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Archive for the ‘positive psychology’ category

I have a fondness for the southeastern Asian country of Bhutan, as they promote and foster their Gross National Happiness instead of their gross national product. Therefore, I was excited recently when I learned that my Alma Mater, Naropa University, has formed a partnership with the Royal University of Bhutan.
The partnership formed in response to the Bhutanese leaders’ concern for their young people. Ever since 1999, when television and the Internet were introduced to Bhutan, the country has been flooded with consumerism in a way they have previously never experienced. Naropa is now working to help bring contemplative psychology practices to Bhutan at the Royal University of Bhutan and at many schools, in order to help school counselors learn these techniques.
I find it interesting that a country that has existed happily for a very long time, now that commercialism has arrived in full-force, is seeking mindfulness based practices to help reestablish balance for their people. It is a powerful reminder that, as positive psychology research shows, while the “stuff” and circumstances of our lives are convenient, our thoughts and our actions are the keys to bringing us happiness.

Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology counseling in Asheville, NC and Phone Consulting for creating positive, powerful results in your life.

The Values-in-Action (VIA) is a classification system and measurement of strengths created by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Katherine Dahlsgaard, Ph.D., and other prominent psychologists. Through reading philosophical and religious texts from around the world, 6 core virtues: Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Love and Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Spirituality and Transcendence, were identified. These 6 core virtues having been taught or praised by almost all spiritual and philosophical traditions around the world and throughout time.  The reason these 6 virtues are highly regarded is that when practiced they form the foundation for good character in individuals.

Seligman and his colleagues realized that by identifying and utilizing one’s personal strengths, or character traits, one could develop and cultivate virtues.

In creating a classification of strengths, Seligman and his colleagues realized that once strengths are identified, they can then be consciously cultivated and developed.  A strength takes conscious effort to utilize in one’s daily actions. This differs from a talent, which is more innate.  When a strength is used when taking action, the result almost is always virtuous.

There are 24 signatures strengths.  By taking the Values-In-Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths, your strengths will be ranked, so that you can identify your top character strengths.

The benefits of utilizing character strengths include:

  • By taking action that utilizes one of your character strengths you will likely experience an increase in positive emotion
  • You will feel a sense of excitement when using your strength
  • You will feel fulfilled and energized by using your strength
  • The more conscious you are in using your strengths, the more and more ways you will come up with ways to cultivate your tops strengths

Feel free to contact me with questions about your strengths and ways to creatively use them. In later posts, I look forward to exploring each of the strengths and suggesting some ways that you can incorporate them into life.

Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology counseling in Asheville, NC and Phone Consulting for Positive Results


As a Positive Psychologist and Coach I am very interested to see how this special will unfold. Tony Robbins is one of those guys for whom the answer, “Fine.” To the question “How are you?” is not good enough. He helps people achieve massive amounts of success. He is not interested in people getting better, but in having them thrive! This is what I addressed in my last post Is Getting Rid of Depression or Anxiety Enough? Positive Psychology helps people move beyond feeling “not so good” or even “good,” to experiencing what it is like to feel “great!”

Check out the Tony Robbins Breakthrough special and let me know what you think.

If you want to move from feeling “Not So Good” to “Great” I can give you some techniques to help.

Dispute Your Thoughts to Decrease Depression and Anxiety

You don’t have to put up with those pessimistic thoughts that run around in your head and can lead to depression and anxiety. Instead, you can dispute those thoughts to build optimism. I have shared this technique with my Asheville counseling clients and they have found it helpful. Think of the last time you were accused by a partner, family or friend of always being late. What do you do? Right away you likely come up with examples of when you were on time, in order to defend yourself and dispute the accusation.

This is what will fight off that depression and anxiety – disputing your own unsupportive thoughts.

We will use the ABCDE model to dispute a pessimistic thought. Below is an example that a woman might have if her best friend didn’t call for a while. See how, by disputing her pessimistic thoughts, the woman ends up feeling better by the time she has energized her new perspective on the situation.

A (Adversity)
“My best friend hasn’t called me in 2 weeks.”

