The Dialectical Nature of Life

The other morning I felt a bit overwhelmed. I am in the process of a major job transition and found myself feeling sad about leaving my current colleagues and patients, while also excited about new professional opportunities and a new chapter in my career. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that two opposites can exist at the same time.

This powerful reminder can go a long way – that two opposite truths can exist at the same time or what is referred to as dialectics. This is a key concept for a therapy approach called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and can be usefully integrated into daily life to foster greater flexibility and openness, while also reducing the pressure to feel only one way or think only one thing. When we embrace the dialectical nature of life we can experience greater freedom through flexibility and acceptance.  

How often do you tell yourself, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “I shouldn’t be thinking that,” or question, “That’s not what a good friend/parent/spouse would want to do.” In these moments we are selling ourselves short on the complexity of our human experience. This makes sense given the pressures we all might feel to know or have the right answer, do the right thing, or even feel the right way. Ultimately, this leads us into a rigid seesaw game of all-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking. We can become rigid and close-minded about the way we think or feel forced to choose and maintain one truth, ultimately leading to increased stress and anxiety when faced with a reality that does not meet our expectations.  

Embracing the dialectical nature of life by reminding ourselves that more than one truth can exist at the same time allows for greater freedom and flexibility in our lives. Take a moment to reflect on the last time you felt pulled between two feelings or found yourself stuck in a pattern of black-and-white thinking. Some examples might include thoughts such as “Either I make a perfect dinner or I can’t cook,” “If I make a mistake at work others will think I’m careless,” “Either I’m always on time or I’m unreliable,” or “If I feel frustrated by having no time to myself I’m being selfish,” and “If I let my friend down tonight I’m a bad friend.”  

All of these examples are limiting and oversimplified. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in this pattern you are not alone. Most people find themselves engaged in this pattern of thinking at various times, particularly when overly stressed or pressured by high expectations. It also makes sense that we attempt to zero in on a specific meaning or answer. Might it be possible to be a good cook and still make a fairly bland dinner? It is possible to be an excellent spouse and also want to be alone at times? Can you make a mistake or let a friend down, yet still be a good friend?

Take some time to pause and observe your thoughts and feelings. Notice if you are struggling to allow only one truth into your experience. Notice if you are engaged in binary thinking, such as all-or-nothing or black-and-white patterns. Take a moment to step back and give yourself space for more than one truth to exist. Embracing the dialectical nature of human experience may provide an opportunity for greater freedom and flexibility in your day-to-day life as you allow room for the full range of complex and seemingly contradictory experiences. Human beings are not either-or’s, we are both-and’s.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Always Arriving

Transitions are often filled with mixed emotions. Sometimes transitions are by choice, but many times we are not given a choice. People handle transitions and change in all kinds of ways.

Depending on the nature of the transition, you may feel anxious and experience self-doubt or feel angry and confused. In some cases, you may feel excited and look to celebrate the transition. In other cases, you may feel slightly numb or disconnected as you approach a transition and find yourself doing all kinds of things to distract yourself from dealing with the change that is about to occur. 

The stress we can experience during a time of transition is often linked to a flood of emotions and a strong underlying current of resistance. Most of us resist transitions and change because they involve moving into unfamiliar territory with unpredictable emotions. Change can be so difficult that many people perpetuate unhealthy behaviors or relationships because doing something differently is experienced (consciously or unconsciously) as more difficult than changing the status quo. 

One of the more helpful things you can do during a transition is to remain open to your feelings and allow yourself to experience whatever comes up for you.

Mindfulness is extremely beneficial during times of transition. Curiosity in particular can be helpful as it encourages us to stay open to the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that arise in any given moment and allow our understanding to unfold. Fear and uncertainty are difficult, but they can become more manageable as we notice the subtleties of our experience and open ourselves to the complexity that resides beyond the initial layer of anxiety and fear.  

