How can you find your flow even with things that aren’t the easiest?
I am traveling today. A road trip through the desert of Arizona. I am not much of a desert girl. I have spent too many years living in the snow and ice. Although, I can’t say I crave getting to the hot desert weather, I do love Saguaro cactus.
Today, as I pass all these crazy cacti flying past my car window, they are reminding me to notice the beauty in sharp, edgy, and unique things. Not always the easiest things to be around, but they are pretty cool anyway.
Here’s to finding your Friday Flow with the prickly things in your life. Where can you shift from feeling the pain to noticing the beauty? Even if just a sliver of recognition toward the unique experience it is giving you right now.
May the light return in your life. Enjoying the end of a great day contemplating the light and dark aspects of our world, the balance between them, and the need for both. I love this time of year and am sad to see the dark begin to recede. What a beautiful night to enjoy the light of the fire and the light of the full moon. The light always returns in more ways than one.
I saw God today. I also saw God yesterday, and I am pretty sure I’m going to see God tomorrow. Everywhere I look, God is present. Everyday, I sit with people and listen to their stories. Deeply listen. I listen under the crustiness of day to day operations and listen into the core of who they are. Everyday, I see examples of amazing resilience and this thing we call being human. As a result of being intensely connected to another I see the pulse of our universe. I see God.
Those of you who know me well, know I’m not what you’d call a religious person, however everyday I feel this pulse and feel the universe breathe. Everyday I hear the beauty that surrounds us and dive deeply into the moments that matter. Mostly through words and physical sensations – our innate human experience. What’s incredibly curious to me is the way we think and feel so different than everyone else, yet we are so much the same.
Each story in my day is unique, often I have no idea how the plot will twist yet the themes of the day remain the same. Am I good enough, can I be loved, will I make it, what if I fail, will people show up to help me, can I trust myself, am I safe. When I can’t figure out the nuanced theme, I just go for the big one – am I worthy, do I matter.
Our personal brand of wounding lends itself to all sorts of manifestations in our lives. If I feel no one will help me, I’ll learn to do it all by myself. If I feel like I am unlovable, I’ll either work really hard to please everyone or I’ll become aloof and push people away. If I feel like I am not safe, I’ll make sure to be part of communities with very clear lines and defined roles so I can rest in the safety of knowing the “truth”. In the end … we are all ok.
We are all lovable. We are all worthy. We all matter. When we can embrace our inner essence we open the door for others to embrace theirs. When we shine our inner lights bright, they get to shine theirs bright, too. This is very very very … very … important to the world. If I do not shine my light bright, I cannot fully bring my uniques gifts into the world. If you do not shine your fully your’s do not enter either.
This creates a situation – kinda like the one where my grandma would lose the 1 puzzle piece that completed the 1,000 piece monstrosity. The world is incomplete when it’s missing pieces. We are each a piece and must show up fully to make the puzzle complete.
Everyday, I am surrounded by the magic that manifests when we are authentic in our personal experience. It’s like standing in a dark yard quietly watching the fireflies light up the night. When one doesn’t shine I can’t see them, when too many don’t shine the yard is dark. When they are all busy blinking off and on it is breathtakingly beautiful.
Please allow yourself the gift of living authentically in your gifts, shining your light bright. I want my dark yard to be lit up by your magnificence.
And as always, if you are struggling you can schedule a 15 min Q&A appointment to see if it’s time to give yourself the gift of therapy. When else can you talk about yourself for an hour with someone trained to deeply listen to your core, not just the story you tell yourself.
I'm currently living in an area impacted by a large wildfire. Although I used my personal impact for the topic, this was written for anyone who is living through stress and overwhelm regardless of the cause.
Every year fire season rolls around and we talk about it. We talk about how dry or not dry it is, how much snow we did or didn’t get. We talk about the trees, the heat, the lightening potentials. We try to predict where and when we’ll come around the corner and see the plume of smoke we know is not a cloud. We desperately hope it won’t be in our backyard.
And then it happens. Somewhere, somehow a fire starts, we come around the corner and we see it, we can smell it, we hear the people on the street, the radio, and at work or play talking about it.
We all stop and look, pointing while trying to determine how much space is between us and it, where’s it’s located, and is it affecting spaces I know. At first there is usually a lot of chatter, energy, maybe even excitement that parts of the forest may become more healthy, yet over time our endurance wanes and our hearts become heavier.
