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The Importance of Everyday Compassion

Setting aside time to practice daily compassion is an important component of mental and physical wellbeing. Practicing compassion for ourselves and others helps us to navigate the difficult times and cope with unexpected changes, disruptions, and losses. We all have times when we feel overwhelmed, confused, disappointed, or lost.  We all falter, lose sight of our goals, and suddenly realize we haven’t been acting like who we want to be, or in alignment with what we want to stand for.   In these difficult times it is easy for that harsh judgmental voice to be the only voice we hear. We may beat ourselves up, engage in endless self-criticism, or waste our precious time and energy trying to suppress or control these uncomfortable, unwanted thoughts and feelings. Many of us attempt to do this with food, drugs or alcohol, shopping, arguing, avoiding or even general busyness.  It can be exhausting. In these moments what we really need more than ever is kindness and compassion.

Self-compassion is defined as “the act of extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering”. A simple example of self-compassion would be when you stub your toe and you sit down for a minute to acknowledge the pain and hold your toe soothingly. The opposite of compassion is yelling at or criticizing yourself for stubbing your toe and then kicking the wall and making yourself feel worse. Which makes you feel better? Which do you tend to do? If you tend towards the self-critical, are you willing to try something different?

While we don’t have the power to stop our minds from generating upsetting thoughts, compassion and kindness are an effective way to help us to relate to our thoughts in a different way. If you are willing to give this a try here are some simple ways to practice kindness and compassion towards yourself:

One of the easiest practices is to start your day with a brief exercise of placing your hand on your heart or any place on your body you are experiencing pain, doubt, or judgement and repeat this simple phrase: “I’m noticing I’m feeling pain, may I treat myself kindly”.

Speak kindly to yourself when you make a mistake, fail at something, or experience rejection. Acknowledge that mistakes are a part of being human, growing, and developing resilience. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes.

Be kind to your body by treating it gently and with gratitude. Think of all the ways your body is amazing and identify things you can do to be kind to your body in this moment such a taking a walk outside, eating a nutritious meal, taking a warm bath, or even giving yourself a big hug.

Make room for your pain by acknowledging the feelings you are having and allowing the feelings to be there without trying to fight them off. This frees up your energy to do something important and meaningful in that moment even while the feelings are still there.

When we are able to see more clearly from a place of compassion, we are much better able to manage life’s challenges more effectively. We begin to see thoughts and emotions as things that come and go rather than defining who we are. We are then able to utilize our energy in life affirming ways rather than on the battlefields of our minds. By recognizing that life is not a neat linear process like the 100 yard dash on a track but more like a bumpy trail run, and disruptions are something to be expected rather than feared, we are able to treat them as what they are:  temporary setbacks rather than what our minds tell us they are: insurmountable obstacles, yet another failure.

Today, see if you can begin practicing self-compassion. As you go through your day notice any moments when you could use some gentleness and compassion and try out one of these exercises. Notice if this practice starts to help you recognize the importance of everyday compassion.

 

By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP

Common Concerns of New Meditators Series: (#1) “I Don’t Have Time”

In my most recent blog post (Meditation – It’s for Every Mind!), I talked about how meditation can be helpful for anyone who has a human mind and how regular practice changes the structure and function of the brain at the neurological level. Benefits include such widely sought-after outcomes as improved focus, reduced stress and anxiety, better mood, and enhanced sleep. Nonetheless, many new meditators have trouble sticking with the practice. Meditation students in my clinic, workshops, and webinars typically voice the same concerns, such as not knowing if they’re “doing it right”, feeling like they don’t have enough time, being unsure about where to start, or believing they have to empty their mind of thoughts. This is the first in a series of posts designed to validate and address these common obstacles people encounter with meditation.