In reality, we are always arriving. It might seem radical at first, but we are always in a state of transition and with each breath we transition to the next moment. If we take a step back and approach our lives as an ongoing experience of emergence, we might be less intimidated by change. Likewise, if we consider all of our emotions as reminders that we are truly alive, we might experience greater freedom and less of a need to fight against fear and uncertainty. With an attitude of acceptance and curiosity we can practice moving forward moment-by-moment.  From this moment to the next.  

Watch an animated summary video here:

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Skillful Ways of Being

We all face challenges and must find ways of dealing with difficult emotional states such as envy, dislike, anxiety, fear, and general distress. Coping effectively allows for us to move through distress with greater ease. Below are several useful contemplations and practices that can be helpful in expanding our capacity to cope with greater ease.  

When faced with a feeling of envy or a greed, particularly towards others, it is useful to contemplate impermanence and letting go.

Change is a central feature of life. Buddhism points us toward equanimity during times of change. The Buddha taught that suffering is not inherent in the world of impermanence; suffering arises when we cling and grasp. When clinging disappears, impermanence no longer gives rise to suffering. The solution is to end clinging or grasping to our version of how the world should be and turn toward acceptance of change.

Recognize that all conditioned things are impermanent. All that we have and everyone we know is subject to change. 

When we experience aversion or a strong feeling of dislike and distress it is useful to contemplate kindness, gentleness, patience and spaciousness. 

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Think of times when you have experienced kindness and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to act with kindness throughout your day.  

Gentleness is the quality of being kind, courteous, and tender with softness of action. Think of a time when you experienced gentleness and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to act or react with gentleness throughout your day.  

Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Think of a time when others were patient with you and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to act with patience throughout your day.  

Spaciousness as an attitude is the willingness to suspend the process of meaning-making and judgement. It is the willingness allow for uncertainty and ambiguity by creating mental and emotional space. It is an experience of expansiveness. Spaciousness feels like widening the space between stimulus and response, such that you can stop living in reaction and begin responding skillfully to reality. Think of a time when you connected with a sense of spaciousness and contemplate how it felt. Develop an intention to connect with a sense of spaciousness throughout your day.  

When faced with anxiety, fear, and doubt, it is useful to contemplate a sense of being grounded in our values and connecting with a sense of meaning. 

Grounded-ness is the quality of being well balanced and calm. It is a parallel to the experience and practice of equanimity. Practice being grounded through your body by walking barefoot, lying on the ground, submersing yourself in water, and connecting with your five senses. Reflect on what things help you feel calm and give yourself permission to practice these more regularly.  

Values are guiding principles and involve our judgement for what is important. Personal values are those beliefs we hold most dear. They can be goals that motivate us and touchpoints for how we define ourselves and make meaning out of our experiences. Think of a time when you experienced yourself as acting in accordance with your values and contemplate how this felt. Bring an intention to live into your values or act according to your values throughout your day.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Finding Stillness

The quest for certainty is hardwired. We are naturally uncomfortable when we don’t know what’s next or when we cannot apply our previous experience in ways that help us feel we can predict the future. We work very hard to know and often trick ourselves into a false certainty to resolve our discomfort as we look for data to confirm our thinking. Research also suggests that we tend to gravitate towards thinking that is effortless, rather than difficult and slow, further increasing the likelihood of overlooking details and jumping to conclusions.  

Pause for a moment to think of an example of uncertainty in your life. What outcomes do you imagine? What past experiences are impacting your imagined future?  

When we pause and admit that we cannot outsmart uncertainty, we might find a new sense of stillness. Learning to tolerate uncertainty is an important part of self-regulation and slowing down to admit we do not know can actually feel liberating. Moreover, admitting to uncertainty can reduce confirmation bias, while promoting stronger partnerships in relationships at home or at work as it promotes inclusivity and teamwork. We can model our approach to uncertainty for others and send a message of acceptance and trust when navigating new projects or challenges.  

Admitting that we do not know is a significant strength that is typically viewed by Western culture as a weakness. The pressure to know everything and the link between self-esteem or demonstrating our perceived competence and intelligence can be damaging as we strive to live up to impossible expectations. In contrast, practicing humility and admitting to what we don’t know leads to a more accurate assessment of our abilities and options, thereby increasing our effectiveness and willingness to consider a broad range of possibilities.  

