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The Psychological Impact of Having Killers in the Woods Close to Home

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It has been 20 days since two murderers escaped from the correctional facility in Dannamora, New York.  This has disrupted life in the North Country and affected many of us in the ‘neighborhood’ where the search has been happening; in and near the Adirondack Park. I live just a few miles south of where the search has been centered this week, in Franklin County, New York.  What I have not seen written about is the psychological impact this is having for so many of us in the area near the epicenter of the search.

The anxiety in the community is high and is taking more and more of a toll as the search drags on and the killers are still at large.  The impact on people in the community is noticeable.  That there may be killers in woods generates worry.  Thoughts are all over the place in reaction to these unusual stressful circumstances.  It is on our minds.

In addition to the realistic disruptions, roadblocks, police presence, school closings, etc. there are a variety of psychological, cognitive and emotional, reactions happening for people.  Some are obvious and to be expected.  But some I have noticed in myself and others were more surprising.

The fact that they are loose and could be nearby is part our daily consciousness right now.  It is a distraction from the usual peace and calm.  We are not used to being fearful.  Our neighbors may have their quirks, but most are not scary.  We are also not used to crime and concerns about dangerous men.  Even locking our doors is not compulsory for most of us.  For many of us in the Adirondacks the woods are like the cozy fort we made in the living room as a child, safe and comforting.  But now we wonder who lurks in the woods.

Now we realize that the woods may be providing a hiding place for two killers.  A recent New York Times article discussed how easily they could hide and survive here.  It is a disturbing fact that if they are here, as the police believe, they could be anywhere!  On the path behind my house, in the shed down the street, or in the camp I visit on weekends.  Driving around the area, with different eyes, I see all the houses, barns, and camps that could be places to hide.  Most of these could be accessed, through the woods, and no one would see them.

Many of us are scared and nervous.  We are locking our doors.  We are avoiding taking hikes or walking our dogs.  We are keeping our kids inside.  We are trying to figure out how comfort our children’s anxiety and confusion.  For many of us our guns are closer to us.  We are jumping at unexpected noises and wonder what the dog barking down the street knows that we do not.  Are things really more dangerous right now that usual?  Well yes they are.  But it is also stands out in contrast to the sense of safety, illusionary or not, that we usually feel here.  There is a clear and unequivocal identified threat; killers in the woods.

Even as we go about our daily duties we are more on edge.  The feelings are not typically debilitating, but the constant level of increased anxiety is taking its toll.  We are on edge.  We are tired.  I have heard many people say how much they wish the killers were caught so they could relax, stop being fearful, worried, and letting the whole situation take up so much mental space.  Anger at this going on and on is also increasing.  It is not at anyone in particular but because of the frustration with the situation and the bombardment of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings going on.

There is also a sense of helplessness.  There is not much we can do except keep our eyes open in case we see something that might help them be caught.  Being vigilant also takes energy. The combination of nervousness, fear, and vigilance also makes it more likely that the mind will play tricks.  A deer in the distance darting across the road can look amazingly human for an instant.  Out of the corner of my eye I have wondered if a shadow was someone peeking out the window of a vacant house. Since our usual “reality” has been shaken, our perceptions can be skewed too.

Not surprisingly many of us are obsessed with the news reports on the progress of the hunt, local and national news reports, and wanting to know more about how they escaped and who they are.  It is a progressing drama that many are intrigued by, but our fascination is more personal.  We want information because it potentially relates to the safety of ourselves, our families, friends, and community.  There is also something surreal about seeing our town, people we know, and places we know well on the national news –everyday. There is something surreal about the whole situation adding to the uneasy feelings.

How much this is on our minds is reflected in what we are talking about with people we know, on Facebook, at work, in restaurants, at school, and in the bars.  Speculation is rampant about where they might be, what they will do or have done, details the news had wrong, and what should be the next step.  We are sharing our frustrations and stories about how this is impacting us.  Humor is sometimes a bit twisted, “Been harboring any fugitives lately?” But this is a needed release of tension.

On the positive side there is a sense of community, like the camaraderie when people pull together after a devastating storm. In some ways it is good that they are such bad guys, murderers, so clearly dangerous, so clearly the enemy.  Our attitudes are united, fear and concern are bipartisan.  That unites us as a community.  It is unlikely they will be folk heroes for what they have done. Only the sociopathic lunatic fringe is likely to want to help them.

Also present is lots of “what if” thinking.  Imagination meets anticipation, fear, and wanting to be prepared for anything.  “What if I see them in my back yard?”  “What if they are in the garage when I come home?”  “What if they capture my dog and demand a ride or provisions for her life?”  On the Sunday after the escape I was driving through dense woods in the area of the first search grid.  I became anxious and preoccupied with thinking about what I would do if they jumped out of the woods with guns and tried to get me to stop.  I was relieved to get home that night!

For many there is not even relief when we sleep.  All the fears, speculation, what ifs, imagination, and far-fetched possibilities coalesce unconsciously and manifest in dreams and nightmares.  This is even worse for people already struggling with fear and trauma issues.  A common theme is that the escapees are suddenly present in our home, car, or camp.  In the dreams they appear without warning as menacing and violent killers willing to make true our worse fears.  Personifications of the boogie men we feared as children, but we can see their faces and we know their names.