Perhaps the most frequent complaint I hear is, “I don’t have time to meditate.” This misconception stems from the notion that, in order for meditation to be beneficial, a person must meditate for long periods of time. This belief is a setup for failure. Initially, it’s hard for most people to sit and meditate for more than a few minutes at a time. They become very restless, or fall asleep, or get lost in endless mind-wandering. To set yourself up for success, it’s important to be realistic, patient, and practical.

Let’s start with being realistic about the total amount of meditation time per session. A 2018 study conducted by researchers at Swarthmore, Mass General, and Yale found that even short bursts of meditation (10 minutes per day) can deliver powerful benefits, enhancing cognitive performance. Now, 10 minutes can feel like an eternity to a new meditator with an untrained mind. At the beginning, establishing a regular habit of practicing meditation is more important than racking up meditation minutes. I recommend starting with 3-minute mini-meditations like the 3-Minute Mindful Breathing Meditation I mentioned in my last post. Aim for consistency, gradually increasing the number of days you meditate per week. Once you’ve established a daily or near-daily practice, extend the time per session to 5 minutes and then 7 minutes and so on, until you can semi-comfortably complete a 20-25 minute meditation.

Remember that meditation is a skill developed through systematic mental training. Similar to getting in physical shape, it may take quite a while to get your mind in shape, and you may experience some temporary discomfort or frustration in the meantime. That’s perfectly normal. Be sure to congratulate yourself for any effort you make to “take your mind to the gym” and recognize that you are doing something wonderful for yourself.

Finally, be practical. Use a timer to structure your meditation session. Technology-based assistance can be quite useful in this regard. For example, the timer on the free Insight Timer app will allow you to predetermine the length of your meditation session and select a bell to sound at the beginning and end. This eliminates what can otherwise become a huge distraction (“How much time do I have left??”) and gives your mind permission to let go of the need to keep track of the time while you’re meditating.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, in which I’ll give you some tips and tools to help you tackle another common obstacle of new meditators, excessive mind-wandering. Until then, happy meditating!

 

By Stephanie Best, PhD – Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Springing Forward: Mindfully Maximizing the Positive Impact of the Spring Time Change

The time for us to “spring forward” is finally upon us on Sunday, March 14th. While it does mean we might technically “lose” an hour of sleep on Saturday night, the loss comes with a great gain: increasing daylight after the workday is over. With this time change comes an invitation for new evening routines and new opportunities to nourish yourself mentally and physically. What could this change mean for you?

Prior to the time change, we often hear from clients that exercising or spending time with family outdoors after work can be challenging. There is some truth to this logistical challenge! When the sun goes down by 6pm (or even earlier), it can be hard to fit in a bike ride, jog, or family walk before sunset during the work week. It is not uncommon to hear, “When it stays lighter out longer, I will _________” or “I will start exercising after work when the time changes” or even “My motivation is so much higher to do things when it is warmer and stays lighter out longer.” The time is upon us, and I would like to invite you to think about how you can mindfully maximize the positive impact of the Spring time change for your own health and care routine by doing the following:

  1. Check in with your values. Is there an area you would like to nourish more with help of the time change? Some examples might include family, physical health, or mental health.
  2. Connect that value with a specific behavioral goal. For example, if you identified “family” as a value you would like to nourish, you might set a goal to take a family walk or family bike ride together a few nights a week. Or, you might set a goal to drive to the beach or other landscape to observe a sunset together. If you identified “physical health”, you might set small, attainable goals for being more physical active after work, such as taking a 20 or 30 minute jog 1-2 times per week.
  3. Commit to your behavioral change throughcommitted action.” Once you’ve clarified your values, take action in the direction of what you care about – even in the face of obstacles! This is known as “committed action.”

Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to others to support you in the goals you set! Research shows simply sharing your behavioral change goals verbally with others increases the odds that you will act in alignment with your stated goal. If you are a Modern Minds client, your individual counselor and Wellness Mentor are here to support you in collaboratively setting behavioral change goals and helping you commit to those goals! Reach out today and let’s work together to maximize the positive impact of the Spring time change for you!

