What 8 Psychologists Do to Get Through Their Crappiest Days

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It’s a nonnegotiable fact of life: Everyone has bad dayssometimes. We all have different ideas of what constitutes a crappy day and different reasons for having one, but it’s comforting to know that nobody is immune from having a rotten, awful, stinkin’ day at least once in a while. That includes psychologists, some of the very people trained to help others manage their own bad days (and mental health in general). Luckily, psychologists also happen to have some very useful tools for digging themselves out of a funk.

Here, eight psychology experts tell us what they do on those days where everything just sucks. While many of them have multiple methods for dealing with those bad moods, here are their most tried-and-true strategies.

1. Focus on rewarding work.

Work is the number one bad-day fix for Dolores Malaspina, M.D., M.S.P.H., a professor and the director of the Psychosis Program in the department of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “[Seeing patients is] a great way to get through tough days,” she tells SELF.

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Immersing herself in patient sessions helps Dr. Malaspina focus on the present instead of whatever is occupying her mind, she says: “Being in the moment with a patient can be centering.”

Rather than compounding her bad day, a particularly hard or tiring session can be an especially excellent way to center her thoughts. As Dr. Malaspina explains, these kinds of sessions require complete engagement in a way that takes her out of her bad mental state.

2. Take time for your passion project.

Carrie Landin, Psy.D., a psychologist at the UC Health Integrative Medicine Center, tells SELF that her go-to mood-booster is her passion project, Dame Podcast.

“When I have a bad day, I try to make some time to work on my podcast, whether that’s researching my next episode, editing a current episode, or finding sound bites and music,” Landin says. “It’s about women in history who have significantly influenced the culture for women in positive ways.”

Landin is currently editing an episode about Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut to enter space. Ride’s legacy helped open up a field to women that was historically dominated by men. “I enjoy [working on the podcast] tremendously,” Landin says. “It brings me fulfillment.”

3. Try to zoom out.

“I try to be aware of negative thinking that contributes to my own stress levels and to think about problems in a balanced and flexible way,” Martin Antony, Ph.D., an author, professor, and graduate program director in the department of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, tells SELF. To figure out if he’s giving something too much weight, he will ask himself, “Is that thing that’s stressing me out as important as it feels?” or “Will it still matter a week from now or a month from now?”

4. Don’t let a bad moment mean a bad day.

It’s all about perspective for Scott Bea, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, psychotherapy trainer, and supervisor in the Adult Psychiatry Residency Training Program at Cleveland Clinic. “There are challenging moments, [and] I try to experience them as just moments, not days,” Bea tells SELF.

When he does have an all-around difficult shift, Bea does his best to leave it at the door on his way out. “I have worked on not having many thoughts about work when I am not at work,” he says. For Bea, this is essential for preventing burnout or compassion fatigue. Also known as secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue indicates the emotional and physical depletion that can impact care providers who work with people who have experienced trauma. In severe cases, it can even contribute to mental health issues such as PTSD, so creating boundaries when possible is incredibly important for care providers, Bea explains.

5. Acknowledge and accept the crappy moments.

The first bad-day step for Nancy Burgoyne, Ph.D., chief clinical officer and vice president of clinical services at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, is to simply acknowledge the reality that she’s in a bad mood. If it happens when she’s at work, she doesn’t make it worse by beating herself up for being a “bad” therapist. She asks, “Would you want a therapist who couldn’t ‘get it’ that life can take a toll at times?”

After accepting her bad mood, Burgoyne tries to avoid blowing the impact of a crappy day out of proportion, especially when it comes to below-average sessions with her patients. “I ground myself…by taking the long view,” she tells SELF. “I know that therapy is a process, and therefore no one session will determine its impact.”

(By the way, if you’re in therapy, had a less than stellar session, and are wondering if your therapist is having a crappy day, it’s OK to ask. “A good therapist will accept that as feedback and be open to looking at what your experience has been,” Burgoyne says.)

