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Why Worry is the Biggest Time Waste Ever (and how to stop)

Why Worry is the Biggest Time Waste Ever (and how to stop)

Unlike many things in the positive psychology realm, worry is quite easy to define. Worry is a chain of negative thoughts about the same or different topics that can have negative consequences for you in the future if a solution is not reached. Worrying is future thinking worst-case scenario planning and it leads to catastrophic levels of anxiety.
It’s the “what if” thoughts that suck us into worry and anxiety. We’re allowing our imagination to become unleashed and creating multiple bad scenarios of what might happen. When my children were little the only rule we regularly followed in our home was no “what if” questions.
“What if” questions are fine if you are using them to create a plan. For example, if you think “what if my car breaks down and I don’t have anybody to call” then you make the plan of buying roadside assistance your what if was useful. It leads you to productive problem-solving.
When worry isn’t helpful is when it escalates to crisis mongering, a term psychologists have coined to describe worrying that keeps spiraling out of control without stopping. It the “what if I am all alone in my car breaks down and nobody comes and it’s cold and there’s a snowstorm and my phone dies” sort of thinking that is not at all helpful in resolving potential future problems or obstacles.
Worry comes from fear. Psychologist Susan Jeffers teaches 5 truths about fear.
1) fear accompanies growth
2) action is the way out of fear
3) every time you move past fear you get greater self-confidence
4) you are not the only one who gets scared
5)  pushing through fear is less frightening over the long run than the feeling of helplessness that accompanies inaction
Worrying about the future doesn’t help you to be a better problem solver, in fact, it induces that fight or flight stress state and impairs your rational thinking.
There’s always an exception to the rule and this exception is when you are in an immediate life-threatening short-term situation. If I’m going to step out onto a busy street when worry kicks in and says maybe I shouldn’t do that without looking both ways, it is useful.

For Kids

According to Lynn Lyons; child anxiety expert, one big problem that happens when children don’t learn how to deal with their worry is it predicts anxiety and depression later in life. In general children today seem to have the ability to cope with more stress than any previous generation. The fact they are coping so well leads parents and educators to think that a child is doing fine when, in fact, they are on the edge of overwhelm. What can adults do to help?
  • stop the use of words that catastrophize like always, never, nobody, and everybody
  • allow them to take a movement breaks-the flood of stress chemicals that your brain sends out when your body is worried make it really hard to think to act well and to make good decisions so encourage a little shake it off moment helps
  • model appropriate stress responses by saying “I’m feeling stressed- let’s take a break” or “this is hard, let’s take a couple of deep breaths before we continue”
  • take a mindful moment– mindfulness and meditation directly counteract all the physical stress responses

At Work

What about at work there are some things that do deserve a little worry?
  • designate a time- a limited duration where you actually give yourself permission to worry but when it’s over it’s over you need to stop
  • hire a lawyer (not literally) but imagine you were presenting your worry case to a judge. Play the role of the opposition and see what the other side would say. Allow yourself to play devil’s advocate to your own worry system and maybe, in the end, it won’t seem like you’ve got so much to worry about
  • if you can’t worry less, worry more- waaay more. Make your worst-case scenario absolutely ridiculous. Allow that snowball of worries to keep going until it’s so big that it’s obvious it’s not real- it’s all in your head

I come from a long line of worriers. If worrying was a sport my family would have some gold medals! The thing is, worriers sometimes feel like their worry on your behalf is useful (it isn’t). They also think that a caring person should worry about others (they shouldn’t). Your worry is zapping your joy and limiting your ability to engage in life. Every moment you are worried about the future you are missing whatever is happening in the present. I often equate worrying to paying the interest before you have the loan. Decide it’s time to stop worrying. you’ll thank yourself!

If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. ~Don Herold


How Do You Know If You Work For a Positive Organization?

How Do You Know If You Work For a Positive Organization?