 

By Lauren Carter, Ph.D

3 Tips for Making Movement Meaningful

We’ve all heard it before, “everyone needs physical activity at least 30 minutes a day.” Truthfully, most of us already know that implementing physical activity has various benefits to our lives. Physical activity has positive effects on our sleep, stress levels, heart health, and overall well-being. However, it is often difficult to get started or even know how to get started. So, what are simple strategies to get started?

  1. Begin with the intention to focus on what you value.

Physical activity looks different for everyone. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, it may be difficult to get started or maybe you don’t know where to begin. It may be helpful to understand how you value movement in your life. How is physical activity important to you? What is your WHY? Then look at setting intentional steps that are led through your physical activity value.

At first, it can be something as simple as walking to and from the mailbox instead of driving. Finding some time to stand up and stretch every so often at work. Maybe walking your dog one more lap around the block before going home. With intentional steps geared in directions of our values, we begin to feel fulfillment when we incorporate movement in life through our own meaningful way.

  1. Make it fun!

When was the last time you put on music and danced while cooking or cleaning up around the house? Physical activity doesn’t have to look like what we typically associate with it. It doesn’t have to look like going out for a run or hitting the gym. It can be getting your body up and moving throughout the day and it can even be playful. Even going outside and kicking a soccer ball around with your kids or fur-babies for a few minutes can make a big impact. Movement can be about finding play in everyday life.

  1. Find what works for YOU.

There are so many different types of exercise plans out there and some are even marketed as “the best exercise plan for (fill in the blank).” In reality, the best type of physical activity is the one that you will stick with. So, what kind of exercise plan are you most likely to stick with? It’s those that are fun to YOU and bring YOU joy.

Do you love to walk and enjoy time with nature? Strength train and feel the grooves on the barbell? Dance like nobody’s watching? Run to your favorite playlist on Spotify? Dribbling a ball around your neighborhood court?

There are many reasons why we find joy in a certain activity. Perhaps the physical activity you find joy in is important to you because it’s a way to relax, or be fit, or spend time with friends… maybe a mixture of different reasons. The activity that answers your WHY and brings YOU joy will be more fulfilling to engage in and in term be more sustainable.

 

The takeaway from these tips are to find intentional and meaningful ways to implement movement throughout your day, and find the physical activity that YOU find joy in. Visit our Movement and Exercise page for videos to follow along to or talk to your Wellness Mentor today for guidance on ways to implement movement in your life!

 

-Melany Rodriguez

Make Having Fun a Habit

Many may not realize that having fun is an important component of overall wellbeing. Oftentimes, especially when feeling anxious or depressed, we do not have the energy, enthusiasm, or desire to do something fun. We may at times feel for various reasons that we don’t deserve to have fun, or we have too much to do that’s “more important” than having fun. However, engaging in pleasurable activities and hobbies that are sustainable can bring many physical and mental health benefits. Having fun is of benefit to our mental health as it gives up a break from the worries that often preoccupy us throughout the day and even at night when we are trying to sleep. Getting a break from worrying in turn benefits our physical health as worry and stress are major contributors to chronic physical health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and inflammation.

Having fun can also promote improved memory, learning, and concentration. Neurologist Judy Wills conducted a study that showed how fun experiences can increase levels of dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen- all things that promote learning and improved cognitive functioning. In addition, engaging in fun and relaxing activities on a regular basis can help reduce cortisol levels and increase serotonin levels, all of which benefit us physically and mentally.

Purposefully setting aside time for fun and play also gives us the opportunity to seek out new adventures, explore new places, and develop new skills and interests. Engaging in novel activities is a key to a sense of vitality in life. Vitality is what energizes us and fuels our sense of strength and hopefulness about our lives. Giving ourselves permission to have fun may feel like an indulgence in a society that perpetuates productivity and results above all else, but enjoyment and pleasure make life richer and more fulfilling.

