Habits that Make Us Happy: Understanding Hope
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 13, 2020 exercise for gratitude, hope, Understanding Hope0 comments
When looking for the definition of hope, it’s difficult to find merely one answer. Throughout the history of psychology, there have been numerous attempts to define hope. Hope is a human universal, and being universal, it falls into an interesting paradox; while all people experience hope, each individual’s experience is personal, intimate, and unique. Because there are so many ways to subjectively experience hope, it is useful to have a universal definition that can be implemented across all experiences that call for hope. Positive psychology offers us a lens through which we can view this complex, yet essential, human experience.
Those who have made it out of the depths of despair and difficulty know that hope is much deeper than a simple desire: it is a deep longing in our heart for a better future. An understanding of hope allows us to cultivate better emotional health.
In psychology, hope has been given many definitions. The most comprehensive definition of hope is, ‘‘a process of anticipation that involves the interaction of thinking, acting, feeling, and relating, and is directed toward a future fulfillment that is personally meaningful (Stephenson, 1991).’’ It is not just a feeling, but a system of thoughts, feelings, and actions that bring us into the future while creating that future. Hope is a healthy habit that involves our will and our emotions. Hope can be practiced and developed. We might not always feel the emotion of hope, but these are the times when we truly have to choose to be hopeful.
Charles Richard Snyder developed Hope Theory which defines hope as “the perceived capability to develop pathways to desired goals and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways (Snyder, 2002).” Developing pathways refers metaphorically to the ability to read a map and to find the best route to a destination. Agency refers to the actual desire, driving ability, and confidence needed to reach that location. Taken together, these create a sense of positive future outlook. This concept of hope has been consistently validated by psychological study.
In recent studies in the field of positive psychology, research on hope has blossomed. Christopher Peterson is one of the founders of the movement and he explains, “Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living (Peterson, 2008).” Positive psychology studies human strengths and virtues in order to better understand how we can promote human flourishing. In positive psychology, hope is defined as, “expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about (Parks, Peterson, Seligman, 2004).”
Hope is particularly important for human flourishing, and there is a tremendous amount of research to support this concept. In fact, hope has been found to be one of the two-character strengths most associated with life satisfaction and well-being(Gander, Hofmann, Proyer, Ruch, 2019) (Zhang, Chen, 2018) (Martinez-Martini, Ruch, 2014). Hopeful people are less likely to suffer from anxiety or stress disorders (Arnau, Gallagher, 2018) (Long, Gallagher, 2018), and if they do become anxious, those feelings tend not to overwhelm them. Researchers found that in a group of student athletes, higher levels of hope predicted superior classroom achievements. On top of that, hope predicted superior athletic achievements, and did so beyond various psychological states (self-esteem, mood, and confidence), amount of time practiced, and natural athletic talent (Curry, Snyder, Cook, Ruby, Rehm, 1997). Similarly, in a group of first-year law students, researchers found that hope significantly predicted better academic performance. Additionally, the same measures of hope predicted greater life satisfaction at the end of the first semester (Rand, Martin, Shea, 2011). Showing just how much of an impact hope can have on students, a 3-year long study of hope and academic achievement found that hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor Wood, 2010). Individuals high in hope tend to perceive obstacles as less stressful, are quicker to rebound from obstacles, and demonstrate resilience in response to challenging circumstances (Snyder, 2002).
So, what can you do to increase your hope? The answer is short and simple: be grateful. A recent study found that a brief gratitude-related writing intervention significantly improved the participants’ state of hope and happiness. Raising awareness of the good outcomes already present in our lives can uniquely inspire hope for future good outcomes and also make us happier (Witvliet, Richie, Luna, Tongeren, 2018)! The greatest opportunity to foster gratitude is in the present moment. Taking time to be mindful of the unique people, events, and highlights of your day provides an opportunity to step into gratitude.
Having hope is like creating a healthy relationship with the future. It requires thoughtfulness, and at times, a bit of work. It involves being able to identify pathways to achieve our desired future, and the ability to pursue those pathways. Hope is not something that happens to us: it is something that we practice. It is something that we strengthen, develop, and grow. In short, hope is a habit that makes us happy.
If you’d like to cultivate hope today, take a minute to try this exercise. First, think of a hope you have for the future. Now, reflect on a time in your past when you had hoped for an outcome, and your hope was fulfilled. You could do this in your head, on a piece of paper, or on your phone. Write about what you learned through having this past hope fulfilled in your life. As you reflect on this experience of hope, identify and name what you are grateful for and to whom you are grateful (Witvliet, et.al. 2018).
