I drank some.
I really hate gyms (as previously outlined here
Today…I joined a gym.
As you may recall, I recently joined a nearby “fitness boutique” for a month after purchasing a Groupon for it. I took some classes that completely kicked my butt, and I even rather enjoyed the experience overall. But, unfortunately, I could not afford their $28/class or $250/month of unlimited classes price tag. (Honestly, who are these people that can, because I need to know what they do for a living!) After letting a good three weeks pass after that Groupon expired, I decided it was time to get back out there. The jiggle is not going away on its own folks (if you know how to make that happen, please do let me know).
Then low and behold, I discovered a gym near my work that is only $20/month. In New York City, this is completely amazing! On top of that, the day after discovering it, my friend forwarded me a Groupon for a $10 membership! And the best part about it—no commitments. Great, because as I told one of the instructors at the past fitness boutique when she asked if I’d be returning to her next class, “I’m not good with commitments.” Especially when it involves my not being lazy.
After putting it off for about four days (thanks Krista for peer pressuring me by checking if I went every day!), I finally bit the bullet today and went. It was…interesting.
First, the most frustrating part of working out in the City, versus near my apartment, is that I have to haul a big ole bag to work. When your commute is three miles of walking roundtrip, this is a pain! Literally. (My back is currently killing me as a result.) I tried my best to get it down to the essentials—travel sized toiletries, gym clothes, water bottle, shoes, and minimal makeup (what, like I’m going to get on the PATH train without any? Puh-lease.). The entire way to work, I’d already decided this would be the first and last time I did this. But don’t worry, cause it got worse.
It turns out, for $10/month, you get what you pay for—starting with minimal staff. They were very friendly, I will grant them that. But when I went to sign up, there was only one guy manning the front desk. He was checking people in, taking phone calls, and attempting to sign me up all at the same time. He’d half type in my phone number or address, and then have to ask me to repeat it five minutes later because in came 20 people whose gym passes needed scanned.
This brings me to the next thing—the people. For $10-20/month, seems lots of folks want to belong to this gym. That’s fine, except, this is why I hate gyms.
I don’t want people. Go away people! I spent the full 30 minutes it to took to get me signed me up scoping the scene. You are all fit,
I thought. You are all better at this than me. You will all be staring at my jiggly, out-of-shape ass in a minute. Why did I do this? Is it too late to back out? Once he finally gets me signed up, can I just walk out? I am in regular clothes. Maybe I never planned to workout today, okay. Maybe I just wanted to sign up. I do that, I leave, and nooo one is the wiser.
“You’re all set.” Here it is. The moment of truth. Leave.
“Which way to the locker rooms?” Idiot.
Embarrassment commences. Again: keeping $20 in mind. There is a 5x5 space with lockers and benches for people to change at, about four showers, and about five bathroom stalls. First up, no one needs to see all of my jiggle, so I will
be changing in a stall (yes, I’m that girl). And frankly, I don’t need to see your jiggle either, but thanks for sharing ladies (not
). Into tiny stall I went.
Second, I realize I do not have a lock for the locker. Sure hope people are trustworthy. I then proceed to squeeze my way through 30 naked ladies all squished up in the 5x5 space in an attempt to find an open locker. After 15 minutes of this and failing (fyi, many without locks were occupied, so guess I wasn't alone), I stand there like an idiot waiting for someone to leave while all 30 naked ladies stare at me like, “What’s this creeper doing?” Sorry! I just want your locker!
Finally one opens up. I shove my stuff in and realize I now have to go face all of those people
and actually work out. Stalling is over.
I step outside and, too afraid to walk too far, I hop on the first treadmill I see available. It’s also an added bonus that it’s on the end, and no one is working out on the one side of it, so less people to look at me. Good, good. Music geared up, ready to go, start, walk, ah, look at me….
Few seconds into this I realize I haven’t used a treadmill since college. It’s like riding a bike, right? No. This is me we are talking about. I am a klutz. I keep feeling the sensation like I’m going to trip at any minute. Don’t trip. Don’t fall. Looking up at T.V. Op, maybe don’t do that. Ok, you got this. Idiot. This is easy. You’re not gonna trip. La ti da, four minutes in, la ti da, pick up the pace, la ti da. Look at all those laps!
At about this moment I realize that the view directly in front of me is of some guy’s ass, and suddenly, it hits me that someone behind me has a view of mine. Note to self: Wear longer shirts going forward. Really hope I don’t have hideous underwear lines right now. Ok, you’re being ridiculous. Seriously, I want to know if other people think this much while running? Isn’t this supposed to be enjoyable?
As I look around me at the other folks working out, I start to realize something. No one has a towel. And I don’t recall seeing any in the locker rooms. Oh ma gawd, they don’t have towels. Oh ma gawd, I’m all sweaty, and I need to shower so I can go back on the PATH train like a normal, clean person rather than smelling like a hobo, and ohmagawd, what am I going to do?
Thirty-two minutes, fairly decent run in, and off I go. Sweaty. To the locker room. To see? No towels! I ask a girl, embarrassingly, if they have them. “I don’t know, actually. I always bring my own.” Yeah, cause you’re smart!
I ask the cleaning lady in the locker room. “No, sorry, we don’t.” (Again. Twenty dollars.) And, great. Sweaty gross girl with a problem.