There are many psychological, cognitive and emotional, reactions happening for people right now. The killers are in our woods and we are at least a little traumatized.  None of the responses or reactions discussed above is unusual under the circumstances.  The stress is temporary and things will return to normal.  Eventually there will be a resolution.  Perhaps we will have more empathy for all the people in the world who live in constant fear for their safety.  Years from now we will still be talking about the summer there were killers in our woods, it will become local lore.  For now I hope they catch these killers so we can all relax again.

Rich Liotta, Ph.D.

Photo credit: Adirondack photo by ©Rich Liotta, face added: ©depositphotos.c0m/dundanim

Please feel free to comment below, I would like to hear some of your experiences.

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Spring? Are You Suffering From Bear Confusion Syndrome?

bear-1-4076-webBear Confusion Syndrome is a human experience.  It happens during the transition from winter to spring.  This strange phenomenon occurs with many people – and this year with many more.  This year the relentless winter of snow and cold and more snow enveloped much more of the country.  This syndrome is not unusual for those of us at the northern latitudes, such as where I live in the Adirondack Mountains.  But this year Mother Nature decided to share the joy.  As a result this year bear confusion syndrome is and will be more wide spread.

Usually Bear Confusion Syndrome is a brief but powerful state of mind.  One day in early spring awareness changes and everything feels different. This can be a disconcerting moment of confusion right before the transition to feeling more alive, more inspired, more optimistic, more driven, and oh yes-more positive!

I’ve heard comments like this, ‘Who was I so wrapped in gloom, moving in slow motion, and grumpily responding to everything in my life? I am not that person now, what happened?’  Or simply a mournful wale, ‘Oh my God will winter ever end?’  Yep, a bout of Bear Confusion Syndrome I suspect.  While this not a bona fide clinical condition, I have observed the symptoms frequently in April here in very northern New York State.  Go a little south and it is more likely to hit in March.

The confusion includes disorientation as one looks back at the winter wondering where you have been and how you got here.  Indeed it is looking back and wondering just who that was during the cold, dark, snowy season who didn’t feel like doing anything, gained weight, felt depressed, worried pointlessly and just struggled through the days.

Confusion? Yes, and it can come in a variety of forms.  But ultimately it is confusion of the most positive sort.  It can be the kind of confusion that comes right before the emerging clarity and resolution you have when you leave a rough period behind.  It may also be the confusion preceding the actual of arrival of nicer days in the foreseeable future!

For some the confusion occurs in that moment when we realize how the cycles of nature can still effect us, no matter how evolved we (humans) feel we have become. No matter how disconnected from nature you are, it has made its presence known and affected your state of mind for months.  Or perhaps that conclusion is an insight that occurs when the confusion subsides.

It makes me wonder if some of us have an inner bear that hibernates during the winter months. No we don’t crawl into a cave and sleep, at least not literally.  But it is like some part of many of us does hibernate.  When spring arrives we have to get reacquainted with ourselves when we wake up.  I ask myself, does a real bear have that problem?  Probably not.  To the bear it is just an abnormally long nap from which he awakens to get on with his day.

Bear Confusion Syndrome is a wholly human experience.  Fortunately, the confusion passes quickly, and the goals and plans that are in front of us feel possible again.

Sometimes the confusion comes and goes for awhile before it fully resolves.  It just feeds the confusion on those spring days when it snows again.  The oscillating expectations take their toll too.  “It is spring! Nope I’m freezing again.  Its spring! Nope it is snowing again.  Its spring! Nope. What the f***, will this ever end?”  Eventually winter finally calls it a season and spring is really here.

The winter state of mind is like a trance, or an altered state.  The truer this is for you, the more profound the emergence when spring actually arrives.  The brief experience of Bear Confusion Syndrome is well worth the realignment that is happening at the level of mind and spirit!

Is it the longer days and more daylight that end the trance?  Is it being warm again?  Is it seeing green and color other than gray and white again?  Is it hearing the birds singing again? Is it that going anywhere is now much easier? I don’t know for sure but I’ve heard it said many times, “I know its spring, I feel good, and I don’t really care why!”

Rich Liotta, Ph.D

An earlier version of this article was originally published on this blog in April 2009.

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Toward Self-Acceptance 1: Accepting Your Dark Side

Self-acceptance is fundamental to any healing or change we want to make in our lives. Nothing takes our energy, spirit, and authenticity away more than a lack of self-acceptance.  If you want success and abundance, self-acceptance is critical.

In this article the importance of accepting your “dark side” or “shadow self” will be addressed.  There are several steps that can be made toward greater self-acceptance. This is the first of a series of articles to help you on your journey toward self-acceptance. Self-acceptance and accepting your dark side your shadow

We all have a dark side.  This includes our negative qualities that we do not want to accept.  It can also include memories about “bad” things we have done which we feel signify something negative about who we are.  Carl Jung, a famous Swiss psychiatrist, referred to this part of our selves as the “shadow.”  (Further reading to consider: Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D. discusses Jung’s concept of the shadow self in depth here.) Jung assumed that this part of our selves is unconscious, kept outside of awareness because accepting these parts of ourselves would be too threating to our ego or our sense of self.

