A Potential Flaw in Positive Thinking Psychology

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Photo Credit: ileanaandrei.ro

There’s a lot of talk these days about positive thinking and how important it is to change your thinking to improve your health and happiness. And while I won’t argue that our mindset affects our feelings and behavior (because I believe it absolutely does), I am concerned that we can put too much emphasis on thinking. That’s a big statement for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) therapist to make! But here’s the balance that I would like to bring to the discussion: Though highly influential, thoughts are not an all-powerful force in our lives.

There are potential drawbacks to believing that everything we think affects our behavior. So even while we acknowledge the significance of our thoughts and strive to have healthier, more constructive thinking patterns, let’s also recognize some limitations of our thoughts. For example, thoughts…

  • do not always reflect what we really believe, feel or want.
  • do not always mean we will act on whatever that thought is.
  • do not always reflect reality.

Let’s take a closer look at why each of these points is relevant.

#1. Thoughts do not always reflect what we really believe, feel or want. We all have had bizarre, maybe even dark thoughts that pop into our heads at times—that is a normal part of being human. It does not mean you are “crazy” or a bad person. Some people struggle with these types of thoughts more than others, particularly people with issues like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or postpartum depression. On the extreme end, I’ve had clients who had intrusive thoughts about things like stabbing their spouses or molesting their child (even though they had no reason or desire to do such things), and they worried it meant there was something evil inside of them. Being bothered by your thoughts is a sign that they don’t reflect your wants or values. In cases like these that go beyond the “normal” occasional bizarre thoughts we all have, there are often biological causes for these thoughts. There is sometimes trauma in that person’s past that can be influencing these thoughts.

#2. Thoughts do not always mean we will act on whatever that thought is. Thoughts do not automatically manifest into behavior. None of my clients who had bizarre, or even violent, intrusive thoughts ever acted on them because that is not who they were.

Now, sometimes our thoughts do line up with our feelings and that makes it more likely we will act on them, but it doesn’t mean we have to. This is key for my clients in eating disorder recovery, who might have obsessive thoughts about not eating or about thinking they are fat (and also feeling fat). Though it can be incredibly difficult, they can choose not to act on those thoughts. In her book, Life without Ed, Jenni Shaefer describes it as “disobeying” the eating disorder. We can have thoughts and feelings about harming ourselves and decide to call a friend instead. A tape can play in our head about how that big presentation at work will be a flop, but then it turns out we nail it.

#3. Thoughts do not always reflect reality. Thoughts, like feelings, are not facts. Research confirms that much of what we worry about doesn’t even happen.¹ And just because we think something doesn’t make it true. We can think we’re ugly and actually be attractive. We can think we’re an idiot and be very intelligent. We can think we are boring and socially awkward while in reality, people find us engaging and pleasant to be around. The stories we tell ourselves are just that: stories. And sometimes stories are only partially true or sometimes they are completely false.

It is really, really good news that while we work on changing detrimental thoughts, we are not completely at their mercy until they change or go away. We can still choose to ignore or to act opposite of our thoughts when they aren’t healthy. Remember friends, we are not just thoughts… we also have a will and a conscience and many other elements that make up who we are and drive what we do.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

¹References: “85 Percent of What We Worry About Never Happens” By Don Joseph Goewey (www.huffingtonpost.com/don-joseph-goewey-/85-of-what-we-worry-about_b_8028368.html)

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

Sometimes Wrong is Good

Dare2Hope_Recovery is Possible

Photo credit: http://eduvir.com.br

If there’s one thing that all my eating disorder clients have had in common, it’s this: at some point or another, they believe they can’t really recover.

This is the best I can be.
I’ll never get better.
I’ll always be stuck like this.
Recovery isn’t possible for me.

But you know what? Every person I know (including myself) who has recovered from an eating disorder said and believed those same things.

It turns out, we were wrong.