We run out of “fuel” to stay positive about the impacts of such a natural event. At these times it is important to take care of ourselves because the effects do not go away easy.Caring for our mental health is as important as caring for our physical health during forest fires (or any other disaster in our lives).
First, lets talk about physical health and mental health intersections. With an event like a fire we have a strong response in our bodies. We feel the primal nature of the event and register the lack of control. These add stress to the body and mind. Mind and body are not separate entities to be regulated to sections of your physical frame. In fact, if I want to know your serotonin levels (a marker for depression) I would take your blood or look at your gut health where the majority of it is made.
If I want to know how stressed you are, I’ll take a saliva sample to check your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that impacts inflammation. Inflammation impacts joint pain, brain efficiency, heart health, and obesity to name a few mental to physical health connections.
Your breathing rate is tied to your heart rate, and both are tied into your nervous system. When breathing or heart rate run too fast or too slow, your brain registers danger. When you feel like you can’t breathe it’s a big deal. Breathing is necessary for survival and your brain’s ultimate goal is to keep you alive.This lack of oxygen (or the perception of it) shifts the brain into a hyper-vigilant state because it needs to find the danger. This elevates your nervous system and impacts items like digestion, rest, inflammation rates, and positive social connections.
Sleep is a huge piece of physical and mental health. When we can’t sleep all sorts of things happen to the body and mind. The body goes through a number of important cycles during sleep. When we miss these cycles – guess what happens … the brain registers the lack of these important steps as a problem, it’s stressed because it’s running on lower than normal / needed systems. It’s like taking your car out but forgetting to top off the oil and then wondering why things don’t run smoothly.
Here’s a concrete example of how the body and mind interplay on our health during an event like forest fire:
On a concrete level we have to deal with lots of smoke. This smoke makes it hard to breathe – stress response in the body – and may have a direct or indirect response getting enough sleep. So much smoke, gotta close my windows, now I can’t sleep because it’s hot or I’m so worried or sad for those effected. I can’t sleep because my mind is playing images over and over, or I’ve been evacuated and now I can’t sleep with all these people around me in the center. Soon our ability to mange regular daily stressors wanes and we have a harder and harder time being present to our life routines and relationships. Bottom line, because our physical systems are impacted – our mental health will be too.
Here’s how to help make sure you are as physically strong as you can be during a stressful event. Get enough rest, good foods – these help make sure the body has what it needs to make the right neurotransmitters. Engage in healthy social contact. Being with people who help us feel safe and connected tells the brain that we are ok and the environment is ok, we have support. Move everyday. Moving gets things flowing through the system and allows your body to help you metabolize stress hormones and other emotion traces. It also helps you be grounded in the moment. This is important because all we have is this moment. Exercise helps us learn to be present to the current experience through physical sensations and teaches us that our behavior matters. Practice breathing with control. Do your best to slow down your breathing rate. When you slow the breath it slows the heart rate, when you slow the heart rate the brain registers that you are safe. This allows your body to help calm your mind. In as little as 3 deep breathes your body will begin to shift from stress responses to the relaxation response and re-set your nervous system, even when mind is trying hard to throw you off with all her chatter.
Second, let’s talk about mind. One of my favorite things is the mind. Mind is so creative and interesting. Sometimes mind drives us bonkers with it’s constant flow of ideas, thoughts, and review of our life. As noted above mind is influenced by the body and that means body is influenced by the mind.
We are just chemical-electrical little beings. Every thought we have produces a chemical and electrical pattern we can map using fancy machines to look at live brains in action. When you have a negative thought it increase stress in the body by changing the balance of chemistry in your body. As your cortisol and adrenaline rise these influence and impact things like heart rate and inflammation levels. As noted above, these have physical health complications over time.
In situations like a fire our mind runs rampant with worry and fear, which raise our stress hormone levels. We watch the news feed and look at the pictures. We talk to our neighbors and friends and strangers and repeat the same stories. All these actions create an electrical – chemical pattern in our brains.
As humans we are very, very adaptable. We are made to adapt. When we follow a thought pattern over and over we create a neurological change to make it easier to access information “if we are repeating it we must need it”, says the brain.
