Clicky

Are You Feeling Restless?

By Scott Jeffrey

It’s so common that it avoids our detection.

Restlessness. It is the primary neurosis of our time.

That, at least, was the observation of the great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung.

He made this observation over 60 years ago. I believe it’s truer today than it was then.

A neurosis is an excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession. It’s a sign of mental imbalance. It produces unnecessary stress.

Restlessness implies an inability to be still—to come to rest, to be able to fully enjoy periods of play and reverie.

Signs of restlessness abound:

  • A materialistic, consumer-driven culture obsessed with the new
  • An unending pursuit to accumulate more money, titles, and things
  • Parents chauffeuring their kids to an endless procession of activities
  • A collective addiction to social media sites like Facebook

It’s truly difficult to avoid feelings of restlessness in modern life.

Locating the Source of Restlessness

Restlessness, Jung believed, is a symptom of people who are not actualizing their potential, people who are living in discord with their true self.

In The Way of the Dream, Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz explains, “Restlessness is caused by a surplus of bottled-up energy, which makes us fuss around all the time because we are not connected with the dream world or the unconscious.

“Or that energy can take the form of an all-pervading anxiety, a fear that somewhere, something dark is lurking and might happen at any minute.”

We become anxious about nothing at all. An underlying anxiety becomes a common part of our daily existence, often accompanied by feelings of irritability, aggressiveness, or meaninglessness.

All of these tensions can also lead to depression. Not surprisingly, anxiety and depression are commonplace in our culture, significantly more so than for prior generations.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one out of ten Americans is depressed.

According to an analysis of global depression statistics, high-income countries have higher rates of depression than lower-income countries. The United States, for example, generally ranks as having the highest levels of prosperity and one of the highest rates of depression of any nation.

Resolving Feelings of Restlessness

We seek remedies or the alleviation of suffering from our restlessness in many ways: working obsessively, abusing drugs and alcohol, consuming sugar and junk food, watching television and using the Internet excessively, and engaging in “retail therapy.”

Restlessness is likely the driver behind much of our unsupportive habits.

It would be an error, I believe, to point fingers at our technologically-driven culture as the cause of our restlessness. Technology only magnifies the issue.

Jung saw this restlessness and other neurotic behaviors as symptoms of being disconnected from one’s dream life—from the wisdom of our inner world.

Freud saw dreams as merely a rehashing of events from prior days and memories from childhood.

Jung discovered an extraordinary third source of dream content: the wisdom of the two-million-year-old human being, the “age-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us.”

This wisdom, according to Jung, exists as a living potential within each of us. We access this wisdom through our dreams, which provide a bridge between the ego and our inner world every night when we enter REM sleep.

Exploring Your Dreams

Neurotic tendencies like restlessness are often a result of what Jung called one-sidedness—holding fixed, rigid, and sometimes extreme perspectives about yourself, the world, and life.

Jung found that our dreams can help us adjust from our one-sidedness. They can help us see and embrace new perspectives and open up new doorways for internal and external exploration.

Our dreams can help us hold the inherent paradoxes and ambiguities of life in new, supportive ways.

Tuning into dreams, modern medicine is discovering, is important for emotional health.

The challenge with listening to our dreams is that this unforgotten wisdom is ancient.

It communicates to us in an unfamiliar language—the language of symbols. Understanding these symbols and metaphors is no easy task.

The good news is that we don’t need to understand the symbols in order to benefit from our dreams. We just need to start paying attention to them.

By simply keeping a journal by your bedside and recording your dreams upon awaking, you take the first step in reawakening your dream life and putting an end to your restlessness.

New adventures await. Pleasant dreams!

Finding Moments of Stillness

By Scott Jeffrey

Did you ever love something so much that’s just out of reach?

There are periods in my life where I feel very connected to a deeper part of myself. In those moments, I feel very still.

I can sit and gaze at a tree with a sense of wonder. I can walk through the woods with deep feelings of reverence.

Then there is the rest of the time when that connection doesn’t feel so strong, when I have difficulty being inwardly calm.

In these times, I’m often aware of a feeling of disconnection. I know a different state of being exists. I can vaguely recall it. Sometimes, I can almost taste it.

But it’s just out of reach.

Notice Moments of Stillness

A different state of consciousness emerges when you’re inwardly still.

With deep, rhythmic breaths, the body’s physiology begins to change. The parasympathetic nervous system takes over. Heart rate slows. Blood pressure drops. Muscles release tension.

Overall awareness is heightened.

Directed outward, our five senses are refined and deepened.

Directed inward, insights about life problems arise spontaneously. Conflicts often resolve themselves as we become more conscious of alternative perspectives.