Maybe you’re working on recovery and the hard days leave you feeling like you’ll never get there. Or maybe recovery feels so impossible and elusive that you’re not even trying. Either way, what if you’re wrong? Maybe, just maybe, it’s not only possible but you will actually get there eventually. Being wrong isn’t usually a good feeling, but it would be pretty awesome to be wrong about this, wouldn’t it?

Dare to hope.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

 

I Want to Be Happier… Now What?

Dare2Hope_Work of Art

Image credit: Daniel Posthuma on unsplash.com.

Last post, I talked about how becoming happier starts with a decision to choose happiness. Maybe it sounds lame and you’re thinking, who wouldn’t choose to be happy? But there are a lot of reasons we choose to be miserable instead… denying responsibility, side-stepping the discomfort of change, avoiding the anxiety of the unknown, being unwilling to make the sacrifices that might be required, etc. etc. etc.

Ok, but what if we do choose to be happy… what’s next?

Well, I wish I could give a formula, but it isn’t quite that simple. I know, I’d love a formula too! I like things very cut-and-dry. But living life isn’t like following a recipe. It’s more like creating a unique work of art, and that’s just what your life is: a work of art.

That being said, I do have some suggestions that might be helpful. Honestly, I could (and likely will at some point) do entire posts on each of these topics, but it would be overwhelming to try and cover it all here. So this 5-point list is a starting point and my best attempt at creating a “formula” for happiness.

#1. Practice Gratitude
It is easy to focus on the negative, on what is not going right and what we don’t have. It takes intentional effort to look for and focus on the positives. But doing so reminds us of all the good we take for granted and leads to more positive emotions. I agree with Melody Beattie: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

#2. Create Soul Moments
Think about moments when you have felt peace or joy. Maybe it is being outside and soaking in nature, or reading a good book with a warm cup of coffee in hand. Perhaps it’s making connections with others through deep conversation, or cooking a delicious meal, or family game night and lots of laughter with your kids. Is it creating beauty through painting or planting beautiful flowers? Whether it’s playing tennis or playing Bunko (don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone), make a list of what makes you feel happy and do more of that.

#3. Release Expectations
Consider if your expectations of yourself, others, and perhaps even life, are realistic. Do you expect a toxic mother to treat you with respect and kindness? Do you expect your spouse to read your mind, or life to be fair, or you to be perfect all the time? Lowering your expectations is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s appropriate and incredibly freeing. Unrealistic expectations are a set-up for failure and hangover frustration, shame, or discontentment always follow.

#4. Live Your Values
What are your passions in life? For some, it’s family or friends. It might be spirituality. It could be humor, kindness, learning, service or wealth. Likely, you have a few top values and then secondary ones beneath those. But does your life reflect those values? If your highest value is family, but you’re working excessive hours, you’re not living within your values. Those long hours might be fine if your top value is wealth, but when our lives are incongruent with what is actually most important to us, we will usually feel frustrated and unhappy. Sometimes that’s unavoidable because there are bills to paid or other factors out of our control, but as much as you can take steps to bring your values and your life in parallel, the more fulfilled you will be.

#5. Take Care of Yourself
This is so common sense, but it’s completely not common. We are terrible at taking care of ourselves! Evaluate each of these areas in your own life and determine which ones need some improvement:

  • Are you getting enough rest and sleep? For most people that means at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night as well as time for relaxation.
  • Do you move your body? It doesn’t have to be 45 minutes at the gym; a 10-minute walk outside counts (and gives the extra benefit of a vitamin D boost from the sunshine!).
  • Are you eating a balanced diet and not over- or under-eating? It is impossible to feel good if we aren’t nourishing ourselves or if we are abusing our bodies with food.
  • Do you address any medical conditions with the proper care and medication? Do you even go to the doctor regularly to know if you have any medical conditions needing treatment? And yes, that includes treating mental health issues too!

Can you think of other ideas that cultivate happiness? Let me know what’s been helpful for you!

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

Try This Technique to Avoid Body Comparing

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It is so hard to look at people in the media and not compare ourselves. Sometimes without even noticing it, we start taking note of how “perfect” someone else looks as well as of all the ways we don’t measure up to that. “I’m so out of shape…I wish my stomach was that flat…I want her hair!” Even if we felt pretty good right before that, we end up feeling terrible. And if we did already feel bad about ourselves, now we have an extra helping of shame and self-loathing.