6. Get outside.

Shout-out to the beautiful scenery and predictably good weather of Northern California, where J. Faye Dixon, Ph.D., is a psychologist, assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and ADHD clinic director at UC Davis Medical School. “On really difficult days, I try to get out in nature for an impromptu walk just to reset,” she tells SELF.

Since Dixon already runs four or five times a week, many days—bad ones included—have her personal mood-boosting duo of fresh air and endorphins built into the schedule.

7. Have a go-to chill move.

On bad days, Nanci Pradas, Ph.D., L.I.C.S.W., a Massachusetts-based psychologist, turns to diaphragmatic breathing, a relaxation method she teaches many of her patients for times of stress or anxiety.

“You breathe in through your nose slowly, take a little pause, and breathe out through your mouth. You can put your hands on your stomach if you’re just learning it; your stomach should go out when you breathe in,” she tells SELF. Pradas also recommends thinking of a scene or image you find pleasant or relaxing—“I like the beach and the waves”—as well as some kind of a mantra. “I say, ‘In with peace and relaxation, out with all my stress,’ ” she explains.

Pradas says that this method of relaxation became easier with daily practice, so now she can call upon it whenever she needs it.

8. Talk it out.

Michael Brustein, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist based in New York City, tells SELF that talking to a trusted friend about what’s going on allows him to find some clarity and perspective. “Expressing my thoughts and feelings with others helps to validate and organize my experience, making it feel less ambiguous and daunting,” he explains.

The back-and-forth also makes Brustein feel less alone in his struggles. “Using social support helps me feel more connected and reminds me that I’m not the only [one] who suffers,” he explains.

As Brustein has seen in his clinical experience, people often fear that expressing their emotions will make them a “burden” on others. But isolating yourself can make a bad mood even worse, he says, adding, “I believe reaching out and using social support [are] key for well-being.”
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Mental Health Awareness Means Talking About All Types of Mental Illness

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Morgan Johnson

Mental illness is incredibly common: Nearly one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illnessaccording to the National Institutes of Mental Health(NIMH). But in spite of its prevalence, there still exists a tremendous amount of stigma associated with mental health conditions. That stigma can have far-reaching consequences, from limiting our understanding of these conditions to interfering with a person’s willingness to seek treatment when they truly need it.

The good news is that, culturally, we’re making some headway on that stigma. I have written and edited health content for a little over a decade, and it’s been amazing to see how the conversation around mental health has evolved in that time. Many brave people have publicly shared stories about their experiences navigating mental health conditions. And as the wellness industry has exploded, so too has our cultural understanding that being well and taking care of yourself requires tending to your mental health, and that means seeking help if you need it.

It’s no longer shocking when a celebrity discusses seeing a therapist, or living with depression or anxiety. That’s in part because we’ve made some progress toward normalizing these things and making it clear that they’re incredibly common and nothing to be ashamed of. There’s still work to do, of course, but there’s also good reason to feel optimistic. We’re heading in the right direction.

That said, certain mental health conditions still largely remain in the shadows, with an unequal share of awareness and attention. One such condition is bipolar disorder.

This is on my mind because March 30 is World Bipolar Day.

The mission of this day is to bring awareness to bipolar disorder and to eliminate social stigma. Bipolar disorder is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, and the confusion around it persists even as we make strides in the way we talk about other mental health conditions. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder characterized by significant shifts in mood and energy levels, according to the NIMH. These shifts are referred to as “mood episodes” and they can come in various forms, though the two main types are manic episodes and depressive episodes. There are several types of bipolar disorder, each dependent on the symptoms that someone experiences and the severity, duration, and combination of those symptoms.

Bipolar disorder is a complicated, multifaceted mental illness that can significantly impact someone’s daily life. So why isn’t it given the time and space that anxiety and depression are given in our collective conversations around mental health?

Certainly part of the story here is that anxiety and depression are among the most common mental illnesses. While an estimated 31.1 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience an anxiety disorder at some point, an estimated 4.4 percent will experience bipolar disorder. That may be a much smaller slice of our population, but it’s still millions of people affected by the condition.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the work in busting stigma around anxiety and depression is done; rather, it’s a call to action to bring that energy to other mental health conditions as well.