Our boundary expands. Our sense of separation dissolves. This shift leads to greater care and concern for others. Yes, stillness can elevate our level of compassion and empathy.

Emotions—both positive and negative—are more easily accepted and welcomed in this silent space. We don’t hold onto them. We let them come and go.

Instead of wrestling with time, trying to push into the future or lament the past, we rest in the here and now.

In stillness, flow isn’t a concept; it’s an experiential reality.

The richness of experience in this mindful state transcends any words used by the most skilled writers to describe it.

Locate Your Still Point

Start by turning your full attention to your breath or an object in nature.

Relaxing your gaze, just be in the moment.

Over time, with focus and attention, moments of stillness can become more frequent. The practices of meditation and play are helpful.

Activity doesn’t go away in stillness; it is part of life too. But we are no longer consumed by activity.

The benefits of this state are many, and these gifts are available to all. We need only establish the habit of stopping, breathing, and paying attention.

Today’s post is just a reminder of what you already know, but can easily forget. Have a truly beautiful Monday!

7 Steps to Discovering Your Personal Core Values

By Scott Jeffrey

As a life strategist, I’ve come to appreciate the power of values.

I’ve observed that individuals experience greater fulfillment when they live in accordance with their values. And when individuals don’t honor their values, they don’t feel too good.

I’ve noted this in my own life as well.

Why Are Core Values Important?

Values are a part of what we are. They highlight what we stand for. They can represent our unique, individual essence. They guide our behavior, providing us with a personal code of conduct.

When we honor our personal core values consistently, we feel fulfilled. When we don’t, we feel incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits to feel better.

Knowing Your Values Changes Your Behavior

I still remember going through my first values discovery process when I was 22. I was attending an intensive 4-day seminar devoted to learning about what drives you. Core values were a central theme of the event.

One value that quickly rose to the top of my list was health. Physical health, energy, and vitality were and are very important to me. I spent a great deal of my childhood sick, and I saw how it affected my development and life experiences in deleterious ways.

I was committed to cultivating a strong foundation for my physical health and wellbeing in adulthood.

Clarifying this value as a top priority shifted many things in my young life. It influenced what I ate, drank, read, and did.

When you strongly value health, you don’t have to wrestle with your will as much. If you know a particular food or activity isn’t good for your body, you simply don’t want it.

I made a practice of paying attention to how different foods made me feel after I ate them. If something made me sleepy or drained my energy, I took note.

I consciously sought to create a way of being that supported a healthy, energizing lifestyle.

Many people highly value comfort. Consider what happens when you value comfort over your health and you’ll begin to appreciate the power values hold in your life.

Discovering Your Personal Core Values

The challenge is that most of us are not clear about our values. We don’t consciously know what’s most important to us. Instead, we are more focused on what our society, culture, and media values.

Can you clearly articulate your top 5 to 10 values that are most important to you?

Without undergoing a discovery process, it’s challenging to know your personal core values. It’s easy to intellectualize and idealize what you should value. But knowing and accepting what you do value takes effort.

While the following process is best done with a qualified coach, you can do it on your own if you apply self-honesty, patience, and determination.

Ready? Take out your journal, a notepad, or a note-taking app. And let’s get started.

Here are 7 steps to creating distinct and meaningful core values that will serve you in every area of your life and work:

STEP 1: Start with a Beginner’s Mind

It’s too easy to presume that we know the answer at the start and to, therefore, never truly embark on a creative, personal discovery process.

Adopting the mind of a beginner—someone without any preconceived notions of what is—gives you access to inner truths to which your conscious mind is yet unaware.

Simply take a deep breath and momentarily empty your mind. Remember that your conscious mind doesn’t know all of the answers. Create a space for new insights and revelations to emerge.

STEP 2: Create Your List of Personal Values

Arriving at a concise and short list of values can be a daunting task. You can find lists online with almost 400 values to choose from. However, I don’t advise using any predetermined lists.

Why? Values aren’t selected; they are discovered and revealed. If you start with a list, your conscious mind will begin evaluating which values are “better” than others.

That said, if you’re not familiar with working with values, you may want to quickly scan a list of values to get a sense of your range of options.