We can practice not-knowing, or humility, by slowing down and taking steps to become more aware of the pressures to know. We can likewise practice being vulnerable in the face of uncertainty and integrate skills to help us better tolerate uncertainty. It takes some practice, but it is possible to find a place of stillness as well as curiosity and excitement as we become more comfortable with the unknown and more trusting of ourselves to navigate uncharted territory. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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From Prediction into Awareness

“When we are capable of stopping, we begin to see, and if we can see, we understand. – Thich Nhat Hanh

The unknown is often a bit anxiety provoking. Generally, our natural inclination is to attempt to predict the future. Likewise, our brain is hardwired to draw upon previous experience when making predictions as it responds to our anxiety and works to keep us safe.  

Unfortunately, this pattern can sometimes cause us to unknowingly gather evidence to support these expectations and get us stuck believing the same outcomes will occur. As we gather biased evidence, we grow more certain that our predictions are true, and we foreclose on other possibilities. Unknowingly, we close ourselves off to new possibilities and therefore opportunities for growth.

Awareness allows us to begin shifting away from this pattern by helping us to not panic or become driven by anxiety when presented with challenges or new information. Awareness allows us to slow down the entire process and observe, rather than react or become stuck. 

As we practice developing our awareness, we can notice what is occurring inside of us. We can become aware of the sensory-perceptual information from within as we notice feelings, physical sensations, and thoughts. We can open space for the curiosity that is foundational for self-knowledge and the flexibility that is central to resilience.  

Quieting ourselves and slowing down by focusing on awareness allows for greater possibilities to emerge. Furthermore, shifting towards awareness and curiosity often decreases our fears and creates space for the participant observer role as we reflect on our experiences in the here-and-now.  

Practicing awareness takes effort and requires physically and mentally slowing down to registrar and track our inner experiences.  

Tips for Practicing Awareness

Slow down and pay deliberate attention to your experience.

Focus on one thing at a time.

Develop a daily meditation practice.

Eat and drink more mindfully.  

Take short breaks between tasks to observe your feelings and reactions.  

Develop an attitude of curiosity about yourself and your reactions to others.  

Ultimately, when we can make awareness an ongoing way of experiencing the world, we will likely improve our informed decision-making and experience greater creativity and flexibility in how we respond to challenges. Lastly, a practice of ongoing awareness will support our resilience by improving self-regulation and bolstering confidence as we respond to the world from an increasingly authentic place based on our expanded connection to ourselves and the world around us.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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It is impossible to navigate life and remain free from disappointment. Researchers describe disappointment as a form of sadness or a feeling of loss. It is often experienced as an uncomfortable and sometimes painful space between our expectations and reality.  

Our experiences of disappointment provide valuable information about ourselves, other people, and our values. After we have had time to process a disappointment and fully express our feelings, it is possible to find a space for self-exploration and growth.  

Social norms suggest that certain things will make us happy. Yet, research suggests that many of the common things people work towards such as a nice house, new job, expensive car, or job title do very little to support lasting happiness or satisfaction. In contrast, developing greater self-awareness and a deeper connection to our values and a sense of meaning or purpose, as well as our active pursuit of these values and purpose, provides the best avenue for a lasting sense of happiness or satisfaction.  

How often have you reflected on the influence of society or social norms on your goals and ideas for what will make you happy? Where do your goals come from?  

Disappointment also provides a pause for us to evaluate our relationship to grasping and expectations.

What beliefs do you have about what you need or what you should obtain? Where did these beliefs come from? Who else in your past or current life holds similar beliefs?  

Lastly, acceptance is often viewed as a means of coping with disappointment. After we determine that nothing can be done to change the circumstances, acceptance is often our best option for positive coping as well as healing and growth. How can you work towards acceptance when faced with disappointment? What can you learn from others in your life about how to practice acceptance? 