I’m not going to tell you about the creative methods I had to use to put myself in half-way decent, non-hobo shape. I’m just gonna say thank God I wore a dress today in order to air it all out on the way home!
And that was gym day. I rewarded myself with some pasta and a glass half-full of wine. I cannot tell you if I’ll do it again. I was determined to—to prove my “this is going in the ‘Groupons you regret buying category’” friend wrong. But, I’m not sure even pride is worth repeating that for… P.S. Here it i
s--1 a.m. again. Safe to say working out didn't resolve my returned insomnia problem.
In need of
“The key to happiness is realizing that it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you choose to respond.” ~ Keith D. Harrell
Many friends recently have been bugging me for a blog post. They think I’ve gotten lazy. The truth is, I
haven’t posted because I haven’t felt all too entirely optimistic lately. I’ve been what Dr. Seligman initially
described to me as a classic case pessimist. I’ve thought the things currently not going right in my life will last forever, I’ve let them interfere with all areas of my life, and I’ve blamed myself.
Over the course of my short blogging endeavors, several of my friends—self-diagnosed pessimists—have told me that I’ve inspired them. And that they themselves have sought to be more positive in their lives. This of course made me feel really great, and in turn, initially made me feel even more optimistic about my goals. But in my recent blog abandonment, I felt as if I’d failed them. To my surprise, though, these friends soon came to my aid and began rallying for me.
“We need you,” proclaimed one friend, who said if I could be positive, anyone could. Thanks... I think?
“You were once a beacon of positivity,” said another. “I want Natalie the cheerleader captain back.” Me? Really? This same friend also claimed I’m meant to be positive, and this recent downer Natalie is not who I am. Again, really? Have we met?
“I need a new blog post!” exclaimed several others. To you folks, I appreciate the devoted following.
At first I was mad at myself for failing them and mad at them for pointing it out. Just let me be grumpy in peace!
Then tonight, I met up with a few friends at a happy hour event. I got to talking to my one friend’s fiancé, and somehow my blog came up. He pointed to his wrist, which sported a black bracelet with a silver charm that read “positivity.” I laughed. He told me that he thought my goals were very admirable and about how both he and his fiancé try to be people that spread positivity. He said he had told his fiancé that he would wear the bracelet until he met someone that needed it more. Boy did you hit gold, I thought. Then he slipped the bracelet on my wrist.
Later I got to thinking about this small act of kindness, and I realized it made me kind of happy. My friend and fiancé are the type of people I aspire to be like, only they annoyingly arrive at it naturally. But nevertheless, this simple bracelet made me smile. It came on a day I think I needed it most and reminded me of the good and caring people in the world. This consequently made me think about my friends and their recent words to me. The pessimist in me was so focused on my failures that I had missed the real message: I’m surrounded by caring friends who just want to see me happy. I hope that somewhere in my journey I can give them a moment of inspiration just as I was given today.
of lemon water
I have discovered my own personal secret recipe for optimism:
- five parts sunshine
- three parts sleep
- two parts exercise
Well, I suppose it was never really
a secret. I’ve known most these things for quite some time, but it’s always easier said than done. For one, I can’t control the weather (clearly if I could, we wouldn’t have had a solid month of rain and dark clouds). For another, I’ve had insomnia my entire life—the kind that no pills, natural remedies, soothing music, or even a tall glass of vino can seem to fix. And lastly, well, let’s be real—exercise, like optimism, is just plain hard.
But then a miracle happened. For reasons that remain unclear, I woke up naturally on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m. without an alarm clock. Now, I wake up Saturday at all sorts of hours between 6 a.m. and noon without an alarm clock. This is not the miracle. The miracle was that I felt awake. I felt energized. I felt rested. I felt what I imagine other people must feel every day of their lives. The miracle is that rather than rolling over and proceeding to sleep in for another four hours per usual, I rose from beneath my soft mountain of covers and skipped to the kitchen to greet my roommates, who were surely in shock to see me in the still-single-digit hours of a weekend morning.
“Good morning,” I cheerfully said to them, and possibly for the first time ever, I think I meant it. (For the longest time, I used to just reply to this greeting with a simple “hey.” It was bad enough I was awake, tired, and cranky, but I was expected to go around lying to everyone about how I felt too?)
Following my morning miracle came another from Mother Nature. The sun, which I’m certain was on strike the last seven months, reappeared in all its optimist-inducing glory. With two parts of the recipe in place, I knew I had to push on with the third and biggest miracle of them all: I was going to exercise! Ok, I suppose I jog or use the elliptical now and then, but I’d really been slacking lately. This was going to be serious. I was off to finally cash in my Groupon for a month of unlimited workout classes at a nearby “fitness boutique.”
I signed up for a 10 a.m. Zumba class. I had taken such a class once before about two years prior, and I seemed to remember enjoying it. I remembered it being fairly easy to follow and working up a decent sweat. I didn’t remember dying from it or feeling stupid. I can do this
, I assured myself.
I entered the facilities and immediately felt intimidated. I’ve never liked gyms. The people that go to them are always already perfectly toned, making you even more self-conscious about your body and lack of fitness abilities. But I pressed on, ready to work up a sweat and release those much-needed endorphins.
