Simple Is Better

Steve Jobs once said…

You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Ain’t that the truth?

The problem is that simplifying our thoughts is complicated. Our minds are in constant search of connections, patterns and meaning, setting the stage for a whole lot of thinking and not much else.

We often get bogged down in details that don’t matter and stay distracted enough to miss all the important stuff.

I’m no different. Take my original website for example. It had lots of buttons, colors and things I thought people wanted. But I got it all wrong. People just want information – plain and simple.

I’ve unplugged my busy website design in favor of something that calms and highlights what matters. I’ve set my ego and all the unrealistic expectations its placed on me aside and plan on serving you something different.

I hope you enjoy it.

How to Create a Positive Mindset in 3 Easy Steps

Most people have cognitive ‘blind spots.’ Simply put, it’s hard to see our own thinking flaws and all the ways we keep ourselves anxious without someone else pointing it out.

It’s normal.

As a therapist (Intern) I see it all the time. Someone mulls over a particular thought pattern or behavior that they’ve never examined before and bingo! They say something like “I never thought of it that way.”

It doesn’t happen as often as I would like, but it does happen. Here’s a question though: Is there a way to do this on yourself? Is there a way to tilt your perspective in a positive direction?

For starters, know this about your brain: It loves patterns and routine. Give yourself 29 days and you can turn almost any behavior into a habit.

Over time your behaviors (thoughts included) end up on autopilot; focused on the same negative perspective until it’s hard not to see the bad in almost everything. In fact, you might have gotten to the point where all you do is focus on the negative.

From Negative to Positive

Step 1: Acknowledge your blind spots.

Are you a pessimist? Do you wake up in the morning and assume that you’re going to be anxious all day? It’s important to recognize your negative mind frame before you can even think about changing it.

This one’s easy to achieve though. Just ask yourself this: Do I think worry about problems that only confirm or support my fears? If so, then you’re focused only on the negative aspects of everything you experience, which reinforces the very problems you despise.

Instead, spend some time thinking about things that disprove your anxiety fueled guesses about the future.

Step 2: Learn how to reframe the negative

Is there any possible way of looking at your stress, anxiety or worry from a positive perspective? Of course there is! For instance, you could be experiencing two panic attacks a week right now.

But if you experienced only one next week would you sit around fearing the next panic attack or could you think “Hey, I only had one panic attack this week. Now that’s progress!”

Alternatively, what if you did have your customary two servings of panic in a week? Could you ever give yourself permission to think that you might have none the following week?

Also, consider this: Are you always panicked? Are you perpetually experiencing chest pain? Probably not right? Well then, how about you start acknowledging the ‘good times.’ Acknowledge that you’re not always feeling bad and that you will feel better soon after whatever you’re experiencing passes.

Step 3: Practice positivity

You ever buy a stranger a coffee? No? Man, you should try it because it feels awesome. Have you ever laughed at yourself for something hilarious that you did because you were scared out of your mind (I know I have).

Whether it’s forcing a big smile in the office on Monday, sharing your food, cracking a joke, or whatever, you have a lot of control over how much positivity you release into the universe. And what’s crucial to remember is that the universe provides excellent return on investment. The more you give the more you get.

Be mindful of the fact that despite bad things happening to us (Part of life I’m afraid), there’s always some small thing you can do to put a positive spin on some aspect of your life. The important part of practicing positivity is actually giving it a try so you can escape the false idea that you’ll always feel bad and never recover.

 

Planting the Seeds of Change

anxiety, panic, blogPicture this: A young guy sitting in the corner of a bedroom with his knees to his chest. He’s sweating, praying and all alone. The expression on his face is one of utter hopelessness and terror. That was me in 2001 at the height of my anxiety. Luckily, things have changed.

Last night I had dinner with my beautiful wife. We had some good food, we laughed, and I wasn’t at all bothered by the 100 or so people around us. I couldn’t have done this in 2001. The question is why?

What made me a nervous wreck?

I could give you some bloated reason but the truth is I don’t know what happened to me. It could have been genetics, stress, trauma, my environment or some combination of all those things. I still don’t know. I do know, however, that there was at least one thing getting in the way of my recovery. Simply put, it was my imagination. My negative dreams and fantasies stunted my recovery.

This could be happening to you too.

So many of your fantasies don’t involve you being free from anxiety and that alone can play a huge role in terms of what you think is going to happen to you. I don’t blame you though; it can be hard to picture your life without fear and worry. But for me, it was the redirection of my imagination that made all the difference. See, I used to fantasize about having heart attacks or losing my mind. I could even see myself being taken down by faceless figures with white coats.

