. For example, you can try to encourage someone to do something by making a request or presenting your opinion to the other person. Whenever you say, “I would really appreciate if you would do this for me,” you are operating in the Influence Zone. Does that mean that the other person has to do what you want? No. It doesn’t even mean that they will do what you want after you’ve explained it. You can make your needs and wishes known, and the other person can choose to act on that information or not. That’s all you can do to let the other person know what’s going on with you. Whenever you enter the Influence Zone, it is important not to hold onto expectations about the results. Let your thoughts, feelings and needs be known, and then let go of the results. If you are not ready to let go of the results, you are actually operating in the No Control Zone, and are back to blocking your positive energy.

In Part Two, we will be examining the Control Zone.

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Tip One: Retrain Your Amygdala (Part Two)

March 12th, 2015

(In Part One we explored the origin and consequences of amygdala hijacks.  In this post, I explore what you can do to retrain your brain.)

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 Here are some things you can do to retrain your brain:

Practice self-observation. By paying attention to your own moods and reactions, you can identify when you’ve been emotionally hijacked and can start to intervene with the thinking part of your brain. First, work on identifying what your triggers are, so that when a similar trigger happens in the future you will be able to understand what’s really happening. Self-observation also includes reflecting back after a hijack and identifying what triggered it. It’s also useful to keep track of how you respond when you’re emotionally flooded. Do you start yelling? Do you withdraw quickly from conflict? All of this information will be helpful as you work to stop yourself from experiencing uncontrolled emotional hijacks.

Delay your reaction and examine your experience. Our brains automatically respond to emotional hijacks, and we are programmed to revert to knee-jerk reactions. Instead of reacting the next time you’re emotionally hijacked, see if you can sit with the body’s response and the brain’s thoughts. Examine the feeling you’re having while knowing that you don’t have to do anything about it. One particularly helpful strategy is to engage in the practice of “mindfulness.” This is simply the practice of being aware of every moment and fully experiencing it. It means not judging or thinking, just observing what is happening. With this kind of detachment, you are likely to find that the normal slights and irritations of everyday life are really not that important, and you can learn to avoid an emotional reaction to them. Emotions, left alone, will dissipate on their own; if you continue to feed them through obsession or rumination, however, the emotions will gain strength.

        One of my clients, Leo, used to get emotionally hijacked at work when his boss didn’t praise his work on projects or acknowledge his contribution to the team efforts. Leo would often become upset and interpret her silence to mean that he hadn’t been performing well enough to earn any praise or recognition. Afterwards, he sought out his boss in order to get reassurance about his performance from her, but Leo eventually recognized that she was growing impatient with this constant need for what she called “hand holding.” Leo’s boss was tired of telling him that she was satisfied with his work and thought he was a good team member (except for his constant need for reassurance). So, Leo decided to work on his reaction to the feelings of not getting enough praise. He would still get hijacked at times when he felt that his boss was not praising him enough. Despite this, he learned not to react to these feelings but instead to just sit with them. Leo acknowledged his inner experience, in which he felt devalued and inadequate, but recognized that the feeling did not reflect reality. In fact, he reminded himself that his boss had reassured him about his value countless times. Leo adopted a new operating principle that said, “My boss will tell me if there is a problem. If she doesn’t say anything, it means everything is fine.” With this internal message, his negative emotional reactions became weaker.

        Separate feeling from reality. An emotional hijack occurs with very basic feelings of anger, fear and sadness. The emotions that occur during an emotional hijack are very broad. They aren’t subtle or nuanced in the way that happens when we can engage our logic or reason. This broad, negative feeling is not reality. You may be feeling like you’re being abandoned, rejected or attacked, but that is only a constructed reality based on inaccurate feelings, memories and information. If you say to yourself, “This is just a feeling. It is not reality,” it can help diffuse the power of the emotional hijack. Separating feelings from reality means recognizing that you don’t have to make any actions or draw any conclusions from the feeling you’re having. You don’t have to use it as the basis of forming connections about the present experience. This is exactly what Leo did in the example above.  By recognizing that his feeling didn’t reflect reality, he was able to detach himself from those feelings, calm down, and retrain his brain.

        Do or say something different. Break the pattern of the negative emotion by reacting in a new way. This will help your brain to develop new pathways and weaken the pathway that triggers an emotional hijack. If you usually withdraw when you’re emotionally hijacked, do something connective. Instead of walking away from someone you’re fighting with, reach out a hand to them. If you usually shout and scream when you’re mad, be quiet for once and see how that feels. Trying a new response will help your brain to learn creative and innovative responses to your traditional emotional triggers.

        So remember, you may not be able to prevent an amygdala hijack.  Instead of being lead around by the nose by your amygdala, you can unleash your positive energy.  How?  By using the strategies discussed here to manage your reactions and intentionally choose your responses.  Show that amygdala who’s in charge!


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