By: John Paul Dombrowski Counseling Intern
Curry, L. A., Snyder, C. R., Cook, D. L., Ruby, B. C., & Rehm, M. (1997). Role of hope in academic and sport achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(6), 1257-1267. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2067
Day, L., Hanson, K., Maltby, J., Proctor, C., & Wood, A. (2010). Hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(4), 550-553. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2010.05.009
Gander, F., Hofmann, J., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2019). Character strengths – Stability, change, and relationships with well-being changes. Applied Research in Quality of Life. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-018-9690-4
L.J. Long, M.W. Gallagher Hope and posttraumatic stress disorder M.W. Gallagher, S.J. Lopez (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Hope, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2018), pp. 233-242
Martinez-Marti, M. L., & Ruch, W. (2014). Character strengths and well-being across the life span: data from a representative sample of German-speaking adults living in Switzerland. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1253. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01253
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of social and Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 603-619.
Peterson, C. (2008, May 16). What Is Positive Psychology, and What Is It Not? Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not
R.C. Arnau Hope and anxiety M.W. Gallagher, S.J. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Hope, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2018), pp. 233-242
Rand, K. L., Martin, A. D., & Shea, A. M. (2011). Hope, but not optimism, predicts academic performance of law students beyond previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(6), 683-686. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.08.004
Snyder, C. R. (2002). TARGET ARTICLE: Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249-275. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli1304_01
Stephenson, C. (1991). The concept of hope revisited for nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 16,
Witvliet, C. V., Richie, F. J., Luna, L. M., & Tongeren, D. R. (2018). Gratitude predicts hope and happiness: A two-study assessment of traits and states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(3), 271-282. doi:10.1080/17439760.2018.1424924
Zhang, Y., & Chen, M. (2018). Character strengths, strengths use, future self-continuity and subjective well-being among Chinese university students. Frontiers in Psychology, 29. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01040Learn More
Peak Experiences Positive Psychology for Awe and Wellness
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 28, 2019 enhancing joy, how to be happy, peak experiences, what is a peak experience0 comments
When was the last time that you peaked? Felt the exaltation of true bliss, the innocent delirium of fulfilling pleasure uplifting your consciousness to a reality shift? A peak experience is the kind of long lasting joy which is available to all of us, when we have our minds right, our goals aligned, and our peace on high priority. It goes something like this, set off for a late spring trek in the forest, you spent weeks researching the best trails in your area, and when the day happens that you experience it the whole day is soberingly magical. From the sunlit sky which illuminates all of the most ethereal mountains you contemplate the echo of time which has carved out these vistas, each vivid magenta blossom unfolding in the balmy breeze surrounding you is subject to your endless curiosity. A part of you falls in love with the panorama around you, you feel your heart rate increase and the energy coursing through your blood in a way that inspires excitement, enthusiasm, and wonder. You have arrived my friend, you are peaking, and even sustaining your life, rewinding your biological clock, and serving yourself for years to come with the newly created memory of this amazing experience. Answer this question, what was your last peak experience?
How peak experiences serve us
Having peak experiences are important for longevity, vitality, and bliss. Science backs this up, the field of positive psychology looks at how peak experiences serve us. Originally discussed by Abraham Maslow, he defined peak experiences to be the off shoot of a self-actualized persons capacity for enrichment and joy. Now, science take this a step further to study how they high-jack the layers of our cortex’s capacity for embedding memories and serving as the anchors upon which the healthiest of us define our lifelines. According to research featured in Time Magazine by Beirut neuroscientist Arne Dietrich when experiencing a peak moment, there is a change in the way our brains operate, we gain greater attention and even wonder in exchange for the usually flow of optimal energy.
The very pathway to desiring to go on the exotic trip to Tokyo, getting the MBA, reconnect with the long lost friend begins to create greater joy at the onset of imagining the experience. Unless of course you suffer from myopic thinking as associated with depression, or the motivation dampening effects of anxiety which are illustrated when imagining what it feels like when your imagination wanders to some new experience and you can see only the possible perils or failures, in which case your first step toward bliss might be reaching out to a therapist near you.
When we are peaking, we are as the great spiritual leaders like Buddha encourage us to be, we are not thinking of yesterday or fearing tomorrow, we are in the now, fully within the moment, completely submerged in our attention to what is around us. It is not just an individual journey either, within healthy relationships we notice the tendency for couples to recount the narratives of the last best novel joy that they have experienced together, instead of the counter tendency to rehash the last unprocessed argument.
