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On Cognitive Dissonace

Cognitive dissonance is the scientific term for the angst we experience when a contradiction arises between our thoughts, values or beliefs and our actions or outside conditions. Personally, I enjoy acknowledging this emotion and using it as fuel for development. If something feels wrong in the way I do things or in the way I am perceiving events directed at myself, it’s time for a change.

There is something romantic about constantly feeling out of sorts and out of place with the world. While this can be the perfect excuse for discussions about the meaning of life over a glass of wine with friends it is also very counterproductive. My advice: don’t indulge in this powerless mental state, get to the root of it and then turn it around.

Cognition is what makes us human. We also love comfort and tend to get stuck in our comfort zones. And this is what makes getting over cognitive dissonance so difficult. So how to do it?

I recently turned 30, which also brought up a lot of soul searching and rummaging about where I am, where I wanted to be when I was younger and where I see myself during the next 5, 10, 15 etc. years. Because things are never perfect (and nor will they ever be), dissonance appeared. I visualized it as contrasting colors overlapping, turning a somewhat murky shade.

What I realized is that there is a fine line between focusing on something for the short term and letting it take over your being. There will always be lifestyle changes that we have to make and we will sometimes (maybe more often than not) be tired or jaded. So instead of letting the colors mix randomly, I chose to influence their brush strokes and match the nuances.

When you have long term goals and ideals, when you don’t let yourself forget you “why”, you’ll be ok. There are unlimited resources coming from this commitment to be true to yourself. For example, if I am at peace with myself and I know that I am constantly working in line with my “why”, I can tackle the day to day disruptions and not let them overcome me. I can see the colors match beautifully again.

There is no way to avoid cognitive dissonance so use it to your advantage. Reconnect with yourself, change, and adjust what you can, while not forgetting to enjoy life and count your blessings.

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How to deal with toxic thoughts

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Since I can remember I have been a perfectionist and type A personality. This has some advantages, however it has the overwhelming disadvantage that the person from whom I demand most is myself. As a consequence I found my mind flooded with toxic thoughts. In this post I will focus on how to avoid or at least control them.

I believe there are three types of thoughts: productive, cleansing and toxic.

The productive thoughts are those that result in some type of action and generate momentum. For example “I will take actions A and B for result C”, “I feel good doing this, I will do it more”.

Cleansing thoughts are my favorite because they occur when we daydream, when we allow ourselves the luxury of pondering. They are the mind’s spa day.

And finally, toxic thoughts are more common than we would like, they are the ones that stop actions, generate or exacerbate negative feelings and cloud our judgment.

Before you can stop a toxic thought you need to acknowledge it for what it is. I have found that most of the times they refer to generalized statements which do not hold in reality. These sound like “I always fail”, “I am not good enough”, “People will laugh at me” etc. Another characteristic is that they tend to go around in circles: there is an outside trigger (like a new situation, a pending decision, an argument with someone), we issue the statement in our mind, then we try and find validation in the past or in our imagination only to magnify and repeat the same thing.

So how do we break the circle?

⁃ First of all, stop trying to validate the thought and start finding proof against it. This will happen fast enough especially if we are dealing with a generalization.

⁃ Focus on the present, what you are actually doing, where you are, what you have and be grateful for these things.

⁃ Write the opposite of what you are thinking down on a piece of paper and turn in into an affirmation.

⁃ If you are afraid of something, picture the worst thing that could happen and then make a plan of how you would handle it.

⁃ Remember, that everyone has these thoughts at some point in their lives, the trick is to control them.

To sum up, I recommend you look inside your mind and identify the toxic thought which comes up most often and prove it wrong. You can use what I listed or your own method. The next time a new one appears you will already know what to do.

Depending on the situation you are in and the type of thoughts you are having, there are also more advanced techniques that can be used. If you are interested in this topic, please leave a comment on this post.

How to clear your mind – a daily practice

Photo credits: Corina Negriuc

When I make decisions, I don’t like questioning them on and on. When I go about daily life, I want to live in the moment as much as possible, without drifting away on a thought or getting caught up on emotions. This is why having a clear mind is one of the most important things for me. It is like a basic need.

What does it mean? Imagine you are driving on a road for the first time, you have some idea about the destination, distance and time it will take you to get there, but you have no navigation system and you need to pay attention to road signs and maybe ask for directions as well. Now compare doing this on a sunny spring day versus doing it in pouring rain.

I do think that emotions are and should be a part of our lives. However, there are good emotions and bad emotions (some even toxic), depending on the influence they have on us. How we feel should be a consequence of what we do, not the other way around.

For example, if you make a decision in anger, disappointment or in another negative state of mind, it is bound to be flawed, clouded. The same is true for acting under the influence of excitement, butterflies in the stomach or wearing pink spectacles.

People feel. People also enjoy daydreaming. It was proven and makes sense that some daydreaming is healthy and actually contributes to generating ideas.*

For the reasons above I have made a daily practice out of taking 15-30 minutes to do nothing, think about whatever comes up, explore what I feel. When I come across an idea, I write it down. When dark thoughts emerge, I acknowledge them and accept them. I’ll welcome any overly optimistic view, but treat with skepticism. Won’t these thoughts come up all the time? Yes, but then I set them aside for latter and “ignore” them temporarily.

After getting enough sleep, taking the time described above is the most powerful tool for keeping a clear mind. It works 95% of the time. If there are serious issues to be dealt with, involving other people, then by all means don’t dismiss them as “negative thinking”. Telling the difference between toxic thoughts and actual problems is a skill worth developing as well. But this deserves its own post…

*) here are the links to a couple of articles on the importance of daydreaming:

why daydreaming is good for us

the benefits of daydreaming

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What not to do for succes

Photo credits: Corina Negriuc

I like to make plans and I like even more to see them through.