In my experience as a psychologist, people are often quite aware of their dark side, including their negative qualities and memories that produce shame and guilt.  If repressed they are usually not far below the surface when encouraged to reflect on them nonjudgmentally.  Yet people often avoid such awareness, as embracing that acknowledgement somehow makes them a bad person. In reality it merely makes them human.

Though what comprises people’s dark side varies, it often includes qualities such as greed, vanity, jealousy, selfishness, undesirable sexual feelings, desires for immediate gratification, needs for power and control, apathy, pettiness, and anger – to name a few.  Your dark side may also include regrets, shame, and guilt, over mistakes you made in the past. The things you have done when the negative qualities drove your decision making and behavior.

Acceptance of these or other aspects of your self can be difficult – if they do not reflect who you want to be now. But they are a part of you nonetheless, and they are not all of who you are. It is highly valuable for your personal development, growth, and progress in life to find a way to accept your dark side and your demons.

For one thing, and perhaps most importantly, accepting that you have some qualities that you don’t like takes their potency away.  Saying to yourself, for example, “I can be a selfish and angry jerk” shines a light on the darkness. Now I have a choice.  I can choose my generous and compassionate aspects instead.  You have options when you accept your negative qualities.  The danger is not in acknowledging them; it is in denying them or failing to be aware of them. It is when they are buried that they can wield their power.

The same is true for memories that you feel reflect badly on you as a person.  Whatever you did was a choice you made in a particular time and place in your past.  It likely says less than you feel it does about who you really are now. Your ability to be how you want to be is only in the present and the future.

If you can accept your dark side, you have taken a giant step toward self-acceptance.  It can be scary to acknowledge the negative.  Having negative aspects does not make you a lesser person.  We all have our issues.  Reflect on your dark side with a nonjudgmental attitude.  We all have positive and negative aspects of ourselves.

Tips to help you accept yourself: 

To accept your dark side or shadow it is helpful to ask yourself several questions and to reflect upon these points.

First, ask yourself if a quality you see as part of your dark side is really that bad, or if you have taken to heart the judgment of others? Many of us were chastised when we were young for things that are quite normal.  Are you having trouble accepting some aspect of yourself because you were given the message that you should not accept that part of you?

Second, know that you choose your actions.  Just because you have feelings at times, such as greed and selfishness, it is not horrible.  They are feelings and thoughts people have, just feelings and thoughts.  They often come in a flash and pass just as quickly.  It is what you do in your actions that ultimately matters.  By examining the negative qualities you have in this light, you will see they are small in comparison to your positive qualities.

Third, know everyone makes mistakes.  Most, if not all of us, have done something at one time or another that was encouraged by our dark side, and we feel bad about it. Most often there is little we can do now to “fix” the mistake or thing we did that we regret.  What matters now is that you have learned from the experience.  You can make choices consistent with who you want to be from now on. Ask yourself “What wisdom have I gained from my mistakes and expressions of my darker side?”  You may find it much easier to accept your shadow self from that perspective.

Finally, what does your dark side have to offer that helps you?  Even negative qualities have their positive aspect.  Often a negative quality channeled correctly can be an asset.  Anger, for example, can provide energy toward making positive change in your life.  How you interpret the meaning of the quality matters. Perhaps your jealousy and envy can be seen as part of your creative imagination.  Channel that quality, your creative imagination differently, and it can become something positive!

The challenge in moving toward self-acceptance is acknowledging your dark side or shadow self and then integrating this into your present and future sense of self.  This self-acceptance frees you to be who you are.  This can unleash creativity and allow an abundant mindset.  As you journey on the path toward self-acceptance, you will, at your own pace, learn to accept all of you.

Rich Liotta, Ph.D.

Look for more articles here on the topic of self-acceptance in the near future.

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Spontaneous & Latent Wisdom: What you know that you don’t know you know

Each of us has wisdom that is unconscious.  Some of this wisdom may be innate or learning we haveSpontanteous and Latent Wisdom forgotten. We have knowledge that we can use, and sometimes do, but it is not with conscious contemplation or thought.

Spontaneous Wisdom:

The best of this unconscious wisdom is spontaneous wisdom. This appears in those moments when you just spontaneously respond to a situation successfully and later wonder, “How did I do that?”  Your automatic processes respond, with their vast knowledge and experience, and you spontaneously do or say the right thing. It activates in an instant, such as when you without thought swerve your car to miss a hazard. Spontaneous wisdom is working when, of all the choices you could have made, in that moment you made the right one.

Spontaneous wisdom takes over when you are in flow and doing effectively without conscious deliberation.  It also manifest when you know something so well that expressing what you know requires no deliberation.  Automatic wisdom sometimes takes over when consciously you just can’t figure something out. Suggestions such as “trust your gut” and “pay attention to your intuition” steer you toward automatic wisdom.

Our spontaneous wisdom, intuition, and ability to make quick decisions are wonderful assets.  They are a back-up and supporter of more conscious processes. Celebrate your spontaneous wisdom!

Latent Wisdom:

On the other hand, another kind of unconscious wisdom is our latent wisdom.  Wisdom we have but do not use.  Wisdom and experience we have that can help with immediate problems, but it remains hidden.  Most people know more than they know they know and thus don’t utilize this wisdom effectively in living their lives. We often do not use the resources, skills, talents, and good judgment that we have learned in living our lives.  We ignore our latent wisdom.

