Golden rules for real happiness

Yes – you know these people. They seem to glow from the inside, full with authentic happiness. How are they doing it? 

There is some serious research about “positive psychology” going on, about what makes people happy. Martin Seligman is one of the fathers of positive psychology, and led some serious research in this area.  I found some of the results surprising because I already did it subconsciously all my life. I’d like to share some of my habits with you and sum up scientific results about happy people as golden rules for happiness:

  • Positive activities diary. It sounds simple, but research shows that remembering the little things that went well over the day can make you feel more happy. When you’re about to fall asleep, try to think of all the things that went well during the day: that nice talk with the barista at Starbucks, that call from your father, that smile from your kids – be grateful and appreciate the fact, that little things can make you happy! It can help to start a positive activities diary: Every day in the evening time, try to find three events from the present day that made you happy. Over time you will find yourself more aware of the little things that make you happy in your everyday life, just like happy people do.
  • Meet happy people. Research shows that if you are together with happy people, you’re more likely to be happy yourself. Look at your life: Are there any people who literally suck out the energy of you, leaving you behind devastated and without any positive feeling? Try to spend more time with friends, who push your emotions up, who give you a good feeling!
  • Foster positive activities. Yes, there are certain days where you get out of bed, and everything is wrong, you’re grumpy and you just want to yell at everybody to leave you alone. To be honest, I don’t have these periods in my life at all. I really try to be happy all the time. Just trying to be happy lets you actually feel better. I reward myself, I’m a very self-gratifying person (e.g., I survived that horrible painful meeting with my dentist? I deserve a marvelous breakfast for that). And I challenge my negative thoughts!
  • Mindfulness and acceptance. As mentioned in the last sentence above, it is important to celebrate the small victories as well as the big events in your life. I notice each and every little thing that goes right during the day, focusing on the good things rather than the bad things. And I try to live my life with mindfulness – meaning that I appreciate easy-to-come-by pleasures such as a good café latte or that cute puppy from the neighbor.
  • Feelgood music mix. According to psychological research, music has a great power on your mood. I always have my personal “feel good” folder with my favourite mp3’s that lift up my mood instantly, when I feel depressed or down or anxious. Furthermore, I use these music doing things I don’t like, e.g. the household. I hate vacuuming, I really do. But it’s so much more fun with a good techno-remix, plus over the loudness of the vacuum it’s unlikely that anybody hears my rusty tuneless voice. Try to find your personal uplifting music and listen to it at least once a day!
  • Physical exercise. I started my workout when I was twenty. I kept it as a weekly routine to hit the gym at least two or three times a week. Of course I had periods in my life, when that was not possible due to exams or other stuff. I noticed that I started to feel uncomfortable and in a strange mood when I didn’t get to work out for more than a month. Psychological research backs me up: Exercise releases endorphins that make you happy. It has a depression- and anxiety-decreasing effect. On the other hand, you should try to get enough
  • Sleep! And relax! Your body needs sleep, appreciate this fact. Give your body the time to relax, recover and reboot. A lack in sleep has a significantly bad effect on your mood. Furthermore, take some time off during the day with mediation, unplugging the phone and be there, just for you. Meditation or just a few minutes off for yourself, practicing stomach-breathing (deep long breathing into your stomach) can increase your personal resilience. Happy people take their time off, for rebooting and recharging their batteries.
  • The world is your catwalk. According to a recent study, people feel happier when they take long strides while swinging their arms and holding their heads high. Sounds silly? Just try it. Hold your head high and take long strides the next time you walk somewhere. Remember – the world is yours, it is your personal catwalk 😉
  • Focus on the positive aspects of life. Seligman pointed out that there is something like “learned helplessness” in depressed people, they aren’t able to help themselves, being dependent on other people. On the other hand, there is something like “learned optimism”! Optimists have a realistic view of life, knowing that bad events will go by, they’re temporary. Defeat is not their fault, it’s because of circumstances, bad luck or other people. Confronted by a bad event in life, happy people tend to perceive it as a challenge rather than a problem and try even harder. Nothing lasts forever!
  • Give. Whether it is time or something else. Give something to other people. Psychological research shows that spending money on other people makes you more happy than spending that money on yourself. Spending time for or with other people has a crucial effect on people’s happiness – research shows that volunteer work is good for both mental and physical health! Scientists say that  the act of making a (financial or other) donation triggers the reward center in our brains that is responsible for dopamine-mediated euphoria.
  • Spend quality time with friends. Depressed people often fail to leave their house for any social activities. They simply don’t have the motivation or the energy to do so. Furthermore, texting friends or seeing them via webcam seems to be so much more convenient. It’s a trap! Don’t get too comfortable, studies show that it has a dramatic effect on your happiness when you actively go out and meet friends or invite them over for a face-to-face talk. Technology is fine, but it can’t replace everything, especially when it comes to social connections!
  • Get out! Happy people choose activities outside, and if it is only for a walk. Fresh air is essential for happiness and provides a sense of vitality; furthermore, the sun has a mood-enhancing effect as well (even if it is the sun in winter, it’s always better to get real daylight instead of artificial light from bulbs).