I entered the Mat room, where the intimidation continued. All the girls seemed to know each other (another sign that they come often, and are therefore already in shape). I also took note of a tall, muscular, handsome young man doing push-ups outside the room. Men? Men aren’t supposed to take these kinds of classes. It’s Zumba! Oh dear God, tell me he’s not in the class or I’m walking out. Oh thank the Lord, he just left. You’re safe.
Then in walked a short, voluptuous, incredibly energetic Spanish woman—our instructor. Could she have any more optimism? Seriously. Save some with the rest of us.
In her hand she possessed tiny rattles, which she instructed each of us to take a set of. Oh good, just what I need. Let’s draw more attention to me making a complete and total fool of myself. On the plus side, I have musical training. I should at least be able to keep a beat with the rattles when all the rest fails.
Introductions were made and the vivacious senorita, who so kindly pointed me out as the new kid, commenced on with the class. I’ll walk you through that simply with the use of a bulleted list of my stream of consciousness that took place over the next ten hours of my life. (I don’t care what you say. That was not an hour! Time stopped.)
- You got this. Ok, she’s going a little fast, but no big deal. You’ll catch on.
- I thought I liked dancing, but it just hit me why I only do it while under the influence. Only then am I dumb enough to think that I look like I know what I’m doing. Is it too late to leave? Cause, um, this is hard.
- It’s getting a little hot. Kind of tired.Ok, no worries. This is good. Burning calories. You can do this.
- Sheesh, I look fatter in this mirror than usual. Is my mirror at home one of those skinny mirrors like at the carnivals? Or is it just the contrast from standing next to these stick-figured girls? Someone give them a pizza already! They prolly can’t afford to eat after the cost of this gym.
- I really thought I had the curves for these movements (ya know, as so many have kindly called them—my “childbearing hips”), so why do I look so utterly ridiculous right now?
- Shake what your momma gave you? What my momma gave me is a jiggly ass and no coordination.
- Did she really just say “crump it”? Am I “crumping” right now? Nope, you just look like a jackass. Thank God I don’t know anyone here.
- Ok, really starting to get tired. Oh good, the music stopped. Surely we’re at the cool-down point by now. Annnd no, another song started. OK, but it’s definitely the last one. It must be the last one.
- Why isn’t anyone else sweating as much as me?
- I think I may be dying. What does a heart attack feel like? What if I start to have one? What happens if you work out too hard? What if I faint? God, that’d be embarrassing. I’m going to faint. I just know it. I’m approaching a faint…
- My legs have stopped moving. I cannot move my legs. I cannot bend them anymore. Work legs, work. I think I’m paralyzed.
- Hey look, if I just jump at the right places, then it looks like I’m getting the movements, which FYI, I’m definitely not even close to getting. I’m just going to stand still and jump when they do. Ta da, I’m fooling them.
- Man I need a water bottle. I didn’t bring one because the Groupon promised me a free one at my arrival, which I didn’t get. If I leave to get a glass of water in the lobby, are people going to laugh? Can I leave? I need to leave. Maybe I’ll leave and not come back.
- OK, after this song, I’m leaving.
- OK, after this song, I’m leaving.
- OK, a girl just left. If she left, I can leave. After this song I’m leaving. (I left.)
- (Upon returning from water break.) Perfect, this is the fastest, most difficult combination of all of them, and I missed the instructions. Spin, jump, shake, salsa step, jiggle, rattle, twist, bend, leap, cry in agony…. Oh screw it. I don’t even have the energy to fake this anymore.
- Surely it must have been an hour now.
- Seriously, another song?
- Oh my God, what if this is the Apocalypse? That’s it. That’s what this is. The world has ended and this is my Hell on Earth—this class just really is never going to end. Time to pray. Hail Mary, full of Grace…
- Hey, I think I’m getting it. Look, I’m in step. Wow, I’m awesome. I’ve conquered Zumba! Annnd then she changed it again. Good effort.
- Cool down? Stretch? It’s finally here!!! Ohhh thank you Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! I’m going to go savor my life and live every moment as if it were my last. I did it. I made it. I’m alive. I survived the longest fitness class that ever was!
- So glad I only signed up for a month of these classes, cause by the time I recover from that and am dumb enough to forget the torture and sign up for another, my membership will have expired.
- Oh, look, free orange slices. I should take two since I never got my free water bottle. Big liars. Just like they lied about the length of the class. I’m onto your scam.
Even though for the entire length of the (ten hour) class, I promised myself I’d never endure that torture again, I must admit that I left feeling pretty good. If I could survive that, I could do anything. I bet I could run a marathon! Nevermind I couldn’t climb the stairs to my apartment afterward, I still felt invincible. I was a renewed person. I was convinced I could keep the optimism going. As I go to bed tonight with my glass half-full, I’m setting my alarm for 8 a.m. Tomorrow, I will get up even earlier, this time to master yoga. What better way to continue on with improving my mental well-being? Update:
At 8 a.m. on Sunday, I hit the off on my alarm and went back to sleep for, shockingly, several more hours. It appears my secret recipe still needs some adjustments. As I limp in pain, I wonder if this means toning (no pun intended) down the two parts exercise? At least for today.
I know—I’m terribly behind on my blog. I have all this guilt and, of course, the
pessimistic thoughts: I suck at life. This is so typical. Why can’t I accomplish any of my
goals? Ironic, perhaps. Or, just completely fitting.
