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5 Strategies for Personal Empowerment in Difficult Situations

5 Strategies for Personal Empowerment in Difficult Situations

    My guess is that most of us would rather not spend much time in a hospital, unless you’re a doctor or nurse and love what you do. I’ve spent a day and a half in St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, CT, with my disabled brother Mark who is waiting for surgery to remove an infected knee implant. So, I’ve had the chance to remember why I really like to avoid hospitals.

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    No matter how much effort goes into the decor, the cleaning, and the landscaping, it’s really hard to offset the effects of the negative energies that exist because hospitals are places with a problem focus. Illness is negative energy. Patients are scared–more negative energy. Family members are concerned–more negative energy. Doctors and nurses are typically overworked, at times doing work that involves risks to human life and dealing with some overwhelming and unpleasant situations. Whew! Lots of negative energy!

    I’ve found myself shifting into survival mode with my own energy so I endure this hospital experience. Here are some things I have been doing:

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    • I look for the good in every employee I encounter, even the nurse’s aide who won’t make eye contact.
    • I ask for what I need or what Mark needs as our needs arise.
    • I don’t take personally employee behaviors that aren’t as pleasant, helpful or supportive as I would like.
    • I stay calm even when I feel scared or annoyed so I can be a grounding presence and bright light for Mark.
    • I take lunch outside so I can shake off some of the negative energy I have absorbed.
    • I remember my life outside of the hospital and remind myself that this experience is only temporary.
    • I focus on how much I love Mark and remain detached even when he’s grumpy and reactive.
    • I appreciate the overall cleanliness of the building.
    • I note and feel grateful for every friendly person I encounter, from the person who made my salad at Subway to the receptionist who validated my parking ticket.
    • I congratulate myself for my patience with Mark and the waiting despite my own fears about Mark’s situation.

    I figure if I have to be here, if this is where I’ve been led to make a difference, I am going to do whatever I can to counter the negative energies that I have no control over with positive energies I do have control over. I can control my thoughts and my attitudes, and manage my emotions and behaviors.

    When you find yourself in situations where you are exposed to negative energies over which you have no control, remember that you can control your own sources of positive energy if you so choose. Here are some ideas.

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    1. Look for the good that does exist. Feel grateful for it. When you deliberately look for good, you will find it. When you focus on negatives, you’ll find it. Wouldn’t you rather have a steady diet of good energies? They will help you more effectively cope with the challenges.
    2. Avoid reacting to others and taking their behaviors personally.                Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependence, once said that people’s reactions have more to do with them and their history than they do with you, unless you’ve been offensive. So, observe others and wonder about their behaviors, but know that what you’re getting from them could have absolutely nothing to do with you.
    3. Stay in your own power by remaining calm even when others are not. “Shut your mouth and breathe,” is another of my favorite reminders from Pia Mellody. Doing that will help you stay grounded and avoid saying or doing anything you might regret later.
    4. Ask for what you need from people who are capable of giving it to you. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Only you know what you need. And, it is empowering to respectfully make your needs known.
    5. Don’t make requests of people who are incapable of responding appropriately to your requests. That’s a setup for disappointment and will only fuel your anger.

    What would you add?

    Image: Atencion

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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