Have fun including these habits and activities in your life! It’s all up to you to include more happiness in your life…

 

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.

Mindfulness – be there where you are

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

Since I was a teenager, people where asking me why I appear so relaxed, so grounded, and happy. They’ve been asking me what my secret is. I didn’t know what they were talking about, it seemed natural to me. It’s not a big secret, but I guess, being born with a hearing disability made me automatically more aware of where I am. I didn’t know what my “secret” was until I studied Psychology and came across the concept of “mindfulness”. I found a word for my secret, and I want to share that “secret” of mindfulness with you.

In general, it’s all about the current moment. You have two options to be aware of that moment, let me describe this for you with my current situation:

Option 1: I am stressed; I just delivered the kids to school and decided that I want a coffee at Starbucks. I have to work later; I should drink my coffee in the car.

Option 2: It is 8am in the morning now. I just delivered the kids to school and decided that I want a coffee now. I earned it! Instead of drinking it in the car, I decided to have a seat. I am sitting in the background at Starbuck’s, my laptop on a wooden desk. I am sitting on a metal chair. I see almost ten people, waiting in line for their coffee or breakfast, most of them playing with their phone. I smell freshly brewed coffee, and the perfume of the lady sitting next to me. The coffee smells like… hazelnut? Walnuts? It definitely smells like roasted coffee beans (duh!). The perfume smells like lillies, and jasmine. Maybe like roses? Sipping on my pumpkin spice latte, I can taste the spicy components of my coffee. I can taste (of course!) coffee. It reminds me of my childhood, and brings back warm memories of my mother and grandmother. I can taste some pumpkin spice. It brings back warm memories of being together with friends and family, Thanksgiving. I automatically start to become more happy, thinking of my next thanksgiving, my first one in the US with the family.

What do you think – which option sounds more relaxing? Which option is able – by just reading it – to paint a picture in your head? I bet it is the second option. And that is very much how I live my life. Mindfulness. To be aware of where I am, and to enjoy that very moment. The BIG secret. But what exactly is mindfulness and how can it help you in your life?

Mindfulness (or awareness) is a psychological construct; it comes from (Zen-)Buddhism and there are several definitions of the word. Roughly, it describes an actively watchful mind, combined with special breathing techniques – it is a special kind of mediation. It is widely used in modern psychological interventions (I use it regularly in my own practice). In general, research about mindfulness has a strong connection to positive psychology. Results show that practicing mindfulness can have a strong impact on your brain (after two weeks only); with improvements in your mental health and general happiness.

I am (almost) always aware of where I am. Sometimes I am in a rush too, busy, distressed. But then I try to find a mindfulness moment. A silent moment. To bring me back “to life”, to be aware of my presence, where I am. With this ability you feel like the eye of a tornado; no matter how stormy things are in your life, it is peacefully relaxing in YOUR center within you.

There are several mindfulness techniques in cognitive-behavioral therapy, and some of them are very useful for you to improve your mental health and happiness in general. Just start with one simple exercise and include it in your daily routine (as described in option 2 above):

Instead of rushing through your life, your head full with ideas about the future and the day, your next meetings, kids stuff, your work, the to-do list, and and and .. STOP! Make a break. Right now, no matter where you are. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Be aware of where you are. Where are you at the moment? What are you doing?
  • Start breathing into your stomach. It calms you down automatically.
  • Are you standing, walking or sitting? What are your physical sensations? When you walk: Walk like your feet are kissing the earth. Feel the physical sensation.
  • What do you see around you? Watch the people, what are they doing? What do you hear?
  • Breathe deeply. What can you smell? Do you have any memories connected with that smell?
  • Be aware of where you are. Try to enjoy the moment. Stop phubbing (using your mobile phone) and look around you. Smile at someone. Enjoy the moment.
  • You are here, your presence, and it is the only moment you have – the past is gone, and the future is not here yet.