A positive work environment is one where employees feel good about coming to work and have motivation that sustains them throughout the workday. What they do matters. And more importantly, it matters that they are the ones doing the work. With the new emphasis on work/life balance (thanks Millenials!) a juggling act between fulfilling the personal needs of employees and getting the job done can be an organization’s key challenge.
Positive psychology differentiates two types of positive work environments showing that not all positves are equal. The first uses positive organizational behavior;  where the environment is organization driven to increase well-being with a goal of getting the best out of employees for the benefit of the workplace. The second is called positive organizational scholarship and although this title might lead you to believe its’ focus is the study of positivity, it’s actually about getting the best out of an organization for the benefit of the employees. This well-being model recognizes that employees aren’t stupid- they can see the difference between a boss who really wants them to be healthy and one who doesn’t want the production decline that accompanies sick days.
The resources in any office can be broken into the physical, the psychological/social, or organizational aspects. Every type of employee training will fall into a category of:
  • being functional in achieving work goals
  • reducing job demands and associated physiological and psychological costs
  •  stimulating personal growth and development
Although the third option speaks more about an individual than a worker we know that individuals with higher levels of well-being and positivity are more productive, creative, workers who miss less time due to work-related stress and burnout and are more productive.
A positive organization isn’t only training you in the hard skills (impact work productivity directly like training on a new software program) but also on the soft skills,  interpersonal skills which affect the morale of the organization.
Looking at an individual workers’ strengths specifically through the lens of the VIA classification of character strengths we know that individuals who cultivate their strengths are happier and more successful than those whose primary focus is improving areas of weakness.
In business,team leaders, managers, or coaches with specialized training can be deployed to help cultivate strengths. Once the strengths have been cultivated it leads to four key qualities:
  •  self-efficacy
  • optimism
  • hope
  • resilience
A strengths focused worker has confidence to take on the roles they need and to succeed at challenging tasks. They make positive contributions toward goals, they persevere, and even when setbacks occur they bounce back and work with resilience to attain success.

We know from thought leaders like Simon Sinek and this TED talk, that aligning with purpose is important. If you can’t get a member of your team to see their role as important and meaningful it’s hard to keep them engaged.

Sinek’s talk led to much conversation about whether you’re at a job (making money without connection to a personal sense of meaning), a career (a route to achievement),  or a calling ( intrinsically fulfilling).

Mental wellness comes from a harmonious relationship between one’s work identity and the other identities you choose. An animal rights activist couldn’t work for a pharmaceutical company who tests on lab animals. In an ideal world we would all do jobs that incite curiosity,  have us spending  time in a state of engagement or flow and that reward us both intrinsically and financially.

Want to know if your work is truly positive? Try this psychometric scale called the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale.


The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

We’re hearing more about the positive traits of empathy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is becoming more important than other intelligences (like IQ) at school at work and in life.  In past generations these two words might both have fallen into the category of sympathy but empathy, sympathy, and compassion are not words that can be used interchangeably and one of these three is more powerful than the other two.
Empathy refers to feeling what another person is feeling. Sympathy means you understand what the other person is feeling even without feeling it yourself. Compassion means your feelings have prompted you to take action to relieve the suffering of another person.
Scientists have shown that mirror neurons, a part of the brain whose specific job is to have us mirror what’s happening with someone else, play a big role in both empathy and compassion. When you see someone smile these neurons prompt you to smile back. When you witness someone in pain it can cause you the same type of pain too. Having empathy is your ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Sympathy happens when you may not on a visceral level experience the sadness or pain that someone else is feeling but on the cognitive level you understand the feelings of another. I’m not sad when my friend’s old dog passes away but I can understand that my friend feels sadness.  Both empathy and sympathy are more about the person experiencing them than they are about the person who sparked the empathy or sympathy.
Compassion on the other hand comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer with”. When you are compassionate you are able to be aware of another’s suffering you have sympathetic concern to the level that you have been emotionally moved by their suffering then you wish to relieve that suffering and you act somehow in a way that is helpful.
Mathieu Richard, a  french Buddhist monk says “compassion is unconditional love applied to the suffering of others”. His belief is that compassion has a powerful ability to heal; both to the one giving and to the receiver.
An important distinction between empathy and compassion is the effect on your personal well-being. Empathy and sympathy are both self-oriented. They say “I’m hurt too” and have you join the suffering or acknowledge that you see the suffering. Interestingly, research is showing that narcissists may have deficit in their mirror neuron receptors. Not only are they unable to mirror the emotional experience of another but they exhibit frustration when someone doesn’t mirror their emotional state. This is been referred to as a narcissistic rage. Of course very few people are diagnosably narcissistic but it seems empathy and sympathy are more about the individual wanting to be seen as a kind and understanding person than they are about  actually being kind and understanding. Empathy and sympathy alone are not enough. Empathy pulls you down where compassion lifts you.
Experiencing empathetic burnout or empathy fatigue is common among people who spend their lives caring for others such as nurses or first responders.  In the United States, a study has shown that 60% of the medical profession suffers or has suffered from burnout, and that a third has been affected to the point of having to suspend their activities temporarily.By the prolonged experience of feeling what others feel they actually burn out and become more anxious, depressed and stressed out.  Compassion on the other hand doesn’t burn you out it, lifts you up.
Research shows that compassion and empathy take place in different parts of the brain and that by turning your empathy into compassion you can fight empathetic distress. The key difference lies in what you do after feeling the feelings evoked by mirror neurons. If you act, you lift yourself and others. If you get stuck in the emotion without positive action, you pull yourself down. The Greater Good Science Center has a quiz to measure how empathetic you are. I suggest you take it to see how much you are recognizing the emotions of others. The second and more important part is turning that empathy into compassion through useful action. See the bottom of the article for tips on how to do this.
Set up a free account to save your quiz scores and track your progress over time.

