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5 Strategies For Staying Mentally Strong In the Midst of Emotional Challenge

 

In late 2013, I was intrigued to watch a friend’s article on Forbes.com begin to balloon and reach millions. Cheryl Snapp Conner’s post featuring psychologist Amy Morin’s insights on Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid, hit an international nerve and is now one of the most read post on Forbes.com.

Interested to learn more from Amy about the back story of this piece, and how she identified these 13 critical ways mentally strong people stay resilient and retain their strength, I asked Amy to share her events that led up to this tremendous hit. Now an internationally recognized expert on mental strength, Amy is a psychotherapist, speaker, college psychology instructor and the author of the great new book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

Amy shared this:
In the Fall of 2013, I found myself in a surreal situation. Celebrities were tweeting my work, national figures were talking about me on the radio, and I was being interviewed by major media outlets across the world.

A mere 600 words, written just weeks earlier, had launched me into the midst of a viral super storm. Within hours of being published to the web, my work was read and shared millions of times. Just a few days later the list was reprinted on Forbes, where it reached nearly 10 million more readers.

It seemed like everyone in the media had the same question – “How did you come up with your list of the 13 things mentally strong people don’t do?” I always responded by explaining the concepts were based on my training, education, and experiences as a therapist. While that was true, it certainly wasn’t the whole story. But, I wasn’t ready to reveal the painful situation that was still unfolding around me on national television. Now I am.

In 2003, my mother passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Then, on the three year anniversary of her death, my 26-year-old husband passed away from a heart attack. While publicly helping others deal with their emotional pain as a therapist, I’d spent years privately working through my grief. It was hard work but I made slow but steady progress.

A few years later, I was fortunate enough to find love again and I got remarried. Just as I felt grateful for my fresh start however, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I found myself thinking, “I don’t want to go through this all over again.” But just as quickly as I began to feel sorry for myself, I was reminded that self-pity would only make things worse.

I sat down and created my list of the unhealthy habits I needed to avoid if I wanted to stay strong while facing my inevitable circumstances. When I was done, I had a list of 13 thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that would hold me back from facing my circumstances with strength and courage. Although the list was meant to be a letter to myself, I published it online in hopes someone else may find it helpful. I never imagined millions of people would read it.

Throughout my painful experiences, there were five critical strategies that helped me personally stay mentally strong during my time of emotional trauma and pain:

1. Exchanging self-pity for gratitude
When life became difficult, I was tempted to exaggerate my own despair. Losing my loved ones was certainly terrible, but I still had much to feel grateful about.After all, I had a job, a roof over my head, and food to eat.

Whenever I’d begin feeling sorry for myself, I’d create a list of all the things I had to be grateful for. It wouldn’t take long to recognize all the loving, supportive people I still had in my life. And it served as a wonderful reminder, that although some of my loved ones were no longer here, I was fortunate to have had them in my life.

2. Focusing on what I could control
The repeated losses in my life served as a reminder that there are many things I didn’t have any control over. Wasting energy focusing on all those things however, wouldn’t be helpful. Instead, I needed to focus all my energy on the things I could control.

And no matter what, the one thing I could always control was my attitude. I could choose to allow my difficult circumstances to turn me into an angry, bitter person or I could choose to remain a hopeful, positive person with a desire to become better. Focusing on all that I could control – whether it was helping a family member with a practical task or making a decision about my finances – helped me recognize that I wasn’t simply a victim of my circumstances. Instead, I was able to create a wonderful life for myself by making the most of every day.

3. Living in the present
The loss of my loved ones tempted me to dwell on the past. After all, the past was where my loved ones were still alive. And I feared that if I didn’t constantly think about the past, or if I moved forward, I’d somehow be doing them a disservice.

It takes courage to make the conscious decision to live fully present in each moment, rather than ruminate on how life used to be. But once I was able to shift my focus to honoring my loved one’s memory – rather than trying to prevent life from moving forward – I was able to begin fully enjoying life again.

4. Retaining my personal power
When I was going through tough times, everyone had an opinion about what was best for me. Although their intentions were well-meaning, doing things simply because others advised me to wouldn’t be helpful.

I had to deal with my grief in my own way and I needed to create my own plan for how I was going to move forward in life. Taking ownership meant I couldn’t blame anyone else. Instead, I had to accept personal responsibility for my thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.