If you start being aware of where you are and what you are doing, you bring more mindfulness in your life. If you are attentive, you will realize that you find joy in your very current situation, no matter where you are (sitting in a car, in an elevator, waiting in line at Starbucks, etc.). Have fun experimenting with your awareness and including mindfulness in your life. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me via email or leave a comment.

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.

I am a nomophobic!

 

Let’s talk psychological facts about nomophobia and smartphone addiction. Yes, I believe that a certain amount of nomophobia is a normal behavior. In general, the term nomophobia refers to the anxiety of losing the smartphone or the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. It is an abbreviation for “nomobilephone phobia”. As I already pointed out in my other article, “phubbing” is one of the negative side effects of nomophobia and “nomophobic” people often act out of fear of losing social contacts. The question is what is nomophobia, psychologically speaking? And why do I think that it is normal to feel a certain amount of nomophobia?

3

 The smartphone – source of all evil?!

The term nomophobia first appeared in a study by the UK Post Office. According to this study, nearly 53% of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they “lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage”. Clearly, this is a very high number for a phobia. It is obvious that many people use the term “phobia” without any knowledge about it. So let’s talk some psychological facts about phobias.

Facts about phobias

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychological Association, a phobia has to meet at least the following criterias:

  • A phobia is a marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable. It is cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood).
  • Any exposure to the phobic stimulus almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response, which may take the form of a situationally bound or predisposed panic attack.
  • The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
  • The phobic situation(s) is avoided or else is endured with intense anxiety or distress.
  • The avoidance behavior or distress causes a significant impairment in the person’s daily activities.

I do not have any doubts that there are individuals suffering from problematic thoughts out of fears of losing the mobile phone. I have everything connected with my mobile phone: my social hubs, my numbers, my favourite apps, my mobile banking account, my work emails. With so much information stored on my phone (confidential emails, contact details, photos) – when my smart phone gets lost or stolen, all these information is easily exploited; of course I feel tensed, uncomfortable, even somewhat anxious with the thoughts of losing my phone. That doesn’t make me suffering from a phobia, but obviously I am “nomopobic” – it is a normal behavior to have fears like that, losing a device with all my personal information stored on it.

Facts about addiction – smartphone addiction?

Another term connected to nomophobia is “smartphone addiction”. There are some specialists out there stating “If checking and rechecking your phone comes as naturally to you as breathing, or if you feel anxious or restless any time your phone is not on or near you, you may have a technology addiction”. Well, let’s have a look at “addiction” from a psychological perspective. An addiction is the abuse or misuse of a psychoactive drug, or the repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences. An addiction has to meet at least the following criteria:

  • Tolerance towards the substance (need for an increasing amount of the substance; and a diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance)
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  • A persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use
  • Important social or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use
  • The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

Yes, I love checking my phone!

It seems very clear, that the term “addiction” fails to explain the behavior that is connected to “nomophobia”: how can you develop a tolerance toward a mobile phone, how can you take the “substance” smartphone in larger amounts or over a longer period (using two smartphones?!). I love checking my phone if I got any messages from my friends. I love checking my phone to know what is going on in the world. Does it make me “smartphone addicted”? I doubt so. But what is nomophobia, when it isn’t a phobia or a smartphone addiction?

 Problematic behavior connected with smartphones

Nevertheless, “nomophobia” can be a very serious topic causing a lot of distress in some people. It is very clear that we are totally reliant on our smartphones not only for the personal use, but business use too; but the most important aspect is the level of psychological stress. If you are okay with using your phone, and your family and friends are okay with it too – why should we create a problem? I am against the current trend of labeling people with an artificially created disorder. Nevertheless, from a psychological point of view, I am aware that there are people suffering from symptoms “nomophobia”, even if we cannot define clear diagnostic criteria. There is a certain percentage of people suffering from problems that come with an overuse of the smartphone. There are people out there not able to cut down or control the use of mobile phones and social networks. There are people experiencing negative impacts in their social or work life because of an overuse of the smartphone. Again, the most important aspect is your personal psychological stress. If you have problems with your mobile phone and an overuse, you should take it seriously. You can start with asking yourself some questions like why you need your phone 24/7,why you have this need of being connected all the time, etc. You might also find my following tips useful.