At SELF, we strive to talk about the nuances of mental health conditions not just on awareness days but throughout the calendar year. We’ve been making a genuine effort over the past few months to create more content around a wider range of mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder. That includes talking about the basics (like key facts people should know about bipolar disorder) as well as real stories from people living with the condition (like this personal essay about what it feels like to experience psychosis, which is a symptom for some people with bipolar disorder). But the conversation shouldn’t end there. We’re doing our best to give genuinely helpful information to people living with bipolar disorder, which means writing about treatmentsymptoms, how to deal with mood episodes, and how to navigate medication side effects.

Beyond bipolar disorder, we have also been working to provide more coverage of other heavily stigmatized and misunderstood mental health conditions such as schizophreniaborderline personality disorder, and OCD, among others.

I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in this space and the stories that we’ve elevated and given a platform to. But I’m also aware that it’s just a start, and that there’s so much more we can and should be doing, and so many more stories that we should strive to tell. SELF’s goal is to help people feel better. In order to live up to that mission we need to do as much as we can to raise awareness and eliminate stigma all year long—exactly what World Bipolar Day calls for.

How to Keep From Hitting Your Breaking Point

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Though life has not been easy, you’ve always found ways to keep moving forward. But now it all feels like too much, and you might even feel like you are coming apart. Maybe you encourage yourself to just push through–“No pain. No gain.” But it’s not working and you feel weak and like a failure. Many people get stuck in this dilemma, not seeing a solution. The reality is that there is a way out, but it’s counter-intuitive. To reach new heights, you must accept your limitations.

This may sound like accepting failure, but it’s not. If you are someone who likes to think you can do anything you put your mind to, you may be setting yourself up for feeling like a failure. We all have very real limitations that will cause pain and suffering when we deny them. Just try putting your head through a brick wall and you will smack into that very hard reality.

One area where many people deny their limitations is in taking on increasingly more tasks and responsibilities as though they can do anything and extend themselves limitlessly. But we all have the same number of hours each day to accomplish tasks– no matter how well we manage our time. We are all limited by how much we can realistically control in our lives. And, whether we like it or not, none of us can lay claim to an endless fund of knowledge and abilities. So, there are times when we undoubtedly benefit from accepting these limits.

This can be one of the most difficult “accomplishments” in your life. Yoga teacher David Swenson explains that doing yoga is most difficult when, for whatever reason (such as being injured or too tired), people choose to leave out parts of their practice. Noting how people are often self-critical when this happens, he says, “Much of our experience will be determined by how we choose to perceive the situation we are in.” And so it is with the rest of life.

When you repeatedly hit against a limitation, it won’t help and will certainly hurt – just as surely as it would if you keep trying to pound your head through a brick wall. At those times, it’s good to remind yourself, Doing that hurts! Stop it! Then, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, when you eliminate trying to do the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is a true path forward. And that path may include learning how to find a bridge from where you are to where you want to be.

For instance, Helen repeatedly attempted to get her partner to stop demeaning her, but her efforts seemed to have no effect and she was becoming increasingly unhappy. Finally, by accepting her limitation of not being able to make him change (no one can make others do anything), she was left with having to consider an alternative path. She thought about either trying couples therapy or just ending the relationship so she could open herself to a healthier one.

Sharon faced a similar moment of choice in the work arena. When her supervisor directed her to use information collected by their software to develop of marketing plan, she panicked. She was not sufficiently proficient in using their software to do this well, and she was terrified of being found out. But once she reasoned that she didn’t need to know the software better until this point, she could accept this limitation as simply a fact – not as proof of her incompetence. Then she knew what she had to do – either find someone to teach her the software or partner with someone who knew it well enough for this project.

In the end, it is your choice – be self-critical of your limitations or accept them as part of being human. When you stop trying to get out of a room by knocking your head through the wall, you may notice an open window, or even a door. If you don’t, you can at least recognize that hitting your head is not going to help. Who knows – maybe when you stop the self-abuse and drop to the floor in frustrated disappointment, your new perspective will reveal a trapdoor. Whatever your situation, not only can acknowledging your limitations provide clarity, but you may also save yourself from a terrible headache!

