Monthly Archives: May 2014

# 50 Touch Your Finger And Recall Good Experiences

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Hand painting 2In moments of acute distress, we are flooded with negative emotions–fear, frustration, discouragement, disillusionment, hopelessness, rage. Sometimes we add to this distress by focusing on all that is wrong in the present, all the unfortunate things that have happened, and imagining life as a continuation of more of the same on into the future. Like a computer virus spreading across your screen, it eats up the “good” files that are stored there.

Clinical psychologist David Wexler developed a technique to access or re-connect with the good in life called the “Four Finger Technique.” It is thus: Place your thumb to your first finger (of your dominant hand) and imagine a time when you were completely exhausted (e.g., after jogging, playing tennis, moving furniture, etc.) and sank down onto a sofa or bed. Touch your thumb to your middle finger and recall the nicest compliment you ever received. Savor it. Touch your thumb to your ring finger and recall the most loving experience you ever had. Touch your thumb to your little finger and recall the most beautiful place you have ever been. After you practice this a few times in a quiet place, enhancing the scenes and memories with as many sensory details as you can, it becomes easier to access them quickly. Then you can do the technique at any time without attracting notice–after an argument, sitting in a meeting, or sitting in your car stuck in traffic.

Let’s add on to this technique. Use your non-dominant hand this time to access four other sources of positive experiences. Place the thumb to the first finger and recall the accomplishment you’re most proud of (i.e., it may not mean that much to others, but it means a great deal to you. It may be your having lost 20 pounds, or quit smoking, finally breaking up with an abusive boyfriend, or finishing your degree after eight years of night school). Touch your thumb to your middle finger and recall a place, a group of people where you feel you really fit in. You were a kindred spirit. You were among like-minded people. Touch your thumb to your ring finger and imagine yourself doing that activity at which you really excel. It is your moment to shine. Again, it may not mean much to some other individual, but it means something to you. It may be cooking, dancing, carrying on conversations with strangers, taking care of children, or chairing meetings. Touch your thumb to your little finger and visualize something which you experience as really beautiful. It could be your favorite photograph or painting, your favorite piece of heirloom furniture, the inside of a pomegranate, a ruby-throated hummingbird, a stained glass window in a great cathedral, etc.

If these are too many fingers, narrow it down to four. Add one of your own if it is not listed here but it is very helpful to you. You may want to make calming statements to yourself as you do it. Examples: “Be calm. Shift your focus. This bad moment, this bad experience will pass. It is not everything. Overlook the bad. Seek the good in the world.” _

Wexler, D. 1991. The Adolescent Self: Strategies for self-management, self-soothing, and self-esteem for adolescents. New York: Norton.

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# 49 Consider the Best As Well As the Worst Possible Outcomes

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The pessimist lives in a state of “what if…?” She considers all manner of possible negative outcomes of things, from the mildly negative, which has a statistically reasonable chance of occurring, to the moderately negative, to the catastrophic outcome which is statistically almost impossible. She then dwells on the catastrophic outcome, and ruminates over how to prepare for it, until visions of catastrophe fill her emotional space. She believes that it is better to assume the worst, because ,”if it happens, I will bee prepared for it, and if it doesn’t happen, then I will be pleasantly surprised.”  While she is dwelling on the catastrophic, life moves inexorably past her unnoticed, and good outcomes, when they occur, are treated as minor events which barely avoided disaster.  .

The optimist considers both positive and negative possibilities. He considers the possibility of a negative outcome, but only enough to be prepared for it. He also considers the possibility of a positive outcome, considering it enough to prepare for it as well. He stays anchored enough in the present to take joy from it, and dwells on the positive possibilities ahead enough to enhance the present even more.

Here are some examples:

(1)  I’ve got a business trip coming up.  Gee, I dread standing in lines at airports, going through security.  Then again, I always enjoy the view of the clouds and the ground below, passing over water.  On one of my last flights, I met an interesting woman who had been travelling in Egypt.  Maybe I’ll meet someone interesting again.