For example, if someone feels that they lack self-confidence they are most likely not tapping the knowledge they have inside.  Most people have had experiences where they behaved confidently, whether they acknowledged this to themselves or not. In this case the latent wisdom may be hidden in your experience.  The first step is to discover memories of times where you behaved with confidence, certainty, and resolve, even if only briefly.  Most people with low self-confidence can recognize instances like these occurring. These memories must be acknowledged and recognized as the examples they are if they are to facilitate living more effectively now.

Our latent wisdom can be obscured by many things.  Sometimes we focus only on those times when we did not behave confidently.  So how we sort the data we have about ourselves is critical.  Even the most confident people do not always behave confidently!  Sometimes how we define or categorize our behavior obscures the learning we could have taken from what we did, thought, or felt.  We are left with a self-description, such as “I am not a confident person,” and forget the details of what we actually did.  There are lessons to be learned by remembering the details and considering other kinder interpretations.  Often the conclusions we made about ourselves long ago are no longer valid. Reexamine your assumptions and latent wisdom can emerge.

Latent wisdom is also often not noticed because people do not trust themselves, their perceptions, and their feelings.  They may know but actively try to squelch the feeling.  I have often seen this in people who rationalize being in a bad relationship.  The failure to see the obvious, to miss the signs, and the failure to notice “the writing on the wall” often occurs in painful relationships.  Here the latent wisdom that the other person will not change, for example, is hidden by the wish that things will change. Tenaciously holding onto to what we wish could be distorts reality.  The lies we tell ourselves, while well intended, mute the voice of reason and perspective. In effect the wisdom is inside buried, latent and inactive.  Look beyond that, hear your wise mind, and feel what you know, and your latent wisdom can emerge.

Uncovering your latent wisdom is about discovering what you already know.  Latent wisdom is usually expressed to consciousness by a feeling and clarity of thought.  Sometimes it is moment of revelation where suddenly you feel you know something new and profound.  Simultaneously you have the sense that you knew it all along!

Celebrate your spontaneous wisdom & Discover your latent wisdom:

Celebrate and appreciate your expressions of spontaneous wisdom.  Look inside yourself for wisdom that may be latent.  Embrace the process of discovery!  Consider the fact that it is within you as you meditate, reflect, and discuss things with those close to you.  Examine yourself from different perspectives.  Consider whether your beliefs about yourself serve you.  Consider what your feelings tell you and which passing thoughts and intuitions may be worthy of attention.  Shake the foundation just a little, and do not be surprised when latent wisdom reveals itself and becomes useable wisdom that will enrich your life.

~Rich Liotta, Ph.D.

Note: Some of the content of this post was originally published in June 2009 (Latent Wisdom…).  It was updated with some new content on its currently-listed publication date.

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Transitions: Help to Make it Through

Transitions represent a natural and inevitable part of life’s journey. They can, however, halt our lives,Transitions help to make it through disrupt our plans and cause us to completely switch course. Transitions can be untimely, frustrating, and absolutely terrifying. Often we want to deny what is happening and try to run from it. Fortunately, when we embrace transitions and learn to manage them they can lead to positive outcomes, and empower us to grow as individuals.

Finding ourselves in a period of transition truly brings out our fear of the unknown. We may have to see things from a different perspective, learn or re-learn skills and figure out how to adjust to our new lives. The whole experience itself can make someone feel very unbalanced and off-kilter.

Transitions come in all shapes and sizes. Some may be monumental ones that blindside us on an idle weekday. Some may happen by choice, and some by chance. Whether it is leaving an old career to seek a more satisfying one, moving to a new home, or entering a new exciting relationship, all of these transitions are voluntary. These are choices that though stressful, are still a deliberate move into something new and different. For most individuals a voluntary transition is much easier to handle, but it can still bring unexpected challenges.

Chance transitions are those that often surprise us and are out of our control. They are thrust upon us, and we are forced to figure out how to deal with them. A medical emergency or crisis, job loss, the sudden end of a marriage, or loss of a loved one, are all transitions that can emotionally and intellectually paralyze you. They can cause fear, grief, and guilt, not to mention a complete life disruption. Many things will simply need to be put on pause while you deal with what is at hand. These types of transitions are very challenging.

Whether by choice or by chance, transitions throw us off. They often require effort and time to manage and move past. Change is truly inevitable and will happen to you at some point whether you plan for it or not. The feelings that you experience are often complex and not easy to deal with.

Let’s talk about how to cope with the change, how to turn it into a positive life pivot and how to move forward. First I will make a few points about understanding the transition. Then about how to be proactive, rather than reactive, and being present in moving through a transition toward the future.

Don’t be afraid to feel

Chance transitions can bring about a host of feelings; pain, guilt, grief, fear, loss, and sorrow. Because these feelings hurt, we can try to avoid them by sweeping them under the rug and doing our best to ignore them. While they are painful, these feelings must be felt. Feelings happen and they are not forever. After they are felt you will have more capability to let go and move on.