37 Sad Quotes That Will Get You Through the Worst Days

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Sadness—never, ever, something that we actively summon or wish to feel—manages to find its way to us every now and then. It’s a natural part of life. But sometimes it helps to know that others are going (or have been) through the same thing. Because that means that things will get better, start looking up. If you’re experiencing tough times or dealing with loss, this list of sad quotes will, oddly enough, provide some comfort and comradery. And if you’re on the verge of just needing a good cry, these emotional quotes will happily help release an onslaught of soul-cleansing tears. Some were penned by your favorite Southern authors; others were said by important historic figures. But all have one thing in common: They just get it. Keep reading for 37 sad quotes that’ll help you get through a bad day, crappy month, or terrible year. (And when you’ve come out on the other side, check out these funny love quotes that we can all relate to—it’ll lighten the mood.)

Sad Quotes about Life

“There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone as well.” –Nicholas Sparks

“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.” –Margaret Mitchell

“You see, I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” –Mark Twain

“Things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.” –Stephen Chbosky

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.” –Truman Capote

“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.” –C.S. Lewis

“The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy.” Eudora Welty

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” –J.D. Salinger

Sad Quotes about Death

“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” –E.A. Bucchianeri

“What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us wind up in parentheses.” –John Irving

“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.” –George Eliot

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” –Harriet Beecher Stowe

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” –J.K. Rowling

“It’s sad when someone you know becomes someone you knew.” –Henry Rollins

“There is a time for departure, even when there’s no certain place to go.” –Tennessee Williams

“You meet everyone twice in this life, when they come and when they go.” –C.C Aurel

“Grief is not as heavy as guilt, but it takes more away from you.” ­–Veronica Roth

“Death is a great revealer of what is in a man, and in its solemn shadow appear the naked lineaments of the soul.” –E.H. Chapin

“Death is the dropping of the flower that the fruit may swell.” –Henry Ward Beecher

Check out 115 Sympathy Messages for Friends and Family.

Sad Love Quotes

“You know, a heart can be broken, but it keeps on beating, just the same.” –Fannie Flagg

“It’s amazing how someone can break your heart, and you can still love them with all the little pieces.” –Ella Harper

“There is a distinct, awful pain that comes with loving someone more than they love you.” –Steve Maraboli

“To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.” –J.K. Rowling

“If you gave someone your heart and they died, did they take it with them? Did you spend the rest of forever with a hole inside you that couldn’t be filled?” –Jodi Picoult

“You make me feel like a firefly. Trapped in a belljar; starved for love.” –Ayushee Ghoshal

“You’re like a song that I heard when I was a little kid but forgot I knew until I heard it again.” –Maggie Stiefvater

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall, in misery, the time when we were happy.” –Dante Aligheri

Check out 120 Romantic Messages for Your Loved Ones.

Sad Sayings

“Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.” –Ernest J. Gaines

“Tears are words the mouth can’t say nor can the heart bear.” –Joshua Wisenbaker

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.'” –Kurt Vonnegut

“Being a successful person is not necessarily defined by what you have achieved, but by what you have overcome.” –Fannie Flagg

“To have felt too much is to end in feeling nothing.” –Dorothy Thompson

“One thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside.” –John Lennon

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” –Zora Neale Hurston

“Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.” –Christopher Morley

“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.” –Leonardo da Vinci

10 Ways to Stay Mentally Strong When Your World Is Falling Apart

Author Article

At one time or another, you’re bound to face a crisis. Your loved one might be diagnosed with a terminal condition. Your marriage might come to an end. You may find yourself in a dire financial situation.

The list could go on and on. No matter who you are, how much you earn, how rock solid your life feels, crises are inevitable. But, the way you respond to these crises is optional.

Staying strong during a crisis is key to getting through tough times. Here’s how to stay mentally strong during a crisis:

1. Accept reality.

When faced with bad news, it’s easy to waste a lot of time thinking things like this can’t be happening or this shouldn’t be happening to me. But this isn’t the time to waste your vital resources worrying about fairness.

