Mental Filters

images brain pictureI recently gave a motivational presentation to a large organization. The energy in the room was strong and I was quite confident when I finished the speaking engagement.  Feeling a strong adrenalin rush, I quickly found my seat and encountered a number of individuals who congratulated me on a job well done.


Later, while I was networking with different people, a man approached me to talk.  He shared with me that my presentation would have been much better if I had gone into more detail on a specific topic. I handled the interaction diplomatically and went to sit down.


I was devastated.


I became obsessed with the comment the man had shared.  Over and over, my mind swirled with this bit of negative information. If only I had realized that I needed to go into more detail! Then, the presentation would have been great.  How could I have not known that the key to success was to go into more depth!?  I believed that my speech was sub par because I neglected this one aspect. I bounced this perceived error around in my mind until the error had become mammoth sized.


Does this faulty thinking sound familiar at all?  I’m sure at one point in your life, you have also succumbed to this dysfunctional thought pattern.


This specific cognitive distortion that affects so many of us is called filtering. It happens when you focus on the most negative and upsetting features of a situation, filtering out the more positive aspects.  In my case, I had numerous individuals that shared positive feedback on my presentation.  I felt excited and energized when I stepped down from the stage. However, none of the positive praise seemed to matter. Apparently, all it took was one person’s negative opinion to change my perspective on the whole speaking engagement.


Looking back on this experience, I can definitely see the error of my ways. Due to my resilience training, I was able to readjust my thinking and look at the situation more realistically.  I studied the situation in a pragmatic manner and asked myself why I was discounting all the positive feedback.  The question was, why did I give this one man such power? This just didn’t seem reasonable.


Obviously, this experience didn’t stop me from taking part in future presentations.  I was able to realistically look at the facts and reason it out.  However, not everyone goes through this process and your filtered experience can be a great time waster—

Stopping you from moving forward in life.


Make sure the lens that you view the world through is not clouded with some faulty thinking.




Reaching Out

images reaching out

One trait that a resilient person has is the ability to stay involved and reach out to others during the low times. When you are struggling in life or going through a crisis, it’s quite easy to go inside yourself and spend time thinking.  Actually, it’s easy to spend way too much time thinking and overthinking, mulling things over.  You can become consumed with your thoughts and begin to descend into a negative spiral.


On the other hand, when you’re in this position you can make a point to fight this ingrained habit and change your behavior.


A couple weeks ago, I was coming back from Florida on a very early Monday morning.  The whirlwind of a weekend had included my son’s college graduation in Ann Arbor, where I stayed for less than 48 hours and then flew out to attend my nieces wedding in Marco Island. As you can imagine, by Monday morning at 6:00 AM, things were beginning to catch up with me. As can be expected from modern transportation, the trip back home would take all day.


If that wasn’t enough, I had an important keynote presentation to give the very next morning. Feeling exhausted and stressed while thinking about my impending commitment, I pulled out my notes to study.  To be honest, my head wasn’t in a good place as I focused on my work responsibility. I looked up from my notes and realized that the hurried professional woman I had noticed at check-in would be sitting next to me.


I tried to focus on my presentation notes like I had promised myself, but then quickly changed my mind.  Out of the blue, I reached out to the woman next to me.  I asked her where she was going and if she lived in Florida.  We began to talk and I quickly became engaged in the conversation.  She shared that she had served in Congress, had raised a family and continued to travel to Washington to work as an attorney.  We told stories about our careers, our children and life.  Before we knew it, we were in Atlanta and we were both searching for our next connections.


Ann had no idea how bad I needed to sit next to her that morning.  She did me a favor by engaging me in conversation and letting me take my mind off my own work to focus on her.  I say she did me a favor because I know that she had work of her own that she probably hoped to accomplish that morning.  And it doesn’t end there. When I got home later, I told my husband about meeting her and he inquired whether I had asked her to speak to my women’s group, 85 Broads— I totally forgot. I emailed her and told her that if she ever got up this way, we would love to have her speak. I truly didn’t expect an email back.


I was wrong. I got a long email back about how she would love to speak and how she had so enjoyed the conversation on our trip.


Let me recap what’s important about this story.  I was feeling stressed and anxious and focusing on myself was not aiding me in the preparation for my event the next day. My ability to recognize this as an issue was key.  I was able to change direction, reach out to someone else and be involved. In the process, I made a fabulous new friend and expanded my world.


The next time that you’re in a similar position at work or in your personal life, resist the urge to go inside your head and get lost in your own pain.  Issues often become much bigger and more muddled in your head.  Make an attempt to reach out to the people around you— it will help you move forward in life.

Bad Habits

bad habits

After my two appointments downtown today, I got in my car, turned onto Fifth Street and carefully made my way onto 71 N.  I’ve driven this route way too many times. In fact, I think my car knows the way to the freeway and to my house by now.


The point of me sharing this bit of information with you is because of what happened in today’s journey.  15 minutes after getting on the freeway, I was passing an exit when I realized that I didn’t remember much about getting there.  How is that possible?  How did I drive 15 minutes without really being aware of what was going on?  The thought terrified me.


I bet each of you have had this experience at one point or another.  You wake up in the morning and you have your routine.  Maybe you get up and automatically run the shower and jump in.  Maybe you instantly go over to the sink to wash your face and brush your teeth.  Whatever it is, if you do it enough times, you don’t have to think too much about what comes next.  In fact, you don’t have to think at all— you just do.


Research has been done to explore this very fact.  They positioned rats in a maze and monitored their brain activity to see how long it would take them to find their way out.  In the beginning, the rats needed to search and sniff to find their way.  Time and time again, they ran through the same maze.  As the number of times that they ran through the maze increased, their mental activity decreased.  The rats no longer had to think very hard to find their way because it had become their habit.


You probably don’t like being compared to a rat, but we experience this same exact effect. When you have completed the same task time and time again, you no longer have to be fully present.  Your brain can take a little rest. Thanks to habits, you get to preserve your brain energy for the more daunting tasks.


You know those positive affirmations that you enjoy reading on Facebook?  They make you feel good for that moment but you might have problems making them stick before the bad thoughts sneak up on you again. You know why?  The very same reason that you automatically get up in the morning and fix your breakfast without having to think so hard.  It’s possible that these same negative thoughts have become a bad habit for you.


They creep into your mind without you even being aware of it.  They run on an endless loop in your brain and reading a positive statement once a day is not going to solve the problem. Being told to “change your attitude” is not going to solve it either. The problem runs deeper than that.


The good news is that you can break this bad habit.  You can learn to change the thoughts in your head but you need to be present. You need to be engaged in the process and be at full brain capacity to make this change. By consistently monitoring the conversation in your head and using targeted strategies to change each negative statement into a more positive one, you can slowly change your life.


It’s hard to quit a bad habit. To make a change, it takes hard work, commitment and consistent awareness. However, it’s worth the work when you realize that the change can positively impact every single aspect of your life.