How Do I Hit the Reset Button for 2021?
Lisa and Reena kick off the new year with a look at positive psychology. What is it and how exactly does it work? How do you stay positive when things aren’t rosy? Reena asks about the psychology of manifesting. Does it really work? They also look at sadness and happiness. Lisa shares why the two emotions don't cancel each other out but, instead, often live side by side. In other words, the presence of negative does not mean the absence of positive. Lisa explains that what psychologists call "pleasure scheduling" can help boost mood and also covers the critical importance of our personal running narratives - or "self-talk." For Children Everywhere - Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is the nation’s top non-governmental founder of mental health research grants to scientists. Www.BBRFoundation.org
January 5, 2021 | 26 min
Transcript | How Do I Hit the Reset Button for 2021?
Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 21: How Do I Hit the Reset Button for 2021?
The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional
mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,
consult a physician or mental health professional.
REENA: It’s the new year!
LISA: Happy New Year, Reena.
REENA: I could not be more excited to see a new year.
LISA: I know, right? I mean have we ever been more thrilled to turn the calendar over?
REENA: Never. In the history of creation.
LISA: I know. I know. What a year this was last year. My goodness.
REENA: It’s like I don’t even want to talk about it. I’m so excited to see vaccines. I’m so excited. I’m going to probably take a vacation at some point this year, later in the year. I cannot wait. I think everyone just wants a fresh start.
LISA: Fresh start. Begin again. Renew. Start over.
REENA: And apparently our listeners do too. We got this letter, and it says: ‘Dear, Lisa. I want into get into the right mindset for the new year. I want to shake off all the negativity both for myself and for my kids from last year but it’s just so hard. I try to stay positive. How do I get to a better state mentally when I know the start of this year won’t be easy? I can’t pretend anymore. Any advice for hitting the reset button? What should I make a priority for good mental health? I love this question.
LISA: It’s a great one. It’s a perfect one to get us going into the year.
REENA: So, what do you think matters? It’s like a fresh slate. Let’s pretend fresh slate, starting over new. How do you do this to hit the reset button?
LISA: So, there is a whole area of my field called positive psychology and there is so much we can draw from that at this particular moment. So, one of the things that happened in the history of psychology is that the first 100 years, like basically from the second half of the nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century, we were entirely preoccupied with what we now call like the deficit model or the illness model. Like what’s wrong with people and how do we fix it? And then mid-twentieth century people were like, what if we start like looking at what’s right with people? What if we stop asking why are you ill? And instead ask people, why are you thriving? Like what helps you thrive? And you know it seems so obvious in retrospect that’s a really worthy question but it was pretty radical at the time. And so that actually, I think, is a great pivot to make as we move into 2021, right? To move away from this idea of like, okay how do we survive? How do we survive? Into this idea of how do we thrive? Even while we wait for more life to come back to us, more familiar joys to come back to us, what can we do to thrive in the meantime?
REENA: I love that. More familiar joys. Because how do you really stay positive, Lisa, when you know the reality as this mother is saying, you know, the end of the pandemic is still far away.
LISA: Okay this is such cool stuff, like I love this stuff, so one of the real aha moments in the world of positive psychology was to start to appreciate that negative and positive experiences and negative and positive moods don’t belong on the same continuum. So. what I mean is, we started on the field thinking, oh if people are low and down you have to remove the problem, or fix the problem, and then they will get a boost like they’ll move from negative to positive. And what we came to appreciate is no, these operate independently. That negative experiences and positive experiences can actually coexist side by side and they do all the time and they both influence mood simultaneously. Okay.
REENA: I hate the negative stuff. I need more positive, like how do I get to the positive side?
LISA: Exactly. So, if we really lean into this way of thinking, we stop saying I can’t feel better, I can’t feel happy until the pandemic’s over, right? That’s really taking that view of like, until you remove the negative, I’m not going to feel better and we start thinking okay the negative is right there. It’s still right there and my goodness it may still buy it be right there for several more months but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to have a good time and enjoy ourselves. And I’ll give you an example of how we talk about this in taking care of our patients and our clients but for a long time the treatment of depression was, okay we got to get you out of your depression and we’re going to use therapy, we can use meds, we’ve got all these options and the innovation in this, and it’s such a weird name, like we sometimes we come up with like really like not useful names for things, this is what we call it pleasure scheduling.