Allowing feelings opens up the potential for the future. Accepting negative feelings allows us to more fully realize the positive feelings that include hope, excitement, and joy. Remember to allow yourself to grieve for the past, but make empowered plans for a new future. Eventually other choices, goals, and dreams will emerge. One path in your life has ended, but what can that open up to you now? 

Seeing your strengths and weaknesses

Know that both your strengths and weaknesses will be exposed as the landscape of your life is changing. Everything will be out on the table. You’re going to be pulled out of your comfort zone, and forced to behave differently to survive. That’s the hard part.

Transitional periods will exacerbate some of your deepest fears and inadequacies, highlighting your perceived weaknesses. That is to be expected. Feeling like you are on an emotional roller coaster is not unusual.

At the same time, navigating your way through a transitional period will show you the strengths you have and help you discover new ones. Being thrown out of your comfort zone has the amazing ability to help you become a stronger and more resilient individual. These are key elements to remember when you are recovering from, or adjusting to, a transition.

 Getting your feet on the ground

Getting your feet on the ground again will be an ongoing process. Unless it is absolutely necessary, don’t make quick decisions about how you’ll move through the transition. Allow yourself to identify and evaluate your feelings before making an informed decision. Ask yourself questions like: “How is this changing my life?”, “What is the best case scenario?”, and “How can I better practice good self-care during this time?”

Navigating transition requires reorganizing, re-understanding, and re-engaging with your sense of self. Indeed all else can go by the wayside as you are compelled to find your footing. Know that a transition can change your life in negative ways, or it can lead to possibility and growth. Consciously decide what you want to happen. You’ll be surprised what happens when you put an optimistic twist on it.

Re-understanding: Rather than sweep your concerns under the rug about life after the transition, take a good look at them. Learn what stops you from moving forward, and/or, creating a new life. Ultimately this involves shifting your thoughts and coming to an acceptance about how life will be different. Though this may feel horrible or overwhelming at first, trust that it will get better.

Reorganizing: Initially reorganizing is just taking care of business, the tasks and duties of daily life. Not exactly glamorous, but necessary. It is often surprising how much the little things that we take for granted day to day will need to be reorganized now. During this period, you may have to change your feelings, thoughts and behavior. Eventually reorganizing requires changing priorities and remapping the territory that is your life.

Re-engaging: Transitions often create a disconnect between who we are and who we are becoming. Rediscovering or simply appreciating who you are in relationship to yourself and others is critical now. Part of this accepting the support and love of family and friends who really want nothing more than to help you in difficult times. Knowing you are not alone can only make you stronger!

Getting your feet on the ground will help you to gain momentum to move forward. Despite the challenges, going through a transition can actually increase your self-confidence and create new and helpful experiences.

Do some soul searching

Transitions can inspire us to look within ourselves and make plans for the future. Find some alone time to do a little soul searching. Check in with yourself about how you’re feeling. Also, know that if there are generally negative feelings about the transition that they won’t last forever. At this point, know that it is okay to just feel the way you feel.

Soul searching is a healthy way to respond to a transition. When one path ends, which one will open up next? The next path may mean making new choices and navigating the fear that challenges you. It may mean growing emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Ultimately, soul searching should lead you to discover better ways to find well-being and growth within your life.

The rainbow after the rain

Chance transitions can feel like a terrible thunderstorm that seems never ending. But the rain will eventually stop and the clouds will clear. You will be able to get your feet on the ground and gain an understanding of what is going on. You will feel, and you will grow. It may not seem like it at first, or even for a while, but eventually other opportunities, goals, and dreams will emerge. The rainbow will appear, energized by wisdom gained through experience. Transitions can help you restore faith in your own resilience. You will make it through the storm and you will bounce back.

Here’s to you finding yourself energized by wisdom gained through the experience of transition!

~Rich Liotta, Ph.D

 

 

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Seeking an Abundant Mindset? The Downside of Automatic Processes

Automatic processes represent our mind’s ability to react unconsciously, quickly, and without Bypass your automatic processes to achieve an abundant mindsetthought. They include our ability to do many things on auto-pilot with little cognitive effort.  We do this all the time, all day, every day. Our brain’s automatic processes kick in so that our minds can organize and filter all of the input we receive on a daily basis. This is even more necessary in this age where we are bombarded with so much input.  It is good to have automatic filtering processes to help.  Automatic processes and being able to do many things on auto-pilot makes life easier in many ways.

While automatic processes serve their purpose, they have their downside.  They can inhibit our capacity to achieve a higher state of mind, an abundant mindset.

Processing all the information that we are confronted by is a battle between our brain and the incoming thoughts. Very often our minds automatically simplify thoughts and perceptions. This way we spend less time and thought on things that are unimportant, which leaves more cognitive resources for the important thoughts.  While many times being on auto-pilot can serve us very well in everyday life, and is necessary to some degree, it can interfere with some vital cognitive processes. Because our minds are simplifying thoughts, we may often make assumptions regarding the meaning of communication too quickly. We may also pay less attention to some of the most important facets of life, including the beautiful things that are occurring around us every day. Taking note of and appreciating the beauty and details of life is often sacrificed because of the cognitive economy driven by our automatic processes.

