Tag Archives | overcoming challenges

When Good Intentions Go Bad: Guest Post by Tess Pajaron

Photo courtesy of Rupert Ganzer

“It’s not a big deal if I do it just this one time…”

Everyone has said a version of this to himself or herself from time to time. We allow ourselves to give in to base pleasures and immediate gratification even though we know in the long run we’re going to feel bad about ourselves. We all know that we do this, but few have really taken the time to think about what it means and how it applies to them in their everyday lives.

Three examples that just about everyone can understand involve cheating – with your budget, your diet, and on your significant other. Who hasn’t decided to splurge on that new Blu-Ray player by putting it on a credit card, and then curse themselves later when it comes time to pay? Or been too tempted by the free jelly doughnuts at work to avoid them and stick with your diet? Heck, some people make a resolution to get fit by working out more, but just never pull themselves away from the computer.

And if you’re congratulating yourself for not cheating on your spouse…good job, but the mechanism by which we make that bad choice and the others described above is the same. If you can’t control yourself in one area, the likelihood that you might slip up in another goes up.

But why do we do it? What is this mechanism that allows us to do things that we know are bad for us and often just plain foolish? Psychologists say that much of it comes down to stress, fear, and memory.

As humans, we are hardwired to actively seek out paths that will keep us from making choices we regret. It is a motivation that comes both from outside social pressures and internal forces. Unfortunately, sometimes the stress of the situation and our own fears about getting it wrong can actually lead us to making poor choices.

But of course, choosing poorly and later regretting those decisions makes things worse because it raises the stakes (and the corresponding stress) the next time the situation comes up. And this is literally true – stressful decisions are known to cause greater activity in the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial orbitofrontal regions of the brain. In layman’s terms, the areas that control our emotional memories get all riled up and confuse us when we’re trying to make good decisions.

You would think that having memories of poor choices you’ve made in the past would be a good thing and allow us to make a better decision next time, but because emotions are involved it, can lead to flawed decision-making. Let’s say you cheated in the past, either on your diet or on a significant other – although we’re sure the significant other would disagree, in the context of this discussion they amount to the same thing. Even though the consequences of cheating (weight gain, embarrassment, breaking up, self-loathing) were severe, studies have shown that we put more emphasis on that brief moment of pleasure we got from the actual cheating than the painful aftermath.

So how can we fight against ourselves and make better decisions? You have to be able to look at your decision-making process and spot flaws. And perhaps even more importantly, you need to avoid what Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls narrow framing, where you look at each choice as an individual thing instead of considering how you’ve approached – or wish you’d approached – similar decisions in the past.

Rather than deciding in the middle of an emotion-fueled moment, we can create a system of acceptable responses for ourselves. At its most base level, this is essentially what society and the justice system does for us – it tells us what choices are going to lead to positive and negative outcomes by spelling out what those outcomes will be ahead of time. Of course, saying you’re going to come up with a system that prevents you from making bad choices and actually implementing it are two different things, but the only way to get better is to try.

Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind Open Colleges. Her desire to consistently improve her life led her down the road of psychology. When not working, she loves to travel and discover new places and cultures, having a fancy for modern minimalist architecture and interior design. She can also be found on Cerebral Hacks, where she regularly contributes.

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Six Ways to Survive Separation

Photo courtesy of View from 5’2
Today’s contribution comes to us from DailyPath reader Shauna Stebler.

Marital separation is extremely difficult to get through especially if you are receiving mixed messages or are unsure of the direction things are moving.  You don’t want to be spending every day thinking about your spouse, wondering what went wrong, and what’s going to happen now, or the dreaded replaying of every conversation and overanalyzing everything that was said and done.  You will drive yourself mad!  I know this from experience.

Distractions are fundamental during this time.  The more distractions you have, the less time you spend wearing yourself out with the unknown.  Worrying about it isn’t going to change anything.  Let’s talk about focusing on the things you can control, versus the things you can’t.