5. Embracing change
My world changed drastically over the course of a few years. And, although it was tempting to dig in my heels and try to prevent my world from changing, it wasn’t going to be helpful. I had to embrace change – whether or not it was welcomed.

I had to create a new sense of normalcy without my loved ones present. Often, that meant giving up certain goals or activities that were no longer meaningful and searching for new opportunities that would give me purpose. Embracing those changes allowed me to move forward and create a fulfilling life for myself.

* * * * * *
Amy’s advice is both powerful and empowering. As holocaust survivor and renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl shared in his life-changing book Man’s Search for Meaning, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Check out Amy’s new book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and learn more about her work at http://amymorinlcsw.com.

(To build a more successful and rewarding career, visit kathycaprino.com and take my 6-day Amazing Career Challenge.)

Your Year in Review: 21 Questions To Ask Yourself Before The New Year Hits

 

As the year comes to a close, I’ve been receiving numbers of great emails from my writer friends and colleagues who have taken the time to provide a fascinating summary of their 10 most successful and popular posts. I’m enjoying reading these posts, but in honor of this coming year, I’d like to try something a bit different that I hope will be helpful.

I’d like to suggest that we all do this one thing by New Year’s eve: instead of making empty resolutions that often bear no meaningful fruit, why not spend an hour quietly, with ourselves, and conduct our own honest, probing and insightful “year in review.” Let’s look back with eyes wide open, so we can see what’s happened clearly, and use those insights to fuel a happier, more fulfilling and fruitful life.

What would be helpful to explore in your “Year in Review” exercise?

Here’s the list of important questions I’m going to explore and answer about last year (and the upcoming one) as I embark on my critical review. I’m going to look as honestly and courageously as I can at what went very well in my life and work last year, what didn’t go well, what I’m proud of, what I deeply regret, and what I wish to bring forward in my life in a bigger way.

Perhaps you’d like to answer these questions as well:

What’s been the best?

1. What are you most proud in terms of what you achieved, accomplished or brought into being this year – in life and work?
2. What did these achievements or actions in turn make possible – for you, your family, your organization, your financial situation, and your health and well-being, for others?
3. What makes you smile just to think about it today?

What’s been the hardest?

4. What event or experience represented the “worst” of the year, and why exactly?
5. What action(s) did you take that you want to eradicate from your behavior forever?
6. What makes you feel ashamed and “less than,” or even toxic to others?
7. What brings tears of unhappiness and regret to your eyes when you think about it?

What do you want to accentuate and amplify in your life next year?

8. What outcomes or achievements do you want to build on next year?
9. What parts of yourself do you wish to expand and strengthen?
10. What role models and supportive people will you find to help you, and how?

Who has been most helpful?

11. Who are the top three helpers whom you’d like to knowledge?
12. Who has gone above and beyond in their efforts to assist you in a goal or important outcome?

Who needs to be chucked from your life?

13. Who has been terribly unsupportive or nasty to you, and needs to be let go of if you’re going to move forward the way you long to?

What are your top priorities?

14. What priorities did you honor well in 2014?
15. What priorities did you turn your back on?
16. What new priorities have emerged for you this year that you are committed to honoring?

What are your exciting stretch goals?

17. What goals did you set for yourself in 2014 that you met?
18. What important goals did you fail to achieve, and why?
19. What new stretch goals can you set that will be juicy, compelling and fulfilling to reach?

Knowing all this, what is your highest vision of your future self?

20. Who do you wish to connect with, and build stronger, more loving relationships with?
21. Finally, who do you want to become in 2015?

To me, there’s nothing more discouraging than believing you’ll do something important in the coming year, then failing miserably and having no clue why. Make 2015 the year you get clearer on what’s happening in your life, and the reasons behind it (obviously, it’s not all random – we’re co-creating what’s happening). Take some concrete steps to bring about the changes you long for most in your life and work, and make these changes stick. Let this year be a year you look back on and say, “Finally! I’m becoming the person I’ve dreamed of being.”

Here’s to an amazing 2015 to you.

(For a bit of inspiration to make the changes you long for, watch my video Time to Shine, and take my 6-day Amazing Career Challenge.)