I had created my reality from threads of distorted thoughts. That is until, randomly I admit, I started to wonder what it would be like to not be anxious. My fantasies became positive and something did change.

“There is nothing impossible to him who will try.”

Alexander the Great

I saw myself get better before it actually happened. What was only a recurring dream became reality. I stopped nibbling on every anxious thought and experience and instead looked to the future with hope. In that regard, my worry turned into positive expectation. I’m absolutely positive that you can’t dream your way out of anxiety but at the same time it can lay the groundwork for recovery.

How do you change your fantasies? The most important step is to give yourself permission to fantasize about something else. Hopefully those new visions will create the space you need to achieve what you think you can’t.

 

 

Are You Anxious About the 2012 Apocalypse?

Imagine looking up and seeing an enormous ball of fire falling from the sky. Where would you run to? What would the moment before impact be like? Seems dramatic right? Yet that’s precisely what some people think will happen on December 21, 2012. I don’t buy it.

I don’t believe the world will end on any predetermined date. But a lot of people do. About 10% of the population believes the world will end on December 21, 2012. Some folks have even contemplated suicide to avoid the pain of anticipation. People have written about the 2012 apocalypse for years, which I guess has made end of the world scenarios seem more plausible.

So what are doomsday believers expecting on Friday December 21, 2012?

Galactic Alignment

Some argue that when the sun is positioned between the Earth and the center of the Milky Way a black hole at the center of our galaxy will cause natural disasters, a shift in human evolution, or some other major made for TV event.

I’m not a scientist but as far as I know galactic alignment happens every year during the winter solstice. To help you understand this phenomenon watch this short video clip on galactic alignment.

Mayan Calendar

Internet scaremongers claim that on December 21, 2012 the ancient Mayan calendar comes to an end. This will — they say — set off a chain of events that will destroy or transform the planet.

The funny thing is that if you were to ask a Mayan about this today they’d probably give you a puzzled look. As far as they’re concerned there’s nothing special about December 21, 2012. In fact, the calendar continues after this date. The Mayan calendar has been hijacked by paranoids and profiteers who don’t understand the astronomical practices or folklore of the ancient Maya.

Pole Shift, Planet Nibiru, and Solar Storms

There’s also been talk about other disasters. There are thousands of websites claiming that the Earth’s magnetic polarity will shift, that a rogue planet called Nibiru will smash into the Earth, or that solar storms will fry the world’s electrical grids sending mankind straight to the dark ages. I’ve even heard people talk about an alien invasion.

Scientist at NASA have debunked all of these claims. Below you’ll find a short video that debunks end of the world claims one by one.

I think people are anxious about the future because the world is rapidly changing. News events reach you just minutes after the event has happened, several reports arrive at once about different – often negative – events, and the media has mastered the art of sensationalizing tragedy.

On top of that, there’s a lot of conflict, division, tension, and pessimism in the world right now. The world economy stinks, wars are raging, people are starving, the planet is heating up, and nobody seems to have any good answers. That can all be scary to think about.

But simply because we have serious issues to contend with doesn’t mean that the world will end. Time will march on like it always has. So if you’re worried about the end of the world try to relax. You’re going to be OK.

People can’t tell the future. Never have, never will.

Paul Earns His Master’s Degree

Finally, I’ve done it.

I earned my master’s degree in counseling psychology. To be honest the whole thing was a little anticlimactic. I was expecting to feel something “big”, but I don’t.

That being said, I am relieved. I can’t remember the last T.V. show I followed or football game I watched all the way through. That part was getting old.

You know what though? I didn’t learn anything new about anxiety disorders or symptoms; it seems that I had that down.

I did, however, learn tons about the brain, human behavior, communication, et cetera. And even though I hated every single exam I took, I have to say that I value the stuff that was drilled into my head. But that wasn’t the only benefit I took away.

Since I began my Master’s program I’ve also talked to scores of patients that taught me a lot about myself. I was humbled by the experience.

I also learned this: I like the work. I’m good at it. I have much more to learn but I think I was built to do this. I don’t say that to be narcissistic, rather I just want to point out that I’m happy with my decision to become a therapist. It fits me well.

I’m excited about developing my skills during my internship so I can help people live better lives. It’s a great honor for me.

Plus, after two years of hard work, I get a chance to expand this site in earnest. Part of that process will involve the launching of a members only area, which will include videos, improved podcasts, and articles aimed at lowering human suffering like never before.

Can I tell you a secret? I hate abnormal anxiety. I hate it with a passion. So I plan to increase my efforts to eliminate it from the lives of as many people as possible – maybe even yours.