What are peak experiences but those moments that earmark the years, they define the decades of our one earthly life. It’s the wind whipping in your hair while sailing the boat on the Chesapeake, it’s boldly dashing through the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon, its deepening your meditation practice and the upturned moment of full arm suspension in a yoga headstand. While nature is a great ‘one upper’ when it comes to peaking, let’s face it the grandeur of the great outdoors is seldom matched by man made creations, including the benefits of forest bathing, but there are still other ways to get to the top of our emotional climate.
Falling in love is often cited as a powerful interpersonal peak experience. The experiences that will lead to a peak are different for everyone. You can find it by asking yourself this, ‘what really makes you feel tuned in?’ Whatever path you take to get to your peak, research recommends that creating more opportunities for peak experiences in our lives leads to enhanced happiness, enthusiasm, and even motivation. Thinking that you do not have time for peak, you have deadlines and day care to get to, well then you my friend, need a peak experience the most. The fact is that by prioritizing meaningful joy, we enhance our energy and motivation to achieve other tasks, remember in the words of Stephen King, ‘All work and no play makes jack a dull, dull, boy.’ The act of striving toward bliss accumulates and accelerates our good vibes as we gear up to approach our experience, then the great act of doing what makes us happy will later become memories which can be relived at leisure. We, as living breathing animals aware of our well-being, require the opportunity to define ourselves by wonder, to celebrate our capacity for joy by honoring our awe over the humdrum monotony of routine, fear, and disappointment.
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh-Monroeville
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh-Wexford
Integrative Wellness Group & Cardio for the Soul
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 22, 2018 clinical herbalist, kinesiology, psychology, resolutions, wellness0 comments
Get in Motion: Move Through Life with Us
Integrative Wellness Group & Cardio for the Soul
Seeking individuals who have been wanting to utilize the effects of fitness to achieve greater physical and emotional health but have been feeling stuck in the process. Melissa Taylor is a licensed therapist and kinesiologist – trained and dedicated to help you to overcome the barriers that have prevented you from implementing your wellness and fitness regime. Collaborate with us to learn the principles of fun and fitness and get unstuck and on to a healthy, whole, and more well you!
Location: Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh (830 Western Ave., 15233)
Group Sessions: Sunday’s, 9-11am
Start Date: February 25th, 2018
Services: Traditional Group Therapy paired with Physical Fitness
50 min. Cardio Session
50 min. Group Therapy Session
Wellness Group: Positive Psychology focuses on what makes your life valuable and worth living. These evidence-based techniques are offered in a group session by learning to utilize behavioral activation. These techniques will equip you to become motivated, carrying you beyond psychological and imagined barriers to achieving your goals.
Physical Fitness Description: A combination of cardio, dance, and strength-based exercises to improve overall health and wellness. Exercise has been shown to decrease negative mental health symptoms while rebuilding self-esteem and improving overall happiness. No prior experience needed.
The benefits of wellness peer groups coupled with group exercise are innumerable. There is power within numbers, enjoy the benefit of enhanced support networks and trusted sounding boards. Exercising with others builds motivation, accountability, and positive support. Wellness Group Members will offer specific ideas for improving difficult situations or life challenges, as well as help put problems into perspective. Members share how they overcame certain issues or relate to the stress of current issues. It increases motivation and courage when you can achieve fitness goals with others and knowing that you’re not alone.
10 sessions-$425.00 (packages must be used in 6 months)
Intake Required for each participant (60 mins/$85.00)
Medical Release Form Required to start group
Please call to set up an Intake Session with Melissa Taylor, LMFT, MS
As a separate service, we also have a nutritionist on staff to offer health assessments, meal planning, to help you to achieve your nutrition and dietary goals.
*All services are Out of Pocket, using cash, credit, debit card, or HSA, No Insurance Accepted at this time
Mindfulness in Motion, Moving Beyond Anxiety
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 14, 2016 counseling, mindfulness, psychology, psychotherapy, wellness0 comments
Mindfulness in Motion, Moving Beyond Anxiety
“Now days everyone replaces their emotions with Fear” Paulo Coelho
How much of our joy, our comfort, our desire do we replace with the sensation of fear and anxiety? We gain the promotion but then immediately start to wonder how will we maintain it; will we have the time required to devote to our new station? We buy the house but before we even close on it we start to panic about lawn care, taxes, the neighbors seemed a bit odd. After 3 years of the single life we meet the perfect partner but obsess nervously about whether they have called or texted back, do they like us, are we saying the right things? If any of this sounds familiar then please read on.