1.  Career and Finances:  It may be difficult to focus on your job right now, but I encourage you to put everything you have into it.  If you don’t like your job, maybe it’s time to find a new one.  You could go back to school, which would be productive with your time.  It can also give you a sense of accomplishment.  If your finances are out of control, you can always find ways to improve it.  Pick up a book to get you started.

2.  Health and Well Being:  Get adequate sleep, eat right, and start an exercise program.  I took up bellydancing.  Find a fun way to exercise!  Do something with the kids such as bike riding. This will give you a tremendous amount of energy and help to lift the depression.

3.  Friends and Family:  Invite a few friends over to play cards or for makeovers.  Go get mani’s and pedi’s together.  Just spend some time getting to know your friends again or go out and make some new ones.  There’s always something going on with kids, whether it’s baseball games or dance class.  Start spending some real quality time with your kids.

4.  Personal Growth:  Part of our personal growth journey deals with our failures and the areas that we would like to improve on, but the other part to that is being able to let go of the past and choosing to heal.  Self improvement books are wonderful.  Choose to move forward with your life even if it’s without your spouse right now.

5. Fun and Recreation:  Do something fun!  It gets your mind off of your problems.  No chick flicks, enough said.  Spend some time on hobbies.  Learn a language.  Find a sports team to join.  Grab a friend and go shopping.  Get a massage.

6. Physical Environment:  If your house makes you feel dark and depressed, make some changes.  If you walk past something that makes you miss your spouse every time you see it, put it away for now.  Don’t sit in the dark.  Fresh flowers and scents relax the senses.

Schedule things to do.  This will help you to find the motivation you need to not sit at home by yourself.  Surround yourself with positive people, places and things.  With each passing day, you will start to feel more like yourself, and happiness will once again seem attainable.

Shauna Stebler is a 37 year old single mom working on her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  She also leads an online support group called Surviving Separation



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How to Avoid Being Bullied

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I’m a fairly strong-willed person. I don’t typically let people use me as a doormat, and my opinion is something I’m not terribly afraid to share. But even I have found myself in a situation where I felt like I was being bullied. It hasn’t happened too many times in my life, but when it did happen, it was quite disturbing and distressing.

Feeling victimized can happen to the best of us – at home, at work, or socially, and figuring out how to handle it can be tricky. Adult bullies are really good at mind games, and if you’re not used to their thinking, they can get pretty good at making you look the fool. Even though we typically associate bullies with middle school, some grown women never outgrew their mean girl mentality.

This type of behavior can range from mildly annoying to harrassment. As a thirty-seven year old woman, I honestly did not think bullies existed anymore until I met one first hand. It takes a lot to shake me, but when I finally realized that it wasn’t going stop, I had to figure out the right way to address it.

Things to remember if you feel like someone is trying to push you around:

  • Bullying behavior has nothing to do with you. People who try to belittle others have internal issues that need to be worked out.
  • Determine how much your life is being affected. If you feel harrassed, it’s time to stand up for yourself.
  • Approach a bully with care and remember that aggressive people are already insecure. Assert  yourself but don’t get in anyone’s face.
  • Choose somewhere private to talk and don’t get overly emotional. Bullies tend to be out of touch with their own emotions, and the situation could quickly escalate toward anger.
  • If reasoning doesn’t work, get out of the situation and do your best to remove this person from your life.

It’s important to stand up for yourself, and you can also help prevent this from happening to someone else, too. Be more conscious of excessive negative gossip as an easy way to prevent aggressive women in your group of friends from targeting someone. Change the subject if it keeps swinging around to someone else’s dirty laundry. At age thirteen or seventy-three, it’s never fun to be on the receiving end of a bully. Whether you’re the victim or friends with the bully, do what you can to put an end to mean girl behavior for good.