 

Grappling With the Idea of Going Back To School? Here’s What To Consider

At least once a week, I hear from a professional woman who is in a job or career she dislikes intensely (or is failing at), and wonders if going back to school for a new career is the right step. Today, many mid- to high-level professionals feel ill-suited to their work, and others have launched small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat. When they reach out for help, they share some version of this question:

“Kathy, I’m in a career (or I recently launched a small business) I just can’t stand anymore. My husband says I’m not cut out for this, and should go back to school. What do you think?”

Having coached thousands of women through every career decision you can imagine, I’ve observed 6 common reasons behind people’s contemplation of going back to school. These reasons may be legitimate for some, but for many (perhaps most), the path to another degree is not the right choice. How do you know if it’s right for you?

The top 6 reasons mid-career professionals give for contemplating going back to school are:

– The job I’m in feels like a complete dead end. I think I have to start over.

– I’m just not cutting it in this field. More education will give me more credibility, clout and authority.

– I really don’t know what else to do. I hate my work.

– I’m not earning enough in my current profession/business. I’ll make more money and be more secure if I have more education.

– My colleague went back to school and it made a great difference for him. I want to do what he’s doing.

– I’m failing in my new business, and I think getting a new degree is the only way out.

To know if going back to school is the right move for you, you need to become very clear on what you want in your life and work. You also have to understand yourself intimately (what you’re passionate about, and what motivates you to succeed, for instance) and evaluate your life and situation with eyes wide open. This is not the time to be in denial or to pretend you’re someone else. This is the time to figure yourself out with honesty, awareness and insight. (Take my 6-day Amazing Career Challenge to learn more about what you really want.)

Once you become clearer on what’s important to you and your most burning life goals, ask yourself these five questions:

1. What do you believe another degree will give you?

Often, we project all sorts of misguided notions about what a shiny, new degree will give us, but we don’t really know anything about it. Do exhaustive research about the educational path you’re considering. Interview department heads and faculty at the institutions you’re considering. Shadow professionals who’ve earned this degree and are applying it in ways that interest you. Learn more about the careers this degree can lead to, and how people land exciting work after their degree. Examine the curriculum and course of study – do you find it compelling, something you feel really jazzed to learn? What are the common trajectories of people who’ve earned this degree, and do these career paths seem to be a good fit for what you really want? Finally, ask, “Is it realistic for me to take this path at this time in my life?”

2. What will it cost you – emotionally, financially, and professionally and personally?

Higher education today is expensive, to say the least, but there are other significant costs as well.  You’ll need to commit a great deal of time, money, energy, resources, and focus to succeeding on this educational path.  Do you have access to the necessary resources, and can you tap into them in a way that won’t turn your life upside down?   Can your current employer help pay for your degree? When I earned my Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy over a three-year period, it exacted a much higher price than I ever imagined.  I’m so grateful I did it, but don’t do what I did and pursue a degree without understanding concretely what it will demand of you. And evaluate what the return on investment must be, specifically and measurably, in order for you to feel it is worthwhile.

 

>>CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE<<

In the end, if you’re considering going back to school, understand what it will give, and demand, of you. Do the necessary legwork to explore it thoroughly, and don’t jump until you can say with 100% surety that this is the right move at the right time. Be clear about where the road will take you, and if this path will give you, in reality, what you’re truly longing for.

(To move toward building a happier, more rewarding career, take my 6-day Amazing Career Challenge).

Don’t Let Yourself Forget Who You Were At 16

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Part of the work I do in helping women feel happier and more successful in their work, is excavation – digging deep and peeling the layers to uncover the richness and the amazing natural gifts inside. And one critical dimension of that process is remembering who you were when you were just starting out in life.

When I look back at what I loved to do when I was 16, and the natural talents that began to flow forth, I see that everything I enjoy in my work now is exactly what I felt joyous and exuberant about then. I loved to write (I became an English major and studied journalism, and was a reporter for my school paper), I was a singer and a performer, I loved psychology and figuring out what made people tick, and I enjoyed helping my friends (boys and girls) sort out solutions to problems they were grappling with. I remember my beloved dad too commenting about my nature. Once day, when I was trying to sort out why someone was behaving really badly to me, he said “Honey, you really love to get to the bottom of things – figure out what drives people to do what they do. You love to know why.” He was so right.

I didn’t realize then – or for 20+ years more in my unhappy corporate life – that we’re all happiest and most alive when –

“…we’re demonstrating in physical reality what we know to be true about ourselves, when we we are giving form to our Life’s Intentions in a way that contributes to others.” – Maria Nemeth, The Energy of Money

I love this quote, and I feel that no truer words have ever been spoken.