Often our tendency toward fearful or anxious thinking is so ingrained that we often don’t even realize that what we are experiencing is anxiety in action, perhaps we notice only that we feel bad, sad, hopeless, always keyed up and hyper aware. or maybe riddled with physical sickness. Often when we are adrift in the gravity of this emotional process we may simply think that we are mulling about the possibilities or that we are preventing these bad things from happening by considering them beforehand. The concern is that when we think so deeply about all of the possible negative crisis’s and downfalls that could happen in the future we are zapping ourselves of the opportunity to enjoy the peace and pleasantness of our joys now. We become so fixated on how we will acclimate to the managerial position that the joy and triumph of our promotions victory loses the wind from its sails before the ship leaves the port. This is one of the reasons that anxiety and depression are often co-mingled, anxiety is a feeling state which effects our perception, when we ruminate over the unrealized possibilities around each and every corner depression is often a natural out cursor.
If this is a somewhat familiar song and dance to you, then you may want to try some of these mindful tips to help reduce stress or anxiety.
- Become reflective of your mind’s process, that means mindfully noticing that you’re in an anxious thought cycle as it is happening. Mindfulness is a fantastic tactic in forming awareness of your psychological and emotional process which is the best first step toward change.
- When in an anxious state practice self-soothing, Imagine for a minute all of the situations that you have worried about that have never in fact happened, this is the equivalent of the self-soothing mantra, “everything will be ok.”
- Be patient with yourself. We sometimes get so crafty with our worrying that we then beginning worrying about the fact that we are worrying. No need to add an extra layer of anger, guilt or shame because you are noticing that you are worrying or fearful, remember that these thoughts shall pass as all thoughts and feeling states do. In fact, in a recent study published in psych central, the most helpful statement that one can make to a person experiencing anxiety or panic is that “this will pass, just as all feelings pass.”
- Psychotherapy, there are many forms of therapy which can help, commonly popular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an excellent intervention to make progress in changing maladaptive thought patterns.
May the best of luck and preparation guide you on your journey!
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh and Monroeville
Contributed by Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
830 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
“Peace Out Happiness; Why letting go of Happy may make us more Healthy!”
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 9, 2016 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, popular culture, psychology, wellness, wisdom0 comments
“Peace Out Happiness; Why letting go of Happy may make us more Healthy ”
In psychology, in pop culture, in our songs and movies, our social media, we hear words and anthems which suggest that all the world is happy or in search of happy. “Happy” is the new salvation, happiness is quantified, we travel the globe, move our homes and families, friends coach each other through break ups by saying things like “it’s for the best, you weren’t happy.” We take pills, we change directions, we do it all on the quest for the place where we can experience this Holy Grail. Happy is one of those feeling states kind of like love, it means something a slightly different to everyone. What most people mean when they say that they are feeling happy is really more of an ecstatic sensation brought on from external stimulation. We eat, we shop, we serial date, and we orgasm our way into euphoric happy but it’s likely that it’s never enough because this happy is always fleeting leaving us with the notion that something is missing, so begin cycle again, more eating, more shopping, more dating and on and on. Perhaps even most of all, notice the way we judge ourselves or lapse into despair when we inevitably come crashing into the notion that perhaps we are not “happy,” we feel like a failure at life, imagining that everyone else has some secret to being that we have not. Yet maybe, just maybe we are ok just as we are without all of the trappings of that five letter word.
Our proverbial quest changes the moment that we notice that these fleeting sensations are the cheap imitation version of long standing peace. We have been tricked, happiness is a fallacy, balloons bursting, drum roll stopping, external states of joy or daft manic amusements are no place by which to chart the life map. In the misguided journey, happiness will always be a place ahead, sometime in the future looming on a distant horizon. “After the promotion, after the next high dollar sports car, when I graduate school, after we are married, when our first child is born.” Happiness, peace, a space where we can stop and take a breath, the life marker where the “aha’ moment presents itself and the final sense of accomplishment graces our countenance. Be cautious traveler, searching for the treasure trove called happiness will throw off the compass, encouraging the bypassing of eternal states such as peace and serenity which are by far more sustainable emotional destinations.