REENA: What? The what?
LISA: Like I can’t even tell teenagers, like we need to do some pleasure scheduling. Of course you can imagine the looks on their faces.
REENA: Very dirty, Lisa.
LISA: Very dirty, but that’s what we call it. I actually had this conversation with a teenager I’m like, okay this is the term we use. It’s super weird. And then I was like can we call it like joy planning? And she’s like, no that’s weird too. I don’t know what to call it, but the idea is, and this is part of how we take care of people who are suffering from depression, to get them to stop thinking, I can’t do anything fun until I feel better and to get them to start thinking, I’m going to put stuff on my calendar that could be fun or that I can enjoy or that I can look forward to and what we find is it helps to lift their mood.
REENA: So literally what you’re saying to me is I need to make time, is it like once a week? Every day? Saying this is my block of 30 minutes, it’s my pleasure scheduling time, I’m going to do something.
LISA: Come up with a better name.
REENA: I quite like this pleasure scheduling. I might have to tell my husband, I’m going to be alone in my room pleasure scheduling.
LISA: Yeah, and he’ll be like, okay this is super weird.
REENA: I’ll be really reading a book and being alone but there you go. So, you have to make time for something you really enjoy doing is what you’re saying?
LISA: Yes. You have to do it, and you can do it once a day. You can do it once a week. And I think it will be different scale things. So once a day, honestly for me right now, Reena, it’s my after-dinner decaf coffee with really nice chocolate. Like I love that and I make a whole thing of it and I sit there. That is my daily, I can’t even call the pleasure-scheduling, Reena, like I’ve got to come up with something, but that’s my daily.
REENA: So you do it every day?
LISA: I do a little one every day?
REENA: And like how many minutes is it usually?
LISA: I don’t know, 10 minutes? I mean it’s nothing huge.
REENA: And even 10 minutes is enough?
LISA: Well yeah because I look forward to it all day and let’s come back to that. But then like here’s a big one, I live in Cleveland, as you know, and we have the Cleveland Institute of Art, and their faculty exhibition is on right now and you can make an appointment to go see. It’s free. I’m going to do it at the end of this week. It goes through January 29th for all the locals, and I am so looking forward to it and I’m going to put on real pants and I’m going to drive in my car all by myself. I’m going alone. I’m so happy, and you know someone meets me there and I go in and it’s very contained, very safe, and this is the part I want to get back to, I am looking forward to it. And so, another cool piece of research that informs all of this is research on vacations. And what we find, and people study vacations, the joy, I can’t use the word pleasure, the joy in the vacation is relatively short lived. What you get out of it in addition to the fun you had on the vacation is looking forward to it and then also thinking back on it. That getting to have the memories is huge and one thing I’m really conscious of as I’m looking forward to my little visit to look at this exhibition is I also need more mental variety. One of the challenges I’m finding is it’s easy to feel bored right now.
REENA: Yeah. But what do you do? There’s not very many options, right? For people?
LISA: Well so in terms of like putting stuff on your calendar that’s fun, that’s what I’m gonna call it, what I would say to people is crowd source this in your community. You know hop online, whatever social media your community uses, and ask people what fun things are you coming up with in the community? People are finding things, you know little places to go for safe wine tastings, you know things like, and find out what people are up to, and there’s also stuff I think at the national level. I heard about someone who’s doing a fundraiser that involves logging running miles and it’s turned into a little neighborhood competition, and so those kinds of things, that creativity has to come back to us so that we have things that we’re you know looking forward to on our calendars and that we’re doing and that bring variety but that the real take home here, Reena, is this will improve mood side by side with negative events continuing. This does not cancel out the negative events. This does not mean we’re ignoring the negative events. It means we are remembering that the presence of negative doesn’t have to mean the absence of positive.
REENA: That is powerful. Just because you have negative doesn’t mean you can also have positive. I love that.
LISA: Yep. Absolutely.