(2)  Tonight I’m meeting someone for coffee whom I met online.  I dread these dates.  I feel so awkward.  It could be a disaster.  Then again, I went on one not long ago, and the guy told some funny stories about his worst dates.  They  cracked me up.   We might have some fun for a while.  Who knows how it might turn out.

Consider the last time you were acutely anxious. What were the negative outcomes you were dwelling on? How did it affect you?

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What future events are you anxious about?  When do you typically assume that the worse will happen?

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Now think again about that event coming up.  Write down the positive outcomes which are also possible?
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When you find yourself catastrophizing, shift away from considering only negative outcomes, shift into considering positive outcomes. You are not seeking to be unrealistic, only balanced in your thinking.

 

 

 

# 48 Take Ownership of Your Successes

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????blue-dotWhen positive outcomes occur, we have characteristic ways in which we view them.  The optimist views his or her good result as well- deserved, under their control.  The pessimist views the good result as a fluke, a fleeting bit of luck.  Here’s an example:  The human resources manager makes a well received presentation to management.

Optimist:  “Wow, I really was in top form today.  (internal)  All my creative juices were flowing. (internal, pervasive)   I’m glad I prepared.  Everything just came together.  I guess I have a knack for this.  (pervasive and long-lasting).

Pessimist:  “Whew!.  I’m glad I got through that.  I don’t know why they liked it.  I stumbled a few times.  I guess I was lucky that the guy before me warmed them up with a few good jokes (external, temporary, limited).  Maybe they felt sorry for me because they could see I was nervous.  Or maybe they were just glad it was such a short presentation (external, temporary, limited).

Consider a success you’ve had. Did you brush it away as a fluke? a temporary blip on the screen of life? a stroke of luck? Write about it.

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Now write about it as being due to factors that are internal, pervasive, and long-lasting. Really take ownership of it.

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References

Peterson, C., & Seligman.  1984.  Causal explanations as a risk factor for depression;  Theory and evidence.  Psychological Review, 91, 347-374.  Also:  Seligman, M.  1991.  Learned Optimism.  New York:  Knopf.

 

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# 47 Change Your View of Negative Events

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In the 1980’s Martin Seligman developed the theory that depression is associated with a style of thinking which he called pessimism and that people who reported greater satisfaction with their lives were characterized by an optimistic outlook on themselves, their day-to-day experiences, and their lives.

Through his research, and that of others, he discovered that people who are prone to anxiety, worry, and unhappiness tend to explain bad events as being due to factors which are internal, pervasive, and long-lasting.  They tend to explain good events as being due to factors that are outside of their control–external, limited in scope, and temporary.  People with a broad sense of well being do just the opposite.  They ascribe good events as due to causes that are within their control, to their personality traits, their talents, and their actions.  They see these factors as long lasting and applicable in a wide variety of settings.  Happy people tend to view bad events as due to temporary, situational factors, limited to only that one situation.

Seligman went on to explore these thinking styles and found that optimistic thinking is characteristic of salesmen who are high performers, successful athletes, and women who are most likely to survive breast cancer.  It is even characteristic of children who successfully weather bad events in childhood, such as their parents’ divorce.

Here is an example:  A person has been dieting and losing a few pounds a week for several months.  He/she has a week where they gain two pounds instead.

The pessimistic person:

“I can’t lose weight. (internal).   I’ll never lose weight.  I’ll always be overweight.  (pervasive, long-lasting).   It’s hopeless. (long-lasting).   I fail every time. (internal, long-lasting)  ”

The optimistic person:

“I’ll have to check my meal plans.  I guess there were more calories in some of my meals than I realized.  (external, limited).  I’m sure that once I get my calories in line, and do a little more exercise, I’ll lose weight again (external, limited, temporary).

Consider a problem which you face often and which leaves you feeling discouraged. Write down your most common explanation for it. This exercise is especially useful when encountering experiences with people who are angry, critical, rejecting, or indifferent.

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Is your explanation internal, pervasive, and long-lasting?

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References

Peterson, C., & Seligman.  1984.  Causal explanations as a risk factor for depression;  Theory and evidence.  Psychological Review, 91, 347-374.  Also:  Seligman, M.  1991.  Learned Optimism.  New York:  Knopf.

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