In my last post I wrote about the importance of checking in with yourself emotionally; however, emotions are only one piece of self-awareness. “Know thyself,” asks a bigger question. This bit of wisdom from ancient Greece is often attributed to Socrates, but is likely even older, and was reportedly carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
Does self-knowledge still matter?
Knowing oneself has always mattered. But a lot has changed over the past 2500 years, so this desire shows up today in ways that Socrates never could have imagined.
Consider the smart phone. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 77% of adults in the United States own a smart phone. Only fifty years ago, we all talked into identical black telephones with cords, without Caller ID or voice mail. In contrast, the smart phone’s ability to make mere phone calls isn’t the secret to its success. These palm-sized devices often become a miniature hub-of-self, comprising a person’s entire identity.
No part of the smart phone better represents our interest in self-knowledge than the camera, with which one can snap, save, edit, and then inevitably share, a selfie.
We have the ability to curate an endless number of carefully crafted images that shape the identity we choose share with the rest of the world. Selfies represent how we want to be seen by others. They do not show that we truly understand ourselves. We need look no further than the popularity of Snap Chat filters (even the puppy one) that smooth skin and widen eyes to prove this point.
I’ve got nothing against selfies. They’re fun. But they direct the desire to be known outward when it can go inward as well.
Self-reflection: a selfie for the soul.
The wish to know oneself becomes less daunting if you admit you don’t need to have all of the answers. Sometimes acknowledging mixed feelings about a life choice is a necessary first step to make if you want to make a change such as drinking less coffee or getting more sleep.
Whether you tackle self-reflection alone or work with a therapist, begin the process with a few simple questions:
What am I thinking right now?
What emotions do I feel?
What physical sensations am I experiencing?
How do these three answers affect my behavior?
These questions riff on Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s cognitive behavioral model. Asking these four questions in a variety of settings, from the everyday to the singular, generates important information about how you respond to life’s ups and downs. Slowing down long enough to answer them creates an opportunity to learn, grow, and hopefully make the kind of decisions worthy of authentic celebration.
A celebration which will, of course, be captured with a selfie.
Photo credit: Roderigo Olivera
Most of us say, “hey, how are you?” to at least one person each day. When was the last time you asked yourself that question? How do joy, sadness or frustration feel for you? If you don’t know, then it’s time to find out.
Learning to check in with your emotions can pay off in a number of ways:
1. Naming an emotion takes away its power. In The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves author Stephen Grosz suggests that unnamed emotions drive actions that create unnecessary chaos and pain. So much heartache could be prevented if we stopped to identify our emotions before acting rashly. Grosz compares these strong, unacknowledged emotions to the proverbial tail that wags the dog.
2. Checking in with yourself is an important first step to creating change. If you don’t know how you’re feeling it’s nearly impossible to respond thoughtfully to a difficult situation. Imagine you are lost in the woods. How are you going to find your way home if you don’t even know where you are? Once you know your current emotional location you will be ready to start the journey back.
3. Knowing that moods change makes it easier to tolerate the bad and savor the good. If you don’t pay attention to your feelings, you are likely to miss a positive emotion, especially if it’s fleeting. Positive emotions are like a cat basking in a pool of sunshine: beautiful, temporary, but thankfully still very real. Fortunately, no bad mood lasts forever. While it may sound counterintuitive, it can also be helpful to to stay with a bad mood, especially if you are still learning to name your emotions. It’s an uncomfortable, but important practice, especially for people who tend to avoid negative feelings.
4. You’ll be practicing mindfulness. If you check in with your emotional state in the here and now you’re also staying in the present. According to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn, “the only moment we’re ever alive in is now.” Learning to name the emotion you feel right now helps break the cycles of reliving the past or worrying about the future which prevent us from being fully aware of our lives in the present.
5. You will be kinder. Broadening your inner emotional vocabulary will allow you to be more empathic. It’s pretty hard to see things from the perspective of another if you don’t know what emotions actually feel like. Once you know how you’re feeling you may also be nicer to yourself. You will be able to respond to your own needs with greater kindness and understanding.
Learning to take your own emotional temperature can pay off in many ways. This useful skill can help you make better decisions, respond thoughtfully in tough situations, and it may even make you a better friend.
Photo credit: Tim Oller
The New York weather was perfect. The autumn sun back-lit the golden leaves, the air just cool enough for a sweater. I’ve never seen so many people crowding the church hall. The positive energy in the air made me hopeful.