B (Belief)
“She must be angry at me.”

C (Consequence)
“I feel sad and confused. What did I do to upset her? Did I say something wrong? How could I be so stupid that I can’t even remember what it was and it really hurt her? Why can’t I get relationships right? I don’t want to go that party tomorrow, because our friends will be there and I know they will give me the cold shoulder.”

D (Dispute)
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh on myself? Maybe I said something and she just misunderstood what I meant? Maybe she is feeling alone and wishing I would call her? Maybe she is feeling really down and needs a good friend to support her right now? I think I will call her and see if she needs my help. She has said that I am good at cheering her up.

E (Energize)
The truth is we have a great friendship and I am a good friend most of the time. We have so much fun when we are together. Maybe I will call her and tell her a funny story. It is so much fun laughing with her. I think I’ll go call her right now.
This is one example of how to decrease pessimism and the resulting depression and anxiety that can follow.

For more suggestions on how to decrease pessimism, depression and anxiety, please feel free to contact me. I would be happy to help you.

With practice you can become more flexible in your thinking

In their book The Resilience Factor, Karen Reivich, Ph.D. and Andrew Shatte, Ph.D. have a wonderful metaphor for examining the beliefs that go through your mind moment to moment. It is called the Ticker-Tape. Imagine the signs that display the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the current news ticker at the bottom of your television screen. Ticker-Tape beliefs are those that run through our mind on our internal “ticker-tape.” Often these beliefs are unconscious. They are very important, however, because they determine how you will likely respond emotionally, and what action you are likely to take, in reaction to an event that happens to you.

It is important, therefore, to be aware of the beliefs that go across your ticker-tape. If you are not, Reivich and Shatte suggest setting an alarm at intervals throughout the day, and then noticing what your thoughts and emotions are when the alarm goes off.

There two primary types of beliefs of which to be aware. These are beliefs asking “why” something happened, and “what-next” beliefs, which lead to concerns and assumptions about what is going to happen next.

Why Beliefs
If you find that you are asking “why” beliefs, you might notice, as Martin Seligman discovered, that “why” or causal beliefs fall into one of three categories:
Personal (me versus not me) in which we attribute an event as being our fault, versus possibly due to the influence of others. For example: “This always happens to me!” versus, “Maybe my team is having a bad day?”
Permanent (always versus not always) in which we explain that something always happens versus recognizing that it does not always happen. For example: “Every time I go on vacation it rains.” virus “There are times I have traveled and experienced good weather.”
Pervasive (everything versus not everything) For example: “This bad news that I have to work this Saturday. Is going to ruin my entire week.” versus “Working on Saturday will give me extra money so that I can take my family out to dinner.”

“What’s Next?”
If when examining your beliefs, if you find yourself worrying about the future and what happens next, this can lead to anxiety if you feel unprepared. If you are having huge negative “what’s next” beliefs, this can make your anxiety so strong that you have difficulty effectively solving problems.

The key to effective, healthy thinking and problem solving is to be flexible and have a balance of “why” and “what’s next” beliefs.

In my next post I will offer suggestions on how to be more flexible in your thinking by challenging your beliefs.

If you are interested in support on becoming more flexible in your thinking and skillful in your decision making, I would be happy to support you along the way! Contact me for an individual consultation.
Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.

I love this video that I have provided the link to, below. In many ways it is Positive Psychology applied to life! Positive Psychology is, on the personal level, about nurturing and building character strengths. When these strengths are well utilized, the ripple effect on the world around us is profound. There is one quote at the beginning by Ralph Marston, Jr. that applies to this concept: “What will you do today, that will matter tomorrow?” This reminds me of the Native American principle of thinking about what impact our actions will have on the next seven generations?
There is a wonderful quote about forgiveness, another concept that is well researched in Positive Psychology. “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; Forgive them anyway!” The video also points out that it is not often easy to be kind and happy, but encourages us to do so anyway!
I hope that you enjoy it.
If you are interested in learning more about Positive Psychology and utilizing its well-researched principles to improve your life and the lives of others, I would be happy to support you along the way!
Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Tips can help Overthinking and Judging

We have all heard the expression “don’t be judgmental.” Yet the reality is judging, overanalyzing and overthinking is very difficult not to do. The media prompts us to judge all the time “Try our product; we are better than those guys.” The news is constantly highlighting who did what that was “bad” – e.g. this guy stole money from his investors – and who is doing well “this 23 year old made millions by selling his new software idea.” When we hear these statements it is easy to think to ourselves, “I am doing better than that guy, or I wish I was more successful like him.”