For example, here is a list of core values that start with the letter “C”:

CalmnessCamaraderie

Candor

Capability

Care

Carefulness

Celebrity

Certainty

Challenge

Charity

Charm

Chastity

CheerfulnessCleanliness

Clear-mindedness

Cleverness

Closeness

Comfort

Commitment

Compassion

Completion

Composure

Concentration

Confidence

ClarityConformity

Congruency

Connection

Consciousness

Consistency

Contentment

Continuity

Contribution

Control

Conviction

Conviviality

CoolnessCooperation

Cordiality

Correctness

Courage

Courtesy

Craftiness

Creativity

Credibility

Cunning

Curiosity

To help you uncover your own personal core values, here are three processes you can try:

1) Peak Experiences

Think of a meaningful or rewarding moment in time—a peak experience that stands out in your mind. What was happening to you? What was going on? What values were you honoring in that moment?

2) Suppressed Values

Now, go in the opposite direction; consider a time when you felt angry, frustrated, or deeply upset. What was going on? What exactly were you feeling? Now flip those feelings around. What value is being suppressed?

3) Code of Conduct

What must you have in your life? Beyond your basic human needs, what must you have in your life in order to be fulfilled? Creative self-expression? A strong level of health and vitality? A sense of excitement and adventure? Being surrounded by beauty? Always learning? What are the values that you must honor or a part of you withers?

STEP 3: Chunk Your Values into Related Groups

Combining all of the answers from step 2, you now have a master list of values. If you take this process seriously, you may have between 20 and 50 values.

Obviously, that’s far too many to be actionable and memorable.

Your next step is to group these values under related themes.

Values like accountability, responsibility, and timeliness are all related. Values like learning, growth, and development are related. Connection, belonging, and intimacy are, too. Group them together.

STEP 4: Highlight the Central Theme of Each Value Group

If you have a group of values that include honesty, transparency, integrity, candor, directness, and truth, select a word that you feel best represents the group.

For example, integrity might work as a central theme for the values I just listed.

You can keep the other words in the group in parentheses to give your primary value more context. You’ll use them again in step 6.

STEP 5: Determine Your Top Personal Core Values

Now comes the hardest part. After completing step 4, you still may have a sizable list of values. Here are a few questions to help you whittle your list down:

  • What values are absolutely essential to your life?
  • What values represent your primary way of being in the world?
  • What values are essential to supporting your inner self?

You can’t be all things to all people. You are unique. You have certain strengths and weaknesses. Your values are what matters most to you.

How many core values should you end up with? Too few and you won’t capture all of the unique dimensions of your being. Too many and you’ll have trouble remembering them and keeping them functional.

While the number of core values differs for each person, the magic range seems to be between 5 and 10.

Rank them in the order of importance. This is generally the most challenging part of the process, so please be patient with yourself.

You may need to do this step in multiple sittings. After doing one round of ranking, put it aside and “sleep on it.”

Revisit your ranking the next day and see how you feel. Then, go through the process again.

STEP 6: Give Your Core Values Richer Context

Now, creativity really comes into play.

Highlighting values into memorable phrases or sentences helps you articulate the meaning behind each value. It gives you the opportunity to make the value more emotional and memorable.

Here are a few tips and guidelines for crafting your values statements:

  • Use inspiring words and vocabulary. Our brains are quick to delete or ignore the mundane and commonplace.
  • Mine for words that evoke and trigger emotional responses. They will be more meaningful and memorable.
  • Play to your strengths in crafting your values.
  • Make your value statements rich and meaningful to you so they inspire you to uphold them.

You could use other words from the groupings you made in step 3 in your description.

For example, let’s say you’ve identified a core value of health to represent other values, like energy and vitality.

Your values statement might be: “Health: to live with full vitality and energy every day.”

STEP 7: Test the Ecology of Each Value

Once you’ve finalized your list of core values, walk away from them and revisit them the next day after a good night’s sleep. Review your list:

  • How do they make you feel?
  • Do you feel they are consistent with who you are?
  • Are they personal to you?
  • Do you see any values that feel inconsistent with your identity (as if they belong to someone else, like an authority figure or society) and not you?
  • Check your priority ranking. Do you feel like your values are in the proper order of importance?

Nothing is set in stone. Feel free to make any tweaks and changes as necessary.

Are You Living Your Core Values?

Now that you have a prioritized list of your top 5 to 10 core values, let’s see how well you’re living them.

Assess how well you’re honoring each value by scoring each one on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represents optimally living the value.

What’s your level of satisfaction with each value?

Record your score for each. You can set up a table in Excel or on Google Drive.

Put a date at the top of the column. Repeat this exercise once a month or quarter to assess your progress.

If you score below 7 in a particular value, what changes do you need to make? What has to happen for you to better honor this value in your life?

Here’s where self-coaching comes into play. Define your goals. Create a plan. Actualize it.

Check in with your values again. Notice if you feel a difference in your level of fulfillment in life.

How to Use Your Core Values to Make Decisions

Knowing your personal core values and their order of priority is incredibly helpful in making difficult decisions.