Some tips of cutting down your problematic use

There are very individual reasons why people developed a behavioral pattern of an overuse of their phone. You may find my following tips very useful when it comes to cut down your mobile phone usage. If you suffer from problems like that, don’t hesitate to contact me for further information!

  • Try to spend some time without a phone. It’s all about breaking a habit. Most of us fear missing a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, when they are not connected to the Internet or social hub. You will see that nothing bad happens, and you can start to enjoy other activities without your phone.
  • No texting while driving. This goes without saying. Texting while driving is six times more dangerous than being drunk. Please don’t risk your life because of your need of the need of texting somebody.
  • No checking facebook or emails in bed before falling asleep. You find yourself easily caught in the web by reading facebook or reading emails. You deserve your free time, and you deserve your sleep. There is nothing so important going on that it cannot wait until tomorrow.
  • Go out and meet friends! When you are with your friends, turn your phone off. OFF – not on vibration. Pay attention to your friend(s), nothing bad will happen just because you turned off your phone. Your friends will appreciate your attention.
  • Start a diary. When you think that you suffer from an overuse of your smartphone, you may even start with a diary. You can pinpoint the times where you use your phone for which purpose. Most people are really very surprised when they find out their real amount of time they spend with their phone daily.

 

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.

Phubbing and Nomophobia

Regardless of age, gender, career or ethnicity – you are probably holding a smartphone right now, or it is less than a few feet away. Almost 60% of Americans own a smartphone or tablet, it became a vital companion for many people – including me! I can’t imagine a life without my smartphone anymore, I have it with me anytime. Unfortunately, I also check my phone while engaging in social interactions – phubbing (a word made of “phone” and “snubbing”) is the rude act of concentrating on a phone while talking to people.

photo

Currently, there is a huge wave on twitter against “phubbing”. The everyday use of smartphones affects the way we interact with each other; we forgot how to pay attention. We have distractions everywhere! The Internet, the PC, the smartphone, the TV, the radio, music playing everywhere, ads blinking on every corner – we forgot how to live without any distractions, to live with silence. Silence makes us feel uncomfortable. Many of us always feel this urge to do something – playing a game, checking facebook and twitter, and so on. Experiencing silence and boredom in a talk with strangers or friends is uncomfortable, indeed. But instead of learning how to tolerate and bear silence in certain situations, most of us grab the phone. Phubbing irritates a lot of people; it leaves us with feelings of being boring and not worth to get any attention. Therefore, checking emails or texting is very rude, especially in business settings; when did people start putting the learned conversation etiquette on the back burner? Moreover, a recent study revealed that 10% of the participants use their smartphone during sex (according to JUMIO http://www.jumio.com/2013/07/americans-cant-put-down-their-smartphones-even-during-sex) – a new way of ménage à trois? Seriously?

Do we really have to use our phone every minute of the day? Sure, having a companion like this always with me, a social hub, my favorite music, the opportunity to talk to my friends whenever I want, all the knowledge of the world packed in my pocket, all my favorite games – I love it! Losing a companion like this makes me feel uncomfortable. Many of us suffer from anxiety if they lose their phone, even if only for a few minutes, it is called nomophobia (no mobilphone phobia). Nomophobia and phubbing are two sides of the same coin! It is the fear of being disconnected, to be out of the loop with your friends or family, the feeling of missing out, worrying about what is going on in this world at this very moment.

phones

Where does it come from? We are human beings. We are social by nature. We like to be part of something bigger, to be part of a community, to be part of society. Social networking (such as facebook and twitter) gives us the feeling of being social, the feeling of being part of something. There is nothing wrong with that! Unfortunately, most people miss real conversations in “real” life because of phubbing. We all have that one friend – you talk to him, tell him a story, he or she looks up from his or her phone asking you “Huh? What did you say?” This is rude and antisocial – not paying attention to humans in the real world, while being virtually connected to other people online can be dangerous. The constant need of being entertained, being excited – we forgot how to pay attention to something or someone. There is nothing wrong with the need of excitement – if we have the downtime to calm down, a quiet time just for silence and ourselves. Having a bath without a phone or meeting friends and concentrating on just one person at a time is a good beginning to stop phubbing and reduce nomophobia. Furthermore, I recommend the following tips to reduce the daily use of smartphones:

