The Wisdom of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a difficult thing for many of us. Nevertheless, there can be wisdom in uncertainty if we allow ourselves to accept that many things are out of our control. Likewise, if we are able to work toward greater acceptance of uncertainty, we might find greater possibilities as we take on new challenges.  

Beginner’s mind is a useful way to practice changing our relationship to uncertainty. It involves letting go of our expectations and preconceived ideas about something and looking at things with a fresh mind, just like a beginner. This can be a difficult practice. Nevertheless, if we can learn to tolerate and accept uncertainty, we can begin to see the wisdom in not knowing or having all of the answers.    

The following strategies are helpful for cultivating beginner’s mind:

Assume a stance of beginner when you enter a conversation. Rather than rushing to express your opinion or highlight your expertise, ask questions and express curiosity.

Change your typical routine or route to the office or store and take note of your new environment.  

Practice noticing your habits and be curious about why you do the things you do. Ask yourself, why do I do this every morning? How could I do this differently?

Attend to the automatic narrative in your head. Step back from judgements about what is right or wrong or what you should or should not being doing. Ask yourself, where do these ideas come from?

Try a new activity that you have not done before. Practice tolerating any anxiety that may arise from stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Spend time with people different from yourself and be curious about their experiences and perspectives.

Explore something that often goes unnoticed. For example, you might slow down and notice the full taste, texture, and color of an apple as you eat it.

Experiment with a new type of cooking or try a new food. 

Emulate the wonder of children. 

We can also extend the wisdom of uncertainty to our future expectations. We often become fixated on achieving a particular outcome or using a particular approach to solve a problem. This can hinder our creativity and cause increased stress as we work hard to stick to our plans. Try letting go of your attachments to particular outcomes or opinions about how things should be done and observe if this allows for more room in your thinking and less stress as you navigate challenges. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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There is a parable about a rich king who was growing older. He had no family relations to inherit his many riches and rule his kingdom. Therefore, he decided to invite all of his most devoted supporters to a grand party, during which time he planned to offer meetings with his subjects and select an heir to the throne. The king hoped to provide a taste of his many riches with fine foods and drinks as well as new clothing and performances by the most talented musicians and performers. After the party was underway, the king emerged from his quarters to begin inviting his guests to meet and discuss how they might rule the kingdom. When he entered the festival, he found that most of his guests had already left the party and returned home. Lost in the many pleasures of the party, the guests had forgotten why they had come to the castle in the first place.  

What comes to mind when you think of simplicity? Do you have a positive or negative reaction? Do you wish you had more simplicity in your life? What would that look like? In what ways can you experience more simplicity in your life today? 

It is easy to get distracted by the many things in our lives. Foremost, our society tells us that we must be active and striving to make progress at all times. Even our vacations can become a list of achievements. Beyond these pressures, we are increasingly surrounded by distractions such as cell phones, email, and social media accounts.  

Simplicity is a great way to unburden ourselves and allow for more open space in our lives. As a result, we might experience a greater sense of purpose and intention as well as a stronger connection to what we most want or desire.  

Here are a few practical ways of inviting more simplicity into your life:  

Shift your diet to include more foods that are simple and natural. 

Eat mindfully and in moderation.  

Consider what you already have in your life. Develop an awareness and compassionate concern for the many people around the world struggling with little or no resources.

Lower your overall level of personal consumption and buy fewer items to make yourself feel good. Focus on buying only what you truly need.  

Develop a meditation practice by devoting as little as five minutes a day to meditation. 

Spend time in nature (without headphones).  

Invest in yourself by further developing your professional skills or engage in more creative projects.

Engage in gratitude practices such as a daily gratitude journal.  

Declutter your environment and consider donating items you no longer use.

Unplug from your phone, social media, and perhaps even television.

Notice and embrace moments of silence.  

Simplicity can help you feel more connected and intentional in your life while also decreasing the burden of having too much on your plate. Choose one or more of these strategies to invite more simplicity into your life today.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Awareness as the Antidote to Rumination

If you find yourself obsessing over past events, stewing in resentments, replaying conversations over and over again, and beating yourself up for minor setbacks, you are likely struggling with rumination. 