When something is continuing to happen repeatedly our brains figure we need it for survival, so it better adapt. It does this by changing it’s wiring. We call this neuroplasticity. Great when we learn to drive a car, not so great when we adapt toward more fear and worry. During an event like a forest fire, it is hard not to feed the fear, worry, grief, anger, and sadness.
To maintain health we must work with our minds and shift our focus from what is not working to what is. Look for positive things in your life, even small things make big gains. Find a flower, the way the aspen leaves move, the fact that the smoke gets easier during the day, that you like the meal you are eating, or the book you are reading. It doesn’t matter what you shift to, as long as it’s something you like, even for a moment. Those small shifts break the cycle of negative thinking patterns.
We must take responsibility for the thoughts we think and the direction we allow our focus to take. If we let mind run rampant, it will. Those repetitive thoughts feed themselves, creating more negative thinking. Remember, if we feed it fear and worry, we’ll have more fear and worry. Due to adaptation, we’ll focus on and find more negativity all around us. If we honor the fear and worry, then shift our focus to something more positive we are able to control the effects on our body for the better.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “you just don’t understand, I can’t turn my mind off” or “this is so horrible it won’t get better, this is a very bad thing” or some other version of the negative story. Switching your focus to something positive, does not mean you are ignoring the negative. It just means you are in control of your thought focus and you are managing what you pay attention to, thus what you experience in the moment.
Happy people do not experience less negative things, they control their focus and perception. They find the positive or neutral pieces of those experiences better than less happy people. They also do a better job of accepting what is in the moment which gives them more control over their experiences and options for changing it. Happier people know they always have choices (hint: we all do) and they know how to manipulate their choices for the best outcome in the moment.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you like the experiences, want it, or agree with it. It just means you acknowledge what is happening in this moment – not the one you want, not the one you wish you were in, not the one that would be easier. From the place of acceptance, it is easier to see what small step you can take in the direction of positive experience right now. A string of positive experiences creates a different neurological footprint and focus point. From here you have more control of your focus and thus the perception of the event.
Life happens to us all the time. I can’t control most of it. What I can control is how I perceive it. This makes all the difference in the world when in comes to living under negativity or positive experiences. Acceptance isn’t just about the mind, it’s also about accepting your emotional state.
Onto the third element of mental health, emotions. Emotions are a method of intelligence. Although many do not like feeling emotions or are confused by them, they are important pieces to understanding our experiences. Emotions help us know what we need to do with the experience we are having. During a fire we can feel lots of different emotions from fear, anger, sadness to guilt, despair, and even shame to excitement and happiness.
When we first hear the news, we often feel fear right off the bat. Where is the fire, who is effected, where will it spread, how will it move, will I be effected? The unknown is scary. It’s hard to feel safe when we aren’t sure of what’s going to happen. This creates fear.
Fear doesn’t live well when we take control of the moment by being present to what we can control and practicing acceptance. Fear is helped by asking for help and support when needed, too. Seek out information that helps you feel supported and safe.
Many feel anger. Anger is a normal emotion when we feel something is unjust or that someone / something we care about has been hurt somehow. Anger is a healthy response that helps us do something with our emotional energy by making changes. This shift helps us feel empowered and more in control of our world, which decreases our level of fear and changes our perception of experience.
For those of us taught to ignore our anger or those who fear their behavior when angry, it can be hard to honor and express it. It is important to express your emotions in healthy ways to help process and move beyond them. If you are feeling angry it can be helpful to get engaged with an organization we believe in making change in the area of concern, or talking with a trusted friend about your feelings and options for making change.
It is not helpful to repetitively vent, blame others, use violent language or physicality, or ignore your anger completely. It can also be helpful to do the exact opposite of your anger impulse. Anger wants you to yell, honor it and talk softly, anger wants you to hide, find a friend to talk with, anger wants to stew on the topic, do something completely different, go volunteer to distract yourself.
Sadness is often a large component of forest fires. As humans we are biological creatures and connected to nature thus we feel loss at the loss of natural life. It is sad and sadness is all about loss. For some of us we have lost our routines, sleeping in our own beds, or habitats we love. For some we’ve lost freedom of being outside and being comfortable. There are lots of things we’ve lost as the fires continue.