Accept the situation. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with what’s going on, but it does mean that you’re willing to acknowledge reality. Only then can you take positive action.

2. Don’t worry about building strength right now.

Trying to build mental strength in the midst of a crisis is like lifting weights right before you try to pick up a heavy box. It’s not the time to worry about strength building–it’s time to put the strength you already have into action.

3. Seek support.

Talk to your friends. Ask for help from a professional. Reach out to your loved ones. Whatever you do, make sure you that you ask questions, tell people what you need, and get the emotional support that could assist you.

4. Practice self-care.

As difficult as it may be to eat and sleep, it’s important to take care of your body when you’re in the midst of a crisis. Go for a few short walks when you can, make healthy eating choices a priority even when you’re pressed for time, and rest your body and your mind.

5. Ask yourself what advice you’d give to a friend.

Sometimes, a crisis requires you to make tough decisions. And when you’re feeling overwhelmed and really emotional, those tough choices may seem impossible to make–especially when you have to make them fast.

Whether you have to decide which medical procedure to try or you need to find a new place to live, ask yourself what advice you’d give to a trusted friend. That helps take a lot of the emotion out of the equation, which can be key to making the best choice possible (even when you feel as though you’re between a rock and a hard place).

6. Create a helpful mantra.

Develop an affirmation, like, “I’ve survived tough times before I will get through this too,” and repeat it to yourself as needed. It can help drown out the negative thoughts that are bound to swirl in your mind and it can keep you on track so you can move forward.

7. Prioritize what needs to get done.

When you’re in the middle of a crisis, you’re going to likely need to give some things up so you can focus your energy on the tasks-at-hand. Create a to-do list that will help you prioritize what needs to get done. And make sure to write things down as your memory is sure to fail at times when your stress level is high.

8. Find time to experience your emotions.

While you don’t want to suppress your emotions forever, there are also times you need to regulate your feelings so you can be productive. Crying in the doctor’s office  might get in the way of being able to ask the questions you need answers to. Similarly, allowing fear to take hold might prevent you from taking action.

At times, you may need to move forward quickly–with little time to really even think about how you’re feeling. That’s OK when you’re in an acute crisis. But just make sure you set aside some time later to let yourself experience painful feelings–it’s a crucial part of healing emotional wounds.

9. Take small steps.

A crisis can make you feel overwhelmed by all the things you need to change, accomplish, or solve. Break down those big tasks into small steps.

 Whether you need to sort through a loved one’s belongings after they’ve passed away or you need to shed some serious weight to resolve a health crisis, identify something you can begin working on today.

10. Do something that helps you keep a sense of normalcy.

When you’re in the middle of a crisis you might feel like the entire world is upside down. Perhaps you spend all day every day sitting in the hospital at a loved one’s side. Or maybe you’re applying for jobs from the time you wake up until the time you fall asleep.

Doing one thing that helps you feel “normal” might help you stay mentally stronger. Watch your favorite show before you fall asleep. Go for a walk in the morning like you always did before the crisis. Whatever it is, look for one shred of normalcy that you can continue even when life feels anything but normal.

Build Strength After the Crisis Is Over

Once the acute crisis is over, take time to unwind from the stress you endured. Whether that means planning a weekend hike in the mountains or it means scheduling an appointment with a therapist to help you move forward, take whatever steps necessary to help you grow from your experience

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

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“Stick with it!”“Be resilient!”“Never give up!”I see a lot of stuff about resilience, persistence and grit. What I don’t see is a lot of legitimate info on how to actually increase those qualities.How can we be more resilient? How can we shrug off huge challenges in life, persist and — in the end — succeed?So I looked at the most difficult scenarios for insight. (Who needs resilience in easy situations, right?)When life and death is on the line, what do the winners do that the losers don’t?Turns out surviving the most dangerous situations has some good lessons we can use to learn how to be resilient in everyday life.

Whether it’s dealing with unemployment, a difficult job, or personal tragedies, here are insights that can help.