Rumination is the mental act of repetitively reviewing a thought or a specific problem without coming to any resolution. It can also be thought of as dwelling excessively on your problems or insecurities. Rumination is common to both anxiety and depression. Research suggests that rumination or excessively dwelling on negative events is a predictor of depression and anxiety as well as the level of stress people experience. Therefore, taking steps to mitigate rumination can have a significant positive impact on mental health.   

There are two aspects of rumination that can be examined to better understand why it can be so problematic. First, rumination often goes unnoticed as we go about our day worrying or ruminating on a negative event that occurred or second guessing ourselves after a recent social interaction. Second, rumination often fuels a cycle of negative emotions and feelings of insecurity or inadequacy that only serve to further reinforce and perpetuate more rumination. Together, we can see how rumination can perpetuate itself and function unconsciously to wreak havoc on our mood and increase our stress. 

The good news is that we are well equipped to begin changing our relationship to rumination.    

Awareness is an incredibly important and powerful part of our mental functioning and it can be cultivated through mindfulness to help us see and respond differently to the negative thought patterns that typically form the core of rumination. As we work to incorporate more mindfulness into our daily experience, we can begin to step outside of the rumination cycle.  (see previous posts on practicing mindfulness)

It is sometimes helpful to think about rumination as a form of background noise or a talk radio station. As with our mental life in general, this radio station is playing constantly, whether we like it or not. Therefore, a great first step to improving your relationship to rumination involves become more aware of the radio station playing in your head. You can practice turning up the volume on this station and observing what is being said. 

Bring your awareness to the thoughts in your head. Are you ruminating or dwelling on something specific? If so, acknowledge the event or situation and check-in with how you are feeling. Notice how your ongoing thoughts about this event are impacting your mood. If there is something that can be done, write it down and make a plan. If not, then your mental efforts to solve the problem will only cause more distress.  

If your experience of rumination feels overwhelming, you can try shifting your attention to more positive thoughts or distracting yourself. You might try talking to a close friend or family member, listening to uplifting music, taking a walk, watching a movie, or thinking about positive experiences in your past. In either case, you are using the power of your awareness to notice and acknowledge rumination so that you can relate to it in a more helpful way.  

Rather than judgement, approach this task of noticing your thoughts with curiosity and compassion, reminding yourself that most people struggle with rumination to some extent. Recognize that you cannot typically change the past or control your future. However, you can choose your attitude and feel empowered to act in the present to help promote a greater sense of satisfaction in your life. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Savoring is a concept related to mindfulness, but it often gets much less attention. Nevertheless, it can be practiced and incorporated into your daily experience to promote greater life satisfaction and happiness.    

My former undergraduate advisor, Fred Bryant Ph.D., a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago, is considered the father of research on savoring. He cites the presumption that people naturally feel joy when good things happen, while suggesting that we may not always respond to these good things in a way that maximizes their positive effects.  

So what is the difference between savoring and mindfulness?  

Mindfulness is observing the present moment without judging it and then letting it go. In contrast, savoring involves being engaged and aware of your feelings during particularly positive events and attempting to hold onto these experiences. Dr. Bryant describes savoring as observing a positive moment and then trying to cling onto it and not let it go. Ultimately, it is the focus on positive events and the effort to stay fully emersed in the positive event that differentiates savoring from mindfulness.  

There are many benefits to savoring our positive experiences. Research shows savoring can improve mood, lead to greater life satisfaction, increase feelings of gratitude and appreciation, and even help us remember things more vividly. Savoring can also promote stronger relationships and improved mental and physical health.

How can I practice savoring? 

In his 2006 book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, Dr. Bryant explains, “It is like swishing the experience around in your mind,” when describing the practice of savoring. This metaphor is an excellent starting point as you begin to incorporate savoring into your life. Just as someone might savor a glass of expensive wine, you can savor the enjoyable moments in your life as you swish them around in your mind and fully experience everything these moments have to offer.  