Think back to the last time you actually scheduled fun into your day that didn’t involve problem solving or reaching a goal. Perhaps it involved engaging in something active, such as crafting, playing tennis, or throwing a ball with your dog; or maybe it was the relaxation and pleasure of a sensory experience such as cooking your favorite meal, savoring that first cup of morning coffee, or truly listening and being present in a meaningful conversation.

Fun can also be spontaneous and whimsical such as pulling your car over to savor a sunset or behold the beauty of a field of wildflowers. It can include cultivating a spirit of playfulness and joy in the little things like wearing your grandmother’s vintage necklace or your dad’s old oversized sweater. Anything that is intrinsically enjoyable benefits your mind and body in so many ways. So today, think about what you can do to have fun.  See if you can be willing to give yourself permission to have fun even while your mind tells you that you don’t deserve it or you shouldn’t be wasting your time, and tomorrow you just may find that having fun has become a habit.

 

By Tina Kaminski, LISW-CP

A Thank You Letter to My Body

As the welcoming sight of 2021 has begun, I have found myself thinking of new years resolutions. While January of a new year typically brings new motivation for change, I realized, like many of us I rarely stick with these resolutions. As a result of the tumultuous changes 2020 brought us and my pattern of not sticking with my resolutions, I have decided to do something this year: make a constant effort to bring myself back to the present and practice gratitude for my current circumstances.

Practicing gratitude is not easy. I am reminding myself of that as I came home today to relax from a day where everything seemed to have gone wrong, only to find the dog had chewed my sheets and my water was cut off. At that moment, I scoffed to myself as a meager “Sure, I am grateful….” barely escaped my mouth. However, to hold myself to my resolution, I decided to write a gratitude letter. Gratitude letters are a great way to reconnect with another person, increase your feeling of social connectedness and raise your positive affect. They can be written to a loved one, a jar of peanut butter, or, as for mine today, my own physical being, which has quite literally carried me to where I am today. I encourage you to choose your own recipient of gratitude and write away.

Dear body,

Thank you for loving me even when I have not loved myself. Often when I have wanted nothing but to stay in bed and not use you, you gave me the ability to lift off my covers and put one foot on the ground. When I told you that you were not attractive, not loveable, not wanted, you stood firm by my side in a loud defiance forgiving me and stating, “I am beautiful, I am strong, I am more than a number on a scale, and I am not going anywhere”.

Thank you for the ability to run when incessant anxious thoughts robbed me of choosing joy. And as you carried me, as you helped me put one foot in front of the other, you naturally gave me the joy I was seeking.

Thank you for being a home to my heart, eyes, toes, hands, and every part of me. Thank you for the tears, smiles and laughs that give me the gentle reminder that I am a human. Thank you for the ability to love and to live.

Thank you for your ability to heal. From infections, diseases, cuts, burns, sprains, and emotional hurt, you have never stopped mending.

While I owe you many more thanks and frankly, apologies, I am going to rest here.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for all you have done for me.

Love the name that has been titled to your vessel,

 

Claire, Wellness Mentor at Modern Minds

How can CBT help with Social Anxiety?

Giving a speech.

Going to a party.

Speaking to someone you’re attracted to.

Stating your opinion in a meeting.

Making or maintaining eye contact.

Keeping up a conversation with an acquaintance.

Introducing yourself to a group.

Going on a date.

Talking on the phone or zoom.

Playing a sport in front of other people.

Silences in conversation.

Making requests to a boss/manager.

 

These are a few examples of situations that can be daunting for a person suffering from “social anxiety.” Social anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in adults. To some degree, most of us feel uncomfortable in one or more of the above-listed situations from time-to-time, such as when asking someone out for a date or being called out at work for a missed deadline. But for the roughly 12% of the population who suffer from high and often unrelenting levels of “social anxiety,” social situations and being the focus of attention are almost always uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking.

