Deepening Your Self-Awareness

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung

Self-awareness involves the ability to be conscious of a range of experiences, including our emotions, thoughts, motivations, and behaviors. Our degree of self-awareness and the capacity to engage in self-reflection can have a significant impact on our mental health and relationships as it allows for us to step outside of a reactive approach navigating the world. In addition to self-awareness, the ability to empathize or understand what other people are thinking and feeling allows us to develop a more complex and less judgmental understanding around the actions of others. Taken together, the development of greater self-and-other awareness forms a cornerstone for healthy functioning and psychological growth.  

Understanding ourselves and others is an ongoing process that begins early in life and extends throughout the lifespan. This makes it an excellent area of focus for personal growth. There are numerous ways we can work to improve our self-awareness.  

Accepting feedback

Next time someone gives you feedback or criticism, take a moment to slow down and notice how you react. Do you feel defensive? Do you begin to discredit or criticize that person in your head?  Do you feel hurt or anxious?  

Take a few minutes to calm down. Once you feel grounded again, take time to observe your reactions to this feedback and begin to ask yourself questions. What is it that they are trying to communicate to me? Could some part of this be accurate? Is there something I can learn about myself from this? How can I use this as an opportunity for growth? If they are wrong or treating me unfairly, what is the most useful way of proceeding?

Reflecting on emotions

Think of the last time you became upset or reactive. Perhaps another driver honked at you or cut you off on the highway. Perhaps someone didn’t follow through on plans with you. Perhaps you were criticized or blamed for something at work.  

Once again, take a few minutes to calm down. When you are ready, allow yourself to connect with how you feel and ask yourself why you might be feeling that way. Can you name your feelings? When is the last time you felt this way? Does it feel appropriate to the circumstances? What other situations have caused you to feel this way? What have you typically done? What patterns do you see in the ways you feel or behave? 

Taking Perspective

Think of a time when you had a difficult interaction or felt confused by how others behaved towards you. You might also think of a time when others were in disagreement with you. Take a moment to reflect on what the other person might have been experiencing. What do you think they were thinking and feeling? How might they have viewed or experienced you?  

Encouraging curiosity 

When it comes to self-awareness, encouraging curiosity about yourself is an excellent practice. Practice taking more time to pause in your life and reflect on these questions. You may incorporate journaling about your day and writing down ideas or answers to the questions presented above. You can also practice asking more questions about how others experience you.  

Understanding ourselves and others is an important part of living a healthy and satisfying life. However, it can also be challenging as we face things about ourselves that are not easy to accept. Nevertheless, as we grow in self-awareness, we are likely to experience greater freedom and a stronger sense of agency. Our relationships will likely benefit, and we may find ourselves experiencing less stress and self-doubt. We might also find it easier to see why others behave or react in certain ways and we will be better equipped to handle criticism. Human beings are complex. Taking an active interest in yourself is a lifelong process and will serve you well as you navigate the many ups and downs of life.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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Building Mastery

Can you recall a recent experience of being successful or doing something well? Take a moment to reflect on what it felt like to accomplish this task. Even if it is a smaller task, such as successfully keeping up with your laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, or making a healthy meal; engaging in things we are good at provides us with a reminder of our capabilities and strengths.

Building mastery is a dialectical behavior therapy skill that involves finding actives each day that allow us to connect with a sense of accomplishment as well as increased confidence and self-esteem. Although we may view everyday tasks as necessary or mundane, we can still experience mastery as we continue to learn how to accomplish such tasks in new ways or feel good about our success. In addition to basic needs, such as cooking and cleaning, we can also practice mastery by engaging in more tasks we enjoy. This might involve walking in nature, exercising, drawing or painting, practicing an instrument, completing a journal entry, or reaching out to a friend. All of these activities can be seen as opportunities to build mastery and experience greater self-confidence and a sense of strength. Successfully completing both tasks of daily living and small activities for enjoyment can help us feel more prepared to deal with the challenges we face throughout the week.

A practice of building mastery involves doing at least one thing each day that provides you with a sense of competence and encourages you to feel good about yourself. Spend just 10 minutes each day engaging in this task and take time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings afterwards. It is good to find a task that is difficult or requires some extra motivation, while also not being overly difficult or taxing. If you aren’t sure, start with something small and something you have been successful with in the past. Over time, you can challenge yourself to more difficult tasks or work to improve the current activity. As an example of this process, you might start with simply cooking dinner at home. Just the act of making a complete meal is an opportunity for connecting with a sense of mastery. Once you have successfully cooked a simple dinner, you could add the challenge of making a healthier meal or cooking something new or more complex.  