1) Perceive and believe

“The company already had two rounds of layoffs this year but I never thought they would let me go.”

“Yeah, the argument was getting a little heated but I didn’t think he was going to hit me.”

The first thing to do when facing difficulty is to make sure you recognize it as soon as possible.

Sounds obvious but we’ve all been in denial at one point or another. What do people who survive life-threatening situations have in common?

They move through those “stages of grief” from denial to acceptance faster:

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

They immediately begin to recognize, acknowledge, and even accept the reality of their situation… They move through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance very rapidly.

What’s that thing doctors say when they’re able to successfully treat a medical problem? “Good thing we caught it early.”

When you stay oblivious or live in denial, things get worse — often in a hurry. When you know you’re in trouble you can act.

Nobody is saying paranoia is good but research shows a little worrying is correlated with living a longer life.

(For more on how a little negativity can make you happier, click here.)

Okay, like they say in AA, you admitted you have a problem. What’s the next thing the most resilient people do?

2) Manage your emotions

Sometimes when SCUBA divers drown they still have air in their oxygen tanks. Seriously.

How is this possible? Something goes wrong, they panic, and instinctively pull the regulator out of their mouth.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

M. Ephimia Morphew, a psychologist and founder of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments, told me of a series of accidents she’d been studying in which scuba divers were found dead with air in their tanks and perfectly functional regulators. “Only they had pulled the regulators out of their mouths and drowned. It took a long time for researchers to figure out what was going on.” It appears that certain people suffer an intense feeling of suffocation when their mouths are covered. That led to an overpowering impulse to uncover the mouth and nose. The victims had followed an emotional response that was in general a good one for the organism, to get air. But it was the wrong response under the special, non-natural, circumstances of scuba diving.

When you’re having trouble breathing what’s more natural than to clear an obstruction from your mouth?

Now just a brief second of clear thinking tells you this is a very bad idea while diving — but when you panic, you can’t think clearly.

Rash decision making rarely delivers optimal results in everyday life either.

Resilient people acknowledge difficult situations, keep calm and evaluate things rationally so they can make a plan and act.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

Al Siebert, in his book The Survivor Personality, writes that “The best survivors spend almost no time, especially in emergencies, getting upset about what has been lost, or feeling distressed about things going badly…. For this reason they don’t usually take themselves too seriously and are therefore hard to threaten.”

(For methods Navy SEALS, astronauts and the samurai use to keep calm under pressure, click here.)

So you know you’re in trouble but you’re keeping your cool. Might there be a simple way to sidestep all these problems? Yeah.

3) Be a quitter

Many of you might be a little confused right now: “A secret to resilience is quitting? That doesn’t make any sense.”

What do we see when we look at people who survive life and death situations? Many of them were smart enough to bail early.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

“…It’s a matter of looking at yourself and assessing your own abilities and where you are mentally, and then realizing that it’s better to turn back and get a chance to do it again than to go for it and not come back at all.” We are a society of high achievers, but in the wilderness, such motivation can be deadly…

The best way to take a punch from a UFC fighter and to survive a hurricane are the same: “Don’t be there when it hits.”

You quit baseball when you were 10 and quit playing the piano after just 2 lessons. Nobody sticks with everything. You can’t.

When the company starts laying people off, there’s always one guy smart enough to immediately jump ship and preemptively get a new job.

And some people are smart enough to realize, “I am never going to be a great Tango dancer and should double my efforts at playing poker.”

And you know what results this type of quitting has? It makes you happier, reduces stress and increases health.

Via Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain:

Wrosch found that people who quit their unattainable goals saw physical and psychological benefits. “They have, for example, less depressive symptoms, less negative affect over time,” he says. “They also have lower cortisol levels, and they have lower levels of systemic inflammation, which is a marker of immune functioning. And they develop fewer physical health problems over time.”

You can do anything — when you stop trying to do everything.

(For more on how to determine what you should stick with and what you should abandon, click here.)