REENA: So let me tell you something. I have been following J-Lo’s Instagram feed. She has a new beauty line out and she keeps saying something she always believes in, sort of saying this, I don’t remember the exact words, but she wakes up in the morning and says, I am timeless. I am youthful. I am powerful. It’s something along those lines and it reminded me when I covered the funeral of Muhammad Ali everyone kept talking about how he kept saying, I’m the greatest and I remember growing up, you know, here he goes again, here that guy goes again, but I realized at his funeral all these people were talking about how that really helped him in in his matches, in the ring, outside the ring, when he faced obstacles. Does manifestation really work? Is there research, why are you laughing? Is there research on manifestation?
LISA: No there’s no research on manifestation?
LISA: Because psychologists are snobs. That’s why. Certainly, academic psychologists are snobs, so no. I know manifesting is increasingly being widely discussed and so here’s the reality, the academic psychologist in me is like, looking down my nose like, oh my goodness, right? Like we don’t study things like manifesting. Okay the rest of me is like, oh hello academic psychologist, we totally believe in manifesting in psychology, we just call it something else. We have our own terminology for it. So, what we call it is something like self-talk, and we’re interested in self talk. And basically, it’s like our running narratives about who we are and what our lives are like, and they’re really powerful. So yeah, totally powerful, but this is like this really well-worn path and academic psychology, which is if we didn’t make it up, we have no respect for it, and this totally happened with the mind-body connection. You know sort of in the 60s and 70s there was all of this emerging stuff, you know, certainly from around the world, but coming out of California, and I am not proud of this is an academic psychologist, but for decades we were like, no, no. No, no, no, no. That’s not science, right? And then of course it all turns out to be true and it all turned out to be really well-established by research.
REENA: So, what do you mean by the mind-body connection and these manifestations? What does the research say? Does it work?
LISA: So, mind-body connection, which is different from manifestation. I took us a little long around the round the bend. Min-body connection is basically that what’s going on for us physically powerfully drives our mental state. So, I mean it seems so, it’s so accepted and so obvious now, but you know things like getting a good night’s sleep and I think now all the work around gut health has become really powerful and interesting. So, you know that idea that you know you can’t feel well mentally if you don’t feel well physically and then you know I mean just really cultivating and nourishing that. Okay but manifestation, which we call self-talk, is basically thinking about the kind of the running internal monologues we have about our lives and how things are going.
REENA: Like what you say to yourself, what you believe?
LISA: Yeah, and again usually when we look at the trajectory of how we come to understand these things in psychology, we typically start in what we call pathology, like where it’s not working, and then we kind of get more interested in where it is working. So in pathology in depression and anxiety, people’s running internal monologues tend to be pretty negative, right? Like see, I always mess things up or, oh see I can’t handle anything, or oh see nothing ever goes my way. So, it’s interesting because it’s almost like negative manifesting. You know sort of deciding it’s going to be like this and I’m just going to name it, and what you’re describing is positive self-talk, or positive manifesting, which is deciding, having an internal monologue. So, if you go to Muhammad Ali or like, I’m the greatest, right? Which is obviously quite arrogant. He happened to be able to back it up, but what where positive self-talk really helps, is first of all if it’s accurate. So, it does have to be accurate. So, for Ali and what he did he did in fact turn out to be accurate. It’s not going to help someone who still has a lot of room to grow in their skills to be like, I’m the greatest, right? So, it has to be in line with reality. But what’s cool, and this is where you know J-Lo’s approach and Muhammad Ali’s approaches, the self-talk, how we speak to ourselves, is step one in a really powerful chain of events. So, when Muhammad Ali says, I’m the greatest and he boosts his confidence like that. Or J-Lo, what what’s hers? What did she say?
REENA: You know I don’t remember the exact words but something about, I am timeless. I am youthful, powerful. Something along those lines. I remember her exact words but essentially manifesting what she believes in herself, right?
LISA: Okay so like a personal pep talk right. So, they start the day with that, and then what it does is it sets them on a course of behavior and activity. So, when, let’s imagine J-Lo’s having a hard day and something’s getting in her way, and then she reminds herself, oh I’m powerful and she summons internal energy to manage that problem because she reminded herself that she’s powerful. So now she’s managed the problem, which actually reinforces her sense of herself as someone who’s powerful, and her day’s going better, and it really starts to throw itself into high relief if we consider the opposite, which is like so what if you woke up every morning or a depressed person woke up every morning saying like, I’m powerless. I can’t make anything happen. Then the day starts to go badly and they’re like, see, there it is. I can’t make anything happen, right? Everything’s out of my control, and so it’s not, the words are important, but they’re they really get their force from the chain of events that get sets in motion in terms of you know when we talk about a pep talk, the goal of a pep talk is to then get you to do something and to get you to change your behavior. One thing I will say, and I should be I may be more embarrassed about this, I have noticed in the pandemic especially but I kind of do it all the time, I will cheer myself on it points in the day.