Generally, acceptance can be practiced in all areas of life. We can practice acceptance of our experience, differing beliefs and views of others, difficult family or friends, our past, our appearance, as well as our thoughts and emotions. Acceptance does not mean that you endorse whatever is happening or move away from your own values and beliefs, rather it means you are accepting that you cannot change the current nature of reality, which also sometimes means moving through a grief process to arrive at a place of acceptance.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist 

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Existentialism in Daily Life

Existentialism suggests that we have both the freedom and responsibility to make our own choices by looking within ourselves. Accordingly, we are tasked with finding meaning, determining our values, and making decisions that shape our lives. Existential psychotherapy builds on these views by approaching therapy with an emphasis on self-determination and our individual search for meaning. It also understands anxiety as part of the human condition as we struggle with common concerns around the nature of our existence and the purpose of our lives.  

It is possible to incorporate existentialism into your daily life by living with greater self-awareness and making choices that align with your values.  

Tips for existentialism in daily life:

Reaffirming your values – Take time to think about your values. You might write these down or start a list that you can update as you consider what is most important to you.  

Meaning and purpose – Pause and reflect on your purpose and meaning at work or at home. Remind yourself of the bigger picture.    

Practice radical acceptance – Accept things the way they are without resistance. Instead of fighting reality, practice accepting reality by letting go.

Practice shifting to gratitude – When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, practice focusing on what you are grateful for in your life. Connect with a sense of gratitude for basic things such as food, shelter, and health as well as a sense of gratitude for your friends and loved ones. 

Practice reframing challenges as opportunities to live into your values – Reframing challenges as opportunities to practice values such as kindness or integrity can build resilience, while also creating more space for meaning and authenticity as you navigate daily life.  

Talk openly about your deeper questions with friends and loved ones – It is probably not typical to ask questions about life and death or the purpose of life, but it might surprise you to learn how often others think about these “big questions.”  Sharing these concerns can lead to deeper understanding and connection within your relationships.   

Start a journal around themes of meaning, values, and gratitude – Journaling is almost always helpful for increasing self-awareness and providing space to reflect. Consider taking time to write down your thoughts or simply practice writing down things you are grateful to have in your life.  

Meditate on impermanence – It is easy to get lost in the challenges and tasks of daily life. Taking time to realize that everything around you is always changing and our lives are limited can allow for us to more fully connect with the present and more fully appreciate life. Each moment is fleeting and each moment you have with a loved one is irreplaceable.  

Connect with new people each day and recognize the common humanity you share – We often make observations, assumptions, and judgement about others. Try shifting your attention to the common humanity you share with all people. When you encounter a person in public, remind yourself that they may also struggle with similar questions or have similar concerns. They may even be in great pain and emotional turmoil. In either case, the “big questions” apply to us all and suffering is an unavoidable part of life.  

Practice mindfulness – Practice everyday mindfulness by connecting with the present moment throughout the day. Allow yourself to step outside of “human-doing” mode and into “human-being” mode. Review my past blog for more ways of practicing everyday mindfulness.  

Through existential therapy and existentialism in daily living, we can become more attuned to our inner lives and live with greater intention. As we become more conscious of our values, we can choose to do things that provide us with a greater sense of purpose and allow for us to live our lives more authentically.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”

— Victor Hugo

Laughter is the best medicine. You have probably heard this statement more than once. In fact, there is much truth to the value of laughter for promoting and maintaining our physical and mental well-being. Laughter triggers healthy physical changes in the body as it strengthens our immune system and diminishes pain. Likewise, laughter triggers emotional changes, such as booting mood and protecting us from the impact of stress. It also encourages social connection, which can have a further positive impact on our physical and mental well-being.

How does Laughter Help?

Laughter helps to shift distressing emotions.

Laughter helps us relax and recharge.

Laughter and humor bring a sense of relief from heavy burdens and helps us to feel grounded and hopeful.  

Laughter helps to shift our perspective and promotes optimism.

Laughter helps to reduce stress and increases energy, enabling us to stay focused and accomplish more.

Laughter and humor can create psychological distance, which can lighten a burden and help us feel less overwhelmed.

Laughter helps us to connect with others, which can have a major impact on all aspects of our mental wellbeing.  


Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter, it’s contagious.

Be more spontaneous. 