I could give you all of my usual excuses: work, and freelance assignments, and this event
happened, and that one, and there was all the laundry, and I was tired, and my Internet broke. But, let’s face it—I was lazy. (Dr. Seligman would argue that this is an “I” statement. That I’m internalizing and blaming myself and being pessimistic. But really guys, it’s the honest truth!)
However, even though I haven’t been writing in here, nor have I had a session with Dr. Seligman in weeks, I am finding what I’ve learned is often on my mind. I can’t say that I’ve fully mastered using disputation yet, but I do find myself using distraction often. Only, I created my own methods. When I catch myself thinking negative things, this sort of internal monologue follows: Shut up. Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up! Nooo, you can’t think about that. Turn it off. Shut it out. Be positive. Happppyy thoughts. Life is good. La la la la la la. Ok, but now what do I think about? So then I think about how I’ve gone completely mad, and basically this process just repeats itself four or five times a day, and then I get chocolate and wait for the serotonin release. (Studies say it’s true you know, and FYI, red wine works too. I choose to skip over the parts about migraines, weight gain, and digestive track problems. That’s just doctors focusing on the negative.)
Now, all this may sound like I’m failing, but, I like to think the fact that I’m thinking about these things at all is an improvement. Perhaps my learning curve is a little slower than some, okay. I have 28 years of damage to undo people! But I have had my good moments, too. And I have some stories I will share. And my next lesson is in the works. I just wanted to check in to tell you that I’ve not vanished or given up. Promise to be back soon!
Before Dr. Seligman instructed me to keep an ABCDE diary, he informed me not to “seek out
, don’t worry, it just comes to me
, I thought. First fail. But really, in
keeping a log of adverse situations, I did feel forced to focus on the negative, which seemed
counterproductive. Nevertheless, I understand it is part of the journey. To learn to override my
pessimistic thoughts, I have to recognize when they’re happening and the consequences that they have. Here are a few A
dverse situations that occurred in my life over the last couple weeks along with my B
eliefs about them, the C
onsequences from my Beliefs, my attempts to D
ispute them, and the E
nergization I’m supposed to feel after dealing with my negative beliefs. Since I’m long-winded (and my Google Analytics tell me that 67% of you will leave after a few seconds on this page anyway), I’ll keep it at four.
: I come down with what I later self-diagnose as the stomach flu. I’m lying on the bathroom floor barely able to move with my iPhone next to my head. I lift all I can manage—my hand—to WebMD my symptoms. After following a few simple flow charts, I narrow my condition down to about five life-threatening ailments.B
: I’m dying. I’m definitely dying.C
: I text my roommate and mom to ask at what point I should call 911. Neither responds. I make a mental note to find new emergency contacts. I wonder how long before they find my body. At some point, someone will check up on me, right?D
: You’re not dying. (Remember when Dr. S said that sometimes you won’t believe your disputations? This is one of those times.)E
: I don’t feel anything close to “energization.” But on the plus side, I think that if I’m not dying, I’ve probably just lost 10 pounds, and I didn’t even have to give up chocolate or exercise. Win.
When I’m well enough to move again, I decide to go to the doctor to make sure I’m not dying. I ask her to check me for a kidney infection.
“What makes you think you have a kidney infection?” she rudely snaps. WebMD told me.
“Well, my back has been hurting for several weeks, and on Sunday I couldn’t stop throwing up,” I reply.
“Today’s Tuesday,” she barks again. I can see why they pay you the big bucks, Dr. Obvious.
I stare blankly, unsure how to answer.
“What happened between Sunday and Tuesday,” she asks.
“I started to feel a little better,” I reply. “I stopped throwing up.”
“Well that could be a number of things,” she geniusly concludes. No kidding! That’s why I’m here for a test, so that you, the
doctor, can tell me if I’m dying.
She continues with the exam and runs the necessary tests. She then tells me she still doesn’t think I have a kidney infection, but that she is going to treat me for one anyway while they wait for the blood results. Excuse me,
I think. So I can come in here claiming to have cancer and you’ll just order me up some chemo “just in case”? This is really validating my belief that doctors have absolutely no clue what they’re doing, and I’m better off with WebMD.
I leave the office with my drugs telling myself that I was right, and she just didn’t want to admit it. I commence with the treatment and return to the office a few days later when they call me in with the lab results. The doctor tells me that I don’t have a kidney infection and to stop the medication. She asks me if my back still hurts, and I say yes. She has me bend in all sorts of yoga dog/pigeon/tree/fish emulations as she pretends to diagnose me but I’m pretty sure is merely entertaining herself with my humiliation. Unable to come to any sort of conclusions from her phony examination, she sends me out the door with a bill and a few pain killers. Thanks Doc.B
: Doctors are total shams. When they don’t have answers, they make one up or just tell you that you’re fine. I think doctors should be like those lawyers that only get paid if they win your case. I’m only paying you if you fix me. D
: Ok, fine
. Maybe I don’t have a kidney infection, nor am I dying of a disease. And maybe all doctors aren’t phonies, just the ones I manage to pick. Maybe my back hurts because I slept weird or pulled it somehow or because I routinely sit hunched over like a 120-year-old woman.E
: I feel a little
knowing I’m not dying. (What? I’m trying, okay!