  • No phone during sex. Seriously? No! Absolutely no! Try to have some time for you and your partner. You will survive a few minutes (it will only  be a few minutes in most cases 😉 ) without your phones. Focus solely on your partner, pay him your full concentration – he or she deserves it!
  • No texting while driving. Yes – no texting while driving, it is six times more dangerous than being drunk. Don’t risk your life because of your need of facebook and texting.
  • No phones in bed before going to sleep. I know – it is fun to read new posts on facebook, play a game, just before closing your eyes. But no – from a psychological perspective, it is the completely wrong thing to do. You send signals of excitement to your brain right in the very moment when it should get ready to sleep. Try to read a book instead (yes – these outdated vintage words printed on paper). And shut your phone off, if not completely off, turn it to silent mode. You do NOT need to wake up just because someone posted something on facebook.
  • Give your friends the best you can give – your attention! When you are with your friends, turn your phone off. OFF – not on vibration. Pay attention to your friend(s), nothing bad will happen just because you turned off your phone. You will see, it becomes easier each time. And your friends will appreciate your attention.
  • Spend a day without your phone. Ha! I tried it. I really did. And nothing bad happened! I didn’t miss a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. You can start in small doses, like leaving the phone at home for two hours.

 

 

And stop staring at your phone at this very moment!

 

 

 

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.

Letting it go – a hard part in life

You feel secure with someone, you settled down, fantasies in your mind how the next years will be – and KABOOM! all of a sudden, there is a change in life. Someone breaks up with you. Divorce. You lose your job. There is a severe illness. Someone is moving away. It makes you face one of the inevitable facts of life, that nothing is meant to be forever. We are all mortal, and we all have only so much time left here on planet earth. And this is scary!

Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”(by Deborah Rieber, Chicken soup for the soul)

Daphne Rose Kingma pictures it very well in her book “The Ten Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart”. Whenever you feel like your life is falling apart, you have an impulse to hold on. Human beings are creatures of habits, and there are only a few people that can adapt to new situations quickly. Holding on to him, to her, to the way it was, to how I wanted it to be is just natural! To overcome a crisis, to let someone or something go, it is necessary to let go whatever is not serving you. 

People always hold on to something. It can be your partnership, your career, your friends, your house, your car, your clothes or properties. They make you feel secure and safe, it’s your personal comfort zone. It’s a good thing as long as it does not keep you from moving forward. But the moment you realize that something is keeping you from moving forward, you have to ask yourself if it isn’t better to let go. People spend years or decades of holding on, only to find themselves left with the feeling that they should have invested their energy not in holding on but rather in moving forward.

We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.” (by C. JoyBell C.)

Letting go is extremely scary. It is a big risk, it is a free fall without a safety net. But the moment you learn to let go is a moment where you get active. You are doing something instead of passively waiting for change. You are actively taking responsibility for yourself, for your life. You are making a decision to get a divorce. You are making a decision to sell the car. You are making a decision to join a new club to meet new friends. You are making a decision concerning YOUR life and YOUR feelings. As soon as you start to get active, you will see that things will fall your way. You will have the feeling that you have the control over your life again, and you will notice that strangely good things will happen. Friends will support you. You will get help from unexpected sides. It’s like the Universe’s way of saying “Good! You made a decision! Let me assist you!”. You, and only you are responsible for moving yourself in a new direction!

As creatures of habit, we are used to hanging on for dear life. Something is familiar and comfortable, we feel secure in a relationship not only because of love, but also because of habit.  We are scared of the future, and we have a lack of trust in ourselves. So why should we change, why should we let it go… But sometimes life is forcing us to let it go. To let go of someone beloved, either because of a divorce, house moving/migration, death… 

Almost all people have an identity crisis coming along with a forced “letting it go”. We all have “schemas” on how to function in life, how everything should be. These schemas are our identity, build up our personality. As scary it is, but letting it go is a big chance of reorganizing your self, finding your inner strength and doing what you always wanted to do. A situation in life with letting go asks you to question your paths in life. It is completely up to you to chose a new path in life, no matter how old, young, rich, poor you are. All you need is trust and faith in yourself to find something new and better.

We often try to hold someone back, just like a grimly dog with a tree branch in his mouth. But unless you are stuck to this tree branch, you are not able to open your mouth all the other delicacies of life… As Daphne Rose Kingma points out “It’s acknowledging that this piece of your life, this relationship, this way of doing things has served its purpose and so it is time to let go of it completely.” Say good-bye. Don’t waste your energy in holding to old feelings, use all of your energy for searching new pathways in your life! It is very scary to let go of the past and settle for an unknown future – I can tell you, I’ve been down this road for myself, but it is also very exciting. It is LIFE – and life is change. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we find peace and the time to appreciate and enjoy the very present. 

