Learning to fly: breaking free from avoidance with values-based exposure

Ten years ago I developed a fear of flying, and when I think back, it was like being in a sitcom. I’m walking down the jetway, feeling a little light-headed, my heart already racing. As I board, I notice that one of the plane doors looks a little rusty. I think, this must be an…

Gently challenging your thinking traps

It turns out there is a stepwise method for addressing thinking traps that gives us a little freedom from their tyranny. It’s called reappraisal. Reappraisal means slowing down, looking at what’s going on in your mind, and evaluating your thoughts. It’s especially helpful when you’re having a strong emotional response. It’s a skill you can easily learn, and though it seems pretty basic, following the steps can help reduce the intensity of a painful emotion and lead to more effective actions.

Getting to know your thinking traps

Our minds are constantly appraising the world around us. Appraisals are adaptive: our ancestors needed the ability to identify, interpret, and problem-solve the events in their lives in order to survive. In contemporary life, this skill is no longer just about survival. It influences everything we do—planning for the future, negotiating relationships, finding love, and so on. But sometimes, this amazing skill can also get us into trouble.

Overcoming shame and social anxiety through self-compassion

Research has shown that the compassion and kindness we experience have a huge impact on how our brains mature, our physical health, and on our general well-being. Shame and social anxiety are also affected by our experience of compassion. It turns out that when we use imagery and meditation to train our brains in self-compassion, we’re able to overcome the tyranny of social fears, and we’re better able to approach life with courage, curiosity, and a capacity for joy.

A moment of wonder on the other side of OCD

Unlike most other organisms, our brains cannot tell the difference between an actual threat and a symbolic one. What this means is that our brain confuses actual threats with thinking about threats. Indeed, we tend to respond to fearful thoughts as though they are real. Nowhere is this tendency to experience and react to thoughts as if they were real more apparent than in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And nowhere is it more evident how this tendency can trap us. For many, it not only traps us, it takes away all of our sense of wonder and possibility in the world.

Comparing our insides to other people’s outsides

Upward social comparison is sometimes really useful. It can give us information about what we want to be doing more of and serve as a motivator, like when you notice that your friend Joe is great at getting to the gym more frequently than you, and you try to be more like him.  As we’ve all experienced, however, there can be a downside to upward social comparison.

The power of saying yes

Acceptance is an evocative word. It can imply resignation, giving up, or giving in to terrible circumstances. The practice of saying yes is not that kind of acceptance. It’s being willing to have what’s already there, whether inside of you or in the outside world.

How to get unstuck when facing tough decisions

In blackjack, when you have 16 and the dealer is showing 10, you have a tough choice. You can either “hit” or “stand,” but regardless of what you choose, you’re more likely to lose than win. In a situation like this, it’s helpful to have a decision-making framework based on the science of probability. When you think in terms of probability, the decision to hit or stand is less likely to be influenced by how you’re feeling.

Embrace and learn from your fear of failure

In Silicon Valley, the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. Many tech professionals are accustomed to achieving at high levels and being recognized for it. But every success creates an expectation of further success. That’s when fear of failure can show up. Sometimes it’s a good motivator, but it can also lead to a vicious cycle of feeling insecure, being angry about that insecurity, and then becoming depressed at “failing” to overcome it. But what if fear of failure is not something to overcome?

Coping with your inner critic and imposter syndrome

Everyone has an inner voice that talks to them – the part of their mind that constantly judges them and tells us what to do. This inner voice can be your best friend our worst enemy. It can encourage you to take risks and innovate as your biggest fan, or it can be out of control as your worst critic, berating you every time you make a mistake, sapping your motivation to get up and try again.