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5 Ways to Overcome Fear in Less than 30 Seconds

5 Ways to Overcome Fear in 30 Seconds or Less

You think of having a crucial conversation and you freeze. Or you want to work on a big goal but find yourself procrastinating. Or you have to speak in front of a big group and you feel your palms start to sweat.

All of these types of experiences can induce fear. What can you do to overcome the fear quickly?

1. Focus on your breathing. Why does this work? Your brain can really only focus on one thing at a time. If you direct your attention to your breathing, your thoughts about fear will replaced. Key points on technique: Use your diaphragm, not your chest to inhale. Focus on a long slow exhalation and possibly hold your breath for a few seconds after the exhale. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system which slows down heart rate, respiration, and secretion of stress hormones. There are many sites on the web that can teach relaxation breathing, but the BEST results occur when you practice daily before you get into the “heat of battle.”
2. Replace Negative Self-talk with Positive programming. Why does this work? For the same reason as #1. And it reprograms your thoughts and emotions in a new direction instead of spiraling down old paths. Key points on technique: Choose one or two powerful programming statements that are in the present. Don’t make a future statement like, “I will do great.” Instead, affirm, “I’m already doing awesome!” or ,”Taking on challenges is what makes life rich and exciting!” Repeat these in your mind and aloud in a constant barrage so that no spaces exist for fearful negative thoughts to intrude. Another tool: Make a powerful picture in your mind of how successful you are when you are doing the feared activity. Constantly redirect your thoughts back to the image of success.
3. Envision the Worst-Case Scenario and that you will survive and thrive. Why does this work? Because the fear of the horrible consequences is what is impacting you. If you can think of the worst way you can fail, and also how you would survive and thrive, your anxiety will dissipate greatly. What if your crucial conversation results in a divorce? Envision yourself growing stronger, more independent and doing well on your own. Other people survive the worst case, right? You can too. Or what if your audience starts booing and walks out? Envision yourself confiding with a professional coach, learning what to change and performing much better the next time. Key points on technique: This tactic works best when there is plenty of time to think this through. Although it works wonders quickly, I wouldn’t recommend doing this for the first time just before you start that important speech! Also, if you are literally afraid of death, then you need to think deeply about the existential questions about the purpose of your life, and how you survive in some form— either in an afterlife or in the memory or benefit to the living.
4. This, Too, Shall Pass. The famous saying that gives hope in adversity and grants humility in prosperity is the adage, “This too, shall pass.” Remember that nothing in life lasts forever and most things are rather temporary.
5. Be with Someone Supportive. Why does this work? When humans are distressed, being alone heightens our emotional pain. That’s why solitary confinement itself is often a form of mental torture. So, find a trusted friend or family member and keep them close. Key points on technique: Talk about what you are feeling but don’t overdramatizing it! Even if you really feel like you are going to faint, use qualifying language to diminish your angst. Ask them to talk you through your concerns, not just discount them. Better yet, get a hug or pat on the shoulder from your buddy. Physical contact can be very comforting.

Life will always present challenges to be met. When you can meet them with more confidence, your likelihood of success is greatly increased.

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3 Ways to Leverage Gratitude into Happiness

3 Ways to Leverage Gratitude into Happiness

Entire books have been written about gratitude, but here are some ideas that have worked well in my practice. Gratitude comes in at least three different forms.

1. Notice the Rose. The first level of gratitude consists of becoming aware of the good things in our lives that we have often ignored. Using the metaphor of a rose, if we walk past a rose bush every day without noticing it, we don’t feel any gratitude for it – even though it has been blooming and perfuming mightily. When we aren’t aware of the many good things in our world, they might as well not exist, right?

Sometimes the best way to become aware of our blessings is to have them taken away. If somebody chopped down that rose bush, you might notice the empty space by the path.

Similarly, most of us take good health for granted, until we have the flu for a week. Then, for at least the first day we feel well, we really appreciate our healthy body! Or we hate our job until we get fired. Or we get fed up with our children until they grow up and leave the house. So, having our good fortune vanish is one way to become more grateful for our present condition.

But we don’t have to wait for disaster to strike. We can view our world with an attitude of gratitude. With that lens, we can suddenly focus on the blessings we didn’t notice before.

2. Smell the Rose. The second level of gratitude is to mindfully explore and enjoy all the delights offered by the thing in question. In the case of the rose bush, we may carefully examine the rose and enjoy it’s beautiful hues and delicate scent. We gently touch the suede petals by brushing it against our cheek. We allow ourselves to respond to the pleasure of the rose by expressing in words and deeds how we enjoy the gifts the rose offers.