: My absolute most favorite pair of skinny jeans get a hole in them. B
: I wonder if I am the only one with this problem. My jeans always eventually rip in the same place—right where my big ole thunder thighs rub against one another. I am a disgusting pig, and I should be ashamed of myself. C
: I vow to buy a thigh master. It can sit next to my dumbbells, yoga mat, elliptical, and collection of DVDs that each promise to banish fat in under ten days. Ya know, those things I <s>hardly</s>
: I am not a fat cow. In fact, I even googled thunder thighs
and came up with a picture of “chub rub
.” Apparently this is when one’s thighs rub together, chafe, and cause an uncomfortable rash. I’m happy to report that I do not suffer from this unpleasant condition. (Any ladies who do, I apologize and assure you that I have my own other troublesome beauty issues!) Also, I wasn’t totally truthful. I do use my elliptical sometimes. Hey, that once a week or every other week is more than some people. It counts! Lastly, the jeans were a year old, and I wore them several times a week. They can’t last forever. (Shut up if your jeans last longer, and you do not have this problem. Who asked you?)E
: I am also happy to report that I’ve purchased a new pair of my favorite jeans, and even better, I found a 30% off coupon and scored free shipping. My mom is surely smiling with total pride at this sentence. (Now,
please don’t start judging how often I live in said jeans or assessing my thunder thigh situation, thanks!
: Two days before they’re due, I decide that perhaps I should start my taxes. Upon discovering that I owe
$_ _ _ _ to the good ole IRS, I proceed to have a meltdown.B
: In addition to the many angry thoughts I have toward the government, I curse myself for my complete and total incompetence in all things grown-up. Why did no one in college teach us about the actual important things in life—taxes, retirement planning, mortgages, loans, investing, buying a car, finding a rich husband? C
: Certain that I’ve made an error, I go through the TaxAct questions a few more times. When nothing changes, I proceed to cry to everyone I know and mourn the loss of all the fun things and new clothes that could have been purchased with my now-owed-to-the-IRS money. At the conclusion of my pity party, I enquire about the tax deduction one can receive after contributing to an IRA. Following hours of online research and questioning of more-knowledgeable-than-me friends, I make a sizeable deposit into my newly-acquired IRA account, thus significantly decreasing the amount I owe in taxes. Take that, greedy government!D
: I am not stupid. It’s not entirely my fault that I have no idea how taxes work or why this year I suddenly owe so much. In my defense, other friends of mine had similar struggles too. And most my friends have accountants, so clearly other folks my age need help too. In fact, I know people older than me who have never once done their taxes themselves, nor have any idea how. Good for me for being brilliant enough to understand TurboTax since the first year I had to file taxes. And I did help my French roommate with hers, and she seems to naively think I’m completely competent. (Shh, no one tell her that I really had absolutely no idea what I was doing!
: I feel pretty excited that I don’t owe the government as
much. More importantly, I learned a valuable, forced lesson on how IRAs work. Sure, I have no idea what to do with the money in the account, but the point is, I have one! I’m about one month closer to retirement. Win again!
Alright, so maybe I didn’t use Dr. Seligman’s techniques exactly
how he explained them in all my examples. But in actuality, I don’t think that his techniques are a one-size-fits-all for pessimism. Most of his methods for warding off negative thoughts are only applicable to instances where you have a negative belief about yourself. That’s certainly a major component of my own pessimistic thinking that I need to work on. However, there are many other ways in which one can be pessimistic about life or situations where I don’t think his methods, as he’s explained them to this point, will make sense. I’ll save my overall review on the success of our therapy together for the end of my sessions. Place your bets now on if I’ll be cured of my addiction at the conclusion of the next couple lessons.
During the last couple weeks, I spilled my glass quite a bit. On several occasions,
my friends even asked me what happened to my plans to fill it (thanks for looking out
for me guys!). Unfortunately, since I’d yet to get to the part in my lessons where I learn
how to turn around my pessimistic thoughts, I was struggling a bit and falling into old
(or essentially always-there) habits. It was time to progress on with my sessions with
In today’s lesson, I learned about the “D’s” of pessimism (see here
for the ABC’s). This stands for “distraction” and “disputation”—two techniques that can be used to cease pessimistic thoughts.
First, let’s start with distraction. Dr. Seligman begins by describing a very warm piece of apple pie with vanilla ice cream melting on top. Great, Dr. S, way to contribute to my other addiction
s! Then, he tells me to stop thinking about it. Obviously, I can’t. All I can think about is how much I’m starting to dislike the things he makes me think about and wondering where’s the nearest bakery and if they’re open at 1 a.m. and then I remember that there is this new “munchies” store that opened in my neighborhood that delivers ice cream and other goodies and I’m thinking maybe they have pie too. Now, where is that number?
Wait, what were we doing again Dr. Seligman? Oh yes, pessimism. Hey, look, the distraction model worked! I’m feeling pretty positive about that apple pie when I hit play to continue.
Yeah, turns out that isn’t quite how the technique works. Dr. Seligman tells me to think about the pie again (drool
), and then to stand up and slam my palm against the wall and yell, “STOP!” This, apparently, is one way to use the “distraction” method. Hmm, by replacing my pessimism with anger
? Ok, you’re the doctor…
Another way is to ring a bell when I have pessimistic thoughts. If I did that every time I had a bad thought—meetings, the subway, essentially every time I step outside—I’d be getting checked into a mental hospital in no time.