Anyway, thank you for sticking with me. I hope to deliver better content in the future and I hope you’ll be around to see it.

 

 

Space Jumper Destroys Anxiety

There’s a good chance that at some point you’ve questioned whether or not you can overcome anxiety. That’s normal.

What can develop from this unfortunately is a strong dose of self-doubt, new fears, and an inability to move forward. Still, there’s hope.

See, you’re not the only one with bad nerves. Space jumper Felix Baumgartner, who recently set the world skydiving record by free falling 126,720 ft (24 miles), has also experienced high anxiety. He, however, was able to conquer his fears in spectacular fashion.

In an interview with CNN he describes his big fear and how he overcame it. I hope, just maybe, that this gives you some instant courage to press on.

Look, anxiety is tough. Life is tough. But this man pounced on anxiety in a way that few of us think possible. It can be done.

Check out the interview below and share your thoughts in the comments area.

The Wizard of Oz Guide to Beating Anxiety

Before we get started watch the video clip below.

Then I’ll share with you some thoughts on why I think it’s an important metaphor for what you’re going through and how it can help you to reduce, or maybe even erase, your abnormal anxiety.

The truth is that I could try to explain to you all the nuances of abnormal anxiety until I’m blue in the face, yet there’s a good chance that you’ll remain in the dark about the big picture.

In this regard, you could stay in the “Why this?” Or “Why that?” mode without ever finding real answers. So I’ve decided to use a bit of classic cinema to help me make a few important points.

This video clip from The Wizard of Oz sums up the big picture well because it illustrates the engine that drives your abnormal anxiety perfectly.

There’s three things in particular that stand out:

The Machinery of Anxiety

First, there’s the machine itself. The contraption that the wizard is operating, which is an excellent representation of all the mechanical aspects of your symptoms. It’s your body being manipulated by your abnormal anxiety.

The physical symptoms, the automatic thoughts, all of those things are an automated reaction to anxiety, which can make all the awful feelings you experience seem powerful and mysterious.

The reality is that physical symptoms operate like a machine because your body is a machine. So the heart is like a mechanical pump, the brain a supercomputer, and your other organs act like cogs and pulleys that help push you along.

The important piece to all that is understanding that there is nothing mysterious about your body.

It does what it always does, it reacts to fear the same way every time. At no point is death or insanity entered into that equation simply because you assume it’s a possibility.

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” — L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Mystery of Anxiety

Second, there’s the curtain. The thin veil that makes it difficult to understand, much less accept, all the experiences that you’ve been enduring.

The curtain so to speak can be denial, confusion, ignorance, or just plain fear. In many cases there is a mixture of all these components working together and often stand between you and the truth.

The ‘curtain’ is different for all of us. So it’s a good idea to explore what prevents you from removing the fear that abnormal anxiety will somehow harm you. Once you can identify “it” you can take the first steps toward challenging yourself to destroy this line of thinking.

Anxiety as the Wizard

Lastly, there’s the wizard himself. The ‘bad man’ that to me represents your abnormal anxiety.

What you’ll find though, and hopefully sooner rather than later, is that abnormal anxiety is a feeble being that you’ve bestowed with supernatural powers. Given this, what do you think will happen when you confront it? I think you’ll find that it will react much like the old wizard in the film.

It will bend to your will because it is, to me anyway, just another part of you. For example, have you ever attempted to control your anger and succeeded? Why is anxiety any different? Your emotions are a part of you; a part that you can control by changing the content of your thoughts and the things you tell yourself.

I seriously didn’t plan on writing a whole piece on this short clip, but I couldn’t resist. It’s all there for you to see. To some of you this may seem like child’s play because it appears so simple.

The question is: Why does this have to be complicated?

There’s no doubt that eliminating abnormal anxiety is scary. Perhaps you’re afraid of failure, maybe you’re afraid that your anxiety is going to get bigger, but these are false beliefs which have been bolstered by fear and conditioning. Bottom-line it’s a very bad habit.

That, however, doesn’t change the fact that you can succeed in your efforts to be the old you again. To recapture the life that you once had, the peace of mind that was a regular part of your daily life.

The good news is that part of you still exists, the trick is reclaiming the power that you’ve handed to your anxiety.

You can do this.

Did you find a different meaning in these clips? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below!

To be, or not to be: that is the Question

Grad schoolToday I wanted to check in with you and let you know where I’m at and where I’m going.

I’ve been in grad school for nearly two years working on a master’s degree in counseling psychology.

The road has been long, sometimes irritating, but so far completely worth it.