3. Value the Thorns. The third level of gratitude is to appreciate even the thorns that the rose bears. Being grateful for an inconvenience or pain seems counterintuitive. In reality, when one can learn to value the difficult things in our lives, it gives a measure of resilience that is incredible. Can you be grateful for thorns? Does that require a different paradigm? The answer is, “Yes. It does require a different thinking style, but it can be done.”

In her great book, The Hiding Place, the author, Corrie Ten Boom, tells an incident that occurred when she and her sister were imprisoned in a German concentration camp. During their secret scripture study, her faithful sister reads a passage that admonishes disciples to give gratitude in all things. Corrie doubts her sister can find a way to be grateful for the plague of fleas that infested their barracks.. For awhile, her very spiritual sister was stymied because the fleas left painful welts from their bites and made restful sleep impossible for prisoners at Auschwitz. Finally, the answer arrives. Because of the blizzard of fleas in the bunks, the prison guards would not step a foot in the huts. The prisoners were free to have Bible study together without fear. They ended up giving thanks for fleas in their room!

Incorporating the three levels of gratitude into our lives can create significant joy and resilience. When our paths are thorny, don’t forget to be grateful for the pain while searching out the roses nearby.

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3 Rules for Replacing Negative Thoughts

3 Rules for Replacing Negative Thoughts

After realizing how negative thinking can impact our emotions, behaviors, relationships and even our health, most people want to choose a new direction. I talk about how to repattern thoughts in another post. How do you go about choosing a new thought to replace the dysfunctional one?

First of all, write down the negative thought so it is clear in your mind. Then brainstorm to find some viable alternatives. As you are searching for alternatives, remember that your replacement thought should have the three following qualities:

True. It doesn’t work to lie to yourself. Your subconscious will have greater difficulty accepting something that you can’t really believe. So make sure your thought replacement is true, or could conceivably be true. For instance, if you are replacing a negative thought about your skill at sports, don’t try to use a replacement that says, “I am the greatest soccer player in the world!” unless you really think that could be true. Instead, use something like, “The best way to improve is practice, practice, practice! And I kill it when I practice soccer!”

Kind. Don’t choose a thought that is mean or disrespectful. Even if it seems true that somebody is a “selfish jerk”, you wouldn’t want to program your thoughts with that sort of negativity. It’s better to choose something compassionate like, “His childhood was a mess. He’s doing the best he knows how,” or, “He’s having a bad day – everybody has a bad day once in awhile.”

Empowering. The best way to give away your power is to go to victim mode. So don’t choose a thought replacement where you are victimy or powerless. For instance, while it may be true that your neighbor’s TV can be heard through your apartment wall, and it may be kind that she needs it to be loud because she is hard of hearing, it is not empowering to throw up your hands and say, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” Instead, you can self-talk, “I’ll put up a floor to ceiling bookcase against that wall.” Empowerment is an important part of getting the thought replacement right.

I’ve noticed that when we come across a really good thought replacement, it rings true inside of my clients. They will say, “Oh yeah, that one is it!” It often becomes obvious that the thought replacement is “speaking truth” to them.

What if you get stuck and honestly can’t come up with a true, kind and empowering thought replacement? Here are some “default” thought replacements that can work for many situations.

1. I learned a lot from that.
2. This is temporary and won’t last forever.
3. He had an abusive childhood.
After you have selected the thought replacement you are going to use as an antidote for negative thinking, you need to learn to repattern the old thoughts with the new one by taking specific action. See my post on repatterning thoughts (Performing a negative thought-ectomy) for suggestions.

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3 Reasons Reflective Listening is Awesome

Listening sounds easy. But it’s not. Real listening takes real effort and skill.

Listening is much more than passing the time until the speaker runs out of things to say. Listening is more than mentally finding fault with the speaker’s argument so you can shoot down their logic. Listening is more than waiting for the speaker to take a breath so you can interrupt. These kinds of listening patterns can create a small war!

Therapists use a technique called “reflective listening” that can be useful for everyone to know. Reflective listening is different than the usual communication styles we all grew up with (unless you are the child of psychotherapists!). Here’s what reflective listening is:

1. Reflective listening is present in the moment. When listening, you don’t let your mind wander. You stay present with the speaker and give her your full attention.

2. Reflective listening uses aligned body language. A reflective listener takes approximately the same body posture and position as the speaker. If they are sitting, you sit. If they are standing, you can start out standing – and then possibly take a sitting position once you are aligned. It is much better to position yourself beside the person or at an angle instead of facing them in a confrontive stance.

3. Reflective listening mirrors back. What this means is that the listener reflects back to the speaker what the speaker has just said. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the listener “parrots back” the identical words the speaker uses, but instead, mirrors the meaning that the speaker has just shared.