Change Your Empathy and Sympathy into Compassion

1. Notice the feelings

2. Ask yourself how you can help. This doesn’t mean changing everything. What small step could you take to make the situation better?

3. Take action while staying in touch with your emotional barometer. If you are too emotionally overwhelmed start with a loving kindness meditation. This type of meditation is proven to increase well-being while decreasing empathetic fatigue.


If you’ve moved from empathy to compassion, I’d love to hear how you did it and what the results were. By sharing your story you inspire others to make positive change.

Equation2Thrive #What’s Your Equation?

Equation2Thrive #What’s Your Equation?

The 2018 World Positive Education Accelerator combined the science of positive education & David Cooperrider‘s appreciative inquiry methods with a goal of making a quantum leap in the ways positive education impacts academics and well-being around the world.

Positive Education uses individual strengths and personal motivation to promote learning. 

There’s a ton of research on what it takes to live a happy and meaningful life. There was a strong agreement from all the experts in attendance including Martin Seligman,  Lea Waters and Angela Duckworth that we can do more to promote wellness.

The AI model is a method of design that looks like this:

Through this process, 1200 stakeholders including academics, educators, students, and parents participated in a highly creative process dreaming of a new future.

What positive psychology experts agree on is that when we take away all mental illness and all mental distress we still don’t have mental wellness.

We are not flourishing or thriving.

The Equation2thrive movement was one of many actions born from this process.

Our goal was bringing awareness to every individual’s personal ability to recognize and actualize their individual equation to thrive.

My personal belief is in an overarching equation that can be used every single day by every single person. It looks something like this:

The social media movement encourages individuals to reflect on their equation. It can be different every day. Sometimes you need relaxation + refection while at other times you need conversation + activity. The great thing is that there is no wrong answer.

In summary, I will leave you with the statement our team designed as well as a simple call to action.

Equation2thrive is a global movement leveraging the multiplier of positive education, spotlighting an individual’s unique potential to live a connected and meaningful life. From influencers to classrooms, carpool conversations and boardrooms all the way to the United Nations, we want everyone to know your equation matters We leave you with a simple question #what’s your equation

Please reflect, make a short video like the one below and post it on your social feeds #equation2thrive #whatsyourequation

The Connection Between Mindfulness & Happiness

The Connection Between Mindfulness & Happiness

Mindfulness is everywhere. Lewis Howes is doing it. Gretchen Rubin isn’t. It made Dan Harris 10% Happier and it’s part of Tim Ferriss’s recommended morning routine. It seems that people either define themselves as mindful meditators like Gabby Bernstein and Oprah, or they love to brag about their inability to sit silently.