The following strategies are effective ways to practice savoring:

Take a mental photograph by pausing for a moment and being consciously aware of the things you want to remember. 

Tell others when you are feeling particularly appreciative in a given moment.

Focus more attention on your sensory experiences, such as the taste of a good piece of chocolate. 

Allow yourself to be more expressive by speaking enthusiastically or literally jumping for joy!

Allow yourself to become absorbed in the moment. This may allow you to experience what researchers describe as “flow,” or the moments when you are so absorbed that you lose your sense of time and place.  

Connect with a sense of appreciation and gratitude.  

Avoid negative thinking by being more aware of negative self-talk and work to move on by shifting your attention to the positive side of things.  

Remind yourself that good times move quickly! Pause frequently and remind yourself to savor.

For many of us, the holidays may present an excellent opportunity to practice savoring. Perhaps you can pick one or two of these strategies as a starting point to savor the holidays or any other positive moments that come your way in the coming weeks.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Authoring our Story

The stories we tell about ourselves and our experiences are important because they allow us to make sense out of our daily life and maintain coherence and continuity as we move through life.  

Everyone loves a good story. In many ways, we are the stories we tell. Researchers have looked closely at the role narratives play in our personality and ability to cope as we use stories as a means of making sense out of a complex and often confusing world. Dan McAdams Ph.D., a personality researcher at Northwestern University, describes how stories overlap with our development as we have more and more roles to play and goals or hopes to pursue. The way we tell stories or recount events also influences the way we remember past events and how we perceive ourselves and others. 

Perhaps most relevant today, research suggests that the way we tell stories is associated with well-being. For example, McAdams found that having more stories of redemption when recalling a life story is associated with higher well-being. His research also found that highly generative adults frequently recall how negative events in the past led to positive outcomes.  

Ultimately, stories help us to make meaning out of chaos and allow us to better understand our experiences, while providing an overarching structure to the experience of moving through life and a coherence that is important for our sense of self.  

Reflecting on the narratives you use to describe yourself and the stories you tell can be insightful. Such reflection can also allow for us to pause and think about the way we present ourselves and communicate our values and beliefs. 

What stories do you tell about yourself and your experiences? What do your stories suggest about your personality and coping style? Do you tell stories of overcoming hardship, fairness or unfairness, optimism or pessimism? What are your most important stories and how to these connect to your identity or sense of coherence and meaning in your life?

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Improving Your Mindfulness Practice by Checking Email

It is easy to forget to pay attention to our basic everyday experiences or the present moment, which is a central component of mindfulness. One excellent way of improving our ability to recapture our awareness involves the use of reminders. Many people make lists or use post-it notes, place items near the front door, or set alarms on their phones as reminders for important tasks to complete. This same approach can be incorporated into your mindfulness practice!  

Try practicing one of the following approaches for setting reminders or cues to recapture your awareness and develop a habit for practicing mindfulness.   

Select one repetitive task that occurs throughout your day. For example, you might select checking your email or social media, walking your dog, or preparing a meal. Practice using these tasks as cues to practice mindfulness. Try pausing for a moment and observing your breathing. You might try counting ten breaths before moving forward with checking your inbox. You can incorporate other mindfulness or grounding techniques here as well or simply notice the sights and sounds in your immediate environment. Eventually you will create a habit of practicing mindfulness every time you check your email or receive a new email notification!   

As an alternative, select one repetitive behavior that occurs throughout your day. For example, you might select something such as taking a drink of water or sitting down. Practice using one of these behaviors as a reminder or cue to practice mindfulness. Eventually you will create a habit of practicing mindfulness by recapturing your present moment awareness every time you sit down on your couch or in your office chair.  

Whether a behavior or task, try finding a reminder or a cue that is most useful to you and can easily be incorporated on a daily basis. You might try several different behaviors or tasks when getting started. Once you find what works for you, practice and keep track of your success so that you can reinforce your new mindfulness habit.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Letting Go

Buddhist psychology teaches us that the source of happiness and unhappiness lies nowhere else but in our own minds and hearts.  From this perspective, we can strive, accomplish, and accumulate great wealth, yet we will always return back to ourselves, back to our own minds and hearts.  