One final tip for practicing mastery involves paying attention to your mindset and self-talk. This practice will be less helpful if you are unnecessarily critical of yourself or judgmental about your efforts. If you notice such thoughts, work on taking a step back and refocusing on what you are doing well. You could even remind yourself that the choice of engaging in this practice of building mastery is an inherent accomplishment as you work to support your well-being.  

In the end, there is no specific task or set of items for this practice as it will depend partly on each person. If you are struggling, very simple or small tasks (brushing your teeth or making breakfast) are the best places to start and should rightly be viewed as accomplishments or instances of building mastery. If you are doing fairly well, you might decide to push yourself a bit more and try new things or find new challenges (cooking a new type of food or learning some other new skill). In some cases, you may simply incorporate some of your current activities and use mindfulness to focus more attention on these tasks, while reframing them as opportunities to connect with a sense of mastery. In the end, your goal should be to intentionally engage in a task that leaves you experiencing some level of accomplishment and positive self-regard, while making sure to connect with these feeling when you are successful.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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A Mindful Cup

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of non-judgement. Everyday mindfulness is one way we can exercise our attention on a regular basis without having to change anything in our routine or set aside time for meditation, although this is still highly recommended. We can practice everyday mindfulness by bringing our attention more fully to the present moment and focusing on our senses in the here-and-now. 

One great way to practice incorporating everyday mindfulness into your routine is to find something you do every day. It is also helpful if this is something you enjoy. Drinking a cup of coffee or tea in the morning is a common way to start the day for many people. It also fits well as a daily practice and brings with it an element of enjoyment. Try reviewing the following prompts or questions next time you drink your morning cup of coffee.

Sit or stand in one place. Bring your attention to your cup of coffee and let go of any distracting or rushed thoughts about the day ahead of you. Hold the cup in both hands. Feel the warmth of the cup and smell the coffee inside. Slowly and attentively take a sip. Experience the warmth of the coffee as you drink it into your body. Notice the taste. Notice how you feel as you drink the coffee. If your mind wanders, as it will, simply bring it back to the present moment and to your experience of drinking your coffee. Connect with a sense of appreciation for this brief pause before you set out on your day. Savor each sip as you are warmed and energized.  

When we practice mindfulness, the core practice involves bringing your attention back to the present moment or here-and-now as our mind will naturally wonder. Everyday mindfulness is an excellent way to incorporate this practice into your routine and drinking a cup of coffee or tea might be a great way to get started. Try bringing your mindful awareness to your experience of drinking coffee each morning, even just for a few minutes. Notice if this shifts your mood or your mindset before you rush off to work or join your first zoom meeting. If you notice a greater sense of calm and presence, invite this sensibility into your day and return to it regularly to help yourself stay grounded. Not only will you be practicing mindfulness, but you will probably find yourself enjoying your coffee to a much greater extent!    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Coping with Loneliness

Loneliness is a common human experience and a powerful reminder of our need for connection to others. However, it can sometimes lead to feeling empty and unwanted. It is important to notice how we appraise or interpret these feelings and the meaning we assign to feeling lonely. It is not uncommon to experience critical thoughts, such as “nobody likes me,” and self-blame, such as “I’m socially awkward and can’t talk to people,” further causing us to feel alone and diminishing our capacity for connecting with others. Therefore, it is helpful to pay attention to how loneliness plays into your state of mind. What is your self-talk? Do you get stuck in negative thinking? Do you criticize or blame yourself? If the answer is yes, try labeling these thoughts as a negative or unhelpful pattern of thinking, rather than facts. 

You can also practice viewing loneliness as an invitation to connect to others. Most people appreciate the opportunity to be supportive, so it is wise to let go of any worries that you might be a bother if you reach out for support. In fact, other people usually benefit from providing support and connecting with others in this way. Furthermore, everyone experiences difficulties at some point. Therefore, it is also helpful to let go of any thoughts that suggest your concerns are insignificant or unworthy of care and attention from others. Ultimately, reaching out to connect with others benefits everyone in your community and helps us all grow stronger together. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Impermanence

The notion of impermanence can be hugely impactful and even transformative. Buddhism highlights impermanence or change as one of three facts about our existence. In our modern times, people often work hard to maintain the status quo or become overly caught up in pursuing the next big accomplishment. In some ways, such efforts could be seen as working against impermanence.   