We can nurture peace when we are living our life in balance, hard things will present themselves but we will assimilate and understands those things and we will allow them to pass by in their right time. Happiness can’t be sustained through the weathers of lost jobs, parking tickets, gossip mongers, accidents and hurtles but serenity, the far more virtuoso milestone can. Yet we know there will be days when happiness will stop by, she will sit down for an afternoon visit, we will always enjoy entertaining her but we know that she must ever move along on her Sunday drive, and we respect this, never demanding that she remain seated for yet another serving of our crumpets, frantic in our fears that the lovely face of happiness may never come again. That which we allow to come and go freely shall remain yet that to which we cling will forever suffocate and seek to escape us.
Our sense of serenity, the little kernel of you which is based upon confidence in personal integrity, the security which knows that whatever may come will be handled with wisdom, we are seasoned captains of our own vessel, when we notice that we have veered into some familiar or odd storm ridden sea which challenges our equilibrium and decimates our sense of peace, fear seizes the cloaked night as we are cradled in the turbulent arms of high winds and sea sprays, white knuckled grasping the helm. The captain allows the winds to die down and high seas ebb away without disturbing his peace.
Storms happen, life happens but peace can remain even in the midst of change, chaos, destruction. Peace is more profound than euphoria, more enduring than pleasure and more tangible than happy. Perhaps the flower children of the 60’s had something right with their peace mantra, maybe we can find a way to come back to that, when we make our life goals, our relationship goals, when we weigh and assess how we are living our life, maybe rather than ask, “am I happy?” or “were we happy together?” “will this new job make me happy?” maybe a better question to ask, “is this allowing me to hold on to my sense of peace?”
Peace and Love…
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Contributed by Stephanie McCracken MSPC
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
50 Wellness Keys To Happiness
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 1, 2016 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, wellness, wisdom0 comments
50 Wellness Keys to Living a Happy Healthy Life
Our therapists and wellness gurus have compiled a list of 50 happiness keys- Be Well PGH!
- Make peace with your past.
- Have faith in the future.
- Find love for everyone but love some very deeply, this may require learning how to love and feel.
- Forgive yourself, forgive others, especially those who have not asked for it.
- Trust yourself and honor your feelings, feelings will guide you if you let them.
- Find a passion, something that makes you feel alive, practice it regularly.
- Learn the difference between being emotionally reactive and emotionally reflective.
- Prioritize a deep sense of safety and never entertain people or places which stir in you feelings of fear.
- Keep dreaming, nurturing the flame in others and yourself.
- Mindfully indulge your bodies appetites for food, play, connection.
- Learn to find and enjoy the comfort in silence.
- Make time for solitude, it is here that our creativity and vitality is rejuvenated.
- Pay attention to the words that you speak to yourself and to others.
- Wish success, beautiful love, and peace for your partners of the past.
- Try your best, push past the limits, that is where the magic happens.
- Know when to quit, some ideas and people are best left behind.
- Be cautious of too much routine.
- Regularly break into song and dance.
- Connect with The Earth and learn to hear The Words in the Wind.
- Learn to breathe with intention and harness the power of your lungs.
- Stare up at The Stars on long clear nights and think of the infinite.
- Don’t let other’s perception of you define your self-esteem.
- If you want to know someone, watch the way that they treat others in their life.
- Cling fervently to your intuition.
- Spend time closely with the elderly, they hold the wisdom.
- Recognize how short and special each moment of life.
- Hold hands while crossing the street.
- If you experience anxiety or depression start to manage it.
- Encourage yourself as you would others.
- Travel somewhere far away where you know nobody.
- Become enchanted with a strange place, person, or idea.
- Scoop a hand full of soil into your hands and smell it.
- Take off your shoes and walk in the grass.
- Stand the wrong way in an elevator.
- Stop and smell the spring flower blossoms no matter how hurried you are.
- Meditate upon love and light, glow with the thrumming of universal consciousness.
- Stretch often, get to know the little intricacies of your body, your sacred space.
- Savor the feeling of your heart beating fast from exercise, kissing, or the unknown.
- Do something for someone who can not or will not return the favor.
- Talk to a homeless person, hear their story.
- Organize your home and office, a organized mind creates and organized space and life.
- Be cautious of being overly organized 🙂
- Strive for balance in all things!!! ^^^^
- Take Vitamins and eat meals made from delicious food instead of powders or meal replacements.
- Eat glorious multicolored fruits and vegetables.