In your adult life, have you ever demonstrated behavior or spoke in ways that you later realized were NOT you at all? That were jarring, hurtful, disrespectful, catty, destructive? If you’re in touch with your emotions, you’ll feel a jarring pain when you’re being your lowest self – you feel it in your soul. Or have you ever struggled with a problem (like chronically being unable to repay your debts or not telling the truth on something critical) and you know that what you’re demonstrating in life is not true, good, or worthy of your self-respect? I have, and it’s a horrible feeling. We are terribly unhappy when what we’re creating in life is out of alignment with everything we know to be true about ourselves.

Secondly, I’ve seen through 10 years of career coaching that the most alive and joyful people on the planet are those who feel that their natural gifts are useful to others – to a great company, an important cause, to people in need, or to their community and world. I believe that’s why were on the planet today – to find a way to use who we are in benefit to those around us.

But life is challenging and exhausting today, and most of us are so beleaguered with what’s on our plates that we’ve forgotten who were when we were young, and what we’re capable of. We’ve lost sight of how amazing we are, and the gifts we are supposed to be sharing.

How can we reclaim those talents and capabilities and find new ways to utilize them?

Here’s a challenge for you. Every day for the next 21 days, when you get up in the morning and are washing your face or taking a shower, take 3 minutes to think about what you loved about yourself at 16 (or pick an age where you were shining). Think about:

- What people noticed about you, and raved about
- What made you feel joyful, free, and alive
- What made you feel strong and confident
What you did that made others say, “Wow! I could never to that so beautifully or well!”
- What your friends and family adored about you
- And finally, what you thought was pretty darn amazing about yourself

Just bring these things to mind each day, and get back in touch with yourself – who you were, and who you are, deep down.

Do this for 21 consecutive days and you will experience a shift. You’ll remember more clearly what you’re capable of, and you’ll start believing that it’s time to shift your life and work so that you’re using more of your natural gifts and talents, and finding more joy and satisfaction in your life and relationships.

It’s time to dig deep, find your right work, and illuminate the world with it. It’s YOUR time to shine.

For some inspiration to build a happier, more satisfying career, visit the Amazing Career Project, and watch my new video Time to Shine.

9 Core Behaviors Of People Who Change The World For The Better

Look around you and you’ll see three kinds of people – those who dislike their work, and complain bitterly, those who just tolerate their work and see it as a paycheck and aren’t looking for more (or feel they can’t have more), and finally, those who love their work, and relish it. The third category is a small subset of all professionals globally, but this group stands out because these are, most often, the people who change the world for the better.

My work as a career success coach and writer connects me with people who’ve made a true and measurable impact in the world – including well-known experts, authors, researchers, journalists, scientists, innovators, business geniuses, and entrepreneurs. But among this group of world influencers there are also everyday people who have found a special niche in which they’ve contributed at the highest level.

It’s critical to note that people who’ve made a real difference aren’t all privileged, advantaged or “special” by any stretch. Many come from disadvantaged families, crushing circumstances and initially limited capabilities, but have found ways to pick themselves up and rise above these circumstances (and their genes) to transform their own lives and those around them.

Researching these makers, shakers and disruptors, and working with my own clients who shape the world around them in powerful and constructive ways, I’ve observed 9 core behaviors that set them apart – habitual ways of behaving and approaching life and work that distinguish them from those who long to make a difference but can’t or won’t find the way.

The 9 core behaviors of people who positively impact the world:

They dedicate themselves to what gives their life meaning and purpose.

Thousands of people today don’t believe in meaning and purpose as something to discover or pursue in life. But those with positive influence feel otherwise. They have found that there is a purpose to their life, and that purpose usually involves some aspect of turning their “mess into a message,” or using what they’ve learned (often the hard way) as a means of being of service to others. People with a sense of purpose are driven, focused, committed, and lit up from the inside – unable to be deterred or distracted from what they believe is the reason they’re on this planet at this time. This sense of meaning and purpose gives them inexhaustible drive and offers guideposts to follow along the path – it informs them of what they wish to attend to in life, and what they need to walk away from because it doesn’t support their higher purpose.

They commit to continually bettering themselves.

People who impact the world for the better know that they are not perfect. They understand how their knowledge isn’t “complete” – there are always gaps, biases, limitations and prejudices, and new places to go with their expertise.