No matter which camp you currently reside in, after reading this you’ll want to give mindfulness a second chance.

First I want to be clear about what mindfulness is and what it isn’t.

Mindfulness isn’t the same as meditation. Being mindful involves present moment awareness which can occur while you are meditating but mindfulness can also happen when your are walking, eating, listening or doing other activities that require presence. Meditation is the practice of embracing internal stillness with intentions of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration. This involves becoming a witness of one’s mind and mastery of attention to intention. Techniques may involve use of a mantra (series of words that act as an anchor for the wandering mind), close guidance by a guru (a teacher), compassion, love, patience, and of course, mindfulness.

Mindfulness and meditation are not religion. There is meditation as part of many religious practices. But you don’t have to be spiritual or religious to meditate. I think of prayer as talking to God and meditation as listening- but that is only one way to look at it. For many, meditation and prayer are two sides of one coin.

What about the fidgety people who drink wine, see stillness as constraining and are skeptical about anything that could be seen as religion? There is still away to take advantage of the benefits (see below) of meditation if you fall into this category. Spending time in a flow state is one of them.

The Antidote to Stress

Mindful meditation is often seen as a stress management tool. Stress happens when an obstacle comes between us and something we want. This could be a red light as we hurry to a child’s dance recital or an interview that may lead to a promotion. The body responds to any type of stress by releasing a flood of chemicals. This is known as the fight/flight response. When in this state

  • heart rate increases
  • blood pressure increases
  • pancreas releases more glucagon and less insulin raising blood sugar
  • we sweat more
  • adrenals pump out more adrenaline. noradrenaline and cortisol
  • we feel a need to go to the bathroom
  • our blood platelets clot
  • our immunity weakens
  • we breath more quickly

Over time, prolonged exposure to the fight/flight response can:

  • increase in blood pressure and stress on the heart can lead to coronary heart disease
  • increase of stress hormones can really lead to anxiety insomnia or addiction
  • increase blood sugar can lead to diabetes or obesity
  • decreased circulation to the digestive tract can lead to digestive disturbances
  • decreased growth and sex hormones can cause premature aging
  • decreased immunity increases your potential for infections
  • increase in sticky platelets increases the risk of heart attack and stroke

When you are mindfully meditating your heart rate, your blood pressure, your respiration, your perspiration, your stress hormones, and your platelets stickiness all decrease and your anti-aging hormones increase.

The Benefits

Mindfulness is significantly correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction, and your ability to flourish

Mindfulness buffers depression symptoms

After 8 week of daily 1 hour mindfulness a significant increase in baseline happiness levels that lasted 4 months after the training was recorded

Patience increases

Sense of connection to others increases

Physical health improves


Types of Mindfulness & Meditation

I wrote an article for the Chopra Center decoding 5 top types of meditation.  A list of many types follows:

  • Primordial Sound Meditation. 
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
  • Zen. Zen is also referred to as Zazen
  • Transcendental Meditation. 
  • Guided Meditation
  • Vipassana Meditation
  • Qigon
  • Taoist Meditation
  • Loving Kindness
  • Being in a Flow State

No Down Side

The potential benefits of mindful practice certainly make it worth your effort and time. If you really struggle to sit I suggest the following mindful alternatives:

picking up stones or sea glass or shells at a beach

bird watching

sending imaginary hugs to everyone you love

square breathing (inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4)


I hope you will give mindfulness or full blown meditation a try. It’s one of seven science backed practices I love using to help people to flourish.




Harness the Positive Power of Flow State

Harness the Positive Power of Flow State

Athletes call it “getting in the zone” but sport and exercise are just two ways to get the benefits of a flow state. Positive psychologists sometimes call it a state of positive engagement. What exactly is a flow state and why would you want to be in it?

Flow Defined

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is sometimes considered the father of flow. He defines it as “optimal experience” and believes what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is the state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.

