Battling burnout with purpose and meaning

When my kids were toddlers, my husband and I had a complex division of labor. We both worked full-time and, as is often the case for working parents of little ones, there was always way more that needed to be done than we had time for. It felt like we were constantly in motion trying…

Does practice make perfect? On music and mental health

Sometimes we think of psychological difficulties like anxiety, or depression, or anger, more like traits, or something inside us – and that living well means getting rid of this flawed broken piece of us. But what if we approached psychological well-being as something that we can work towards, one small act at a time, over a period of time, across different situations, with different people? What if we practiced well-being?

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.

Making your personal mission statement

Your company has a mission statement. Why not you? It’s not about goals, outcomes, or profits. It’s about who you want to be and how you want to act in every moment of your life. In essence, a personal mission statement is about your values. They are your inner compass. When things get hard, we tend to lose sight of what’s important. Our actions can be driven by our immediate reactions (e.g., irritability) or old habits (e.g., procrastinating). Values serve as a guide to help us know what to do and how to be.

Chasing happiness

Lately it seems every time I turn around there’s a new article or YouTube video about how to become happier. It’s widely reported that “happiness classes” are the most popular courses on many college campuses, with enrollments topping 1,000 students per class at some universities. As a culture we’re obsessed with the idea of finding something that makes us happy and keeps us that way. Americans rate “happy” and “joyous” emotions as having a higher value than “calm” and “peaceful.” And because we value them we’re always chasing them and trying very hard to keep them around.

Teaching your child to fail

Why is it so hard for us as parents to watch our children fail? It’s antithetical to the whole parenting enterprise, isn’t it? We work hard for years to ensure that our children have the tools to succeed. It’s heartbreaking for us when they experience hurt, fear, and sadness. We want to rush in and pick them up and set them back on their feet. But here is the crux of the matter: We need to step back and allow ourselves to be vulnerable too to fail at protecting our children from their feelings.

Trying to control your emotions might be the problem, not the solution

Emotions like anxiety, sadness, and rage are powerful neural states that can be extremely challenging to experience. And without the right skills, we can respond to them by acting in ways that bring negative consequences. Wouldn’t it seem that the logical answer is to suppress these dangerous feelings?As it turns out, one of the best ways to respond to emotions is to approach them with mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion rather than through avoidance or over-control. 

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.

Practicing acceptance

“There’s nothing you can do. You’re just going to have to accept it.” Has anyone ever said this to you? Or something similar? If you’re like me, it probably wasn’t very helpful, even if it was true. You probably felt shut down or dismissed, even if the person who said it was trying to help. There are two reasons a statement like this doesn’t help. First, most of us don’t have a clue about how to accept something. There’s no instruction book. Second, the word “acceptance” can imply giving in, giving up, or resigning yourself to lousy circumstances—and who wants that?

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.