Start by scoring your values as described above. Then, imagine your life several months or years in the future having made the decision.

For example, what will your life be like having started a new business or a family?

Step into this future picture as much as you can. Have it come alive in your mind.

Now, score your values while keeping the vision alive in your mind. Does making the decision elevate your values score? Does it cause friction with one of your higher values?

This process will help bring a new level of clarity to your decision-making process.

P.S. If you’re a business leader or an entrepreneur, be sure to check out The Ultimate Business Course on Core Values on the Cult Branding Blog. It’s an in-depth article and workshop to help you establish core values to create a thriving, unified culture.

Good Habits, Bad Habits

By Scott Jeffrey

Bad habits come easy, don’t they?

Bad habits form quickly and require little effort on our part. They are largely the result of not paying attention.

We all have bad habits.

Good habits are an achievement, a triumph over the more primitive parts of our brain. Good habits take effort, persistence, and consciousness—especially when establishing them.

Let’s not call them good or bad; we’re not making a moral judgment here.

Instead, let’s call them supportive and unsupportive habits to our overall wellbeing.

Establishing Supportive Habits for the Future

Unsupportive habits are things we do on a regular basis that don’t support our physical health or our psychological wellbeing.

They are the result of exclusive pleasure seeking, of the desire to experience pleasure and avoid discomfort or pain in the present moment.

Life-supportive habits help us stay in balance and tend to further our development. They are the result of using our prefrontal cortex (thinking brain); they are gratifying and often focused on future outcomes.

When we come home and turn on the TV or swipe our iPad open because we’re tired, wired, and want to zone out, we’re engaging in a disempowering behavior.

We are choosing to numb our minds and avoid our feelings. This is a form of self-medication.

(Physicians like Andrew Weil and scientists like Terrance McKenna classify television as a drug, based on the effects it has on our brains.)

If we do this every day, we form an unsupportive habit.

When we come home, wash our hands, and sit quietly for five minutes to center ourselves before starting the evening, we are engaging in a life-supportive practice.

Instead of avoiding the tensions within us, here, we are actively choosing to stay present with our stress and calm our minds.

This is an investment in our future selves, which enables us to make healthier choices in the evening.

Instead of needing to self-medicate with television or the Internet, you’ll be more likely to pick up a book, consciously play with your children, work on a creative project, or spend conscious time with your loved one.

Common Unsupportive Habits

We are aware of many of our unsupportive habits.

Many of them are so commonplace in modern culture, however, that we often don’t necessarily identify them as such. Or we know they don’t support us, but we don’t consider positive alternatives.

A few common unsupportive habits and behaviors we’re all familiar with:

  • Keeping email open while working (distracts your attentions and reduces your productivity at work)
  • Checking Facebook and Twitter updates religiously (has the same consequences as above)
  • Responding to every text message and phone call as soon as you get them (has the same consequences as above)
  • Watching television without a clear intention and a defined time period (is a form of self-medicating that causes depression and eats away at your precious time)
  • Using stimulants like coffee to stay alert during the day (can lead to anxiety and require sedation in the evening with TV, food, alcohol, and other drugs like marijuana)
  • Buying things you don’t need (is another method of avoiding or suppressing emotions that is wasteful and fiscally irresponsible)
  • Sedating yourself with food and alcohol to mellow out from the work day (is another form of emotional suppression and avoidance)

There are biochemical reasons behind all of these unsupportive behaviors.

Almost all of them trigger dopamine in our brains, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure seeking.

All of these behaviors require conscious effort and impulse control to break the habit and install a healthier alternative.

It’s easy to take any of these common, compulsive behaviors and turn them into an unsupportive habit: just do it every day for a few days. Again, unsupportive habits come easy.

The Call of Conscious Living

Conscious living means being fully awake to our actions and behaviors. It means making decisions that support our physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual wellbeing.

Conscious living is incredibly difficult—especially today.

It requires a considerable level of self-awareness, discipline, forward thinking, and practice.

Combined with patience, self-acceptance, and self-compassion, we can make more healthy choices each day.

Conscious living is not about perfection. The pursuit of perfection will make you miserable and actually derail your efforts, as I’ve repeatedly learned from personal experience.

Instead, conscious living is about making incremental improvements, minor course corrections each day.

Conscious living means paying attention of our behavior and motivations while affirming our commitment to make decisions for a more healthy, enriching future.

In the Pursuit of Happiness?

By Scott Jeffrey

Please pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and consider: how happy do you feel as you read this?

If you’re not feeling happy, how do you feel about that? Survey your feelings carefully and be honest. (And if you’re feeling happy, please keep feeling happy.)