Driving social anxiety is the fear of being judged negatively and/or of embarrassment that you believe you won’t recover from. These fears get so loud that people with social anxiety avoid or skip out of social situations (cancel plans, don’t speak in class/at meetings, leave events early, turn off the camera on a Zoom call), or they endure them with great discomfort and distress (may get sweaty or nauseous or blush, have heart palpitations, drink alcohol to get through). Often after social situations, people with social anxiety will go over the event like a Monday morning quarterback, critiquing themselves and their every move, often quite harshly. High levels of social anxiety can make life tough and cause problems for people across all areas of their lives, disrupting everything from the ability to relax with friends to having your opinions heard at work to getting all sorts of your needs met.

Thankfully, there is an effective treatment for social anxiety—cognitive behavior therapy or CBT.  CBT helps people look at and change how they speak to themselves and to recognize patterns that are self-defeating in their thoughts.  CBT also works on changing behavior. Do you remember the first time you drove a car? Likely, it was scary. Unfamiliar. You probably didn’t go on the highway that first time. Maybe you drove around the corner with a parent in the car. You may have slowly built your way up to driving on that highway- maybe even over the course of a couple years. After driving for a few years how do you feel now in a car? Even if you’re a nervous driver, the car probably feels less intimidating than that first time you drove. The reason is “exposure.” The more you do something, the more familiar you get, and the more confident you get. It’s like jumping in cold water. It feels freezing at first but after a few minutes your body adjusts, especially as you move around and settle in. In CBT for social anxiety, participants may be asked to gradually (with tons of support and coaching!) approach situations that make them uncomfortable or that they avoid. Of course, no one would be asked to give a presentation to a room of unfamiliar people on day 1- just like you wouldn’t drive on the highway your first time behind the wheel. It’s guided, gradual, and completely driven by the participant. CBT does not change your personality or make you into someone that you aren’t ….not everyone will want or need to give a presentation in front of a large audience. The goal isn’t to become a social butterfly but rather, for social anxiety to no longer be stopping you from doing things that matter to you. Participants in CBT may learn to approach feared situations gradually and eventually to go out in the world and do the things that have meaning for them. CBT for social anxiety can also include skills training or role-playing to help boost people’s confidence.

Groups for social anxiety can be particularly powerful. You might be thinking “What!?! A group where I have to talk about my most vulnerable feelings? Didn’t I just tell you I’m uncomfortable talking in front of people!?” Although it may sound backwards to put people together who are afraid of gatherings and social situations, group therapy for social anxiety is actually highly effective. In a room (in-person or virtual room) of people who share the same worries and similar experiences, working on social fears can feel safer. There are also many more opportunities to practice socializing with other people who also understand what it’s like to suffer from social anxiety. That’s why in January 2021, Modern Minds will be offering its first group CBT treatment for social anxiety. If you or someone you know may be suffering from social anxiety, please reach out to Modern Minds to learn more!

 

Naomi Ennis, Ph.D

Why do we need art in our lives?

Art, both the act of making it and the act of viewing it, is an incredible aspect of humanity that contributes to our well being in many ways. Art making is a uniquely human activity that dates back to our earliest days on earth, and evidence of this can be found in cave paintings around the globe. Examples include the bull paintings located in the Lascaux Cave in France, as well as in the many statuettes that have been located around these cave sites, like the famous Venus of Willendorf. These artifacts give us clues about how our ancestors saw themselves and the world around them. Today, we continue to create and observe art in ways that are just as meaningful. We interact with and make art, regardless of our skill level, experience, or talent, as a way of connecting with ourselves and with the world at large.