Maybe you’ve realized it’s pointless to compare yourself to the Photoshopped images at the check-out stand and the perfectly polished people on TV who have a team of hair, clothes, and makeup artists. Hopefully you’ve realized it’s unrealistic and therefore not a fair comparison. But even if you’ve managed to get to that place, have you also stopped comparing yourself to real-world people? This can be so much harder. Whether it’s related to our careers, finances, relationships, abilities, and of course, our appearances, we tend to measure ourselves by how we compare to others around us. It could be your best friend coworker or the lady jogging down the street in her spandex and sports bra. Maybe you walk into rooms and immediately start sizing everyone up to see if you’re prettier, thinner, or more fit than the other people there.

Comparisons are a pretty unreliable system for defining self-image. I mean, there are always going to be people who you are “better” than. And there are also always going to be people who are “better” than you. You will always encounter people who are prettier, thinner, smarter, whatever-er than you. And so the feelings of superiority and inferiority teeter-totter back and forth as you compare yourself to various people, and any sense of security will be temporary and totally dependent on others.

Next time you’re tempted to pore over someone else and notice how “perfect” they are and all the ways you think your body is inferior, simply look away as quickly as you can to prevent your brain (or your eating disorder) from ramping up with its criticisms. I call it bouncing your eyes because you bounce your eyes off that other person before you can really zero in on them enough to fully play the comparison game. Instead of spending those next few minutes comparing yourself to them, distract yourself by focusing on something else entirely. You might still feel some shame, but it will be much less intense than the usual torrent that comes with the comparison checklist. I’m sure you can find something better to do with your time and energy; I know I can!

Be well,

Cherie_signature

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

Maybe It’s Time to Break Up

Mirror Fasting - Dare 2 Hope Blog

Last week we talked about the importance of paying attention to and guarding against things that work against eating disorder recovery (or recovery from anything for that matter!). Today I want to talk specifically about our time in front of the mirror.

Ah, the mirror. So many have a love-hate relationship with it. We often dislike what we see, but we can’t seem to go without it either. Many people with eating disorders and body image issues spend a lot of time body checking in the mirror. There is nothing about standing in front of a mirror for long periods of time or multiple times a day and inspecting your appearance that is helpful. If you spend a significant amount of energy focusing on the things about your body that you wish you could change, you will inevitably feel bad about yourself.

One of the sad things about that is that no one is perfect, and each one of us could find flaws to obsess over. I read an article a while back in which Jillian  Michaels admitted that she has cellulite on her rear, and there’s nothing she can do to change that. Considering that 100% of the human population is physically imperfect, how sad is it that we can become convinced that our individual flaws mean we’re not beautiful? And even worse… our self-perception is often spoiled by flaws that aren’t even there.

See, that’s the problem with mirrors. They are not accurate reflections because it’s all about how our eye, and ultimately our brain, perceive an image. And that is highly subjective. Ever met someone that you thought was plain looking but after you got to like them, found them attractive? Or on the flip side, met someone attractive and then after discovering an atrocious personality, didn’t find them so physically appealing anymore? Our perceptions—even the ones that seem trustworthy, like our eyesight—can be very skewed based on our emotions and attitudes.

Body checking in the mirror is about more than just seeing if you look okay. You’re wondering on a deeper level if you’re okay. But a mirror can’t tell you that. If it can’t give you an accurate reflection of your physical self, it certainly can’t give you a reflection of your inner self worth.

So I’m throwing out a challenge to stop believing what the mirror tells you. Commit to reducing the time you spend body checking, and no matter how strong the urge to, definitely don’t stand there and pick apart your appearance. Decide there are more important things that you’d rather spend your time and energy on. How about doing something fun instead? What about doing something kind for someone else who needs it?