- Indulge in the second piece of CAKE!
- Chew slowly and savor for a long time.
- Create a meal without using a recipe.
- Paint something abstract without caring how it turns out.
- Tell your parents you love them and make sure they know you mean it.
- Don’t speak in the heat of anger, the words can never be taken back.
- Love an Animal as you would a friend.
- Don’t pay attention to numbers on the scale, bank account, or the years of life.
- Know that there is a deep, profound Sacredness illuminating all things.
These are our wellness keys for health and happiness!
Be Well Pittsburgh,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
“What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?”
by Stephanie McCrackenOctober 26, 2015 counseling, educational, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, wellness, wisdom0 comments
“What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?”
This is a quote on a magnet which hangs neatly on my refrigerator. This quote changed my life. Fate isn’t something we just wake up and experience as easily as the first cup of coffee makes its molten ascent out of the carafe, smooth and steady. Embracing my ambition to become a psychotherapist was not always written in the stars. The act of becoming presents road blocks, brick walls, doors slammed in the face, the slaying of a few dragons, encountering some villains, all in a day’s work when we are attempting to become the best version of our self. I was afraid to fail.
Many years ago, I was on a fast track to earning a degree in English Writing with a Minor in English Literature. It was in an honors literature course that I encountered Sigmund Freud’s Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis. I was hooked, immediately changing my major to devote my academic trajectory and the rest of my life to studying and practicing counseling psychology. It started off very well, the theories and interpretation all came to me fluidly and I was thrilled at the prospect of embodying this calling.
The University of Pittsburgh, where I was studying, has an excellent and rigorous Psychology program, where degrees are offered as a Bachelor’s of Science. Subtle but vastly significant differences that translate to very heavy upper level mathematics courses, calculus and statistics, trigonometry. Any of the psychology baccalaureates from the university are very well prepared to become researchers, quantifying and perpetuating the latest science in the field. I have been plagued with math anxiety for my entire life, even basic mathematics courses becoming source for struggle in high school. Quite a dichotomy from the experiences of studying in my social sciences or English courses where a deep understanding of concepts would simply flow to me. Numbers terrified me, but I wanted it, I wanted the degree, I wanted to learn more about papa Freud and his procession of disciples, I wanted to do this every day. Never falling victim to fear, I enter business calculus, two weeks of lectures and each day I departed while suffocating tears behind the ever growing lump in my throat. I withdrew from the course and resigned myself to not being good enough to enter the field. “Leave it behind, you aren’t good at math and you never were!” Hearing all of those self-berating thoughts which are eager to leap out and from the shadows, the stop signs, the yield signs, the take a u-turn! I switched back to English writing, still something I loved to do, no there would be no therapy couch, no exploration of the unconscious. This was where I would settle for less than what I wanted out of fear and a sense of inadequacy. Life went on as it always does, we stuff down our displaced dreams, we move on to be productive, to succeed someplace that doesn’t provoke our fears too much, we choose that which is low risk, “this is sensible” we tell ourselves, “you can’t do this” fear says.
A couple of years later, walking down the aisle of Whole Foods, I saw that magnet, “What would you do today if your weren’t afraid to fail?” Before I could formulate the whole thought each fiber in me knew, If I weren’t afraid to fail, I would study psychology, and study psychology is exactly what I did. Reentering those math courses and working harder than I ever had to work to achieve success at anything, attending every study group, showing up to class early and staying late, by blood and sweat I did it, and all of that hard work didn’t just gain me a pass but I “A”ced all of those stats courses and made it through the program to graduate with honors. Now math isn’t even so scary any more, I have come to appreciate some of its applications when it comes to the field of psychology.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? What would it be? Where do you feel a sense of defeat? Would you ask the girl out on a date? Would you tackle an addiction? Would you learn how to fly a plane? Would you write the next great American novel? Work on your marriage? Back pack Europe? Learn to prepare the perfect Indian Curry? Become fluent in Chinese? Put an end to some defeating or depressing pattern in your life? Start coping with your anxiety? Learn to fly and airplane? Cope with Depression? Work on your start up company? What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? By this time you may be wondering, how do you get over this fear of failure, we have an answer for that too, you don’t, the most successful among us have failed a hundred times but have gotten back up one hundred and one, and that is what makes all of the difference!
We hope our humble magnets’ question is as resonant with you as it is for us!
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Nicole Monteleone MA, LPC, NCC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Counseling and Wellness Center Pittsburgh
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh PA 15233