Now I’ve come to a crossroads and I want to reach out to you and get your feedback about a decision I’m mulling over.

See, I’ve been on track to become a licensed MFT and LPC. The two licenses basically mean that I’d be a therapist able to treat individuals, families, couples, and kids. Basically, everybody.

I’d also be able to open my own practice, teach at community colleges, consult, supervise, the works. Come to think of it, the two licenses are pretty flexible.

After my masters I’ll also have to complete a two-year internship, paid of course. So not bad right? I’ll get to do what I think I was meant to do and, by the abundant mercy of the universe, leave the world of cubicles forever.

But, and I mean BUT, I’ve been thinking about getting my doctorate. The dreaded PhD.

Given the flexible masters level license, why in the world would I do that? Well, it all started because I’m currently completing an internship at a site choke- full of pre-doctoral students.

Their ‘stuff’ has rubbed off on me.

I think that I honestly started feeling bad about myself and feel almost like a second class citizen, at least in the world of psychology.

My wife is against the idea of a PhD. Others I know are for it. And I’m somewhere in the middle.

If I had a PhD I could: Gain more clinical knowledge, earn more money, and obtain teaching gigs with more frequency. I’d also qualify to be a licensed psychologist, which isn’t a huge deal to me.

That last part means less to me because I don’t want to deal with acute clients. I’d much rather work with clients suffering from anxiety, of course!

Plus, doctoral school means 3-4 more years of course work, a dissertation, and a two-year internship. All so that I can be, essentially, a therapist. It seems like an awful lot of work for what amounts to the same thing, at least when it comes to being a therapist.

Also, and just as important, is the fact that I have a family. A wife and two very young children. I fret about the time that I’m not giving my family and what that could mean downrange.

The other issue is my age and cost of attending school. I’m in my 30’s and have become hyper-aware of, and allergic to, debt. Even so-called ‘good debt.’

I’ve been flipping sides on this issue for months. People at my internship site ask about it, my family asks about it, even random people who I sort of talk to want to know: Are you going to get a PhD?

At this point I don’t know. Part of me just wants to continue with my original plan. Get the masters, get licensed, do private practice, teach, and continue to grow this website.

The other part of me has a desire to avoid regret and “be all I can be.” I have the ability , the question is: Is the PhD worth it given what I want to do?

I was reluctant to ask you about this because in some weird way it makes me feel vulnerable and indecisive. Then I thought, wait a minute, this is a huge decision, get all the feedback you can, you fool!

So, what do you think? Should I stick to my original plan, or does Dr. Paul have a nice ring to it?

Let me know in the comments section below!

Relaxation Is Control

Relaxation excercise Recently I was talking to a psychologist friend of mine who was trying to explain traumatic brain injuries to me when we suddenly switched to anxiety disorders.

During the conversation my friend blurts out this gem of a statement. He says, “Control is relaxation.”As he continued to talk I kept thinking, “Holy moly that was good.”

I’ve explained the same concept in way more complicated terms. What he said reminded me of Apple products; clean, simple, and effective.

So what does that statement mean? First, I flipped the statement around to suggest the preferred order of events. That is, if you relax, you will gain control.

As an anxiety sufferer you’re more likely to react strongly to anxiety by thinking about your health, your sanity, or what might happen next.

But has it ever occurred to you that you could take a deep breath and not react to those automatic thoughts that seem to take over your mind?

Yes, of course, you have. But not really, right? What actually ends up happening in those situations is that you “wish” you could do that and continue on the “what if” track. You, in fact, surrender control to anxiety by fighting with it.

Fighting anxiety is another way of saying that you try to play some kind of mind game with yourself, whereby you beg, bargain, and try to scheme your way out of the anxiety or panic by telling yourself all kinds of stuff. This tends to not work though.

The reason is simple: The more you try to control anxiety the stronger it gets. So, what happens when you do the opposite? What happens when you relax? What tends to happen is that you regain the ability to think.

See, where there is fear there is little, if any, ability to think with a clear mind. Relaxation, the cessation of the fight, is an opportunity for you to regain clarity of thought, logic, and thus endless alternatives to the nightmare you imagine might happen.

The moral of the story is that when anxious, panicked, or worried, stop fighting. Stop wrestling for control by tensing your muscles or hoping for this or that. Instead, relax your body and mind.

Get those complicated anti-anxiety schemes out of your head. Just be. After a few minutes your ability to think will come back. Then start the process of counting all the reasons why you’re not going to die or go mad.

If you want more details on how to accept anxiety fully read my e-book The Big Idea. If not, just do me a favor and relax when you think you can’t. That’s the start of the hard, but very doable, healing process.