Honor the sadness as it shows us what’s important and helps us create a life worth living around things that matter to us. If you feel your sadness, you know what you care about losing. Then you can make sure to build life experiences that allow you to engage with items most important to you, while honoring change.
Guilt may arise as we find ourselves in conversation with others who are having a harder experience or we may be feeling a different emotion than others. Shame could also arise. Simply put, shame is about feeling like “I’m a bad person” where guilt is more about “I’ve done something bad”. It can be difficult to pick apart these emotions and deal with them. We often want to push them away and hide from them, however as with all emotions it’s more important to acknowledge them and make your choice to act on them from a place of authenticity. Both want you to hide and neither survive well when you are in connection with an empathic and supportive friend. Tell someone you trust what you are feeling to help mitigate these two.
Despair can also arise, especially because this is a repetitive cycle. We hope and pray for snow and water, yet experience drought, we have a good year or two, followed by some bad years. Maybe we are engaged in the conversations about human impact on the climate.All of these create situations where we feel helpless and small, we feel struggle not ease, and we feel as though the problems are so big we cannot solve them. As with anger, it is important to work toward small changes you can feel competent making in your own life. As one person we work in our individual environments to make change, then connect with others making small changes to make a larger impact on the world. Despair results when our sense of helplessness becomes so great that we see no way out. The way out is making small changes we feel good about it.
Happiness, excitement, or joy could also be part of our experience. For many we understand the transformative power of fire and may feel an excitement at the change fire brings. For some we feel excitement or joy knowing fire is natural part of nature and part of healthy forest development. For some we recognize fire is about creating a new beginning and we enjoy seeing the resiliency of the forest as it returns, reminding us all that we, too are resilient beings.
The bottom line on emotions is: whatever you are feeling know it’s normal and it is ok. As humans we can feel a lot of emotions all at once and that is ok. When we work to honor our current experience through emotions, we use them to form actions in healthy outlets. As a result our life becomes more vibrant and rich.
Final Thoughts On Dealing with Difficult Life Events:
If you feel overwhelmed by your experiences seek extra help from a professional. Therapy is great, when else can you sit with someone trained to actively listen to you talk about you for an hour with no bias in your situation. We need other humans to build our brains and make sense of our experiences. Seek out help if you need it.
Finally, perception is everything. Life happens, and it happens to all of us. We have little control in what is going on around us, however we have much control in how we respond to it. The way you manage your physical environment and body, pay attention to your thoughts and focus, and allow yourself to gather information from your emotions and make informed healthy action choices as a result, keep us regulated. This regulation is important as we continue to be stressed by disruptions and as we continue to move through this year’s fire season and beyond.
I often get asked how to create more joy. People come into my office and ask “how can I be more happy”. The answer isn’t in big changes. The answer lies in your perception of everyday.
When you make small conscious choices to notice more of what’s around you joy begins to follow. When you make a conscious choice to look for good things – we can all find the crap – it’s those of us who find the beauty that surrounds it who find where joy lives. Deep within us.
Finding joy can be difficult to do, especially if you’ve been taught to find the negative. Here are 11 actions you can use to bring more joy into your life starting right now.
Rest more – we hear this all the time, and the reality is rest helps us balance our lives, our bodies, and our emotions. By making sure you are getting enough rest – not just sleep but rest – throughout your day, you are more likely to enjoy your days more.
Take it slow – along with more rest comes taking it easy. This isn’t about doing less, but being more deliberate in what you do chose to do. Rather than rushing from item to item on your to do list, build in buffer time. Personally I struggle with transitions and “wasting time” if I arrive somewhere early. However, in reality the 10 minutes I think I’m “wasting” help make sure I go to the bathroom, find a parking place, and arrive in a relaxed mood for my next project etc making the quality of my life much better. By slowing down a bit I notice more and am more engaged. In the end it doesn’t get wasted after all. Thanks – Roxann – still hard for me, but great advice!
Laugh – hard, really hard. Laughing is good for our physical system and good for our soul. Find something every day that makes you laugh. Maybe it’s a movie, a song, a child playing joyfully, a friend who tells funny jokes. Doesn’t matter where you find your inspiration as long as you can laugh deeply and fully – big belly laughs. Don’t have anything to laugh at? Here’s a trick … just start laughing. The physical sensations and act of beginning will eventually keep it going.