We have a cultural bias toward happiness. The prevailing belief is that we’re supposed to be happy most of the time, and when we’re not, something is amiss.

This seems to be the case in all consumerist cultures, which encompasses all modern societies. It is especially so in the United States. After all, Jefferson singled out “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.

The Tension Related to Happiness

Back to my question: If you aren’t feeling happy as you read this, do you notice any tension in your body? Do you feel any mental or emotional distress? Not feeling happy is one thing; how we relate to unpleasant feelings is something else.

The tension is based on an underlying assumption that we should be happy. But why? Why should happiness be the aim or ideal in our everyday human experience?

Is life not filled with difficulties, trials, upsets, and pain? Is there not a great deal of suffering within the human experience? Is it reasonable to expect to be happy most of the time?

(By the way, happiness researchers have found that we each have a different happiness set point. For example, roughly 25 percent of people are naturally happy; they are born this way. Another 25 percent of people tend toward depression and pessimism.)

Could our collective bias toward happiness be an attempt to repress the darker (but equally real) side of life? Could this collective repression help explain why America is one of the most depressed nations in the world?

From Happiness to Contentment

In Spontaneous Happiness, Dr. Andrew Weil suggests that it would serve us to replace the ideal of happiness with contentment. Contentment is a general feeling of “okayness” with life. With contentment, we are able to more easily accept what is, to be okay with whatever we’re experiencing, positive or negative.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t try to find ways to increase our level of pleasure, happiness, and optimism.

Optimistic people with positive feelings, for example, are 50 percent less likely to have a heart attack or get sick. It is also fruitful to improve our emotional states by learning how to consciously work with negative emotions.

But knowing that it’s okay to be down, depressed, anxious, and afraid at times is important, too. We reduce our suffering when we accept our inner state—no matter what it is.

Acceptance of what we’re experiencing also gives us more internal resources for shifting into a more positive space. That, at least, has been my experience.

The Secret to Long-term Happiness

By Scott Jeffrey

Positive psychologist and author of Authentic Happiness Martin Seligman draws a distinction between pleasures and gratifications as two very different ways of realizing happiness in the present moment.

Last week, we explored three ways of enhancing our pleasures. Now, we turn our attention to gratifications.

Pleasures versus Gratifications

Like pleasures, gratifications are also very enjoyable, but they don’t necessarily evoke any raw feelings like pleasures. Whereas pleasures require little, if any, thinking, gratifications often involve thinking and interpretations.

Examples of gratifications include reading an engaging book, dancing, playing a sport you love, and immersing yourself in a stimulating conversation. With gratifying activities, time stops, we lose self-consciousness, and we become totally absorbed in the activity.

Gratifications last longer than pleasures; pleasures tend to be short-lived. Gratifications don’t habituate as easily as pleasures do.

As we saw, pleasures are about engaging the senses and feeling emotions, but gratifications are about contacting a higher part of us: our personal strengths and virtues.

In terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, pleasures are the satisfaction of our basic needs, especially biological ones. Gratifications, in contrast, are the result of higher needs, like our cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, self-actualization, and self-transcendence.

Entering the State of Flow

This is where Seligman’s research intersects with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research on flow. In a state of flow we generally don’t feel positive emotions. We are focused; we have a clear goal. Entering a timeless state, we are absorbed in deep, effortless activity. And perhaps most interestingly, our sense of self vanishes.

Gratifications can produce the state of flow, but unlike pleasure, gratifications require skill and effort. They also offer the possibility of failing. While pleasures come easily, gratifications from exercising our personal strengths are hard-won. It’s no wonder we so often seek pleasure instead of focusing on growth.

A further challenge is that there are no shortcuts to gratifications. They take effort, practice, and the consistent exercising of our natural strengths. Building these strengths requires conscious choice: Do you want to acquire them? Do you want to keep building them? And when do you want to use them?

What Are Your Natural Strengths?

Seligman outlines two characteristics of what he calls strengths:

  1. A strength is a trait, a psychological characteristic that can be seen across different situations and over time.
  2. A strength is valued in its own right. The strengths are states we desire that require no further justification.

This second characteristic highlights another important difference between gratifications and pleasures; unlike pleasures, gratifications are undertaken for their own sake, not for any positive emotion they may produce.

Based on his research, Seligman offers 24 different strengths that are measurable and acquirable:

Creativity
Curiosity
Judgment / Critical Thinking
Love of Learning
Perspective
Bravery / Valor
Perseverance
Honesty / Integrity
Zest
Love
Kindness
Social & Emotional Intelligence
Teamwork
Fairness
Leadership
Forgiveness
Humility
Prudence
Self-Regulation / Self-Control
Appreciate for Beauty & Excellence
Gratitude
Hope / Optimism
Humor / Playfulness
Spirituality / Faith

Reviewing the above list, do certain strengths stand out in your mind? (If you’d more context for each of these strengths, click here.)