For instance, if the speaker says, “I really hate it when you are late for everything!” Instead of going on the defensive, a reflective listener just volleys the meaning back to the speaker’s court: “So it’s really upsetting when I show up late for things.” Or, “It sounds like it my lateness makes your life difficult.”

4. Reflective listening is attuned. A reflective listener tries be attuned to the emotion that the speaker is sharing. And that emotion is respected, not discounted or patronized. Instead of saying, “Calm down! It’s not that big of a deal!” a good listener might validate the speaker’s feelings with the reflection. “I can see your really frustrated right now.” Or, “I can hear in your voice how difficult this is.” You are simply reflecting to the speaker what emotions they are communicating to you.

Here are 3 reasons that using reflective listening is awesome:

1. Reflective Listening increases the speaker’s sense of security and safety. The speaker knows that they have your attention and you are really trying to “get on the same page.” This feeling helps the speaker to feel “seen and heard” which makes them feel less alone and distressed.

2. Reflective Listening increases understanding in the listener. When you are listening with this technique, you are focused on what the speaker really means — not on how the speaker is wrong. Additionally, you are giving the speaker a venue to express all their thoughts and feelings without fearing she will be interrupted or ignored. This fact increases your understanding of the speaker, too.

3. Reflective Listening builds trust. When the speaker knows that she can trust you to simply “be there” and hear her out in an attuned way, she will increase her trust in you and the relationship. This will pay big dividends over time.

Reflective Listening is one of the many skills that therapists have practiced for years to perfect, but you can definitely “try this at home”. If you find you are having difficulty communicating with a friend or family member, counselors can equip you with communication skills to really make a difference. Reflective listening is just one of those skills.

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11 Ways We Wear Masks in Daily Life

Somewhere between grade school and high school, we start wearing masks. What do we mean by “wearing a mask”? It means that you act a role that isn’t your true self or true feelings. You conceal your authentic hopes, dreams and fears beneath a veneer for public consumption.

Masks have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of masking your “true” self are numerous:

1. Masks give protection. Masks offer the armor of an additional layer between the world and your vulnerable self. If people reject the mask, then they haven’t rejected the real you. You are less vulnerable so you feel less hurt.
2. Masks conceal the truth. Maybe the truth about yourself feels intolerable. Maybe you’ve been shamed about your authentic self. Maybe your true self gets neglected or abused. Maybe your real self has been deemed “unloveable.” Those truths may be too risky to reveal.
3. Masks can be better than the real you. If you lack confidence in your true self, a mask can give you a sense of competence and security. Masks allows a fantasy to exist.
4. Masks comply with expectations. It can help you to please others in your life: parents, peers, teachers, “society”. Perhaps the “real you” is unacceptable to the significant people in your life. So you wear a mask that makes you appear more compliant with their desires.
5. Masks provide distraction. If reality is too daunting, masking it can provide a diversion from the issues we are not ready to face down. Maintaining our mask and playing the roles can take a great deal of time and energy.

Here are some disadvantages of masks:

1. Masks disconnect us. We are separated from our true self, and disconnected from what we really want, need and fear. We can forget who we really are because we act the part so very long.
2. Masks portray a falsehood. We promote a superficial, false self that influences others to do likewise.
3. People don’t know the real you. If they are friends with a mask, or fall in love with a mask . . . then what? You are stuck living a lie to keep their affection or risk revealing your deception and being rejected.
4. Masking is exhausting. Since you are “putting on an act”, you can’t really relax and let your hair down. You are always performing. This is very taxing and can cause melt-downs, break-downs, and burn-outs.
5. Masks distract us. So much energy is spent on the mask that we can avoid growing in important, authentic ways.

Although all masking is not a problem, here are some common ways that people mask their true selves.

1. They conceal themselves behind cosmetics, clothing, accessories that overwhelm instead of enhance.
2. They engage the services of plastic surgeons to fundamentally transform themselves.
3. They join a peer group that requires rigid roles to act out.
4. They put on a happy face when they are crying inside.
5. They put on an angry persona when they feel hurt or powerless.
6. They are the “life of the party” when they feel very insecure.
7. They hide behind addictions.
8. They acquire a plethora of credentials and degrees as a way to hide feelings of worthlessness.
9. They acquire material possessions to compensate for feeling like they are not worthwhile on their own.
10. They abandon their hopes, dreams and values in order to “fit in.”
11. They mimic powerful people in their circle of influence.

We all wear masks at times, and at times they can be useful. However, when we weigh the risks against the benefits, we may consider letting down our masks more often, and letting people learn to be comfortable with the “real you.” And it may encourage other people to let down their masks, too.