Find Water – this time of year those of us in the northern hemispheres are feeling the heat cranking up. It’s time to find water. Water helps us release and let go, it helps us recognize that all things are fluid and to find strength. If you haven’t seen the strength of water’s steady determination check out this video … just might help you figure out how to accomplish #5 & 8 below:
Watch the moon come up and find the stars – for many of us, the lazier days and later sunsets have us up into the late evenings. Go outside and find the moon. Watch as she rises and the stars come out. We need moon light just like we need sunlight. Enjoy a full moon hike or lay out under the stars while it’s warm and enjoy preparing for sleep in the quiet of the evening.
Smell the “green” – During the summer months when plants are in full swing there is more oxygen kicking around and you can smell it J Humans like oxygen. Take advantage by taking deep breaths and observing the behavior of leaves, the feel of the breeze, and the smell of “green” as I used to call it when I was little. Up here in the Rocky Mountains flatlanders pay for this stuff (in bottled form) on the ski slopes and in their hotel rooms. When the trees and grass is green no need to shell out the extra bucks.
Read – Summertime is a great time to read. Find a good book or two and just lounge while you read. Get into your imagination as you make your way through a story. It is so fun to find good reads and finish them under the sun or in the shade of a great tree made just for leaning against.
Hang with friends – in the season of vacations – the ones we chose, not necessarily the obligated ones we experience in the winter, allow us to pick our adventures and who we want to adventure with. Find some friends, find an adventure, enjoy! Then repeat.
Start your day with mindfulness – by taking some moments to enjoy your morning beverage on the porch (because it’s warmer) you have the option to breathe deeply and experience # 6 above or talk to a passing neighbor (human or animal) enjoying # 8. By starting with mindful observation you participate in #2 and I think your day incorporates more of #1 just because you set it up to start that way.
Sleep in or wake up early – many of us have an altered schedule in the summer. Be it due to school being out, or co-workers and clients on and off vacation, many of us have something slightly different in the summertime. So take advantage. Maybe you want to do # 5 above so you sleep in, maybe you want to wake up with the sun and have a full fun and long day. Whichever your preference today – make it happen.
Did I say rest more? Even if you ignore all the others on this list … make sure you get this one done!
Last time we discussed how getting out and being alone can help us “hear” ourselves talk. As we spend more time with ourselves we build a strong sense of self and deeper connection to the type of person we want to be.
As great as this sounds. It can be really, really, really, hard to develop your best self. Especially if you have trouble hearing your own voice over the loud, sometimes very loud voice of society. Last post, we looked at values and how to determine your value set. Now we’ll look at how to put the values you identified into action and create your next best self.
First, determine which values are your top priorities. These might be overarching themes that help guide you in a variety of places (i.e. be kind to all people) or they may be specific and help set you up for successful decision-making (i.e. family is important to me). Once you have the themes and/or specifics, making daily decisions to live your most authentic self gets easier. If your top value is be kind, you know you need to work on being kind to every person you encounter regardless of differences. If you view family as most important, any decision that takes you away from a family connection should be evaluated to determine if it moves you closer to your goal of deepening your connection to family members or moves you away from those connections. If it moves you away, you say no.
Next, take a solid look at your life. Are you doing things everyday to show that these are the most important values to you? Many people talk a great game about family, relationships, health, work, etc, however when you look at their lives they are not working out or eating healthy, spending time with friends when they say family matters most, watchingA LOT of TV instead of being present to their kids – you get the picture. Are you talking the talk AND walking the walk around what’s most important to you? If not it’s time to change things up in your daily routine.
As you take a hard look at your life, what habits and beliefs can you shed to move closer to your goals? Begin by writing down your daily routine. When you wake up what’s the 1st thing you do? Then the 2nd? 3rd? And so on. As you examine your routines in detail you will find there are places you can eliminate wasteful current behaviors and replace with those that get you where you want to go. If you find this overwhelming hire a therapist or a coach to help you step back from your daily grind and create the life you want, not just the one you were handed. Once you know what you want to do differently it’s time to set up practice.