An Abundant State of Mind:

Abundance is a state of mind. It is the art of opening up your mind to perceive, appreciate, and create.  It entails being mindful and present in the moment.  Indeed an abundant and present state of mind requires bypassing the automatic processes that may get in the way.  Appreciation is key to an abundant state of mind, an abundant mindset. Our automatic processes are geared toward efficiency, not appreciation.  Our automatic processes are not designed to optimize our ability to be present and slow down time so we can discover what is new around us.  Very often our mind’s automatic processes get in the way of achieving an abundant state of mind and our perception of all that is worth appreciating each and every day.  

Shutting down or bypassing automatic processes is critical to achieving an abundant mindset. It is challenging but not impossible. It involves conscious effort.  It involves a shift in your intention.  You need to slow down, drop your assumptions, and open up your perception to what may be new and surprising.  So often our minds automatically make assumptions about how things are. These assumptions are automatic processes and are often the deciding factor for your mind about a thought’s importance. Part of limiting your automatic processes means leaving aside assumptions and paying more attention to details. This involves a conscious effort to slow down and look at things to determine if something is different, unique, and warranting attention. Our mind is programmed to notice what is new and what is different, but often things are missed because of the assumptions that we make in our mind for the sake of cognitive economy.

Appreciation:

Appreciation is a fundamental element of the abundant state of mind.  Appreciating is so important to a healthy, balanced life. It is a gateway to other aspects of abundance.  While appreciation seems like it should be an automatic process, this is not the case. Appreciation requires a mixture of how we perceive something and how we evaluate what we perceive.  It is a conscious action that you decide to make. It is not automatic for most of us.

When your frame of mind supports appreciation you will notice that there is more to something than meets the eye. In order to truly appreciate something you must think mindfully about it and truly notice it. This may mean looking at things from multiple different perspectives.

Maslow’s concept of “freshness of appreciation” was developed when he discovered that individuals who were self-actualizing had a greater ability to appreciate the ordinary events within their lives. These individuals took the time to notice the little things.  They would notice and see the beauty in things they may have experienced countless times (flowers, sunsets, working etc.).  They had a “freshness of appreciation” toward all elements of life.  These individuals found greater life satisfaction. Clearly, they had learned to move beyond the automatic processes that interfere with appreciating our experiences.

Even the challenges you face have elements that can be appreciated.  In reality we often have a hard time doing this until the challenge has long passed. But wouldn’t it be useful to feel appreciation even during challenging times?  Appreciating challenges does require some imagination and stepping outside of your mental box. If you stop to truly reflect about something, get some perspective, and look at it in a different way, it is far easier to appreciate it. This makes it much easier to accept challenges or other tribulations no matter what they are.

Ask “What if?”

Another important suggestion to consider is asking the question “What if?” What if I’m not seeing everything that is happening now?  What if there is something here that I am not noticing? Is what is happening for a purpose, for the greater good, or for my own development?  What if?  All of these questions encourage you to delve further into the depths of an idea or issue, beyond your automatic and limiting conclusions.  Question the obviousOften what you may find are new possibilities or a new answer to an old question. This is insight worthy of appreciating!  These questions are helpful in general day-to-day coping, but are also essential to gaining an attitude of appreciation and an abundant mindset.

Why Automatic Processes and Appreciation Matter:

Life is busy, stressful, and sometimes it is just plain hard to manage. Despite these difficulties, take the time to bypass your automatic processes, appreciate, question the obvious, and open your mind to abundance. Appreciating the blessings, especially amidst a crisis is a wonderful coping skill. There are a myriad of things to appreciate every single day. Take the time to notice and enjoy the good in life, and you will exponentially improve your life satisfaction!

The fact is if you practice this often enough it will become another form of your own automatic process.  You can gain control of, and alter your own automatic processes for the better, changing the very structure of how you cognitively process your world.  Having a mind and heart that are grateful and appreciative of the little things in life will automatically lead to more creativity and happiness.

~Dr. Rich Liotta

Related Articles on this blog:

Vital Practices of Abundance

Abundance: Appreciating The Wealth of Our Senses

Notice the Delicate Moments

 

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Sometimes We Run… Part 4: More Successful Goal Achievement Styles

Here, I am going to talk about a few other positive aspects of running that can supplement and texture other productive styles of moving toward your goals (such as those described in Part 2). These goal achievement styles assume that one is running toward goals. Also assumed is a determination, a desire, and courage to continue moving forward with conscious resolve. They The running woman on coast of oceaninvolve running toward with eagerness and a willingness to do whatever you can to close the gap between where you are now and your goal. Perhaps the goal is calling out to you, and goal achievement is something you are destined to meet.

Sometimes we run for the joy of running…

In the context of moving toward our goals, sometimes we just run for the pleasure of running, enjoying the process, feeling the movement, enjoying running to look at the sights, to meet new people, and to just enjoy the sheer pleasure of movement and stimulation. While this can be an unproductive strategy in some situations, as long as you are moving toward a clear and realistic destination, this can be a wonderful benefit as you run! It can be a great way to be and a wonderful addition as you are running toward whatever it is that you are running toward. Loving the movement and loving the direction that you are going makes the journey much more pleasurable and makes it seem like it takes a lot less energy.

Enjoying the run, taking on the right meanings and the right frames along the way to make it pleasurable rather than arduous, to make it a challenge rather than an effort, can make all the difference. Enjoy the movement, enjoy each step. Appreciate all that you see, all that you feel, and everyone you interact with along the way. This will help propel you even further and with less effort. So, love the run for the joy of running with purpose.