Okay, so maybe you can’t bail and really do need to be resilient. What does the research say you can do to have more grit? It sounds crazy …

4) Be delusional

Marshall Goldsmith did a study of incredibly successful people. After assembling all the data he realized the thing they all had in common.

And then he shouted: “These successful people are all delusional!”

Via Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success:

“This is not to be misinterpreted as a bad thing. In fact, being delusional helps us become more effective. By definition, these delusions don’t have to be accurate. If they were totally accurate, your goals would be too low.” Goldsmith noticed that although illusions of control expose people to risk of failure, they do something else that is very interesting: they motivate people to keep trying even when they’ve failed… “Successful people fail a lot, but they try a lot, too. When things don’t work, they move on until an idea does work. Survivors and great entrepreneurs have this in common.”

Crazy successful people and people who survive tough situations are all overconfident. Very overconfident.

Some of you may be scratching your head: “Isn’t step one all about not being in denial? About facing reality?”

You need to make a distinction between denial about the situation and overconfidence in your abilities.

The first one is very bad, but the second one can be surprisingly good. See the world accurately — but believe you are a rockstar.

Via Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success:

Denying or distorting a bad situation may be comforting in the short term, but it’s potentially harmful in the long run because it will be almost impossible to solve a problem unless you first admit you have one. In contrast, having an especially strong belief in one’s personal capabilities, even if that belief is somewhat illusory, probably helps you to solve problems… A useful, if somewhat simplistic, mathematical formula might be: a realistic view of the situation + a strong view of one’s ability to control one’s destiny through one’s efforts = grounded hope.

(For more on what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

So this is how superheroes must feel: there’s definitely trouble, but you’re calm and you feel like you’re awesome enough to handle this.

But we need to move past feelings. What actions are going to see you through this mess?

5) Prepare … even if it’s too late for preparation

Folks, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a “pretty good” alligator wrestler.

Who survives life threatening situations? People who have done it before. People who have prepared.

Now even if you can’t truly prepare for a layoff or a divorce, you can work to have good productive habits and eliminate wasteful ones.

Good habits don’t tax your willpower as much as deliberate actions and will help you be more resilient.

How do you survive a WW2 shipwreck and shark attacks? Keep preparing for the future, even when you’re in the midst of trouble.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

As the days went by, he continued to concentrate on strategies for survival. At one point, a rubber life belt floated by and he grabbed it. He had heard that the Japanese would use aircraft to strafe shipwrecked Americans. The life belt could be blown up through a rubber tube. He cut the tube off and kept it, reasoning that if the Japanese spotted them, he could slip under water and breathe through the tube. He was planning ahead. He had a future in his mind, and good survivors always concentrate on the present but plan for the future. Thus, taking it day by day, hour by hour, and   sometimes minute by minute, did Don McCall endure.

One caveat: as learning expert Dan Coyle recommends, make sure any prep you do is as close to the real scenario as possible.

Bad training can be worse than no training. When police practice disarming criminals they often conclude by handing the gun to their partner.

One officer trained this so perfectly that in the field he took a gun from a criminal — and instinctively handed it right back.

Via Make It Stick:

Johnson recounts how officers are trained to take a gun from an assailant at close quarters, a maneuver they practice by role-playing with a fellow officer. It requires speed and deftness: striking an assailant’s wrist with one hand to break his grip while simultaneously wresting the gun free with the other. It’s a move that officers had been in the habit of honing through repetition, taking the gun, handing it back, taking it again. Until one of their officers, on a call in the field, took the gun from an assailant and handed it right back again.

(For more on how to develop good habits — and get rid of bad ones, click here.)

You’re expecting the best but prepared for the worst. Perfect. Is now the time to de-stress? Heck, no.

6) Stay busy, busy, busy

What’s the best way to survive and keep your emotions in check when things are hard? “Work, work, work.”

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

Remember the saying “Get organized or die.” In the wake of trauma, “Work, work, work,” as Richard Mollica wrote. He is a psychiatrist at Harvard who studies trauma. “This is the single most important goal of traumatized people throughout the world.” The hands force order on the mind.