If you’re interested in getting a better idea of your own strengths, register for a free account on the University of Pennsylvania Authentic Happiness website and take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. The VIA Institute offers the survey on their website as well.  (Note: it’s not a quick test. Be sure to block off at least 10 to 15 minutes to take the test.)

Capitalizing on Your Signature Strengths

To make the test functional, Seligman suggests that each of us have a set of core strengths, what he calls signature strengths. Your signature strengths are the top five strengths from their survey.

Discovering your natural strengths can be an instructive process. It may clarify what you already know about yourself or highlight strengths you aren’t conscious of. It can also suggest where to best invest your time to optimize your gratification (experience more happiness).

But I also found it equally helpful to see what strengths ranked low on the list for me. If you have a tendency toward perfectionism or “being good” in all that you do, you may also find it helpful to see what ranks at the bottom of your list.

Although we may aspire to possess a high proficiency in all 24 strengths in order to master every valued human virtue, the reality of our humanness provides a more realistic point of view. For me, the experience led to greater self-acceptance of my shortcomings and a renewed interest in developing my actual strengths.

How does Seligman suggest you increase your level of daily happiness? Use your signature strengths every day in the main areas of your work and life.

Three Ways to Maximize Pleasure

By Scott Jeffrey

I’m always looking for ways to cultivate a more positive state of mind. I’ve observed that I’m more creative, productive, sociable, and grounded when I’m feeling optimistic. I’ve witnessed how I adopt disempowering behavior when my mental state declines.

In Authentic Happiness, founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman points out that we have two distinct ways of experiencing happiness in the present: pleasures and gratifications. Today, let’s look at pleasures.

Pleasures have sensory and emotional components like comfort, delight, ecstasy, excitement, and orgasm. Pleasures, however, tend to be short-lived, and many of them have negative consequences.

Pleasures are an enjoyable part of life, and Seligman doesn’t suggest eliminating these sources of transitory happiness. Instead, he offers ways to maximize our experience of them.

He offers three suggestions based on current research:

1) Avoiding Habituation of Pleasures

Did you ever find a cookie you loved so much that you couldn’t get enough? But eventually, you had enough and lost your interest in the cookie? Indulging in pleasures repeatedly and rapidly reduces the pleasure of the experience—something we’ve all had firsthand experience with. This process is called habituation, and it occurs with all sensorial pleasures.

Did you ever have a song you loved so much that you listened to it over and over again? How much pleasure does that song give you now? Seligman suggests taking a band you enjoy listening to and experimenting with listening more and less frequently. The goal is to discover the optimal time period that keeps the music the freshest and your enjoyment the highest.

Put into your life as many events that produce pleasures as you can, but increase the amount of time between these events than you usually do. Try to locate the optimal time lapse that keeps your pleasures from having diminishing returns.

2) Savoring Pleasure More Deeply

The more awareness we bring to a pleasurable event, the more pleasure we can experience. Savoring is the act of putting conscious attention to the experience of pleasure.

Seligman offers four kinds of savoring based on the work of Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff:

  1. Basking (receiving praise and congratulations)
  2. Thanksgiving (expressing gratitude for blessings)
  3. Marveling (losing the self in the wonder of the moment)
  4. Luxuriating (indulging the senses)

There are numerous ways to promote savoring, including sharing the experience with others, anchoring mental memories of the event, and, in the case of basking, allowing yourself to feel a sense of pride for the occurrence.

3) Becoming More Mindful of Pleasures

Much of human activity is performed without focus or attention. Living on automatic pilot, we fail to notice a great deal in our overall experience.

Bringing mindful attention to any act is a worthy experience. In the case of our pleasures, mindfulness can elevate these experiences to have almost transcendent qualities.

Eating a piece of chocolate while you’re focusing your eyes on your computer screen produces a certain class of experience. Eating it mindfully with your eyes closed and your full attention on the smell, texture, and sensations in your mouth and the experiences in your brain is an entirely different class of experience.

It is difficult to engage in mindful activities when we’re stressed and our minds are racing. A few slow, steady, quiet, deep breaths are helpful before you fully tune into the sensations of a pleasure.

In the next post, we’ll explore the other source of happiness in the present: gratifications.

Healing and Growing

By Scott Jeffrey

Healing is oriented toward the past, growing toward the future.