According to Magen and DeLisser (2017) experiential learning (learning by doing) is an effective way to to learn. The environment that set up practice in their program helped trainees learn skills in a safe, comfortable environment. Practice looks different for different folks. You might need to break your new behavior into small steps and practice the small steps until they become routine; only then move to the next step in the process. Other changes will require you tackle a bigger project and dedicate some time and space to trying out your new behavior in a variety of environments to find success. As you look toward behavior change, recognize it’s hard and possible. With some planning and support you can become whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do, and grow into your best self.
Once you’ve set your new behaviors in motion you have to assess along the way. Is your new behavior working? Impacting your life the way you want it to? Adding value and authenticity to your living? Cutrer et al., (2017) state “individuals learn and innovate in response to practice challenges”, (pg 70) and report reflection and self assessment are a critical pieces to help move from those uncomfortable places of new behavior change to integrating new skills until they become second nature. Through self assessment we can acknowledge what is working and what isn’t, making micro changes to study the experience of trying new things, and adjusting until it’s just the way we want it … at least until we decide we want the next change.
Finally, you have changed to the point of being a different person in the environments you wanted to shift. You have aligned your new behaviors with the values you determined matter to you most, and have enlisted reflection and assessment to help you make small shifts until it was exactly what you wanted.
Now, some advice for along the way. Making changes can be hard. Really hard. It may impact the way friends and family relate to you and/or how you relate to them and activities you used to do together. In my work, I often work with people who are struggling to change while those in their environments aren’t helpful. In fact, they may even encounter people they love sabotaging their efforts. Often this isn’t malicious, just a response to the fact that as you change you impact those around you, and they may not want to change. They may like the patterns you’ve set and feel threatened by your personal development. Your development may require that they become more responsible for things around the house or in your relationship, or it may require they release some control. There are all sorts of ways we impact each other and ways to work with change to make the bumps easier. If you feel overwhelmed by this idea, get some support. A good friend who believes in you, a therapist, a support group, a coach, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a health coach can all be options. Check out this previous poston behavior change and setting realistic goalsto help focus your efforts.
So as you look through your values list and contemplate your next steps, it’s important to evaluate a few things. What makes them so important to you? Are these values yours? Not initiated by an outside source (i.e. person, group, etc), but really yours? This step is important as you begin to determine life changes. You’ll need to understand why these values matter to you. Your why keeps you motivated and buoys the hard times during the change process you’ll inevitably face. Once you have your why and know the changes needed to align your life with your values list, you’ll be able to put into place daily practices and rituals that help you meet your authentic self right where she belongs… with you at all times.
Cutrer, W. B., Miller, B., Pusic, M. V., Mejicano, G., Mangrulkar, R. S., Gruppen, L. D., … Moore, D. E. (2017). Fostering the development of master adaptive learners: A conceptual model to guide skill acquisition in medical education. Academic Medicine, 92(1), 70-75.
Magen, E., DeLisser, H. M. (2017). Best practices in relational skills training for medical trainees and providers: An essential element of addressing adverse childhood experiences and promoting resilience. Academic Pediatrics, 17(7S), S102-S107.
Have you ever felt you wouldn’t be able to figure things out, that you weren’t responsible for your successes, terrified of making mistakes because people would “find out” you really didn’t know what you were doing. Plus, working hard to make sure you looked like you knew what was going on, even while feeling not good enough? Maybe even a little frozen because it feels so fake to claim your knowledge, space, and hope?
This is called the imposter phenomenon and afflicts a number of us at some point in our lives. Especially, those of us who have been given subtle messages about our being, such as, we can do it all without much effort or in contrast that we are not as smart as we really are (Clance & Imes, 1978). According to Bernard, Dollinger, & Ramaniah (2002) “The IP has been defined as an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in high achievers who are unable to internalize their successful experiences” pg 321.
As a result we find ourselves in situations where we feel we are not responsible for our success. Yet our age, experience, education, etc may be telling the world something different. There is incongruence between what the world sees and expects of us and what we believe about ourselves. This creates a sense of falseness or feeling like a fake on the inside.
When we find ourselves in these situations many of us turn up the charm, work harder, and end up in the double bind of proving and dis-proving our worth and brilliance at the same time. This proving/disproving becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy we struggle hard to break free from (Clance & Imes, 1978). Instead of continuing the cycle, there are ways to move beyond our sense of “falseness” and own our competence.
According to Bernard, Dollinger, & Ramaniah (2002), there are two personality traits that interact with feeling like an imposter. One is what’s known as the big five personality trait of neuroticism and the other also a big five trait, conscientiousness.