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Four Easy Ways to Move on After a Divorce

Photo courtesy of Philip Leara

Sometimes what appears to be a devastating life circumstance can actually turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. Ending a marriage is one of those life-changing events, and no matter what the particulars, it will be accompanied by a mixed bag of emotions. But there are some effective coping strategies that can help heal your heart and change your entire life for the better.

First, accept the fact that you are going to need time to heal but that you will. You need nurturing, encouragement and support while you restore your well-being, so it is important that you surround yourself with the positive. Seek out your upbeat friends. Listen to the kind of music that makes you want to grab a hairbrush-microphone and sing along. In fact, crank that iPod up during your shower every single morning. And when you go to the movies, see only comedies. Whoever said Laughter is the best medicine was not kidding.

Now, those ideas may seem quaint and obvious. But promising yourself that you will absolutely, consistently treat your own heart with the tenderness you would your best friend’s is necessary. Here is a blueprint for rebuilding, revitalizing, rejuvenating your life after divorce:

Let it out. Talking about your divorce is essential, so find a real support group, preferably with a certified counselor. It’s important to listen to the experiences of others and to share your own. That’s how you learn that things will be all right eventually.

Do something you have always wanted to do but were too afraid to try. Set weekly goals to add something new and exciting to your life. Go skydiving. There are quite inexpensive simulators now, so you don’t even really have to jump out of a plane. Take up belly dancing. Join a book club. Learn to swim. Visit every museum in your area. Almost all museums offer free days each month so that the bounties are available to all. Learn to knit and make scarves for the less fortunate. There are free and low-cost classes at the Y practically everywhere.

Figure out what you truly want in a mate. This may seem strange and frivolous, but fill out a pretend online-dating application. Those things are quite eye-opening. Most dating websites ask dozens of questions that can help you see with clarity exactly what you desire in another person, plus you’ll get a brilliant summary of your own strengths. And you never know: You may even decide to submit the application.

Remember that YOU are the sculptor here. This is very, very important. What if you decide to look at your divorce as a true fresh start? You’ll be well on your way to planning the shape of your future life. There are countless examples of people who’ve been right where you are and who’ve worked through the initial pain and confusion of divorce to discover a brand new career, a stronger relationship with a beloved partner, a simpler existence wrapped in happiness and contentment. I’m one of them. If I hadn’t survived a divorce, I would not have gone back to school for my M.F.A., wouldn’t have become a published writer, would never have found my darling husband. You can fashion your life any way you want. So why not make it better than it has ever been before?

Our guest poster Elane Johnson has had  her non-fiction appear in Brevity, Superstition Review, Sonora Review and The IndianapolisStar among other publications. Her award-winning “Aftermath” is featured in creative writing programs across the country. Elane, an adjunct instructor of writing who holds an M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction, is married to the writer Stephen Ulrich. She pens an irreverent blog for pure pleasure.


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You Can’t Keep a Bad Day Down. Or Can You?

Photo courtesy of Roy Costello
For me, today was one of those days where it felt like no matter what I did, the world was conspiring against me. I felt almost invisible and powerless to stop the cascading negative events that just kept coming. Now it is nearing evening and I am going to attempt to change course in order to end on a good note. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, but I am really, really hoping it does, mostly because I like feeling happy, but also because I like to feel in control of how my day plays out, and not the other way around.

Let’s face it: for some of us – having a bad day can easily affect our motivation and drive. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel and let one bad day snowball into a serious setback. Without making a conscious effort to pull ourselves out of the funk, the quicksand-like pull of the blahs can easily suck us into an endless case of the drearies. I know some people who never seem to get downhearted, no matter what life throws at them, but I am not so lucky. When I have a crap-tastic day, I need to work hard to improve my mood in order to stop the negative domino effect from ruining an entire week or more.

Over the years, I have developed strategies for rescuing myself from the quicksand before it gets a secure hold on me.  Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize that you’re having a bad day until you’re at your boiling point and about to scream.  Ideally, we want to have enough self-awareness to note that the day is quickly deteriorating, and take steps to improve it before it is a lost cause. Some of the things I do in an attempt to maintain a semblance of sanity might also work for you.