The human mind is extraordinarily complex and the mechanisms of our thought process make the difference between action and just an idea. Are you determined to do something?

In my view there are two fundamental elements that ensure successful transition from thought to action: a clear mind and favorable circumstances. Moreover, I think we can influence both or at least use them to our advantage (the case of external factors which cannot be altered).

Here are 5 methods to do so.

1. Don’t forget to do something for yourself everyday (take care of the way you look, of your health or just read a book). A strong personality needs to be nourished, otherwise it turns against us.

2. Don’t try to seem less intelligent for the sake of others. There will always be people around you that are less or more prepared than you are. Progress means wanting to be better and actually doing something about it. If other people don’t get it, it is their problem and not your responsibility to solve.

I’ll also mention the case when you may want to play dumb as part of your communication (better word would be manipulation) strategy. Do so at your own peril and be prepared to face the consequences.

3. Don’t take the little mean things personally (either intentional or not). If those around you chose to make use of they time in this way, you are either more important to them than you thought or they are having a bad day (or several bad days) and you can go ahead and feel sorry for them.

Winning the war is more important than winning the small subtext battles. I don’t recommend that you ignore them, it is important to acknowledge the malice in others in order to distinguish friend from ally of circumstance.

4. Don’t accept abusive or manipulative language. It may seem harmless (even just a bad joke), however, as I wrote in a previous post, words have tremendous power. If you feel you have to respond, do so, it is up to you how you do it, depending on context. Very often it is based on their words that we discover someone’s true nature, their intentions and how they position themselves in relation to us. Intimidation through language is very common, when another person tries to seem stronger.

And last but not least…

5. Do not compromise your image or work. Never, ever, no matter how tired or in a hurry you are or…insert favorite excuse here.

To many success stories!

The Power of Words

I like being straightforward and say what I think. I admire those who do the same. However this is not easy. I am constantly working to find the balance which assertiveness ensures.

One of my main beliefs is that you can tell what type of person one is and how successful they are from they way one communicates and expresses oneself.

Words have an immense power. They shape our image of the world, influence our mood, they can hurt and manipulate, but can also win hearts and open doors.

Say it out loud, don’t just think it. Measure your words so that they serve your plans, but don’t break any bonds.

How many times have you missed the opportunity to say some kind words ore give a compliment? Moreover, how many times did you say something in anger and then wish you could take it back?

All human beings wish to be happy. Whatever form happiness takes for them, they have this one thing in common. Once you acknowledge this, your thoughts are open for a deeper understanding of the world. Sounds like a bit too much? Maybe, but there are too many times when inferiority or superiority complexes stand in the way of an open and successful communication.

There are countless rules for communicating, but here are the ones which I have found most effective and use most often:

⁃ see yourself as the peer of the person you are talking to (not superior, not inferior either).

⁃ speak respectfully (to the other and to yourself as well) and show understanding.

⁃ if you start getting aggravated/emotional and you know this will affect your discourse, take a deep breath or take a break.

⁃ avoid generalizations (like “you never do this or that”) as they are most likely untrue.

To your fruitful conversations!

Note on the picture: it is of a drawing I made, called “Freestyle in Watercolor”

Bubbles

Did you ever get the feeling you are living in a bubble? Everyone around you mostly agrees with you, likes the same movies, has the same dream holiday and buys clothes from the same stores. Until one day you wonder where did everybody else go.

This pretty much sums up our virtual life on social media. Algorithms make us comfortable.

The term “filter bubble” was coined by Eli Pariser in 2011 (listen to his TED talk here) and has since sparked debate on the ethics behind tailoring our search results and news feed for us, implicitly, not explicitly (meaning not by direct choice when we set up our accounts). Are people blinded by their own past choices and clicks? Or is this a matter of self-inflicted isolation?

One can argue and prove that algorithms have a minimal effect on what information people are exposed to (like the study “Burst of the Filter Bubble? Effects of personalization on the diversity of Google News”, by Mario Haim, Hans-Bernd Brosius and Andreas Graefe). The fact still remains that what you don’t know, doesn’t hurt you (directly at least). The bottom line is that companies make money and political parties get ahead while using social media and search engines. You can’t really blame them, that’s their goal. The problem arises when this happens using false information and manipulating the truth.

People will by default like to be in circles similar to themselves and yes, they benefit from a personalized web, to some degree. The matter leaves us with one important task: to open our eyes, practice awareness and have a filtering algorithm of our own.

The ones who manipulate information and data to their benefit are waiting for an audience. Do yourself a favor and skip that show.

About resilience. What I learned from my orchid

orchidSome time ago I accidentally broke the growing stem of one of my orchids. I felt so sad because I thought that it had been trying so hard to grow and all that energy would now go to waste because an outside factor made its purpose disappear.

I started thinking about how this parallels with our existence. Sometimes you do all the right things : set a goal, make a plan, follow through and suddenly you find that because of something unforeseen you have to stop. Even sadder, right? You can say that this is the risk we are taking when starting something new – there’s always a possibility of failure even when we give 100%+.

What happened to my orchid later on? Well, surprise, surprise, the broken stem started growing again. True, it was a bit smaller in diameter and I thought it did not stand much chance. However in a few weeks it grew tall and strong and flower buds appeared. How amazingly beautiful!

Coming back to the parallel I first made, this was the best lesson possible. Sure, failure happens, we get sidetracked at times, but as long as we commit and know in our heart and mind that the goal we had set is what is right, then we will find a way to accomplish it. It is not failure when you learn and grow stronger!

Even if motivation seems hard to come by, look around you and you will find inspiration in the most unlikely of places (like your flower shelf).