Social comparison, comparing ourselves to others, in only a very few instances is beneficial. One case might be if you are inspired by seeing a lovely painting and you decide to begin painting so that you can develop your artistic ability.

However, most of the time comparing yourself to someone else and judging yourself as “less than” (e.g. she’s is more beautiful than me, or he makes more money than I make), may make you feel inferior. Judging yourself as “better off” than someone (e.g. he lost his job – thank goodness I haven’t) can leave you feeling fearful or guilty.

Positive Psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky conducted social comparison studies of happy and unhappy people. In the studies participants were placed side by side in a high pressure problem solving situation and the participants were made aware of how they were doing in relation to the other participant next to them. Interestingly enough, happy people felt more upbeat after the task, and felt good about themselves, regardless of whether or not the participant next to them had out-performed them. Unhappy people, on the other hand, were very conscious of their performance in comparison the participant next to them and reported feeling sad, frustrated and anxious if the participant next to them had outperformed them.

Dr. Lyubormirsky suggests in her book The How of Happiness, that social comparison is a part of the habit of overthinking. Dr. Lyubormirsky and her colleague Susan Nolen-Hoeksema suggest the following strategies for overthinking and comparing:

1. Cut Loose of overthinking:
          Distract yourself by doing an activity that will catch and hold your attention.
          Tell yourself, “stop!”
          Talk to a friend or write out whatever is bothering you.

2. Take action by taking small steps to complete a task that may be bothering you.

3. Avoid situations that may prompt over thinking.

4. Put things into perspective and see the “big picture.” Ask yourself, “Will this worry, situation, person, etc. be a problem a year from now?”

I hope that these tips to avoid social comparison and overthinking have been helpful for you.

For support in increasing your happiness and well-being in your personal and professional life, I am available for phone coaching sessions during which I can give you suggestions tailored to your specific situation and needs.

Here’s to your well-being and success!
Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.

A Beautiful Day Visualization Helps with Decision Making

A Beautiful Day Visualization Helps with Decision Making

The other day I offered the “Beautiful Day” exercise. One purpose of this positive psychology technique was, after writing out what a beautiful 24-hour period of time would look like, to see what aspects of your beautiful day you could implement into your life now. Another purpose was to feel the enjoyment of imagining your Beautiful Day

Here is another way to use the Beautiful Day exercise when deciding between several activities or situations you might choose.

1. Clarify what the different options are that you are choosing between. For example, if you are choosing between several career paths, clarify the different career choices are that you are deciding between. For example, “Do I become a physical therapist assistant, teacher, or accountant?”

2. Get all of the details and facts about what each choice would involve: If I become a physical therapist assistant I will have to go to school for two years for an associates degree; if I become a teacher or accountant I will have go to college and get a B.S. degree, etc.  Sample, as much as possible, what each choice would entail. For example, if going back to college, sit in on some of the classes you would be taking.

3. Once all of the facts are gathered, write out a Beautiful Day exercise for each option. For instance, if you become a physical therapist assistant, write out what a Beautiful Day scenario might be in this profession. If you decide to become a teacher or accountant, write out a Beautiful Day exercise for each of these professions.

By writing out your Beautiful Day scenarios for each of the options you are choosing between, it will help you to live into each. By doing so, you can potentially have a sneak peak into the future and feel what each option might hold for you.

The benefit of this exercise is that you are using you head and heart in making your choices. By first gathering the facts and details you utilize your mind to analyze the different options. By then feeling into each option by writing out what and Beautiful Day would look like for each scenario, you allow your heart and inner yearnings to give you feedback. Which felt most exciting or fulfilling when you wrote about the Beautiful Day for that option? This is valuable feedback for making your decision.