One way we can work to develop a greater sense of contentment involves cultivating a greater sense of inner peace with ourselves.  A helpful way to cultivate this sense of peace involves the practice of letting go.  

Here are a few strategies to practice letting go:

Practice noticing and letting go of the tension you feel in your body.  Tension often goes unnoticed.  Take a moment to breath and relax the areas of your body that are most tense.

Practice letting go of unnecessary rules or demands.  We often create a list of personal rules and take on the rules dictated by society.  Take a moment to consider if these rules are really necessary.  

Practice forgiveness towards yourself and others when you feel it is appropriate.  Forgiveness can lead to a sense of freedom and allows us to avoid building up resentment towards others.  

Practice focusing on the present moment and ask yourself what else is really needed.  Take a moment to acknowledge how your basic needs are being met.   

Practice gratitude by focusing on what you have and the people you are grateful to have in your life.  

We all carry our story with us.  Consider how you carry your story into your day.  What are the most frequent thoughts and fears seeking your attention?  How often do you worry about what others think?  Are you struggling with a recent conversation that brought you distress?  How much energy do you invest in external accomplishments?  What do you desire most and why? How strong is the grasp you hold on the things outside of yourself? Ask yourself if you can let go of any of these things.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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It is easy to get distracted by the many things in our lives. Our society tells us that we must be active and striving to gain and make progress at all times. Even our vacations can become a next best list of achievements. These messages penetrate all levels of our culture as we see children pressured to excel and adults struggle to sit idle for even a brief moment as their minds quickly identify the next thing they can accomplish in their day.  

We tend to feel great when things are going well. To be sure, it is important to appreciate our efforts and connect with a sense of pride. We may also feel great when we achieve a raise, buy a new car, rent a new downtown apartment, or complete an addition on our home. Again, it is not wrong to appreciate what we gain.

The problem with this formula relates to the sources of our happiness and sense of worth. The items on this list are external sources of satisfaction. As such, they provide a temporary satisfaction and a fleeting contentment. There is always something else waiting outside of our grasp. Furthermore, an eternal list of achievements can leave us in a state of anxiety as we hold tight and fear losses or setbacks. When our minds and hearts are connected to these powerful external forces, it is difficult to find a stable and lasting sense of contentment or peace in our lives. 

How do we achieve a stable and lasting sense of contentment? This is an important question to ask ourselves. One path toward contentment involves practicing simplicity. In doing so we practice letting go of our attachments to external sources of happiness. This can be incredibly difficult, but it presents an opportunity to begin to broaden our sense of freedom and begin to loosen our grasp on the many external things that can hold us hostage. Ask yourself:

Where might I find simplicity in my life?

What is truly most important?

What is truly lacking in this moment?

Our tendency to grasp external things and accomplishments is not a criticism, nor does this suggest a personal or moral failing. It is simply an invitation to consider the ways you are striving or grasping external things and how you might shift your perspective to gain a greater sense of inner peace and freedom. Throughout the coming days you might try taking a pause when you begin to feel distressed or anxious. Ask yourself what is needed in order to let go and find greater peace.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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“There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.” – Tara Brach                                                                                                    

Acceptance has become an increasingly important concept for building resilience and maintaining mental wellness. Although it has a long history in spiritual practices, acceptance has more recently become a cornerstone for mindfulness practice as well as therapy approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  

Acceptance involves recognizing a process or condition without attempting to change it or protest against it. It means that we can see our own experiences clearly and also let whatever we see be what it is without pushing it away. This is much different from fighting against our experience or judging our experience as good or bad. It is also much different from avoidance or neglecting our responsibility to take care of ourselves or others.  

Acceptance is a powerful way to cope with suffering. Perhaps the best example can be seen in the role of acceptance for coping with anxiety. If you practice being more accepting of your anxious feelings and thoughts, you will notice that they become less distressing and gradually diminish. 