In Buddhism, the denial of impermanence is seen as self-deception and a basic cause of suffering. Therefore, it is through acceptance of change and the impermanent nature of all things that freedom is possible.  

Impermanence provides two essential things. First, when we acknowledge impermanence, we are able to recognize and more deeply appreciate our positive experiences, such as happiness and joy, knowing that these will come to an end. Second, we may discover greater resolve knowing that difficult times or difficult emotions will change and eventually pass. Both the good and the bad are impermanent. If you look closely, everything around us is always changing. We are always in a state of arrival as we move into each new moment.     

Everyone experiences difficult periods, such as a loss or major transition. Sometimes daily life can be full of minor frustrations and setbacks. Many of us also struggle when we are alone or feeling bored. The pandemic itself has presented a major challenge for us all. At such times, large or small, it can be useful to remind ourselves that nothing is truly permanent. Whether you are enjoying the sun or waiting out the storm. All things shall pass.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Mindfulness Myths

Mindfulness is everywhere! We see references to mindfulness in all types of magazines and books, television, and even in the names of businesses. To be sure, mindfulness can be extremely helpful and research regarding the positive role of mindfulness for improving wellbeing is impressive. Nevertheless, mindfulness is not always well understood and a number of myths about mindfulness have come to my attention.  

Mindfulness is meditation. Mindfulness is best defined as a process of focusing awareness in the present moment without judgement. In contrast, meditation is a practice of sustained awareness or attention on a specific experience, most commonly the breath. We can be mindful at any point by bringing awareness to the present moment, even for a brief period. This shifts into meditation when we practice sustained attention over a longer period of time, thereby exercising our attentional capacity. This is helpful to keep in mind as we can practice being more mindful without necessarily practicing meditation, although meditation is highly recommended for cultivating mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is relaxing. Although mindfulness can reduce stress and lead to states of relaxation, mindfulness is actually an active and intentional process of focusing on the present with non-judgement awareness. Therefore, it should not be substituted for rest or sleep. 

Mindfulness is having no thoughts. This is actually not possible. Just as we cannot stop our heart from beating, we cannot stop our brains from thinking. Moreover, having no thoughts has never been a goal of mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of whatever thoughts come to mind, maintain awareness of these thoughts without judgement, and allow the thoughts to pass, rather than dwelling or becoming fixated in our awareness. 

Being mindful all the time is the ultimate goal. This is both impossible and undesirable. If we maintained such a high level of awareness at all times, we would become overwhelmed. The goal is simply to become more mindful, more often, and check-in with our thoughts and experiences as a way to connect with the present moment.

Mindfulness is joy or bliss. Although we can approach an experience of joy or bliss with mindfulness, achieving these states is not the goal. Mindfulness also involves being aware of negative or neutral experiences and does not apply exclusively to positive states. Nevertheless, we can work to be more mindful of our positive emotional states and experiences, which can have a positive impact on our well-being and sense of satisfaction.

Overall, it is helpful to keep in mind that mindfulness or being mindful involves the intentional act of bringing our awareness to the present moment without passing judgement. It is like standing behind a rushing waterfall as you become aware of the water rushing down in front of you. You may notice changes in the water or small objects falling, but you simply observe. The same metaphor can be applied to mindfulness. In mindfulness, we allow ourselves to observe our thoughts without judgement as we watch them pass. In this way, mindfulness can be a great help by allowing us to step outside of the waterfall of our thoughts and the stress of daily life and observe our experiences without judgement.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Grasping a Hot Coal

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  -The Buddha

Anger is a common emotion that is normal and healthy. Anger itself is not a form of aggression, rather it is a felt emotional state that can be informative and can enhance performance at moderate levels. However, sudden and intense feelings of anger, and the angry outbursts or destructive behaviors that may result, can lead to significant problems in our relationships.

As with all emotions, our ability to step back and observe our emotional state can be very useful. One approach to better understanding your anger involves paying attention to what triggers your anger and how you appraise or interpret the situation at hand. When you break down your experience of anger, you can increase your awareness and change your relationship to your anger, allowing for greater freedom to behave differently.  

