For the past couple of months I have really desired to write more on the blog, but have I been extremely busy finishing my dissertation. Thankfully this past week I was able to successfully defend my dissertation and I will be graduating in May with my PhD in Human Ecology with a Specialization in Marriage in Family Therapy. Although KaCee does the majority of posting on this blog, this is most definitely a collaborative project for the two of us. Creating this website has been a joint venture and something that we are both excited about. I spend a lot of my time doing academic writing so it is nice to have a more casual creative outlet. Both KaCee and I have a lot that we would like to share and this blog has really provided that opportunity.
When I have had spare a few minutes I have been doing everything I can to help KaCee by linking her content on link parties and by promoting her posts through social media (especially on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook). If social media or link parties have brought you to the blog this most likely was posted by me. It is extremely nice to actually be back writing on the blog again! For the next few weeks I will be posting a series of posts about becoming your best self. I have a lot to say about this topic and I believe that it makes sense to break it up. I hope that you will find this information helpful! 🙂
Roadblocks To Our Potential
If you and I were sitting together in therapy or in my classroom I would ask you if you felt like you were living up to your personal potential. Too often in life I believe that people do not recognize their potential and/or live up to it. There are a variety of reasons that this can occur, but I would like to focus on two reasons in particular. First each us during the course of our lives experiences trials and adversity. If we are not careful these experiences can derail us and distract us from reaching our goals and becoming better. However, these challenges in our lives also present an opportunity to grow and become if we allow them to. Difficult experiences can refine and make us stronger and also can help us to become more empathetic to others.
Secondly, some of us may struggle with the monotony of life and may be simply going “through the motions.” This is a clear indication that you need to make a change in your life that will allow you to grow. I believe that central to reaching your personal potential is to establish meaning in your life. In other words you need to find a way to create a purpose in your life so that your life becomes more meaningful. For example you can choose to be your very best in your family or friend relationships. You can choose to be more committed and loving in your romantic relationships. Absolutely one of the very best ways that I know to create more meaning in your life is to serve and help others. There are people all around us everyday that need our help, and sometimes simply smiling and saying “hello” can make a substantial difference.
One of my all time favorite books is Man’s Search for Meaning (affiliate link) by the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. I have assigned this book in several of the classes I have taught at the university level and I have also encouraged several of my therapy clients to read it. Man’s Search for Meaning tells the story of Viktor Frankl and his experiences in concentration camps during World War II. Unlike some books about the Holocaust that specifically focus on the horror and atrocities of that experience, Frankl instead explains how prisoners made meaning even during these difficult circumstances. During his time in the concentration camps Frankl personally discovers the words of the the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to be true: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how” (p. 76). I strongly believe when we personally can develop a why to live we are happier and our lives are more vibrant.
Our Thought Process Impacts Decision Making
Years ago during my undergraduate degree I was an awful student. School did not excite me and I really struggled to understand the purpose of going to class. In fact I am certain a few of my undergraduate professors would be shocked to learn that I am about to graduate with my PhD and become a professor at a university this fall. 🙂
Needless to say back during my undergraduate I didn’t have direction and I didn’t understand my purpose or potential. I had a very negative thought process about being a student and my ability to get good grades. KaCee and I had only been married a few years and our daughter Taryn was very young. I remember KaCee had become increasingly concerned about my studying habits and pulled me aside one day and said “If you care about me and you care about our family you will get your butt in gear and make a school a priority.” While KaCee and I somewhat disagree on the exact language in that conversation, the discussion did take place and was extremely motivating me. KaCee has been very encouraging and supportive all of these years. I will be forever grateful for the role she has played in my personal development. She has always believed in me and has helped me to achieve more than I thought I was capable of.
To become our best self I believe it is incredibly important to find ways to improve our thought process. How we think and feel has a substantial impact on our decision making (how we act). We need to learn to recognize that how we think leads to how we feel and that how we feel often determines how we act toward ourselves and others. As simplistic as that might sound our thought process can be far more impactful than we sometimes give it credit for. This idea is illustrated in the picture below and can also be applied to couple relationships which I will talk about in a future post.
When I meet with clients in therapy and even in some of the classes I have taught at the university I provide a handout entitled Definitions of Cognitive Distortions (click the link for a downloadable PDF). Cognitive distortions are automatic thoughts that are not a good representation of reality and are often based on assumptions. These thoughts can lead to symptoms such as depression and anxiety (there are plenty of research studies about this) and can create great conflict in relationships. All of us from time to time may have thoughts that could be described as cognitive distortions. The problem is that cognitive distortions can be detrimental to ourselves and to our relationships.
Below is the list of Cognitive Distortions adapted from David Burns book Feeling Good:
1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If
your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending
pattern of defeat.
3. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively
so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors
the entire beaker of water.
4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative
belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though
there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusions.
a. Mind Reading. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively
to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
b. The FortuneTeller Error. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and
you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement). Or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily
reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts,
as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do
anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is
guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration,
9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of over-generalization.
Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.”
When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label
to him: “He’s an idiot.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language
that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative event which
in fact you were not primarily responsible for.
Do you find yourself having any of the thoughts from the list above? When and why do these thoughts most frequently occur? Are these thoughts based on assumptions or are they a good representation of what is occurring in your life? In therapy I encourage my clients to:
S – Stop and identify the negative thought
T – Think of different ways to look at the situation
O – Opt for the best (most positive and realistic) solution
P – Put the solution into practice
You Are More Than What You Have Become
To close the post I would like to refer to a clip from my favorite film of all time The Lion King. In this clip Rafiki (the monkey) shows Simba (the main character) his Father, and reminds him of his potential. During the film, Simba experienced trials and adversity early in life (losing his father) which led him to forget his purpose and potential. Simba was supposed to be the next king in the land, but had runaway from home and had been living a life based on “hakuna matata.” Simba is told to look inside himself and become more than what he had become. Each of us has room for improvement and can become a little bit better everyday. By creating meaning in our lives and improving our thought process we can be in a better position to become our best self.
- Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: Morrow.
- Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Hahn, D., Allers, R., Minkoff, R., Mecchi (1994). The lion king. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Co.