Sometimes we run, slow down, and then run again…

This is really a very healthy strategy because it is very hard to run constantly, no matter how much joy you are having, how good you are feeling, and how compelling your goal is. Running constantly has its pitfalls as well, and it can take its toll. It is important to stop, slow down, rest, and replenish your resources at times before running again. This is really not stopping your progression; it is just helping keep you prepared to keep moving. Oftentimes those striving toward their goals fail to slow down and replenish themselves. Indeed, stopping and slowing down is just part of the process of getting to where you want to go. If you are not moving at all you are not going anywhere, but if you do not take care of yourself along the way you will sabotage yourself.

Slowing down or stopping briefly gives you a chance to assess the progress you are making, to make adjustments to your course, and make adjustments to your plan. Part of achieving any goal is to mindfully make these adjustments along the way. There is a time to slow down and reflect, and there is a time to just do without conscious thought. Being able to know the difference between these two is a critical skill for moving toward your goals.

To be able to step into running mode and step out when appropriate is an extraordinarily useful skill to master in order to keep moving and progressing toward where you want to go. Taking rest periods is definitely advisable. By slowing down, you can also see, hear, and pay attention to things that are important for you to know as a successful runner—a successful runner who is thoughtful and circumspect but also driven to get toward where you want to go.

Thus in summary, we run in one way, shape, or form in order to get what we want in life. How we run makes a big difference in terms of the effectiveness or futility of what we do. It is important to have something that you are running toward and that you really want—a positive purpose and intention that drives you and is meaningful to you. It is often very helpful to know that you want to change things, that there is something you are running away from. It is important to enjoy the process, to enjoy the movement, the planning, the problem-solving, and everything that goes along with moving forward on your journey. It is also important to slow down, stop, rest, and make adjustments to refine your next move. I invite you to consider whether or not how you run is productive, so that you can effectively move forward and accomplish what you want to accomplish in your life. Run well.

~Rich Liotta, Ph.D.

 

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Negative Thoughts: Managing the Spam in your Head

Your brain works a lot like your email messages; some things go into your inbox, and some go intoSpam Wastebasket the spam folder.  For your quality of life and even your sanity you need to manage which messages go where!

Your email inbox represents all the incoming messages, while your spam folder is the junk mail, useless and annoying messages you get on a daily basis that you do not want.  Often your inbox is overrun with messages, including spam that was not caught by the spam filter. Your spam folder contains the useless messages. Some of us dread checking our email simply because there are so many messages in there.  Though it may sound like a strange notion, these two email boxes have an alarming similarity to your brain and the messages you receive there.

Your brain is the ultimate inbox.

Think about your brain in terms of having an “inbox” and a “spam folder”.  All of the messages you receive including communication from others, thoughts, self-talk, etc. come into your inbox. Often they sit there and we keep looking at them, even though many of them are worthless spam. Your spam messages are those that are not worth your thoughts or emotions. They represent things that you may not be able to change, or things that you tend to worry over.   It is easy to fail to send them to the spam folder in our brain.

Spam messages in our brain are those that cause worry, regret, anxiety, poor self-esteem and other negative thoughts that serve no positive purpose. A completely full inbox with tons of spam is overwhelming and frustrating. Managing these messages appropriately can improve mental wellbeing, lessen anxiety, and lead to greater life satisfaction.

Your inbox is best reserved for positive messages, things you really do need to attend to, and matters that require your energy and consideration.  It is not for all those negative thoughts – the spam.

How do you manage your inbox and your spam?

Managing your incoming messages can be really challenging and takes some practice. Once you get really good at it, your spam messages (those worthless messages) will automatically go into the spam box like they often do in email. Your email spam works by establishing rules around what you deem to be spam. Every time you send an email to spam your email provider recognizes that, creates a rule, and begins to send all similar emails on to spam. Establishing rules for your brain’s inbox is how to begin managing it.

The first step in learning how to manage your brain’s inbox is establishing what spam messages look like for you. If you are a worrier, you may establish a rule that messages that cause worry will automatically go into the spam folder. Or if you have poor self-esteem you might establish a rule that negative self-talk and negative self-image messages automatically go to the spam folder.  If you take time evaluating your thoughts and your reactions to them, you will quickly learn what thoughts are trigger buttons for you, potentially causing anxiety and worry. Those are the messages to get rid of.

When you figure out what your spam messages look like, you must then make a conscious effort to send them to the spam folder. This means that as you receive a spam message you say to yourself, “This is spam, I can briefly review it to see if it contains anything useful, and then disregard it without getting emotionally involved.” Spam typically represents things that you cannot control. Sending the messages to your spam folder is the action of accepting what you cannot change, and then moving on. This allows you to make room in your brain (your inbox) for messages that are important, useful to you, and worth your energy.

Why is cleaning out your inbox beneficial to your well-being?

Consider all of the things that go through your mind on a daily basis. How many of them are valuable and important thoughts? And how many of them are worthless thoughts, causing you worry and pain? How do you think you would feel if you were able to eliminate those negative thoughts, only focusing on the positive thoughts needed to get through the day? You would surely feel a whole lot better!