People with high neuroticism are defined in personality psychology as folks who are more moody and prone to judge situations as negative. They tend to have higher experiences of emotions like sadness, envy, fear, guilt, etc.
This trait combined with feelings of being an imposter are similar to well known dispositions of depression, like attributing success to external sources (i.e. I passed the test because it was easy) but attributing failures to the individual self (i.e. I failed the test because I am stupid).
To work with this trait and increase competence, one must begin to shift personal perception of self and the world. This is not easy. However, by seeking out experiences and opportunities for accurate praise and recognition the person can begin to recognize the truth of their competence. Along the way, it is important to deal with negative emotional states such as depression or anxiety to reap the larger benefits of embracing your true intelligence and brilliance.
Conscientious people tend to be organized, efficient, dependable, and aim for achievement. They like to plan things and have a lot of self-discipline. People scoring low on this scale tend to like spontaneity and sometimes are labeled as unreliable. When it comes to feeling like an imposter, there is negative a correlation with a lack of self-discipline seen in people who score lower on the conscientiousness scale and higher on rates of feeling like a phony. Bernard, Dollinger, and Ramaniah (2002) give a couple of possible reasons. First, it might be that those who lack self-discipline were told and/or expected to achieve with little effort (Clance & Imes, 1978). It might be the case that not only were these people told they were intelligent, bright, talented, and could do or become anything they choose, they also might have experienced ease in achievement especially in earlier life situations (i.e. high school).
Due to these experiences, this group may not have created behavioral patterns that offered structure or opportunities for the positive feelings associated with working hard to reach a goal. As a result, they do not gain a sense of mastery over their personal situations and tend to rely more on environmental factors for success. Others may be working from the notion that effort could equal failure so why try too hard. Which becomes the mantra driving lack of engagement, procrastination, and offering a self fulfilling cycle of self doubt and underachievement.
This leads many people to shrivel and remain small – to risk embarrassment, vulnerability, or judgment of “not knowing enough” is too much, way too costly. So we stay small and stay contained in our “normal” cultural living patterns. We stay complacent rather than push for change in situations we don’t like, and we settle. Then we feel fake, unsuccessful, and limited in our potential. Coupled with the internal feeling like there should be something more, we feel stunted and less than. To break this pattern we need to set goals and follow through, even when it’s hard.
If the concepts above sound like you:
Are you negating the reality of others’ opinions telling yourself “if they only knew …” and diminishing their ability to accurately judge the situation?
Telling yourself I am not responsible for great ideas, only for great failures.
Or are you stuck in the conundrum between I can and should achieve it all with little to no effort and to show effort would be weak?
Stuck believing that if I work hard and fail the cards all come tumbling down and I’ll be found out, so it’s better to self sabotage and let people think “if I would only try I’d be off the charts” rather than try and fail?
Go out into the world today and actively look for ways you can find honest feedback about your behaviors?
Take the challenge of absorbing the compliments of others as truth AND believe them?
Recognize that you did contribute to the success of a project or goal attainment, and honestly evaluate where you contributed to the failure without taking all the blame. Allow others to own their portion of the failure, too (and you know how to do this if you’ve been letting others own the success)
Commit to working hard for the sense of personal accomplishment regardless of the outcome?
Come to believe that showing effort and trying are not signs of being weak or stupid.
Let us know if you are up for the challenge of owning your competence and success in the comments below.
Bernard, N. S., Dollinger, S. J., and Ramaniah, N. V. (2002). Applying the big five personality factors to the imposter phenomenon. Journal of personality assessment, 78(2), 321-333.
Clance, P.R. & Imes, S. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, and Practice, 15(3), 1-8.
When I used to teach multiple classes a week – for a time up to 14 each week! – I always had clients coming up to me stating they would like to be in a class but didn’t know what / how to enter and fit in.
Here’s the basics. First, come a little early and let the instructor know you are new. This way they can help you know what equipment you need to have for the day, how to use it, and ask about any injuries or modification you may need.
Second, find a spot where you have enough room to move and can easily see the instructor. I know beginners like to be in the back row, however if you can’t see and you spend the whole class craning to look around a regular you aren’t going to get the best workout and your experience may be less enjoyable or not feel worth the effort and nervousness.
