Dreaming of good things that never were, or avoiding thinking of bad things that could happen, is what positive psychology is all about. Martin Seligman, known as the father of positive psychology said: “Psychology is not just a study of weakness and damage, it is also the study of strength and virtue.” Strengths like courage, optimism and perseverance, act as a buffer against mental illness and negativity. Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychology, settled on the modest aim, saying, “Aim of psychology should be to replace neurotic misery into ordinary happiness.” The million-dollar question is how to achieve this ‘ordinary happiness’ if not ‘hedonic state of absolute joy’? As already discussed, positive psychology is about strengths and virtues, which can act as a buffer against negative thoughts and mental illnesses. The metrics pertaining to knowledge, reason, love, remembrance, patience, contentment, abstinence, striving and prayer are the virtues, which, if we follow, could act as a barrier against negative feelings.
The first step towards implementing the concept of positive psychology is the ‘Functional Attribution Strategy’. If you are in stress, then there is no magical pill that can take you out of the murk of distress; in that case, the best way to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm. The first thing you can do, is to sit back, close your eyes and relax, and explain to yourself that causes of failure are ‘controllable’ and ‘changeable’ rather than resorting to ‘Dysfunctional Attribution Strategy’, which says that causes of failure are ‘uncontrollable’ and ‘unchangeable’. Dysfunctional Attribution Strategy will lead you to a passive state called ‘Learned Helplessness’ which means one starts believing that failure is inevitable so one does not even try to fix the circumstances. This calls for self-realization and self-conviction, which is the first step to move further because “whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are most of the times right.’’
Stress has a vicious cycle, and if you are caught up in that cycle, you will eventually harm your health. It is just like a rock on the shore being constantly hit by waves; every hitting wave eventually erodes even a solid rock. After having come to the conclusion and the leap of faith that you can make things better because there is always room for improvement, you can practice the following techniques to break free from stress and negative feelings.
Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi gave the concept of flow, which means involving yourself in an activity in which you are so focused and involved, and in a state of enjoyment that you lose track of everything else while you are engaged in it. This activity can be anything that you enjoy, like gardening, making card models, playing chess or even writing articles. Anything that you are good at and you love to do without any visible external reward, that activity itself is a reward for you. The concept is that when you are completely involved in such an activity, you break the circle of stress; when you are involved in such an autotelic and interesting activity, you break your mental connection with stressful thoughts. It is like taking a break from the waves of stress hitting you and in that break, you recoup your energies.
David Mayer’s Formula
Mayer maintains that enduring happiness does not come with success but by adherence to following some golden principles.
• Take control of your time. Utilize your time to the best. Always allocate time to do activities you love to do like meeting your friends, reading books or exercise.
• Act Happy. Keep on reminding yourself that you are happy and you will tend to stay happy. Staying happy is a sort of mood elevator.
• Get proper sleep.
• Give priority to your relatives.
• Keep a gratitude journal.
• Nurture your spiritual self (offering prayers, contemplating on the Quran, Yoga, etc.)
This technique professes that you get out of or ignore all those thoughts that cause anxiety and stress. Here is how you can do it:
Step-1 – Thought Stopping
With conscious effort you stop the negative thoughts. Whenever a negative thought comes in your mind, you block it by saying; ‘‘Let me put a full stop.’’ In this way you will make yourself cognizant that you have to put a full stop whenever unwarranted thoughts come to your mind.
Step-2 – Thought Replacing
Now replace the negative thoughts (that have been stopped) with positive thoughts, like any exciting thing you intend to do that evening or your collection of artifacts, your kids, husband or anything that excites you.
Step-3 – Centering
After replacing, center your attention internally. You can do it by deep breathing. Close your eyes and take long breaths. When you concentrate on the process of inhaling, you will feel the oxygen getting in your lungs. Retain the breath in your lungs for 3-5 seconds and imagine that all stress in your body has been absorbed by the air in your lungs. Then exhale, and imagine that your anxiety-ridden breath is being exhaled, taking out all the stress and anxiety out of your body. Repeat this 10 to 15 times.
Step 4 – External Focus
Now open your eyes and focus externally, on any task in front of you.
As Thomas Hobbes said, “Ingratitude is the most horrible and unnatural of all crimes that humans are capable of committing.” There is a Japanese meditation technique called ‘Naikan’ to enhance one’s sense of gratitude. It has three questions: What did I receive? What did I give? What troubles and difficulties do I cause others?
The Magic of Meditation and Appreciation
In meditation, like offering prayers, one is transported to the alpha state, a state that triggers alpha brainwaves. These brain waves have the capability to induce calm and increase creativity. More magical than meditation is appreciation that synchronizes alpha brainwaves with heartbeats releasing stress, ultimately. Appreciation means we not only appreciate others like our spouse, children, family or friends, but also appreciate ourselves for all the good things we have done. Psychologists have suggested keeping an appreciation journal, and noting down every good or smart thing one has done at the end of the day because this leads to positive reinforcement. If you have done anything smart that has saved your time, money or resources, you should appreciate yourself. It will not only boost your mood but also improve your self-efficacy, self-concept and confidence.
Animals possess a magnetic force within their bodies, which helps to cure psychological and mental disorders. So, having a pet can be a source for curing stress and tension.
In a nutshell, like we practice dieting to keep unnecessary fat from accumulating in our body, we also need to keep our mind healthy and robust in order to keep out the stressful thoughts. Above mentioned techniques, if practiced religiously with all our conviction can be helpful in abating stress and leading of a quality life. HH
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