His final suggestion is to snap a rubber band “hard” on my wrist when I have a pessimistic thought. So let me see here… I’m a food addict with anger issues who self-harms and is in a mental institution? But, by golly, I sure am feeling optimistic about it all!
For the second step of the “distraction” method, Dr. Seligman suggests you direct your thoughts elsewhere and schedule a time later in the day to reexamine them and the situation. He also suggests writing down your feelings as they occur and revisiting this later too. This will allow the thoughts to reduce in strength, he says, and no longer have any purpose. (Here is where I start thinking I might be hopeless because I actually do this already, and the negative thoughts don’t reduce in strength. I keep a journal where I often write pessimistic things. Later, I sometimes reread them and it just gets me angry all over again!)
Luckily, Dr. Seligman says there’s another deeper, more lasting remedy for pessimistic thoughts. Let’s hope this one is more effective for me. This method is known as “disputation.” Here, you make an argument against your thoughts—go on the attack. You stand back from your beliefs and recognize they’re just that, beliefs. Then you look for evidence to the contrary of your beliefs and find alternate explanations for your actions. For example, if you did poorly on a math test, you might tell yourself that you’re a terrible student who will never understand math. To dispute these thoughts, you may find evidence that you’ve done well on past math tests and an alternative explanation could be that your teacher grades poorly or that you didn’t have time to study.
Dr. Seligman points out that often it will be hard to generate these alternative beliefs because in many cases, you won’t be fully convinced they’re true. I pessimistically think it’ll be all cases for me.
My job, he says, is to undo this “destructive habit” by becoming skilled at creating alternative explanations.
Sometimes, though, there will be times when the negative beliefs about yourself are true or you can’t prove them wrong. To draw on an example from my own life: I live in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., and work as a writer. On my salary, I will never be able to afford to buy a house or an apartment.
To dispute thoughts such as these, Dr. Seligman says we have to “decatastrophize.” While the first part of my statement was factually correct, I’m to ask myself if it’s implications really
mean I’ll never be able to afford a house or an apartment? (Prolly
.) Here, I’m to search for evidence again. Ok, let me think about friends I have who make my approximate salary or less. Some of them own homes in similarly pricey areas. Oh, wait, yes, there is hope—marry rich! Of course, then I’ll have to start “disputing” all my pessimistic thoughts on men and dating, but I’ll need a minimum of twenty more lessons for that. For now, let’s just say I get the gist of this method.
And there you have the basic summation behind applying the D’s to pessimism. (I truncated it a bit so not to bore you to tears. I mean, [disputation] I bet you all found this as riveting as me!)
Next, I’m to record five adverse events again, this time making an ABCDE
diary. The D is for the “disputation” and the E for “energization,” or the results from successfully disputing my pessimistic explanations. Luckily for my learning purposes, I have all sorts of A’s to vent from last week. Stay tuned!
When I first told my dear—and I’d say fairly optimistic—friend Bridget that I was working on Filling the Glass, she reminded me that it was okay if sometimes the glass spills. Being the complete klutz that I am, I figured it was only a matter of time before that happened. Sure enough, today it did.
Occasionally when I have the kind of day where nothing seems to go right, I’m reminded of one of my favorite books from childhood. As someone who writes for a fourth-grade magazine and works at a children’s publisher, it probably comes as no surprise that I love children’s books. But as a recovering pessimist, it should definitely come as no surprise that the book I am referring to is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst. In fact, I recently gifted this book to a friend of mine who is pregnant with twins
. I told her it seemed like the perfect gift for the babies to receive from crabby Aunt Natalie. I wasn’t at all offended by how quickly my friends agreed, or that one response was, “Wow, this book really
stuck with you, didn’t it?” I was never good at hiding my pessimism, I guess.
As a child, I empathized greatly with Alexander. This poor kid has some rough luck just like me
. As an adult, I sympathize with Alexander. This poor kid is probably all grown up now, out there spilling his glass left and right and in total denial like I was.
Poor Alexander. If only I knew where he lived—I’d send Dr. Seligman his way.
But today, I definitely felt a bit like Alexander, and I thought it’d be entertaining to recap the events in his story-telling style. (No, I'm not giving up on my journey to optimism, but remembering that even optimists will have bad days.) So without further ado, I present to you Natalie and the Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very Bad Day:
I went to sleep way too late and I woke up very tired and not in the mood to spend eight hours at the office and while I was getting ready for work I splattered makeup all over my white blouse but nothing else I wanted to wear was clean and I was in a hurry so I sprayed some Shout on it and rushed out the door and I could tell that it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Outside it was raining and humid and I wondered why I had bothered styling my hair because this weather was a recipe for disaster with my curly locks and I had a twenty minute walk ahead of me and by the time I arrived at work I was sure to look like Carrot Top’s twin sister.
I think I’ll move to Australia.
At work everyone seemed to be in a bad mood. People were angry and mean to me for no reason. And someone even wrote something nasty and negative on facebook. (That’s a website that adults go on to write about the things going on in their day that they think everyone else cares about but no one does really.) I hope all those mean people trip on their shoelaces. I hope the next time their phone rings that someone mean is on the other line and tells them something they don’t like hearing.
I could tell that it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I could tell because later I started to work on a story and went for my tape recorder and its batteries were dead so I put in two other ones from my drawer and they didn’t work either so I had to go buy new batteries and when I put the new ones in and hit play I realized that one of my interviews hadn’t been recorded.