REENA: Really? Like what? What do you say to yourself?
LISA: I will say out loud like, okay you’re doing it. You’re doing it. You’ve got it.
LISA: Yeah. Or like sometimes if I’m feeling a little frantic, I’ll say out loud, okay slow down. Slow down. You’ve got this. You’ve got this and I do it literally out loud.
LISA: Yeah, and it’s become something I just kind of, I’m just going with it because it does seem to help in the moment, but it’s that idea of saying the words that set the behavior down a particular path.
REENA: But what do you mean? Like you’re giving yourself a pep talk and I’m saying, oh my gosh the dishes aren’t done, oh my gosh they have no pj’s to wear tonight. I haven’t a laundry, and then I suddenly feel so overwhelmed because they’re all these things that I need to do that looking around and I’m just drowning.
LISA: Yeah, and I’m not saying you have to be, you know, like saccharine, like super, you know, like, yay dishes, I mean you don’t have to be that way about it but the framing we use in psychology, that the language you use is this idea of schema. It’s, you know, we always have to come up with a new word in our vocabulary to just describe basic things like beliefs about the self or beliefs about the world, but we use schema to say that. And so, what matters, Reena, is the schema that you have built out around the laundry and the dishes and you can, you know, we all get to vent but then is your schema, okay there’s a lot of laundry. There’s a lot of dishes. I know how to mobilize my team to help me manage this. Or there’s a lot of laundry. There’s a lot of dishes. Oh man, I always get left holding the bag. I’m always the one who has to do this stuff.
LISA: And that’s where you just see, you know, the paths divide, and it goes in two very different directions, and so what’s really awesome, like the mind is awesome, what’s awesome as we think about starting 2021 is to remember that how we think about things can shape our experience. We are not at the mercy of events. They can be bad, but we can think of them in one way or another.
REENA: That’s powerful. That’s really powerful, that in our head we can sort of shape our trajectory. Just by the positive things that we think but, you know. Obviously, there’s it’s not easy in this moment. What do you find really works, you know, when you’re trying to get that uplift if you can’t think of something fun to do, you know, what else can you do?
LISA: For me personally, it’s people. When I get grumpy, and I have, I mean 2020 was, was for me, a very grumpy year compared to most years, and I know I’m not alone in that. When I get grumpy, it’s actually talking to someone I like. You know talking to someone who’s a friend or someone I love. So I’ve been a lot more like hopping on the phone just calling people and checking in. One thing that can feel really corny but is worth considering, is to appreciate that what gives everybody a boost is also very individual very specific to, you know, some people that might be like, no I’m not calling anybody. That’s the last thing I would do. I would like a grab a magazine and go get in bed. When we’re feeling good, it’s not an altogether bad idea to make a list. You know and just keep it in your phone.
LISA: You know what are your bumps? Like what gives you a little extra, you know, kind of lift in your mood. Sometimes for me I’ll like have an extra cup of coffee, and actually, Reena, coffee and mood are very closely connected.
LISA: Yeah. I mean I know there’s limits on how much coffee you’re supposed to have but what we see is that, in people who drink lots of coffee their mood tends to be pretty high, and so I will sometimes be, I don’t know. Should I do it? Should I do it? Because I can then push into like almost manically frantic in my activity, but for me it’s a huge mood boost. So, I would actually say that everyone might reflect for a minute, like what are your mood boosts? And sometimes it can be small things like lighting a scented candle. You know that those just can put us in a different place in our minds, and make a little list on your phone off like quick mood boosts or longer mood boosts and sometimes it really is fun to get in bed in the middle of the day with a book. You know under the covers.
LISA: Totally fun. So, there are still things we can do, like looking at pretty things, right? I mean there’s, it’s sometimes beautiful to just go look at websites of images, and the reason that it might be worth it to make a little list when you’re feeling good is, often by the time you’re grumpy it’s hard to think of those things.