Here are some tips I found very useful when it comes to letting it go:

  • Do something new: Learn a new skill, attend this yoga class, go to that fitness center, learn a new language – whatever you do, it will distract you and it helps you to get over your frustration and sadness earlier.
  • Cry! There are several studies stating that crying actually helps people. Don’t hold it back, cry it all out, it helps to release (and “cry out”) harmful chemicals in your body.
  • Take your time: Be aware that letting somebody go takes its time. Acknowledge this and give yourself credit and time.
  • Change of Action: instead of grieving of the past, do something actively. Call your friends, do some volunteer work, send out new job applications… Instead of passively waiting for a change or crying over the past, take actively control over your life again! For example, exercising decreases stress hormones, it can improve your mood dramatically!
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Be aware that you might have some negative automatic thoughts. They can hinder you from letting someone go, because you feel inferior and small. Challenge your thoughts and learn how to change negative thoughts into positive ones.
  • Mediation and Yoga: mindfulness can help you to stay in the present moment instead of worrying about the future.
  • List of positive activities: Make a list of activities you really like to do, that are good for you. This can be almost everything, starting from very little things to big things, like smelling on a flower, go to the park, go barefoot in grass,  a hot steamy bath, a walk, exercise, meeting with friends, shopping, volunteer work, whatever – try to do one positive activity at least once a day!
  • Write a good-bye letter: Writing a letter to someone who left you can help you to sort out your feelings and thoughts. You don’t necessarily have to mail the letter, the writing process helps you to talk about your feelings. You can metaphorically throw it away or you burn it. Something I like to do in my coaching sessions is to burn the letter and then put it in a flowerpot with earth and seeds of flowers. This is a metaphor – you grow and you blossom over your past experiences.
  • Three options: Constantly remind yourself that you have only three options. You can go away from a bad situation, you can change it or you learn to accept it. These three options allow you to move on with your life, holding on to grieve and bitterness don’t.
  • Visualize an empowered self in the future: One of the most powerful actions I experience daily is the power of visualization. I strongly believe in everything we have in our current life was in our mind before. Therefore, to create a happier better life, you have to visualize it daily. You can write it down, paint it, whatever – never underestimate the power of your visualization.

 

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.

Think positive! Challenge your negative thoughts

When talking about the comfort zone, you must be aware of your thoughts. As I pointed out in my other post, many people tend to stay in an unhappy relationship or in a work setting that doesn’t make them happy out of fears, out of feelings of inferiority. Nobody chooses an unhappy relationship or any situation that makes someone not happy – human beings long for happiness! And yet, I find many people stuck in their life at certain points not able to gain real authentic happiness. Why is that so?

One of the most common reasons in my experience is that many people don’t dare to go for better life circumstances. Human beings are creatures of habit. And if there are habits you are used to, why should you change them, even if they are bad? I often hear things like “Why should I change my life, my habits, my behavior when I’m used to it?”, “Why should I end my relationship, isn’t having someone better than being alone?”, “Why should I work somewhere else, and learn new things, I am not able to do that!”. Excuses, excuses … and it’s bullshit, speaking in a non-academic language. I am often amazed how people take so much effort in holding their bad status quo instead of putting their energy in things that could move them forward in their life. We are creatures of habit. I’m not an exception, but I try to challenge my thoughts and my habits as often as possible. How do I do this?

First of all, you must be aware of “negative automatic thoughts”.  Negative automatic thoughts (NATs) are evil. They disguise themselves as protective and ostensible anxiety-decreasing  thoughts, appearing automatically when you enter certain situations in life. For example, imagine you’re afraid of giving talks. One day at work, you have to give a little presentation of the company’s last year development. Everything is prepared well, you stand in front of the people and – you feel bad. You feel like getting a headache, feel nauseous, dizzy and there are these thoughts like “What if I fail?”, “What if they laugh?”, “What if they don’t like my presentation?”, “What if I make a mistake?”, “I should have prepared more slides”, “I don’t look good today”, “They think I am a failure”, and so on. Typical NATs! Would you ever talk to a friend of yours like that before he or she gives a talk? No? Then why are you talking to yourself like that? Shouldn’t you be your best friend and support yourself by thinking supportive thoughts?