Third, pick a class that interests you and/or bring a friend. Having a buddy can really help take the feeling of being the newbie away. Fourth, have a good time. The point of group exercise classes is to have fun, not necessarily to be the best dancer or have the most flexible body or lift the most weight/do the most reps. If those were to goals you would be in what we call “training” not group exercise “class”.
And very last – don’t let your fear of looking silly or being a greenhorn in the room stop you from trying out something new. We need new and challenging activities not just for our bodies but also for our minds. Who knows the “class” you thought was interesting may become something you enter into “training” for.
Often rewards are one of the reasons people stay focused on workout goals. However if your workout goal is also focused on giving into your favorite “sweet foods” because you deserved it, you may find that you are over-indulging and sabotaging yourself along the way. As we begin a workout program we tend to increase our hunger because our body is requiring more calories (aka fuel) to do what’s asked of it. If we are filling those extra calories with junk because “we worked hard” we aren’t keeping our ‘eyes on the prize’, which has been found to help us reach our goals, and instead we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Smart pre and post workout snacking can help balance out those extra cravings and make sure the fuel you are choosing is the right kind for your needs in this part of your training cycle.
Keeping Your Eye On The Prize Matters. Check Out Why ~
If you aren’t going to reward yourself with food … then just what will you get for all that hard work? Answering a few simple questions can really help you define what’s important to you and keep you motivated to reach your goals. Think about:
What you really like do?
What do you value?
What do you usually forgo?
a mani/pedi, facial, expensive razor, a day at the driving range, time to read, a Netflix binge episode, sleep, a different/new food (that’s healthy for you), a new fitness tracker, etc.
These are all ways you can help yourself stay focused and excited to reach your goals, without blowing your long term health vision.
There are a few rules to the above answers. First, make sure you stick within your budget. If you end up healthier but then strapped for time to pay it off, you are apt to return to your old behaviors and lose your gains. Second, consider timing. I am a mother of 3, I might like a binge watching episode of Netflix, but if it interrupts my family time, it might not be sustainable or as enjoyable, leaving me demotivated. Third, plan for a variety of rewards. This way you won’t get bored doing the same activities over and over, get stuck in a rut and you are likely to resort to old unhealthy coping to beat the boredom. That’s a no-win.
Finally, remember the reward should be fun and shouldn’t be so far off and unavailable that it seems impossible to get. Once I gave myself a new pair of workout shoes, however the price tag on the ones I wanted was so much on my salary I had months of saving before me. That reward was too far out for me to stick with it. One time, I also gave myself a facial appointment if I met my goals, problem with this reward – it seemed so unlike me and too pampering. I wasn’t motivated to reach my goals to get it. It felt too uncomfortable at the time. I backed that goal down to something that felt better for me and had a massage instead.
Once I was able to switch the way I thought about “what I deserve” after apply hard work and big effort, finding unique and motivating rewards got a lot more fun. See what you come up with to give yourself today.
It’s the 4th of July!!! For today, think about letting go of all the numbers you associate with your health.
Let go of checking your weight. Instead go by do I feel better, am I sleeping better, do my clothes fit better, am I better able to do the movement my daily routine requires?
Let go of how many minutes you move. Instead plan to move more often than not throughout the day and tell yourself you are going to take all the opportunities that exist to move when they arrive – that picnic game, yeah you’re in it – the foray into the water, yeah you join – that sunset walk, yeah you did it.
Maybe even take a break from the negative self-talk you have regarding your healthy lifestyle behaviors. Are you one to tell yourself you can’t do something or won’t reach your goal or you’re such an idiot because you didn’t pay attention to how much potato salad you put on your plate? Instead fill your head with compassionate self-talk. You are doing the best you can, given these circumstances, in this moment, with the knowledge you have right now. It may be that taking extra potato salad taught you that next time you don’t need so much, but hey – you didn’t know that when you filled your plate, or if you did what else is going on that may need attention and learning?
Today embrace the freedom of living healthy, choosing the best options for yourself in the moment with compassion, and staying focused on your goals without being ridged about them.
Today be free to be the person you want to be and know that being that person takes practice and time. In every moment you have either a lesson or a blessing – see how many of each you can find, while knowing that as you make healthy choices in each moment you are on your path to living healthy and free.