A concrete way to shift toward a more accepting stance involves a shift in our thinking. For example, rather than thinking, “I need to fight off this anxiety,” focus instead on thoughts such as, “I am aware of feeling anxious, but I have been here before and I know it will pass.” 

Overall, it takes both trust and patience to develop an accepting stance toward our suffering. Therefore, it is perhaps most helpful to think of this approach as a practice that you can work on daily as you shift your relationship to the various forms of suffering or distress in your life.   

These two steps are helpful for practicing acceptance:

First, notice your discomfort. Take a few deep breaths and pause for a moment. You may even comment to yourself on your discomfort as you identify and observe your experience. Keep this part simple as you practice observing the process around your distress. You may reflect to yourself, “ I’m starting to overthink this,” or “I’m starting to get myself worked up and I’m feeling more and more tense and anxious.”  

Second, accept your discomfort. Using self-compassion, remind yourself that your distress is understandable. For example, it is natural to feel anxious when we experience a threat. Remind yourself that your thoughts are not facts and anxiety is a normal part of human experience.  Accepting anxiety or suffering into your life is like accepting that it might rain when you’re trying to throw an outdoor party. Rain happens and we can do little to change that. Yet, a rainstorm does not last forever. Rain is a normal weather event just as our emotions and periods of distress are normal human events.  

Although anxiety is a great example and a helpful place to start, acceptance can be applied to all forms of distress or suffering. As you work toward incorporating more acceptance into your life, practice speaking to yourself as if you were speaking to a best friend or family member. Remind yourself that emotions come and go. Remind yourself that all things are impermanent and always changing. Remind yourself that suffering is an inherent part of being human and you are not alone.  

As you work towards greater acceptance you may notice a greater sense of freedom. You may also notice a shift in the way you approach everyday challenges as you develop an expanded capacity to deal with problems as they arise.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” — Buddha

The concept of self-love should not be confused with selfishness or being self-centered. It should also not be confused with simply buying things or getting a new hairstyle to feel more satisfied. Self-love is a sense of appreciation and admiration for oneself that grows stronger through self-acceptance and maturity. Much like self-compassion, self-love can lead us to take steps toward appreciating ourselves in a natural and healthy way.     

One major obstacle to self-love involves the conditions we set for ourselves. For example, we might find ourselves needing to accomplish a goal or obtain approval in order to feel positive about ourselves. In practicing self-love, we can aspire to feel this same sense of self-appreciation, even in the absence of a concrete condition or achievement. We can strive to love ourselves unconditionally, just as we love our children or a beloved pet.  

An important step towards self-love is to improve or change our self-talk. If we turn up the volume on our thoughts, we might notice how we speak to ourselves. It is not uncommon to find that your self-talk is critical or negative. We are often harsh critics of ourselves and may readily judge and condemn our actions or even our feelings. Consider how you might speak to a close friend, loved one, or child who experienced a failure or disappointment and practice talking to yourself in this same manner.  

Another helpful practice involves taking action to address your deeper needs, rather than focusing on what you think you want or what might feel good in the moment. This may take some self-reflection. Take a moment and consider what helps you stay strong and centered.  Ultimately, acting on these needs will likely serve you better in the long-term. 

Self-love can also be expanded by practicing forgiveness. Learning to accept your imperfections and view mistakes as part of growth can shift you away from self-criticism. Practice being less harsh on yourself when you make a mistake and take time to appreciate your achievements and resilience. 

Lastly, we can take a small, yet powerful step towards greater self-love through affirmations or personal mantras. In repeating a short phrase to ourselves we are consciously and unconsciously sending ourselves a message of self-love. You might practice repeating a specific phrase, such as “I am good and worthy of love,” or “I am enough.”  You could extend this further to practice phrases such as “May I experience peace and steadfastness,” “May I embrace today’s challenges with stillness and calm,” or “May my home be a home of balance and spaciousness.” 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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