We heal emotional wounds created in the past that we carry into the present. Healing requires conscious, deliberate effort and at least one therapeutic method like cognitive therapy, Gestalt therapy, or some form of emotional releasing. Wounds occur on many levels, and different therapies address different kinds of wounds.

We grow by investing in our development today for the future. Growth, too, requires conscious, deliberate effort and at least one method, running the gamut from dream analysis, yoga, or meditation—depending on your chosen areas of development. It also requires lots of practice and various methods for different stages of development in the myriad areas of our being.

Positive mental health is not the result of healing wounds. Positive mental health is the result of growth.

Healing requires a commitment to growth. Growth best unfolds on a strong foundation in the absence of persistent mental wounds.

It is useful and sometimes necessary to spend time in the past; we just don’t want to live there. The goal is to heal, learn, and move on.

Seeing a compelling future can inspire a vision for our lives, but we don’t want to spend too much time looking ahead, either.

The present is all we have, and although “stay present” sounds like a simple directive, in practice, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, it’s not easy.

Healing our hearts (past) and training our minds (future) requires a great deal of work in the present. The experience of wholeness, of course, is worth our effort.

Using Instincts for Optimal Decision Making

By Scott Jeffrey

When the ancient Greeks needed answers, they consulted oracles. Oracles were priestly men and women at designated locations, like stone temples, who offered wise counsel or predictions about the future. The source of this wisdom and predictive powers was said to be the gods. That is, the oracles used a form of divination to guide others.

Imagine wrestling with a difficult problem where no single answer seems to present itself. Maybe you are considering a new vocation, starting a family, going on an extended trip, or invading a foreign land. What to do, what to do.

When our minds wrestle with difficult problems, it can be mentally and emotionally draining, leading to physical fatigue. Decision-making is hard work. We don’t know what the decision will mean to us.

We tend to fear making the wrong decision. The Latin root of decision means to cut off or kill; to decide is to cut off or kill other options, which our minds dislike doing. So we often avoid making difficult decisions. This, of course, only prolongs our anguish.

Instead of wrestling with the problem or decision, imagine letting an oracle bring clarity to the issue. And because you trust that oracle wholeheartedly, you know that he or she will provide proper guidance. Problem solved. Tension resolved.

The Source of the Oracle’s Wisdom

Did the source of the oracle’s wisdom stem from some external source like the gods? (Pythia, the oracle at Delphi, apparently had a pretty good track record; she was considered to be infallible.)

From a modern psychological perspective, we would say these oracles were attuned to their personal unconscious and perhaps the unconscious of the collective. That is, these ancient intuitives were connected to their inner worlds and the collective inner world of their culture.

It can be comforting and supportive to get outside guidance and wise counsel when problems arise. And I’m not suggesting otherwise. There are many psychologists, social workers, coaches, mentors, teachers, pastors, rabbis, friends, and parents who can offer wise counsel in times of need.

External Wisdom Versus Internal Guidance

But Abraham Maslow and other humanistic psychologists found that self-actualizing people—those that tend to have more positive mental health—are less dependent on others and tend to be more autonomous and self-directed in making life decisions.

Instead of consulting others about their problems, they tend to direct their attention in the opposite direction: inward. They call on their own deeper nature and latent resources and creative impulses to solve their problems.

Tapping Into Our Deeper Nature

Coming to trust one’s own inner guidance, however, doesn’t happen overnight or by simply deciding to. Much of our inner, deeper nature is unconscious to us.

Freud explained that our deeper nature is actively repressed because it is feared, disapproved of, or foreign to our conscious egos. And many aspects of this inner nature are simply forgotten, that is, neglected, unused, overlooked, or suppressed. This process begins early in life, largely as a response to parental and cultural disapproval.

Instincts Lost and Regained

Before we can come to trust our inner center, we must first connect with it and open up to it. That is, we must forge a bond with our personal unconscious.

As modern folks living in a technological age where many of us live in urban dwellings, we have largely become divorced from nature and our instincts. Maslow writes in Toward a Psychology of Being, “Humans no longer have instincts in the animal sense, powerful, unmistakable inner voices which tell them unequivocally what to do, when, where, how and with whom.”

Yet, “Authentic selfhood,” Maslow continues, “can be defined in part as being able to hear these impulse-voices within oneself, that is, to know what one really wants or doesn’t want, what one is fit for and what one is not fit for, etc.”

Maslow’s perspective is actually reminiscent of the ancient Greeks’ who saw the soul as an inner organizing principle that gives meaning and direction to each life.

Locating Your Inner Oracle

Just as there are many pathways for travelers on the road to authentic selfhood, there are many practices to begin tapping into these impulse-voices and intuitive messages.