Think of a recent time when you became angry and review the following questions to help you better understand your anger:

  • How did the experience of anger start? Can you identify a particular trigger or situation?  Did you experience a conflict, rejection, teasing or disappointment? Was it a particular person? Is there a common trigger or theme that you notice?
  • What was your internal experience? What did you think and feel? How did you appraise or interpret your anger? Did you experience exaggerations, incorrect views, blaming, irrational thoughts, personalization, all-or-nothing thinking or other cognitive distortions or assumptions? Did you assume you were right or that your way was the best?
  • How did you express your anger? Did you raise your voice, yell, pound your fist, glare, speak abruptly, make sarcastic comments, or withdraw and become quiet? Did you turn on yourself with your anger? When did you realize you were behaving this way? 
  • How did other people react to your anger? What might others have been thinking when they noticed you were angry?
  • What was the outcome? In what ways did your behavior impact others? What is your relationship like with the others involved? Do certain people in your life trigger your anger frequently? If so, why might this be the case and how could this knowledge help you navigate these relationships more effectively?  

Answering these questions is a great way of increasing your awareness around anger and the chain of events and reactions that often happen automatically.  

Changing your relationship to anger involves becoming aware of what triggers your anger and increasing your ability to observe how you appraise or interpret such triggers. It is helpful to notice your angry cognitions or what you tell yourself when you are angry, such as “I’m right,” “they are stupid,” or “I’m not good enough.” It is also important to practice noticing and moderating your physical arousal by using emotion regulation skills such as deep breathing or other grounding exercises. Finding ways of expressing your anger by talking with others about what upsets you is also helpful. Lastly, you can work towards reducing your overall stress level by taking care of your basic needs and increasing your capacity to be more flexible and open when managing difficult situations.

Once you have identified the hot coal in your hand, you can begin the work of loosening your grip by learning how it became hot in the first place and discovering new ways of letting it cool down.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Emotional Report Card

What if we were given emotional report cards as children? This would imply many things, including an education grounded in emotional intelligence. As a society we strive to teach around cognitive and intellectual ability. Likewise, the intelligence quotient or IQ is based largely on these abilities. Nevertheless, emotional intelligence is highly correlated with success and is often a quality that exists in the best and most inspiring leaders. Moreover, emotions are involved in every aspect of our experience, yet often dismissed as insignificant or soft in a world filled with distorted notions of strength and an emphasis on intellect and rational thought.    

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to identify and manage or control one’s own emotions, while also being able recognize and respond to the emotions of others. A person with high emotional intelligence is typically able to name the emotion they are experiencing, harness that emotion, and apply emotions to problem-solving. Such a person has a good capacity for emotional regulation and can typically help others to do the same. An emotionally intelligent person often builds and maintains the best possible relationships as they are able to understand and validate how others feel, manage conflict, communicate clearly, and remain present and open to new experiences. 

Good news – the skills of emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened through practice! 

According to Dr. Marc Brackett, an emotion researcher, author, and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the first step is to give yourself, “permission to feel.” Allow yourself to pause and self-reflect. Ask yourself how you are feeling and be curious and open to whatever comes up for you. Can you accurately label how you are feeling? You can practice developing skills in the following five areas of emotional intelligence that form the evidence-based approach to social emotional learning referred to as RULER:  

Recognizing – Recognize emotions in yourself and in others. Notice how emotions are expressed in our faces, voices, and bodies. Acknowledge, rather than dismiss or minimize your feelings.

Understanding – Understand the causes and consequences of emotions. Reflect on your emotional responses or interpretations of challenging situations or interactions. Reflect on how your emotions influence the behaviors of others. Explore the information provided by your emotions. Ask others how they are feeling.     

Labeling – Label emotions accurately. Use a wide range of feeling words and find the best and most nuanced way to describe your feelings. Research a feelings chart on the internet as an aid to provide language in labeling your feelings. 

Expressing – Express emotions appropriately. Consider the best time, place, and ways of expressing your feelings. Talk about how you feel with others. You might also write down how you feel or create art to express your feelings. 

Regulating – Regulate emotions effectively. Practice self-regulation skills such as mindfulness and meditation. Monitor and notice your self-talk and reappraise the things you might be saying to yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. Make a list of the things that help you calm down or feel grounded. Practice acceptance and self-compassion.   