REENA: Ah, so you’ve got to go to like, I love matcha lattes, like having that to look forward to.
REENA: I didn’t realize until you mentioned it today that having that is sort of what motivates me throughout the day to push through but having that little something can really help.
LISA: Yep, and you can do it in a pandemic and we can keep going. So that’s another thing that, you know, might be worth crowdsourcing, like what are people doing that gives them a bump? Like what makes them happy? And we’re getting more creative out of sheer necessity at this point.
REENA: But what about sadness really quickly? Like you say they both live together, right? Do you have to also acknowledge that?
LISA: Yeah, like we’re sad too. We’re sad too. So, one way to approach this is to remember that feeling sad about some things and feeling happy about other things can live, they’re neighbors. You don’t have to choose one. They can live side by side. The other is to remember that the way painful emotions work is that if we let ourselves have them, we tend to work our way through them, and so as we continue to suffer losses in 2021, I think we have to really prepare ourselves for that. As excited as people are about 2021, there’s still stuff, I mean kids’ graduations may go out the window, you know fun spring concerts, or something the parents were looking forward to, like those things may go out the window. Make space for that sadness. For yourself. For your kid. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Don’t try to talk your kid out of it. Don’t treat it like pity don’t, you know, like self-pitying behavior. Treat it as the right feeling at the right time. Set aside time to be sad or allow yourself to be sad. Don’t fight the sadness is I guess what I would say. You can’t like do it on a clock I guess. And accept empathy for it. Give empathy for other people’s sadness, and really think about it almost like a tunnel that you move through. Like, oh I just entered the sadness tunnel. Here I am, I’m feeling it. I’m feeling it. Or here I am. I’m helping my kid through it, and the feeling it is actually the work of progressing through the tunnel, and I think that image is very different from the one that prevails about painful emotions where we think like, oh you’re going get stuck in a pit of despair and someone’s got to pull you out. No, no, no. You feel the feeling and presuming otherwise psychological health, right? The absence of depression or something like that, feeling the feeling is actually something that just sort of chugs along through that tunnel and having felt it you come out the other side. Your kid comes out the other side. So, be sad. Let your kids be sad. Don’t fight it. Work your way through it. And then also schedule something fun to do later.
REENA: I love it and I love the manifestations because we just celebrate your big 50th birthday in November and I’m realizing you and J-Lo have something in common: amazing skin and in the pandemic, turning the clocks back and both of you are manifesting.
LISA: Well, there we are. But don’t tell any of my colleagues in academic psychology that I’m manifesting. I am self-talking. Reena, I am self-talking.
REENA: Self talking. Self-talking it is. Well, ‘m going to keep telling myself 2021 is going to be the best year yet. 2021 is going to be the next year yet.
LISA: Okay. Well, they you go. Self-talk all day long, Reena.
REENA: Happy new year, my friend.
LISA: Happy new year. All right. What do you have for For Children Everywhere?
REENA: So we’ve got the Brain and Behavior Foundation, which is an organization that’s committed to mental illness and its awarding grants to scientists to help the research 100 percent of every dollar goes to their research, so check it out bbrfoundation(dot)(org).
LISA: That’s perfect for today.
REENA: I love it. I absolutely love it. I think it’s great to support scientists. So, tell me, what do you have for the start of the new year for parenting to go?
LISA: Okay, so keeping with this theme that the presence of the negative doesn’t have to mean the absence of the positive. What I want everyone to watch out for in themselves and their kids is what psychologists call all or nothing thinking. So, we will continue to accrue losses in 2021 and when your kids’ spring concert gets canceled and they’re like, oh man. I’ve been working so hard for that for so long and I can’t have it, and nothing is good. Give them room to be sad and then help them come up with something that’s second best, or good enough, and I think we really have to be open to that idea that just because we can’t have it just the way we had in mind, doesn’t mean we can’t do something, and it may not be great but it could be good enough, and that’s what we want to go for as we start to move hopefully, hopefully back into life as we remember it. That for a while we’re going to have to ride on good enough until we can get back to great.
REENA: That is a great way to start the new year. I’ll see you next week.
LISA: See you next week.
REENA: Thanks so much, Lisa, and for more information on some the things we talk about the podcast be sure to check out our show notes also follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at (@)asklisapodcast.