NATs come from unrealistic beliefs about one self. Albert Ellis, a psychologist, specified several examples about these unrealistic beliefs. They form the bottom line of NATs, and they are very common in depressed people. I also found them in a more or less distinct way in other people, too. Unrealistic beliefs are:

  • I must be liked or accepted by everyone for everything I do.
  • To consider myself worthwhile and to be liked by everybody, I MUST be successful, skilled and beautiful.
  • When things are not the way I like them to be, it is terrible and awful.
  • If something in life is (or may be) dangerous, I must feel anxious or upset.
  • Everyone needs security and can be dependent on other people. I need someone stronger than myself to whom I can rely, because I can’t make it on my own!
  • When people act badly, I blame them and view them as completely bad or pathetic, including myself.
  • Sadness and not being happy is caused by something beyond my control. People do not have any or just a little ability to control negative feelings.

Did you find yourself in some of these beliefs? I did, and I still do in certain life situations. NATs come from unrealistic beliefs like that, and it is important to challenge your NATs. Face them. Hunt them down. Write it down and try to change them. I tell you how you can do it.

You should face your NATs and your unrealistic beliefs my asking yourself some certain questions:

1.) What is the effect of thinking the way I do?

Do NATs help me or do they hinder me? What are my goals, what do I want to achieve? Do I want to be happier in my life? Is the way I currently think helping me?

Some examples of NATs are: “I will never be good enough”, “I will never be able to this perfectly well”, “I will never be able to lose my weight”, …

More adaptive thoughts are “Thinking this way will not help me. I will try to do my best, I can never fail, because at least I tried” or “I do not have to do this overly perfect from the beginning on, I just need practice and then I get better” .

2.) Find evidence for your thoughts

Many people confuse their thoughts with facts. Be your own court: Would your thoughts stand up in reality’s court? Just because you believe something, it doesn’t necessarily have to be true. You should go and find evidence for your thoughts, and find alternative hypotheses to test in reality.

Some examples of NATs are “The audience looks at me while I am speaking. They must think I am a failure!” or “He turned his face away. He is not interested in talking with me, I am a social failure!”.

Possible answers to this NATs are “The audience looks at me while I am speaking. This is completely normal because I am the speaker and they have to listen to me” or “He turned his face away. Maybe he has a lot on his mind at the moment. Or he is just too tired to communicate at the moment”.

You see how your perception of reality changes with the way you change your thoughts. Instead of blaming yourself for any mistakes, try to find other reasons why things are the way they are. Change your focus from yourself to other people!

3.) Pros and cons of thinking the way I think

Human beings are very economical animals. Everything we do, everything we think is because it has some pay off. It’s not different with NATs – they have some advantages as well, that is what keeps them going on. Negative thoughts concerning you giving a speech or lecture makes you avoid these situations –BONUS! You don’t have to face a challenge. NATs concerning talking to people at partys makes you try to avoid social events – BONUS! You don’t have to go there. But avoiding situations comes at a cost – you cannot develop anymore. It may be worth your time to work out a new way of lookings at things, just as pointed out in “2. Find evidence for your thoughts” above. Try to challenge and change NATs that hinder you to move forward in your life.

4.) Jumping to conclusions

This is a very critical point. Many people often believe that they KNOW what others are thinking of them. They KNOW that the partner is thinking critically about them, they KNOW that others are laughing at them, they KNOW without even asking the others. But how can you know what someone else is thinking? Are you a mind reader?

Some examples of NATs are “He didn’t like the new dress I bought, I look so fat!” or “She didn’t respond to my text message for 5 hours now!”.

Alternative thoughts are “All I know for sure is that he didn’t compliment the way I look with my new dress. He did not say that I am fat. Maybe he just didn’t notice it, maybe he doesn’t like the colour, but that does not mean that he thinks I am fat” or “All I know is that she did not reply my text message. Maybe she didn’t have the time for reply, maybe she was too busy. I can ask her the  next time, if she was too busy answering messages”.

5.) Generalizing my thoughts

If you are using words like “no one”, “always”,”never” or “everything” in your thoughts, you are generalizing. In most situations it is not “always” this way or “not everything” is always bad.

Example for NATs: “I will always fail miserably in everything I do”. Possible answers are “Will I really fail miserably? Is there a small possibility for success for me?”.

