Life is tough, full of stress and challenges. We’re all trying to find ourselves and fulfill our dreams but sometimes it can feel like we are climbing a mountain that is too high. We begin to focus less on the goal and more on how long, difficult and tiring the journey is going to be. This can seem completely overwhelming. Too easily the negative parts of a situation can take over, hold us back and make us question ourselves; in some cases, they even make us deviate from our goals to an easier path. However, there is a guidance system that can take us through the difficult times and keep us moving towards our goals.
Positive Psychology is a practice that can be applied to our daily lives. Incorporating this practice into one’s life has been shown to create a successful journey through our stressful situations to the fulfillment of our biggest dreams and aspirations.
The DRIVE recently sat down with Dr. Andrea Dinardo, a St. Clair College psychology professor and former school psychologist, to discuss her techniques helping others Thrive Under Pressure, the title of both her TEDx Talk and her psychology blog.
Dr. Dinardo uses both her experience and research from her doctoral dissertation on the effects of teacher enthusiasm on student attention, motivation and learning, not only with her students but also within her daily life. With stress and anxiety at an all-time high in our society she offers instant insight into the most difficult of situations.
“We don’t want to completely eliminate stress and challenges from our lives—they are what help us grow and become stronger,” says Dr. Dinardo. “What we need is a map to help us navigate through the stress and difficulties.”
She breaks down Positive Psychology into three categories to create a map that we can use to make an impact in our lives: Challenge, Control and Commitment. The three C’s are an easy navigation tool to keep us thriving through our difficulties.
Think about a challenge in your life. It can be anything that is giving you a difficult time—a bad grade, difficulties in a relationship or even a situation in your workplace.
“It’s all about your perception, reframing the way you look at a situation,” says Dr. Dinardo. “It’s really what makes the difference between thriving and not thriving. Simply, how we perceive that challenge.”
She says that looking at a challenge and understanding that stress is normal is important. Taking a moment to acknowledge the pressure is really the first step. You have to reframe the situation in a way to push yourself towards growth. It’s like when your body gets a rush of adrenaline and you say you feel nervous. Instead, say you are excited. The feelings are the same, caused by the same hormone and triggered by the same neurotransmitter. Simply rename it and you change the whole experience.
When we take some time to reflect back on life, everything we have been through, it is usually the hard times have made us stronger, better and more prepared for what lies ahead. Dr. Dinardo likes to say you cannot get diamonds without pressure, so be mindful that whatever you are going through, something in you is being strengthened. There is a lesson in each hardship.
“Ask yourself what is being strengthened in me by this challenge,” says Dr. Dinardo. “Is it patience, creativity, love, compassion? Whatever it is, focus on that.”
“Control is the belief in one’s ability to influence life events,” says Dr. Dinardo.
When trouble lies ahead and we are faced with a problem or emergency our brain goes into what Dr. Dinardo refers to as an amygdala hijack, which is our brain’s primitive survival mode that creates an automatic response of flight, fight or freeze. But if we pause, take a moment, and create some breathing space, we can go from the basement of our brain (our limbic system and amygdala) to the penthouse of our brain (our cerebral cortex) and we’re able to think logically once again.
“It is important to identify the areas of our stress that are beyond our control and let them go,” says Dr. Dinardo. “Move on to focus on the things you can control and change.”
If you can take a moment and think about a time during a difficult situation where you automatically responded, maybe during an argument where you snapped at someone or said something you wish you hadn’t, that is the effect of the amygdala hijack. So try rewinding and taking a breath, and in that moment, imagine a different, more empowering outcome.
“Commitment is the ability to engage fully in all aspects of life, no matter how big or small, with a sense of purpose and meaning,” says Dr. Dinardo.
During her research for her TEDx speech, Dr. Dinardo learned that the students who had a higher purpose for getting their education, such as making a significant difference in the world, or giving their families a better life, were more likely to thrive and succeed than those who were going to university simply because it was the obvious next step and/or would result in a bigger paycheque.
“It is so important to really think about your higher purpose or goal,” she says. “What is your North Star? Your highest purpose? Keep focused on that and make your everyday choices reflect that. You only have to focus on one step at a time, and each step brings you closer to your dreams.”
That can seem a little overwhelming when you look at it on such a large scale but if you can focus on your everyday actions while keeping in mind your North Star, it will help you keep all your hard work and sacrifice in check.
“When a challenge seems too big, look back. and take stock of all that you have accomplished so far. Celebrate your small and big steps equally,” she says. “Getting up and going to class. Putting your shoes on to go to the gym. Paying down your credit card. Everything counts. Day-by-day, you move towards your North Star.”
We hear it all the time: take a little time to enjoy the view, stop and smell the roses, enjoy the little things, it’s not the destination it’s the journey. All these quotes and memes flood our social media feeds about life and success. But how many of us put them into practice?
We need to wake up and realize that the emotional experiences, and our reactions to them, are the most rewarding part of every situation, good or bad. Each step we take, each decision we make, is our journey towards that larger goal.
And with the help of Dr. Dinardo’s 3 C’s for Thriving Under Pressure, may each step towards your dreams be a little lighter, brighter and self-assured.
Visit DrAndreaDinardo.com to learn more about her TEDx talk and positive psychology workshops.