Emotional intelligence is underappreciated and often lacking for many people. Many adults and most older adults had little or no instruction or role modeling to follow. However, with practice, anyone can work to improve their emotional intelligence and model the importance of emotional awareness for the next generation. Get started today by giving yourself permission to feel.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Wise Mind

Wise mind is a concept and practice that allows for us to acknowledge and sort through challenges and distress with the goal of arriving at a balanced response. It is also the place where our emotional mind and our rational mind overlap. Typically attributed to Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the notion of wise mind has a rich history connected to ideas about moderation, spiritual contemplation, intuition and the middle way.  

In order to practice wise mind, it is important to understand both the emotional and rational sides of our experiences. Emotional or emotion mind is the subjective state when your logical thinking becomes more distant or unclear and your emotions are primary. You are likely experiencing strong emotions and your brain is functioning at a core level of emotion. You might have access to factual information, but it is common to distort or misinterpret facts while you are in this emotional state. Nevertheless, this state of mind is important to acknowledge and embrace as part of our experience as it has something important to tell us. 

Rational or reasonable mind is the subjective state when you feel engaged in a thoughtful or deliberative process, reviewing and planning based on concrete facts. You may feel somewhat detached from the situation as you are engaged in higher levels of cognitive functioning. This state of mind is important to acknowledge and use as we navigate challenges and reason through our options.    

Wise mind is the place of overlap between our emotional and rational states of mind. To arrive at this state of mind, it is helpful to give voice to both you emotional and rational states of mind by reviewing emotion-driven thoughts and rational thoughts.  

Review emotion-driven thoughts by asking yourself, “What is making me feel or react this way? What is the worst thing that could happen?”

Review rational thoughts by asking yourself, “What would be the most reasonable thing to do and what are the facts? Is this as important as it feels?”

Finally, work towards the balance of wise mind by asking yourself, “What is the bigger picture? What will be most helpful right now?”

It can be helpful to write a few answers for each of these questions or incorporate these questions into your day-to-day experience. You can also simply practice asking yourself, “What is the bigger picture?” This can help you access a state of wise mind by gaining distance and putting things into a balanced perspective.

There is a wisdom of the head, and… a wisdom of the heart.” – Charles Dickens

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Through the Eyes of a Child

Can you remember what it was like to experience the world when you were a child? Maybe you have a young person in your life now or have had the experience of spending time with a child recently. In either case, thinking back and reflecting on how a child experiences the world can be a useful avenue to connect with a greater sense of awe and gratitude.  

At a certain age, many adults stop playing and become more attuned to responsibilities. The focus shifts to what needs to get accomplished and our attention can become scattered as we manage the demands of everyday life. We tend to become more analytical and less vulnerable or risk averse. We may sometimes struggle more with relationships and personal insecurities. Although there are clearly benefits to being responsible and conscientious, it can be argued that something important is at risk of being lost.

If you have the chance, take a moment to watch or spent time with a child. Notice the authenticity, laughter, joy, and vulnerability. Notice how children get excited to the point of shaking with enthusiasm at what might seem like a small thing. Notice how children connect to an innate and pervasive sense of creativity and play with little or no concern for appearance or concern about what others think. Notice how children remain open to the impact of the world on their soft hearts and minds.  

Children are often endlessly fascinated and bring an innocent and loving sensibility that can be helpful to revisit. Do you recall what it was like to get your first bike or go swimming in the deep end of the pool? Do you recall catching bugs or your first fish? Did you have a favorite toy? Do you recall how you may have longed to someday drive a car or cook your own dinner? Did you measure each inch of your growth? Do you remember the excitement you felt when traveling to a new place or returning to school?

Practice seeing through the eyes of a child:

  1. Approach everything as new or experienced for the first time.
  2. View everything, particularly challenges, as learning experiences. 
  3. View everyone you meet as a potential new friend.
  4. Pick up a rock or an acorn and take a closer look.
  5. Listen to music, play instruments and dance.  
  6. Let go of thoughts and worries related to how others might view you.
  7. Pay close attention to little details, wild animals, and helicopters. 
  8. Engage your imagination and creativity through stories and art projects.
  9. Look at the stars and wonder about space.  
  10. Connect with a sense that everything and anything is possible in your life.

Take a few moments to practice some of these suggestions and see through the eyes of a child. Notice the fascination, joy, creativity and presence. Connect with the sense of amazement that children experience and allow yourself to feel intrigued and grateful about life. Everything is new, everything is possible, everything is a learning experience, everyone is a potential new friend, and the world is full of possibilities.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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