Practice gratitude.

Do something silly.

Connect with a joyful mindset.

Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. 

Find your inner child.  

Let go of defensiveness. 

Move toward laughter and join in the conversation when you see others laughing.  

Spend time with fun, playful people.

Share a good joke or a funny story.  

Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”

Watch a funny movie, TV show, or YouTube video.

Play with children.

Attempt to laugh at situations rather than ruminate on them.

In addition to personal experience, there is plenty of research supporting the use of laughter to improve our mental well-being. Now it is up to us to seek out more opportunities to engage in laughter and use humor to promote our well-being and connect with others.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Appreciative Joy

Joy is a state of happiness or contentment. As we practice experiencing greater joy in our lives, we can extend this joy into the life of others. Appreciative joy is a type of joy that is experienced when we genuinely appreciate and delight in the happiness, success, and good fortune of others. 

We have many opportunities to feel joy for others and to extend our desire for their joy to grow and continue. However, we can be held back by feelings of envy or jealousy about their good fortune, and we can become stuck in comparisons wishing we had something more. 

What comes to your mind as you drive past a beautiful new house or see a brand-new expensive car? What about when a colleague or friend achieves a great success or promotion? Many of us might experience thoughts of judgement or feelings of jealousy. We may experience critical thoughts about our perceived lack of success or harbor negative attitudes. We may seek to rationalize or struggle to justify our own decisions and behaviors or become discouraged with our perceived shortcomings as we judge ourselves.

Meditating with a focus on feelings of joy for others who have experienced good fortune can take us outside of ourselves and expand our capacity for appreciative joy. Likewise, we can practice directing our attention towards others with appreciative joy as we practice gratitude for the good fortune of others. 

Appreciative joy has the practical benefit of helping to promote a psychologically positive outlook toward ourselves as well as sense of interconnectedness. When we are feeling good about ourselves internally, we don’t have to compare ourselves to others externally and we naturally wish others to be happy as well.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Becoming Love

“There is only one question: How to love this world.”

-Mary Oliver

What is love? What comes to mind when you say I love you? How do we learn and practice becoming love? 

Although there can be great joy in life, we live in a world filled heartache and suffering. There are wars, violence, unspeakable tragedy, poverty, hunger, disease, sadness, pain, and suffering. 

How do we love this world? 

To love only in optimal conditions is not real love. It can be easy to love all beings in the abstract, but it can be a great challenge to do so as our lives unfold with a multitude of demands or in the face of personal suffering. It is one thing to stay you love others and another to express that love in daily life.

The Buddhist tradition has developed a range of practices and reflections designed to develop our capacity to love. Like a muscle, love can be strengthened through practice. Lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and a particular form of equanimity are the four kinds of love taught and encouraged in classic Buddhist teachings. The four types of love can each become a core practice as we connect with the ways we can love this world. 

Tips for becoming love

Practice compassion and non-judgement of yourself and others. 

Do you focus on your shortcomings and deny or take for granted your positive attributes? Practice appreciating yourself and focus on the positive, rather than the negative.

Replace harmful habits with life-affirming habits and practices. 

Practice appreciative joy and celebrate the qualities, gifts, and achievements of others.

Practice self-acceptance: honoring and accepting all of yourself, including your shortcomings, mistakes, and feelings.

Practice forgiving yourself: as we develop self-compassion, we’re more accepting and compassionate toward others. 

Work through and accept your barriers of fear and shame that can hinder your path to cultivating love.

Practice loving-kindness through yours actions, everyday awareness, and meditation.  

Who do you love? What qualities do you bring into these relationships? Connect with these feelings of giving and receiving love and bring these qualities into all of your interactions. 

One of the most rewarding practices is to cultivate the ability to bring love into all aspects of our life and to all people we encounter. We can practice being a loving presence while we speak to others, even when we might be in conflict. This can be a greater challenge at times. It begins with having the intention and is supported by our own appreciation of love that we encounter. 

Open your heart as wide as possible. What would it be like if you brought love into all of your interactions, into all of your relationships, and into the lives of all living beings? 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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