It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
That’s what it was, because after work when I got to the subway the operators were announcing that the train currently at the station was the last one running and my card wouldn’t let me through the turnstile and I couldn’t figure out why until I realized it wasn’t my subway card but my work ID and then when I finally found the right card the subway doors were about to close so I ran really fast and slipped and fell into a guy on the train.
I think I’ll move to Australia.
On the subway it was hot and stuffy and packed from door to door and then the conductor came over the speaker and said that the train wouldn't be stopping in my city so I had to go to another city out of my way and transfer and when I got to that city the train I needed was pulling out just as the train I was on was pulling up so then I had to wait for what felt like three days for my train to finally come to take me home.
I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I think I’ll move to Australia.
When I got home there was a package in the mail for me. It was a new dress I had ordered. I tried it on. It was pretty tight and took me 15 minute to zip it shut. I was going to have to start exercising more and I hate exercising. I was going to have to cut down on chocolate and I love chocolate.
As I got ready for bed, I thought, indeed, it had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But like my friend Bridget says, some days are like that.
Even in Australia.
*The events of this story have been grossly oversimplified for the sake of maintaining Alexander’s childlike tone. Had it been written for adults, it might have included a few more colorful words and ended with one very tall, all-the-way full wine glass.
I’m pretty excited for today’s lesson. I know I shouldn’t be, as it is technically cheating.
But to be fair, it was Dr. Seligman’s idea. He told me to use
, and I feel high already. Bring
on the whine!
For homework, I was asked to keep an ABC diary. The A stands for adversity
unpleasant situation. The B represents my beliefs
—the way I interpret the adversity (but separate from my “feelings,” and something for which the accuracy can be evaluated). The C is for the consequences
of the adversity—my feelings and actions as a result of my beliefs.
I kept this diary for a little more than a week, as, amazingly, I had a hard time coming up with five adverse situations. (Ok, fine, that’s a lie. I thought of plenty. I just wasn’t ready to admit exactly how
negative my thoughts were on some of them!) Here are the five I settled on:
I bite into a slice of pizza fresh from the oven and burn the roof of my mouth. Everything I eat and drink for a week aggravates the burn. B:
I like eating, and I am impatient. C:
I question if I have an unhealthy relationship with food. I’m reminded of a time in ninth grade when a guy in my regular lunch group asked if anyone wanted his cupcake. I said I did. He called me a heifer. I didn’t eat his cupcake. In fact, I think I stopped eating for a week. Hey, I wonder if I can do that again? It’d certainly stop the pain in my mouth.
I go to see a concert and the bouncer slips an over-21 wristband on me before even giving me the chance to reach for my ID. I’ve noticed this is happening more frequently. B:
I’m getting older, and it shows. There was also that guy the other week who thought I was “his age,” which turned out to be three years older than I am. The polluted city air and over-treated water must be aging me. And I have noticed a wrinkle forming between my eyes, likely the result of squinting due to my denial over needing to wear glasses. C:
Depressed, I buy some heavy-duty wrinkle cream. I promise to make a conscious effort to squint less. I also consider resuming shopping at Forever21. If I dress young, I’ll look young, right? And from now on, I’ll shove my ID in bouncer’s faces before they even have the chance to ask for it. This way, I’ll never know whether or not they were going to, thus preventing myself from feeling lousy when they don’t.
A: I meet a guy. He’s cute, sweet, has a sexy accent, and is actually into me. The down side? He lives on the other side of the world and was only in town for a few days.
B: In the words of one of my favorite Jerry Seinfeld lines: “That's God's plan. He doesn't really want anyone to get together.”
C: I resolve myself to spinsterhood. I’ll get that dog I’ve been wanting, or, hell, maybe even two. We’ll be fine. Plus, I still have my Prince:
A: I come down with a cold and have to cancel plans I’d made to have brunch with my friends.
B: I am missing out on a carbohydrate overload and mimosas. Oh, there I go with food again…
C: I catch up on sleep, which is rare. Plus, later, my friend informs me that a guy who recently blew me off after a date walked in during the middle of their meal and sat at the table next to them. I thank the Universe for looking out for me and saving me from an awkward moment. She doesn’t do that too often. I start thinking that my optimism training must be working already.
A: The day after my missed brunch outing, I head to work feeling mostly better but quite fatigued. A coworker tells me that I “don’t look good” and “look tired.” I tell him I slept 13 hours. He says I look like I slept one.
B: I wasn’t wearing much makeup and had foregone blush. I’m not a natural beauty and my pasty complexion apparently makes me look like a cancer patient.
C: I make a mental note to self: Don’t skip blush and return to your usual 4 hours of beauty sleep per night.
After recording my five ABC sequences from my life, I was instructed to look for the link between my beliefs and the consequences. According to Dr. Seligman, pessimistic explanations will set off passivity and dejection. Optimistic explanations result in constructive actions and increased energy.
After reviewing my beliefs and consequences, I’m unsure of where I fall. Sure, some of the situations made me feel dejected, but I didn’t react passively. Just look at all my new plans—I’m getting a dog, changing my wardrobe, upping my beauty regimen. But, I also internalized most of the bad events, a classic pessimist move. As evident from the test of my explanatory style, I'm not sure the glass is always limited to either half-empty or half-full. Maybe some days you have to pour in a little more, and others you take a few sips. The key is in not needing to pour in more on a regular basis. And that's why this whine-o could clearly benefit from taking her glass on to the next lesson in Learned Optimism.