It was the antidote to election stress and anxiety I needed.
I love my polling place. The people who run it are wonderful, efficient, well-organized and so nice! This is where I’ve always voted ever since moving to Western New York. It’s where my children learned about voting. They would crowd into the voting booth with me, help me click in my choices and pull the lever together with one final satisfying ka-chunk!
My neighborhood is suburban so you might be surprised to hear it is also amazingly diverse. My neighbors are African American, East Indian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Daughters of the American Revolution, hunters and gun owners. They are parents, grand-parents, care-givers, teachers, doctors and business owners. We are Democrats and Republicans. We all get along and we all love our country.
So when I entered my polling place to see the crowd I was so happy to feel the excitement, the sense of unity and goodness in together doing our civic duty. I pray it is this way across the country.
Afterward, I went to the bake sale in the room next door. The church where I vote always has a bake sale going on Election Day. What better or more American way to treat yo’self after voting than with some cookies and an apple pie?
Editor’s note: This article was contributed by Nicole Newcomb, MHC-P, EWN psychotherapist.
Today I looked in the mirror with 153 pounds of sadness. I had reached my “so called” ideal weight that I had set for myself five months ago. I told myself I would truly be happy and content when I reached that number. I convinced myself that all I had to do was watch what I ate and exercise. While it was true that exercise was more beneficial than I once believed, it was also true that happiness was not at the end of the rainbow waiting there for me.
I had locked myself into a faulty hope. I obtained my goal but I quickly realized that 153 was not a magic number. How could it be that I didn’t feel happy? According to Dr. Sherry Pagoto, in her article ‘I will be happy when…’, happiness cannot be fully dependent on a goal. Not that you should not set them, but that one goal cannot be what makes or breaks your happiness. Dr. Pagoto says that setting your happiness on One Goal can lead you to not experience the happiness that is around you on a daily basis.
While I personally believe that goals are what gets people where they want to go, it is important to remember not to set your goals too high. Not to say that you cannot achieve large goals, but smaller, more attainable ones allow for continued motivation, satisfaction and perseverance.
In addition to goal setting, I also believe in stopping and smelling the roses. If you do not stop and realize the little things that make you happy on the daily road to their goal, then you may be missing true happiness. Like Dr. Pagoto says:
“A contended life is an accumulation of moments. It (happiness) doesn’t burst out everyday, it simmers.”
Stop and ask yourself what makes you happy? Does coming home and seeing your child’s pasta smeared smile make you happy? Or is it simply sitting down after a long hard day at work and knowing that you did a good job?
These are what Dr. Pagoto calls little stars and she recommends trying to fill your day with as many little stars as you can. Positive Psychology can help play a role in this new starry sky.
In her Psychology Today blog article ‘Put Positive Psychology to Work for You’, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne said there are three steps you can take to achieve long-term fulfillment at any age. Before we look at these steps, it is important to distinguish between happiness and fulfillment.
According Dr. Krauss Whitbourne:
“Happiness is a fleeting state that reflects your enjoyment of the moment in the present. After the moment, you return to your previous state of mind.”
Fulfillment on the other hand, “persists over time and in the long run will contribute to your mental health.”
Fulfillment for me was to keep those healthier lifestyles going and to continue feeling better physically and mentally. Now understanding the difference between the two, here are the three steps that Dr. Krauss Whitbourne recommends:
1. Distinguish between what you think will bring you happiness and what will bring you fulfillment: make a list of what makes you happy and another list of what makes you fulfilled. Now compare and contrast.
2. Determine your reality: Take a notepad or sticky note with you throughout the day and jot down things that made you happy and things that made you fulfilled. Make sure to distinguish between the two.
3. Make a difference: Think about your interests, skills and talents. Are you providing service to your community through those interests or skills? Make a commitment to find at least one worthy cause that you can devote at least an hour of your time to once a week or once a month.
According to Dr. Krauss Whitbourne and Dr. Pagoto, happiness has to come from within. Even though I achieved my 153 lb goal, I had to stop and look at the little successes along the way. My little stars came in the form of spending more time with a friend during our runs, choosing healthier eating habits, feeling accomplishment with every pound that came off and feeling physically healthier. So many little stars that came from only One Goal. Imagine how many little stars can come from a few positive goals you set for yourself.