There are many different ways to make art as one can see from the varying and sometimes silly examples of “Modern Art” in the world, but the most common and accessible methods tend to be painting, drawing, or sculpting with clay or wood. Art making is therapeutic in that it can be both soothing and enlightening. We feel soothed by the actual process of making art including the rhythmic sound of a brush against a canvas, the crisp connection of a pencil on paper, the soft feeling of earthy clay in our hands, or the cathartic release of hammering a nail into a board. Each of these can soothe and relax both the body and the mind. Art making is enlightening in that it gives us a window into ourselves, our perspectives, and what is important to us as reflected in our choice of subject matter, color scheme, design, and execution.

When we are making observational art- when we draw or paint something that is directly in front of us- there is a suspension of anxious ruminative thinking which is replaced by the focus of observation and the somewhat meditative experience of transposing the object into a work of art. When we sit and focus like this, we are practicing grounding as well as producing something that grounds us.  When the work is complete, we are able to see that art connects us to the outside world in as much as it provides a window into the process of how we connect with and express ourselves. One of the best parts about expressing yourself through art is that the painting, drawing, or sculpture is uniquely yours. You are completely free to say whatever you need or want to say, in whatever manner you choose. This can be extremely liberating and cathartic which also contributes to a sense of well being.

Lastly, it is interesting to consider what type of art you like to make. Do you enjoy making landscapes, portraits, trees, or abstract images? What is it about that imagery that draws your attention and energy? Which artists are you most interested in and why? Note how your work, regardless of the size or skill level involved, is creating a singular story (yours) as well as being an expression of the greater human experience.  I will leave you with this quote by the famous sculptor, Antony Gormley, on the ancient handprints found in caves around the world, “…it was never about the handprint, it was about the place where a hand once was.”

And this is why we need art in our lives.

 

By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP

 

Meditation – It’s for Every Mind!

What image comes to mind when you think of meditation? A Google image search for the word “meditation” yields countless photos of young, fit, blissed-out individuals sitting in full lotus position on mountaintops and beaches. Unfortunately, such cultural stereotypes have perpetuated a number of misconceptions about this ancient practice and lead many to assume meditation just isn’t for them. The truth is, meditation can be helpful for anyone who has a human mind!

Consider these signs that you’re in the ‘struggle zone’ as a human, and see if you recognize any of them:

  • Paying ATTENTION in a scattered way or failing to attend to what matters most to you;
  • Getting caught up in negative THINKING and believing your thoughts tell you how things really are;
  • FEELING tense and overwhelmed or numb and disconnected;
  • PERCEIVING your distressing thoughts and feelings as ‘the real you’ and letting them determine what you do next.

Chances are, you’ve experienced all of these from time to time. That’s because they’re a universal part of the human condition. What does this have to do with meditation? Meditation can be defined as a systematic mental training designed to challenge those habits of ATTENDING, THINKING, FEELING, and PERCEIVING. So it directly targets the natural but unhelpful tendencies of the mind, to free you from the ‘struggle zone’ and help you thrive.

The best part is, meditation works! And thanks to major advances in neuroscience over the past few decades, we now know how. Regular meditation practice changes the very structure and function of the brain at the neurological level. The enhanced connectivity and flexibility associated with new neuronal growth and branching in specific regions of the brain in response to meditation confer a host of empirically supported benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Improved focus
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Better mood
  • Enhanced sleep

Now, as with all healthy habits, including exercise and nutritious eating, a consistent commitment to the practice of meditation over time will yield the greatest benefits. (Notice the phrase “systematic mental training” from the definition of meditation presented earlier in this post.) It can be helpful to think of meditation as taking your mind to the gym to foster mental fitness, just as you would take your body to the gym to foster physical fitness. Going only once is unlikely to produce results, but going several times a week or even daily will put you on the fast track toward achieving your personal goals.

