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What lies within you?

As a professor and mentor, I can't count the number of times I have worked with college students who say the "next step" has to be the "right one." But does it?

I typically coach my mentees and clients on looking within, first. Before you take the "next step," take stock. Retreat a bit, spend some time with your "self."

1. Spend time actively exploring how you perceive yourself and the world. One of my favorite tools for this pursuit is The Artist's Way book (and workbook) by Julia Cameron, which is a guide for cultivating your own creativity and, consequently, giving yourself permission to enjoy your self, and your life. The power of Cameron's methods lie in the two main exercises you engage in with her guidance, which are Morning Pages, which entail writing three pages stream-of-consciousness style every morning, and the secon are the "Artist's Dates," where you take yourself on a date, basically, alone, for two hours once a week. The idea is to do something fun, easy and potentially creative, that restores your soul and fills your creative "well," in a sense.

2. Practice gratitude. Some people keep a journal of things they are grateful for. Happiness guru and author/motivational speaker Neil Pasricha's Two Minute Mornings journal is one of my favorite tools. With it, you simply write a few minutes each day, focusing on gratitude, letting go of stress, and setting daily intentions. The prompts in Pasricha's journal are based on positive psychology research that indicates doing these exercises each day will improve your outlook, or happiness.

3. Be aware of your feelings. Meditation helps. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) tools can help, too. The ABC model of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) explains why you think the things you think, why you feel the way you feel, and why you do the things you do. The theory is that once you understand or are aware of how you think, you can develop the power to change negative thoughts. Depression, of course, can change your perceptions and patterns of thinking. It's not easy, but with practice, you can identify activating events or situations and manage your emotions better, or consider medication that may help with clinical mental impairment.

4. Another approach to improving your thinking is to weed out self-criticism. One of my favorite recommendations is to imagine when you are "talking to yourself" that you are counseling a friend. In other words, if you are being self-critical, you likely wouldn't talk to a friend that way. So, why would you talk to yourself in such a harmful or negative way? Be a friend to yourself.

5. Similarly, you can practice reframing negative thoughts that are not helpful. A great question to ask when your thoughts turn negative is: "Is the way I am thinking helpful to me?" Sounds pretty basic, but like many CBT techniques, it is the conscious effort you make to check in with yourself that helps you change your self. I have a friend who says it works for her to "put up a mental STOP sign." She envisions a big, red stop sign and that vision, in effect, calls her up short so that she does not continue in a line of negative thought. If you are focusing, for example, on being single, think of your circumstances instead as an opportunity to meet someone amazing.


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