When things go bad, people get sad or scared, retreat and distract themselves. That can quell the emotions, but it doesn’t get you out of this mess.

Resilient people know that staying busy not only gets you closer to your goals but it’s also the best way to stay calm.

And believe it or not, we’re all happier when we’re busy.

(For more on what the most productive people in the world do every day, click here.)

You’re hustlin’. That’s good. But it’s hard to keep that can-do attitude when things aren’t going well. What’s another secret to hanging in there?

7) Make it a game

In his book “Touching the Void,” Joe Simpson tells the harrowing story of how he broke his leg 19,000 feet up while climbing a mountain.

Actually he didn’t break his leg… he shattered it. Like marbles in a sock. His calf bone driven through his knee joint.

He and his climbing partner assumed he was a dead man. But he survived.

One of his secrets was making his slow, painful descent into a game.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

Simpson was learning what it means to be playful in such circumstances: “A pattern of movements developed after my initial wobbly hops and I meticulously repeated the pattern. Each pattern made up one step across the slope and I began to feel detached from everything around me. I thought of nothing but the patterns.” His struggle had become a dance, and the dance freed him from the terror of what he had to do.

How does this work? It’s neuroscience. Patterned activities stimulate the same reward center cocaine does.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

And tellingly, a structure within the basal ganglia is activated during feelings of safety, reward, and simply feeling great. It’s called the striatum and drugs such as cocaine set it off, but so does the learning of a new habit or skill and the performance of organized, patterned activities…

Even boring things can be fun if you turn them into a game with stakes, challenges and little rewards.

And we can use this same system for everyday problems: How many resumes can you send out today? Can you beat yesterday?

Celebrating “small wins” is something survivors have in common.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

Survivors take great joy from even their smallest successes. That is an important step in creating an ongoing feeling of motivation and preventing the descent into hopelessness. It also provides relief from the unspeakable stress of a true survival situation.

(For more on how to increase gratitude and happiness, click here.)

You’re a machine. Making progress despite huge challenges. What’s the final way to take your resilience to the next level? Other people.

8) Get help and give help

Getting help is good. That’s obvious. But sometimes we’re ashamed or embarrassed and fail to ask for it. Don’t let pride get in the way.

What’s more fascinating is that even in the worst of times, giving help can help you.

By taking on the role of caretaker we increase the feeling of meaning in our lives. This helps people in the worst situations succeed.

Leon Weliczker survived the Holocaust not only because of his resourcefulness — but also because he felt he had to protect his brother.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

When his fifteen-year-old brother Aaron came in, Leon was suddenly filled with love and a feeling of responsibility for the two boys. He was shedding the cloak of the victim in favor of the role of the rescuer. Terrence Des Pres, in his book The Survivor, makes the point that in the journey of survival, helping someone else is as important as getting help.

Sometimes being selfless is the best way to be selfish. And the research shows that givers are among the most successful people and they live longer.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

Helping someone else is the best way to ensure your own survival. It takes you out of yourself. It helps you to rise above your fears. Now you’re a rescuer, not a victim. And seeing how your leadership and skill buoy others up gives you more focus and energy to persevere. The cycle reinforces itself: You buoy them up, and their response buoys you up. Many people who survive alone report that they were doing it for someone else (a wife, boyfriend, mother, son) back home.

(For more on how helping others can also help you, click here.)

So once the threat is passed, once the dust has settled, can we have a normal life again? Actually, sometimes, life can be even better.

Sum up

So when life is daunting and we need resilience, keep in mind:

  1. Perceive And Believe
  2. Manage Your Emotions
  3. Be A Quitter
  4. Be Delusional
  5. Prepare… Even If It’s Too Late For Preparation
  6. Stay Busy, Busy, Busy
  7. Make It A Game
  8. Get Help And Give Help

To live full lives some amount of difficulty is essential.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist who treats post-traumatic stress, said that “to achieve the greatest psychological health, some kind of suffering is necessary.”

You can meet life’s challenges with resilience, competence and grace.

And when the troubles are over, science agrees: what does not kill you can in fact make you stronger.

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This article first appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

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