  •  Give yourself a break.
    When good days go bad, don’t expect anything too demanding from yourself, and ask for some time alone if possible.
  • Think about how much worse it could be.
     Picture yourself in a much more hopeless situation, and try to remind yourself that your day really wasn’t a total disaster, and that there are people suffering from much more significant problems than the not-so-awesome day you are having.
  • Don’t rehash.
    Instead of repeating the ill-fated events over and over again, stay in the present.  Try enjoying that time alone I mentioned above without stewing about all of the things that put you in this mood.  If you need to vent, choose one person, let it all out, and then stop talking about it.
  • Release.
    Pay particular attention to your thought process during this time; recognize troubling thoughts as you have them, and simply release them. Tell them they can go away now; you are done with them and they don’t affect you anymore.

It helps to have a plan in place that you can refer to during difficult times.  Try writing down the above steps and anything additional that helps you personally when you’re feeling desperate. On bad days,  consciously take yourself through each step, making a real effort to be mindful of the fact that the person ultimately controlling your mood is you.

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Why Asking for Help Will Leave You Feeling Empowered

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All my life I’ve had trouble asking for help. My mother says I have been like this since my childhood years and that I always wanted to do things for myself with little or no assistance from anyone. It’s easy to devise why I developed into a strong woman – my mother was and is an extremely capable, self-reliant and intelligent woman herself. With her as a role model, I flourished into quite an aggressive person, which gave me an overwhelming amount of determination and will to overcome obstacles. This has been very helpful in my life and has helped me through many difficult situations, including postpartum depression, divorce, single parenting, undiagnosed chronic pain, and creating a blended family with my children and my new husband.

However, I have discovered a fatal flaw in my seemingly endless ability to be self-reliant and independent. Until very recently, I simply did not know how to ask for help. I found the concept uncomfortable and 98% of the time I was adamantly opposed to it. I suppose some people would call me stubborn, and I guess they would be right. I am, after all, a Taurus. However, the inability to ask for help can lead to a great deal of problems when hmmmmmm…I don’t know – YOU ACTUALLY REALLY NEED HELP! Last year, I was presented with my biggest challenge yet, and I found myself fighting an inner battle, needing help at work, at home, and at life, but mentally incapable of asking for it.

Not only did I have a problem asking for help, but I also never even suggested to many of my close friends and family that I was anything less than perfect. This complicated matters even more when my need for help arose, because it was unexpected and surprising to those around me. They were under the impression that I had everything under control. My personal situation involved a diagnosis of a chronic medical condition that forced me to change my ways and begin telling people about my limits and asking for some slack. I learned how to let my friends in on the secret that I wasn’t Superwoman after all, with a PS that if they wouldn’t mind, could they please come to my rescue?

As you can imagine, my loved ones were quite surprised at first, but what may surprise you is what happened next. The more comfortable I became with admitting my limitations and declaring what I could and could not do, the more empowered I felt. The impenetrable walls I had spent a lifetime building up around me quickly crumbled and I felt free for the first time ever. Free from the pressure to perform, free from unreasonably high self imposed expectations, free to be the real me. I learned that it’s okay to be a person with problems. I don’t have to be perfect to be loved, and most of all, I have developed a deep appreciation for my amazing friends and family who have stepped up with the help I needed without even batting an eye.

Sometimes, asking for what we need in life can be a very difficult challenge for many people. The most ironic thing is, by admitting your weaknesses and vocalizing the things that you need help with, you’ll find yourself feeling stronger than ever.

Adrienne McGuire is a writer, educator, and wellness enthusiast. Her desire to balance family with career led her to abandon the corporate ladder to create the life she really wanted. Her journey down the road less traveled eventually led her to the doors of DailyPath, where she has become an integral part of the writing team.

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