Yes, there are powerful narcissists aplenty, but their influence isn’t positive or helpful in the long run – it’s damaging and destructive. Innovators who positively shape the world come from a “beginner’s mind” and a loving, compassionate heart – with an openness to see, learn, and experience new things on the way to being a better servant of the world.

They engage with people in open, mutually-beneficial ways.

Those with huge positive influence understand the power of relationships, connection, and engaging with the world openly. They’re not afraid to get “out there” – connecting with others, sharing their knowledge and talents, offering their authentic and often contrarian viewpoints and opinions. They’ve pushed beyond any introversion, shyness or reluctance to be who they are, and have learned how to relate well with others and build mutually-supportive relationships that catapult both parties to a higher level. They know that positive, supportive and authentic relationships are the foundational building blocks to anything and everything they want to achieve.

They invest time and energy not in what is, but what can be.

The people I’ve interacted with and interviewed who’ve made a huge positive impact in the world don’t settle for conformity. When they see something that agitates and disturbs them, they strive to know more, get to the root of the challenge, research and understand the contributing factors, and arrive at new solutions. They observe gaps and mistakes in common thinking and behavior, and trust themselves in their belief that it’s time to push the boundaries of what’s accepted.   They want to affect change because they believe change will bring a better way to live.

They embrace critique.

The most powerful positive influencers don’t need or want to be “right” – they want to grow and be more effective. For that to occur, they walk right into critique, and they embrace challenge. They’re not afraid to put their work out there for others to poke holes in.   They are strong and confident in the face of opposition, yet know how to integrate constructive feedback to strengthen their work and ideas. They engage in open dialogue and welcome scrutiny.

They spread what they know.

We’ve all met authors or “experts” who keep their knowledge secret, close to the vest. They’re afraid to let it out for fear someone will steal it or make money on their ideas. This is the opposite of the positive influencer’s mindset. Those who make a true positive difference can’t help but share and teach what they’ve learned. They don’t see their knowledge as just some commodity to sell, as a meal ticket or a money maker – they see it as information that has to be shared with the world for its betterment. They believe their ideas and innovations are of use and value to others, and can’t help but share those openly, and teach others what they’ve learned. They understand the universal principle at work – “the more you give, the more you get.”

They uplift others as they ascend.

You’ve experienced, as I have, scores of “leaders” and high-achievers who’ve gotten where they are by stepping on the heads and backs of those in the way. These are not true leaders or influencers because their power is a sham – it was obtained unethically and is shallow and weak, and can’t be sustained over the long haul.  I have encountered power-mongers who were crushing and cruel to their subordinates and I wondered when they would finally reap what they’ve sown. Over the long term, this day always comes.

On the other hand, people who positively impact the world not only obtain amazing results in their work, but their process of obtaining these results – how they operate in life — is also inspiring and uplifting. They are happy to help and support others, and have an overflow of positive energy that enriches the lives of everyone they work with and connect with. These positive influencers want others to grow. They walk away from “success-building” opportunities that will be hurtful and damaging to others. They know that those unethical, demeaning or destructive approaches go against the very meaning and purpose they’re committed to.

They view the journey as the goal.

Positive influencers don’t take short cuts or go for the quick buck or easy answer. They don’t view some arbitrary goal or outcome as a destination, because they believe there is no end – it’s all in the journey. It’s about what they’re learning, experiencing, and building that helps others, and for that, there is no defined end point. They embrace failure more readily than others as “information” that guides them. They are more fluid and flexible, and more open to the “how’s” because their ultimate goal is not about upholding their title, salary, reputation, stature or power, but about new ways to help and share what they know.

They use their power and influence well.

Sadly, it’s a common occurrence in business today to witness power and influence being wielded as a weapon. It hurts and destroys. Positive influencers use their power well and wisely. They understand the widespread influence they have, the power they have to build up and elevate, or tear down. Those who impact the world for the better are careful and judicious with their words, actions and behaviors. They care deeply about their leadership and communication process and style, and the influence they have. They take it seriously, as a special honor and responsibility not to be flaunted or misused. They understand their special role, and accept it with grace, compassion, and care.

Are you longing to make a positive impact in the world?  What can you do today to shift your behaviors to make more of a difference?

(To build a more rewarding and impactful career, check out The Amazing Career Project.)

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