9 Characteristics of Flow

  1. The activity requires skill or is challenging
  2. There is direct and immediate feedback (you know if you are successful)
  3. There is a clear goal
  4. Action & awareness become merged
  5. You are fully absorbed in the task
  6. There is a sense of control or mastery
  7. You lose self-consciousness
  8. Time seems to speed up or slow down
  9. The task is intrinsically rewarding

Basically flow requires a high level of skill and challenge. This means that although you can lose track of time while reading a good book, you probably weren’t in a state of flow while reading.

Why Does Flow Matter?

According to Steven Kotler, Flow Genome Project founder, flow might benefit you if:

  • You are finding it increasingly hard to shut off your relentless Inner Critic
  • You spend most of your time not in the present, but “elsewhere”— daydreaming or worrying about the past or the future
  • You routinely run out of willpower and have a list of personal dreams and goals that never get any closer to reality
  • You’ve looked into some spiritual or personal growth programs but felt like an outsider or a total cynic—unwilling to “drink the kool-aid”
  • You find yourself looking back on an earlier phase in your life where you did experience Flow, and have been quietly resigning yourself to never seeing “the good old days” again
  • You self medicate or distract in ways that leave you feeling even less satisfied than before (think: social media, Netflix binges, shopping, porn, video games, substances)
  • You occasionally ask yourself “is this really all there is?” and suspect the answer might just be, yes

He says “flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best”.

What Research Says About Flow

Flow increases your positive emotions

Flow stops procrastination

You feel healthier in the short term

You may feel depleted emotionally and physically after long periods of flow state

Accumulation of flow increases one’s ability to flourish

Flow at work increases productivity & innovation

Flow Happens in a Cycle

It begins with a struggle. It is always about greater and greater challenge so the struggle may be to set the next goal or to get started toward the next goal.

The next step is release- you are doing your thing and let go of expectations, get present, and become completely engaged.

You then hit the flow state, where your high level of skill comes together with the big challenge. It’s a peak experience not a permanent one.

When the flow stage is over, there is a period of recovery.

Flow For Teens

I ran a dance studio for many years and at least once a year I would have a teen student call to say they couldn’t make it to class because they had just been dumped by their boyfriend. I always told them that coming to class when they felt too sad, too angry or too broken was actually the perfect choice. Dance requires a balance of skill and challenge that puts you right in a flow state. After class I would always hear from the student that for the hour they had forgotten their troubles and, even better, the chemicals released by the brain during the flow state had a lasting effect that kept them feeling a bit better even after they stopped dancing. Teens quite often have trouble getting out of the negative loop of conversations in their head. Finding a way to engage in a flow state can help.

What Are the Flow State Chemicals?

Performance enhancing chemicals are released by your brain when you are in the flow. These include:

  • dopamine
  • endorphins
  • serotonin
  • noradrenaline
  • anandamide

These amplify motivation, creativity and our ability to learn.

Can You Find Flow at Work?

Interestingly most people report preferring leisure over work yet people experience more flow at work. 54% of flow state happens on the job. Flow is often thought of as a solo experience but flow can happen in groups and in fact it is somewhat contagious. Performing a flow activity yourself is one way to experience flow but watching someone experience a state of flow also gives you, the spectator, some of the benefits.

Don’t Forget the Downside of Flow

People who have bipolar disease or narcissistic tendencies can get addicted to a flow state which can lead to risk taking and self-centeredness. You can also get into a flow state at a time where it doesn’t work. One example of this would be a teacher who gets fully engaged in teaching a concept that is above their students’ level. The teacher gets the flow experience of delivering a lesson they love however if the class all spaced out, the lesson was not effective.

Finally, the Five C’s

If you want to nurture flow in yourself, in your children or in your team at work there are five things you need.

  1. Clarity- goals and expectations need to be measurable. Who will do how much of what by when?
  2. Choice- flow activities aren’t prescribed, they are choices.
  3. Commitment- involvement in an activity of interest where there is no judgement
  4. Challenge- continually setting higher goals for yourself as you master your current challenge
  5. Centered- the activity requires you to stay focused and present

I know for me dance, yoga, public speaking, and creative work like graphic design put me in a flow state. Where do you attain a state of flow? Comment below.