6.) Weaknesses and strengths

Many people focus on their weakness instead of focusing on their strength. Sadly, this is also a big part of our school system, to train weaknesses instead of training the strengths of pupils. People often overlook skills they handled successfully in the past. There will always be things were you are not very good at, but you should rather ask the following questions: “Where am I good at? What are the things I am good at? What are my assets and my resources?”. So instead of focusing on your weaknesses, start focusing on your strengths, get better at what you are already good at and have fun while doing it!

Conclusion

These are only some of the ways on how you can challenge your thoughts. When automatic thoughts occur, I personally like to write it down. This way I can challenge my thoughts systematically and I immediately find myself in a better mood after challenging them like “Is it really necessary to be upset now? Does it help in my current situation?” etc.

I wish you a very exciting adventure challenging your thoughts, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions!

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.

Real happiness and well-being

What makes you happy? Is it a moment with your beloved ones? Is it watching a TV show? Is it going to the gym and working out? Is it shopping and buying something for you or for other people? The answer is, that this all and many more things can make you happy. But is it fulfilling for your life’s happiness?

Martin Seligman conceptualized several core elements of “real” authentic happiness and created a theory about positive psychology. According to Seligman, one of the core elements is “meaning”. Human beings want meaning in their life.  With a meaningful life, you belong and serve something that is bigger than yourself, there are a lot of ways to find meaning in your life by serving something bigger: It can be your family, a political party, religion or any other institution.

Seligman found five measurable elements of happiness and well-being, so called PERMA:

Positive emotion: find people, situations, places, etc. that produces positive emotions. Try to avoid people, situations or places that makes you feel bad. It sounds like a simple recipe, but many people get stuck in bad places or situations, finding themself not strong enough to change anything.

Engagement: Find something to engage in. This might be a hobby, serving for an institution, being there for your family/children/partner. A core element of engagement is flow.

Relationships: Humans are social by nature. They want to socialize, build relationships and networks. It is important to maintain positive relationships with your family and your friends. If you don’t have a family for whatever reason, make your own family with your friends… Meet or message or call them as often as possible to strenghten your relationships. And with your partner? Don’t forget to say “I love you” at least once a day!

Meaning and purpose: As mentioned above, find meaningful activities in your life. Be part of something big(ger), a community, an institution, etc.

Accomplishment: Accomplishment is a gift that you have to give to yourself. Just be sure to create a life full with positive memories – at the end of the day, all you have are your memories. I am not talking about achievements in academic or fitness terms, an accomplishment can be just any memory that makes you happy to think about. Try out something new! Do that Yoga class you always wanted to attend! Learn that language you always wanted to learn! Drive a different way to work tomorrow! Treat yourself with a good Vanilla Latte or whatever you really like to drink – NOW! Just be sure to fill your day, your week, your month, your years with positive memories – it’s up to you! I think it is like having a cookie jar filled with good emotions: you just have to dip in and pull out a memory of accomplishment!

In general, that are the goals of positive psychology: to increase the amount of happiness and flourishing in your own life and on the planet. But real authentic happiness and well-being are much more than just the five PERMA elements, but still, they can provide you with a feeling of fulfillment. It may seem like an easy recipe, and you may not believe that these are the elements of well-being. 

It is completely up to you, you are the only one who can life your life, you make the choices and you are responsible for your own feelings! You can make a difference…

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.

Comfort zone

A lot of people are trapped in a comfort-zone… Don’t get it wrong, a comfort zone is not necessarily a bad thing. I personally LOVE my comfort zone: being with a beloved partner and the kids, enjoying the evening, exploring the world and places – that’s how I and many other people recharge their batteries.

I am talking about comfort-zones, where people stay in relationships out of fears, because they feel inferior or simply because of financial fears… Especially after years of being together with someone it is really hard to consider leaving the partner or breaking up.

20130805-151217.jpg

In my true opinion people are meant to develop. People are meant to explore the world, are meant to be happy, they deserve unconditional love, and everyone deserves a real partner, someone who loves you without any questions… This is LIFE. So if you are stuck in a comfort-zone, a relationship that makes you not happy, you should address some questions concerning yourself… Are you stuck because of fears? Can you work on your relationship? Is your partner able to change or can you change yourself to increase the quality of your relationship? If not, then maybe you should think of changes – either in yourself or concerning the relationship you have. We only have so many time left on earth, we deserve to spend our limited time in happiness and with someone we love…

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.