Focusing on the important thoughts and ignoring those that drain you emotionally and mentally are a great steps in the direction of mental peace and life satisfaction. You are able to accept what you are unable to change, spend little time trying to change it, and move on more quickly than you ever believed possible.  Imagine how wonderful it will be to delete the spam, rather than allowing it to overflow into your inbox, invading your thoughts and your life. YOU are in control, and when you are ready YOU CAN get rid of that spam by making use of your brain’s spam folder.

~Rich Liotta, Ph.D.

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Sometimes we run… Part 3: Styles that can sabotage your progress in achieving your goals

As has been explored in the previous articles (Part 1 and Part 2), there may be various possible dynamics at play in our relationships with our goals. “Sometimes We Run…” is a metaphor that illustrates some of the ways we relate to them. So far, we have discussed that sometimes we run away from our goals, sometimes we run toward them, and that one of the most compelling ways of Silhouette of woman running at sunsetrunning is when we are simultaneously running toward something and away from something else. But this is not all there is to say about the ways in which we run, the ways in which we pursue success, accomplishment, and the positive things in our life. There are a few other positive ways of running as well as some that are problematic. First, I will deal with three ways of running that end up sabotaging us, do not work for us, or are just not congruent with the nature of who we are. Then in the next installment, I will talk about a couple more positive ways or aspects of running.

Sometimes we run to fulfill another’s expectation…

Running is much more effective when you are doing it for yourself, when you are doing it to accomplish what you want in order to achieve your own goals. But often, we acquire expectations from our parents or from others and end up running to fulfill what they think we should do. This manner of running can foster resentment and promote sabotaging ourselves in various ways, sometimes without even knowing that we are doing it. Running to fulfill another’s expectations often does not sit very well, especially when you look back and reflect on what you have done and the effect these types of choices have had on your life. Often, running to fulfill another’s expectations ends up creating life crises later on.

The people who are most effective at progressing toward their goals are doing it because of decisions they have made for themselves, serving their own expectations and desires rather than those of somebody else. Certainly, running to fulfill another’s expectations may get someone to succeed and may be compelling for some people, but the question is, what does this become later on? It does not feel good looking back and feeling dissatisfaction that you pursued a less meaningful path than you could have. This often happens when one pursues goals based on another’s expectations, rather than by personal choice.

Of course, sometimes the situation is more complicated. Sometimes we adopt expectations that may have originally been someone else’s and take them on as our own. This is fine, and is not a problem, as long as these expectations are genuinely taken on as your own and become your own. Certainly we are social beings, and have expectations placed on us. “You are my son/daughter and you will be a doctor,” for example. But it is whether these are congruent with who you are and where you want to go that matters. The fact that a goal may have originally come from somebody else is not as important as whether you ultimately take it on as your own.

Beware of whether you are running to fulfill another’s expectations. Reflect on this and consider whether your goals are what you really want yourself.  Clarity in this regard will help you move much more effectively toward your goals.

Sometimes we run without shoes…

Running without shoes is typically not a good idea. While it may feel good to feel the grass beneath your feet, most likely there are going to be pebbles, rocks, bumps, or sticks that are going to make running without shoes very uncomfortable. Running without shoes is much like going toward your goals unprepared, doing things prematurely, not assessing the reality of what you need or what competencies must be developed in order to prepare yourself for moving toward them. Part of defining goals is knowing what you need and what equipment you will need to take with you. Without considering these factors first, the chances of bruises, cuts, and injuries that could prevent you from moving forward further are very possible. So wear your shoes, and wear the right shoes.

Often in setting goals, part of the process involves picking out the right shoes, being sure that you are prepared for the journey, and being sure you have some of the requisite competencies. Developing some of these can simply be integrated into your goals. To prevent the pitfall of running without shoes, it is important to spell out what we need and then work on moving toward getting it. Often it is a matter of breaking down our goals and our plan into smaller steps to ensure that we are prepared for the journey and can continue to acquire whatever necessities arise along the way.

Sometimes we run because we fear stopping…

People in this pattern run and run in a frenetic fashion, often without a clear destination or without clear goals, simply running because of feeling uncertain or just being afraid to stop. This is really a typical workaholic pattern. Here, the motion, the movement, the continued activity becomes an addiction, and often what you are really afraid of is not completely clear. You just have the compelling feeling that you need to keep going.

Oftentimes this is related to running in circles, because you frequently may just keep moving and lose sight of the plans, goals, objectives, and all the details that need to be attended to, or only focus on the details without having a broader perspective of what you are doing and why. Typically, a fear of stopping in some way influences the pattern of running in circles. Clearly, running because you fear stopping is not a very productive pattern. Some reflection and examination of your own behavior and what you are doing and why is important in order to stop this pattern.

Thus, in this installment of “Sometimes We Run…” I have gone over three unproductive manners of running, three unproductive ways of being in motion in the world, three unproductive ways of manifesting so-called “goal-directed behavior” in your pursuit of the things you want in life. I suggest that you reflect on your own behavior and what you are doing. Does what you are doing relate to some purpose, some higher meaning, some higher aspiration that you are moving toward? Is the decision to pursue that your own or someone else’s?

~Rich Liotta, Ph.D.

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