Many new meditators have trouble sticking with the practice. Some common concerns include not knowing if they’re “doing it right”, feeling like they don’t have enough time, being unsure about where to start, or believing they have to empty their mind of thoughts. These concerns are perfectly normal, and I’ll address each of them in a future blog post. For now, it’s important to note that a wide variety of readily available tips, tools, and techniques exist to set up even the most inexperienced of meditators for success. Let’s start with the fact that meditation doesn’t have to take a lot of time. As little as 3 minutes per day has been shown to begin the neurological restructuring of the brain. Try the following 3-minute mindful breathing meditation as an example. It will help you feel more grounded in the present moment while you practice noticing the sensations of breathing and allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go in the background.

3-Minute Mindful Breathing Meditation

. . .

. . .

. . .

How was that for you? What did you notice? Don’t worry if you had a hard time focusing on your breath. The untrained mind is like a puppy. It doesn’t sit still and stay for very long. But with gentle encouragement and regular training sessions, it will gradually learn how to settle, and you might even find it to be a welcome companion.

 

By Stephanie Best, PhD – Licensed Clinical Psychologist

We Finally Get It: Hindsight is 2020

Several years from now, in say 2028, a typical therapy session with Mike, a forty something struggling with anxiety and depression unfolds … Mike shares some of his overwhelming and distressing thoughts … “I should have known better, and just stayed at my job. It is so obvious that I made the wrong decision to start my own business and help out more with my kids. I am such an idiot.”  The therapist simply asks, “When did you make this decision?” Mike’s eyes smile with some resignation to the fact that it is not all his fault as he shakes his head and sighs, “2020.”

This past year – 2020 – highlights for us all so loudly and clearly like a flashing neon sign, YOU DO NOT AND CANNOT CONTROL EVERYTHING and THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER FACTORS than your poor decision-making and unsatisfactory abilities!

We humans look back on our lives – our relationships, our decisions, our actions and nonactions – to make sense of ourselves and our lives.  We yearn for a coherent narrative to give us a sense of meaning and purpose.  We attempt to create order and clarity in our lives by putting ourselves and others in neat little boxes labeled good/bad, success/failure, pretty/ugly.  And yes, we seek a sense of control over the good things and the bad things that happen so as to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.  So, we look back at times and reflect and examine.  Such is introspection and learning.  We try to get a different angle on the road taken.

Yet, that thinking process, especially when we are struggling with depression or anxiety, can quickly become an unhelpful, self-critical and ruminative path characterized by hindsight bias or “I knew it all along” thinking.  The expression “hindsight is 20/20” refers to hindsight bias or the idea that we can see things more clearly and accurately when we look back on it.  Hindsight bias or the idea that hindsight is 20/20 generally makes us feel like crud because it is not reflective of our lived reality.  The year 2020, however, really captures our lived reality, each of us living our very own horrific reality show.  We see how human we all are – scared, sad, creative, opinionated, effortful, moody, tired, angry, unsure, trying, trying, trying, failing, succeeding, irritable, isolated, grateful, loving, trying – and our vision is not 20/20 because we can’t go to the eye doctor!

If hindsight bias is coming up in our thinking, it reflects a struggle to concede to the fact that we simply have to live …to live the natural course of life which means there are mountains to climb and valleys to descend as well as hurricanes, fires, tornadoes…and viruses…to survive.  We cannot get rid of the storms or the viruses fast enough or even ever.  Remember, regardless of vaccines or herd immunity, there will always be viruses just like there will always be storms.  In storms or even when it is a clear day, we are better off driving our lives by looking mostly through the front windshield rather than the rearview mirror.

Thus, while there is a time and place for looking back and learning from our past – our successes and our failings – we ought to know now that Hindsight is 2020, not 20/20. The therapist can ask Mike and we can ask ourselves, “what did you learn in 2020?” rather than “why didn’t I see it right?”  Hindsight can impart a sense of understanding and appreciation for the fact that life is rocky terrain as we integrate our steps and missteps along the way.  As we end the year, let’s remind ourselves that we will have new vantage points from the mountains we climb in 2021, but that doesn’t mean we should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve in 2020.

 

By Ashley Bullock, PhD, Chief Psychology Officer