And here’s an even bigger challenge…consider getting rid of your body checking mirror altogether. You don’t necessarily need to fast from all mirrors, but I’m guessing you might have a full-length one that you use for body checking and not just doing your makeup and hair. It sounds impossible, I know. I did it when I was in recovery, and I thought I wouldn’t make it. My anxiety was sky-high at first because I’d become addicted to the mirror. But after a week or two, I adjusted…and actually felt freer than I’d felt in a long time. I also realized how much more time I had because I wasn’t wasting it searching for answers that a piece of glass could never really give me anyway.

Go for it! Break up with your body checking mirror, even for just a month, and see what a difference it makes in how you feel! I know you can do it.

much love,

Cherie_signature

We Are What We…

You Are What You Think - Part 2 - Dare 2 Hope Blog

We’ve all heard the expression, you are what you eat. I think something else is much more defining for us…and we’re actually a product of what we think.  Earl Nightingale said, “We become what we think about most,” and the Bible teaches us to “Keep vigilant watch over your heart because that’s where life starts” (Proverbs 4:23 MSG). This is an overlooked truth for people with eating disorders that can make a big difference in achieving and maintaining recovery. If you continue to obsess over things that reinforce eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, then you’re climbing a very steep uphill battle!

That means raising your awareness about what you think about and putting up some boundaries against things that aren’t constructive. Fashion and fitness magazines are one of the biggest offenders. I have a background in marketing and using Photoshop, so I thought understanding that the images were airbrushed made me immune to their power…but I eventually had to be honest and admit they affected me negatively. I still compared, still wished, still felt not-good-enough after looking at them. Pinterest fitness pins can be another serious problem. So can all the pins of ridiculously good-looking foods. And honestly, Facebook can be pretty triggering too.

If you’re serious about recovering, it’s time to take stock of the things you surround yourself with that are undermining all the hard work you’re doing to get healthy and get rid of them. It’s hard at first, but after awhile, you’ll be so amazed at how much freer you feel! Wouldn’t it be so much better to read a book or talk with a friend or do something else pleasant that makes you feel happy and peaceful inside?

But there’s one more thing…these messages don’t just come from the outside. They also come from within, and those need to be guarded against as well. Standing in front of the mirror for long periods of time and picking apart your body fills your mind and heart with destructive thoughts that feed the eating disorder. Next week, I want to talk more about that, and to give you a challenge. Until then…start noticing all the obsessing you might be doing that is completely counterproductive.

What are the worst offenders for you that work against your recovery? Could you possibly quit them cold turkey or start weaning off of them?

Much love,

Cherie_signature

Feelings – Fact or Fiction?

Feelings are like waves...

Emotions—particularly intense ones like depression, anxiety, and anger—can be so powerful that our judgment is sometimes clouded by them if we’re not careful. We can even find ourselves in a habit of being ruled by them, which is not fun for us or the people around us.

It’s an easy trap to fall into because feelings feel so real. I mean, when we look in the mirror and see certain flaws, we feel ugly, so we believe we must be. When our boyfriend doesn’t call, it feels like he doesn’t care, so we assume he doesn’t. While it’s hard to believe something other than what our emotions are screaming at us from the inside, we need to remember that feelings aren’t facts. Everyone has flaws and they don’t mean we aren’t beautiful. Our boyfriend didn’t call because his cell phone died, and he hasn’t gotten home to charge it yet. Assumptions and generalizations will get us in all kinds of trouble if we don’t watch out for how they play with our emotions!

And yet, feelings aren’t fiction either. We can struggle just as much and stay just as stuck when we tell ourselves that our feelings aren’t valid as we do when we believe they are the end-all-be-all. Peace finally starts to come when we stop struggling against our feelings from either angle and just accept them for what they are—feelings! In their own right, they are neither fact nor fiction, good or bad.

Instead, view feelings as red flags that something needs to be paid attention to. Learning to recognize and analyze these signals in a healthy way is whole other topic, but at least being able to remind yourself that feelings are okay but they aren’t facts is a place to start.

What do think is the hardest thing about dealing with feelings?

much love,

Cherie_signature