Here are few paths worth exploring:

  • Carl Jung offered the practices of dream work and active imagination to help connect, communicate, and integrate your divine inner center.
  • Eastern practices like Qigong and Yoga have their own integrative methods that connect the body’s instincts with the mind’s higher capacities.
  • An active journaling process and integrative therapies like Internal Family Systems can help get us acquainted with our inner voices.
  • Communing with nature is another suitable means for reconnecting with our instincts.
  • Being still, staying quiet, and listening carefully can be the most basic yet highly effective means for reconnecting with our soul (that is, practice mindfulness meditation).

The challenge is that connecting with our inner nature takes practice, that is, ongoing work. It’s easy to think or believe that we’re tapped into our higher self when we’re, in fact, simply listening to our ego’s wishes. Make no mistake; without effort, our inner oracle remains elusive.

Why is practice and development so important? Maslow and others assert that mentally healthy individuals (self-actualizing, individuating) naturally make better choices than the rest of us. That is, when you’re mentally healthy—when you’re not driven by neurotic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—you can naturally make choices in favor of your biological, social, and self-actualizing needs.

True mental health does not happen by accident. Becoming an integrated, mature adult takes effort: owning your shadow, meeting your basic needs, resolving internal tensions, healing your psyche, and so on.

But with practice, we can begin opening up to an infinite wellspring of inner guidance and wisdom that flows effortlessly, feeding our souls and leading us on a meaningful journey through this precious life.

On the Walls of Delphi

Let’s go back to Ancient Greece for a moment. The term “γνῶθι σεαυτόν” was apparently inscribed in the front courtyard at Delphi. This translates to the famous Greek aphorism found throughout the writings of Plato: know thyself.

More than just an idea or principle, “know thyself” is instruction. Through inner work, we can actualize this aphorism and locate the oracle within.

The Four Stages of Learning

By Scott Jeffrey

After reflecting on my previous post on our drive for growth and our need for safety, I was reminded of another psychological roadblock to self mastery that often hinders our progress.

In order to grow, we must first become conscious of our incompetence in whatever areas we want to grow. When we first become conscious of what we’re not good at (for example, managing our finances if we’re in debt, playing an instrument if we never have, or working with our negative emotions), it tends to bring up feelings of weakness and inadequacy. And we don’t like those feelings.

An awareness of our incompetence is actually a very normal part of any process of learning and development.

Learning takes us through four stages. Let’s take a closer look at each stage:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

First is the stage of unconscious incompetence where we don’t know the degree of our incompetence. You don’t know how awkward it’s going to feel playing the guitar until you pick one up and try to strum a chord.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

The next stage is conscious incompetence. Our minds are now aware of the fact that we are at the beginning of a long learning curve. It is this stage that brings up feelings of weakness and inadequacy, feelings that our egos would like to avoid.

This stage of learning requires commitment, an inner decision to follow through. While you may have experienced a burst of excitement and enthusiasm when you began stage 1, that initial energy tends to dissipate in stage 2. And this is where many of us bail out of the growth cycle. This stage requires self-compassion, discipline (the cultivation of will), and hard work.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

If you’ve committed yourself to consistent practice with devotion, patience, and friendliness toward yourself, you manage your way through the many plateaus and long periods of hard work (practice) that occur in the learning process. To reach this stage, you must first welcome or at least work through the uncomfortable feelings that come with conscious incompetence.

Now, however, you have observed your progress. Your confidence has grown. You feel somewhat competent in your ability. You remember where you once were and can marvel at your improvements. You still need to focus intently on the object of learning (perhaps a new skill), but your development is undeniable.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

The real magic occurs at this final stage of alchemical transformation. From total darkness, awkwardness, discomfort, and frustration experienced in stages 1 and 2, through the herculean efforts of consistent practice in stage 3, emerges a new level of being.

With unconscious competence, conscious focus is no longer needed to perform a skill effortlessly. This is the state of being “in the zone” or “in the flow.” It is a Taoistic, thoughtless state of being. We witness it in great athletes, musicians, orators, and anyone who walks the path of self mastery.

Realizing Peak Experiences

But this transformative state is available to all of us. Abraham Maslow spent a great deal of time studying peak experiences, a euphoric state of harmony and interconnectedness, a selfless state of total absorption often followed by feelings of love, joy, and wholeness.

And here’s the best part: while everyone has access to these peak experiences at various time of our lives, Maslow found that self-actualizing individuals had significantly more peak experiences. It appears our biology favors the prepared souls who walk the path to self mastery. What good news!

Page 1 of 2712345...1020...Last »