Enjoy and let me know what decisions you were able to make using the Beautiful Day exercise.

Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.
Psychotherapy and Coaching for Business Success and Personal Thriving

"A Beautiful Day" writing exercise can increase your well-being

"A Beautiful Day" writing exercise can increase your well-being

 Here is a fun, simple, positive psychology intervention to help increase your well-being. I enjoy sharing this exercise with my Asheville psychotherapy clients and individuals who do phone coaching with me.

“A Beautiful Day”*

Instructions: write out what a beautiful, fun, ideal 24-hours would look like to you. Be as detailed as possible. Describe each activity in as much depth as possible. Would you be by yourself or with others? When you describe the meals you eat, what foods are you eating? The idea is to savor and live into what ideal 24-hours would be like to you.

Benefits of “A Beautiful Day” exercise include:
Enjoyment – savoring the enjoyable details of your beautiful day will be uplifting.
Enhanced Self-Awareness – writing about your beautiful day will help you to identify what is most meaningful and enjoyable to you.
Positive Change – Once you identify what is most beautiful and enjoyable to you, you can look at what aspects of your beautiful, ideal day you can implement into your life now. For example, maybe your ideal day involves being away from a cell phone or email. If this is the case, you could schedule a “technology free” day for yourself as a mini vacation.

Enjoy writing about your beautiful day. I would love to hear about your experiences.

*Many thanks to Dr Dianne Vella-Brodrick who introduced this intervention to me at the 2009 First World Congress on Positive Psychology.

Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.
Positive Psychotherapy and Phone Coaching
for Business Success and Personal Thriving

Soldiers May Benefit trom Emotional Resilence

Soldiers May Benefit from Emotional Resilience

The US Army is assessing ways to increase soldier resilience. The goal is to help soldiers become more physically and mentally fit, so that when they experience traumatic events, the impact will not be as severe and they will be better equipped to mentally manage the traumatic experience. Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum is director of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. She believes that the new program will help soldiers to increase their resilience physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, plus, in addition, have a healthier family life.  

Positive Psychology is playing a role in supporting soldier resilience. Currently, 1.1 million soldiers are scheduled to be trained in positive psychology techniques to improve their emotional resilience. At the University of Pennsylvania, sergeants are being trained to help soldiers learn how to be optimistic, combat catastrophic thoughts, use their strengths and increase effective social communication. The goal is that this will increase the performance and resilience of soldiers and decrease depression and anxiety.

How will this help army soldiers? The unrest in the Middle East necessitates a need for solders to frequently be deployed overseas for a year and then back home for a year, before going overseas again. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. stated that the frequent deployments cause mental stress for solders. Casey observed that while the army has programs in place for addressing the effects of trauma on solders after it occurs, very little to date has been done in the area of lessening the impact of traumatic experiences for solders.

One concept of Positive Psychology is that of Post-Traumatic Growth. The evidenced-based concept shows that when individuals do experience a high-stress or traumatic event they often experience growth afterward, leading to increased self-awareness, appreciation of life, inner strength and spiritual growth. Some solders experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)after being in combat. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, a heightened startle reflex and avoidance of anything associated with the traumatic experience. Casey noted that after soldiers are in combat not all experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many, Casey stated, experience Post Traumatic Growth. Casey believes that with Resilience Training solders will be less likely to experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and more will experience growth.

Some, such as Guided Imagery expert Bellruth Naparstek, have criticized this move by the army of investing so much into the resilience training of soldiers. What is important to remember is that almost all therapies, including guided imagery, are based on treatment of PTSD, once it has occurred. Positive Psychology is being implemented as a prevention technique to reduce the occurrence of trauma and increase post-traumatic growth. The evidence that Positive Psychology can do this is very good. Kudos to the army for taking a stand and using preventative measures to improve the life-quality, and hopefully reduce the trauma, for the soldiers who risk their lives in combat.

Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.
Phone Coaching and Counseling for Business Success and Personal Thriving