Today I was discussing my new goals to have a more positive outlook in life with a close friend. Shortly into the conversation it became apparent to me how much self-awareness my friend lacked. As a pessimist addict, I can spot another pessimist a mile away. This friend? Definitely a user, and one with a serious case of denial. I wanted to get her help—lend her Learned Optimism
, point her to resources, show her my blog. But it would have been pointless. You can’t change unless you realize you have a problem. That’s exactly why my treatment with Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman began with an assessment, a test of when I apply optimism or pessimism in my own life. The results give you a view of yourself that "you might not otherwise see.” And, in fact, I was surprised by some of the results.
The test measures three main areas: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization.
Permanence is whether you think bad events, as well as good events, will be permanent or temporary. It came as no surprise to me that I view bad events as permanent. Some examples of things I may have said as a pessimist: “I’ll be single forever,” “I’ll never be a size 0,” and, “I’ll always have insomnia.” What did surprise me, though, was learning I have the same approach to good events. When good things happen, I assume they have temporary causes and won’t last. Example: “That date went well, but I’m sure on the next one I’ll learn he’s really an unemployed, pathological liar that lives in his parent’s basement.”
Pervasiveness is about space. A pessimist will let one problem interfere with all other areas of their lives. With good events, though, pessimists believe they are caused by specific, temporary factors, whereas an optimist will let the good events enhance other areas of their lives. Again, my “very pessimistic” score here did not surprise me. A few more examples of my typical thought process:
-- “My hair looks great today. Must be the low humidity. I’m sure it’ll be a frizzy disaster tomorrow.”
-- “These new people I met actually want to hang out with me again? Evidently they were too tipsy to
realize how dull I am. I better bring the wine next time just to be safe.”
-- “My friend is mad at me. Why do I even get out of bed in the morning? I’m terrible at everything, I have
horrible luck, people don’t like me, I failed my diet, I have no skills, I haven’t accomplished any of my
goals, and my life’s a mess. I quit!”
The final area, personalization, measures how you feel about yourself. Do you internalize and blame yourself for bad events (pessimist) or externalize and blame circumstances and others (optimist)? This is when I began to question Dr. Seligman’s credibility. I shockingly scored “moderately high self-esteem” in this area. I rechecked my answers and triple checked my score. It appeared I was already a master of the Blame Game
! However, I did go on to get a moderately high pessimistic score for how I view my accomplishments. As evident in my earlier examples, I attribute them to luck, coincidence, or others, and not my own doing. Indeed, I was a pessimist, one whose overall score indicated I could “definitely benefit from a change in my explanatory style.”
The good news is that while my scores showed I have little hope, Dr. Seligman says I’m not hopeless. Pessimism is merely a bad habit of thoughts and beliefs that aren’t necessarily true. Once I realize these thoughts can be challenged, I’ll be on the road to challenging them—while filling my glass, one drop at a time.
“You’re a bit of a Debbie Downer, aren’t you?” This question was posed to me recently by
someone I had chatted only briefly with on a few occasions. But in just those few short
conversations, he had already spotted my habit.
“Yes I am,” I replied. The first step, after all, is admitting you have a problem. “But I’m trying to
quit,” I added enthusiastically. The second step: making the decision to change.
“Oh yeah?” he said. “How’s that going for you?”
Apparently not well, I thought.
As it turns out, changing who you are as a person and how your mind thinks is not quite that simple. It is easy to wake up and say, “Today I will be positive!” But in the face of adversity, to know how to implement that decision is far more difficult. It was time for step three: seeking help.
Lesson One: The Blame Game
To truly kick my addiction to pessimism, I knew I needed assistance from a professional. However, therapy on a journalist’s salary seemed like a stretch, so I went the self-help route. I commenced my journey to filling the glass with the help of psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman’s audiobook Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.
As I hit play on my iPod, I admit I was a bit skeptical, but I was also rather excited. Fix me, I thought. Teach me Optimism!
In the first five minutes, Dr. Seligman explained the primary difference between a pessimist and an optimist. Most of his defining characteristics were things I’ve heard many times before, but I was struck by one in particular. Dr. Seligman explained that pessimists think bad events will last a long time, allow them to affect all other areas of their lives, and blame themselves. Optimists think bad events are temporary setbacks, which have causes specific to only that area of their lives, and they blame circumstances or other people.
Hold on a minute. So my first step to becoming an optimist is to fault other people for my problems and setbacks? I pondered this for a moment and all its possible applications in life.
A project you worked on received negative feedback? Don’t sweat it. Your teammates are completely to blame for that one. They’re not nearly as talented as you. Had an argument with a friend? They have issues. You were just being a great friend as always. Got rejected after a date? Like you were really interested anyway. You were so out of his league. He was clearly intimidated.
Oh, wait, I have actually applied that last one from time to time. Maybe I am part optimist. My excitement grew. I could get behind this, I thought. I began to wonder if this way of thinking was “The Secret” I keep hearing so much about. Why had no one let me in on it sooner? No wonder optimists are so happy! In their minds, they can do no wrong.
Alright, maybe I was getting a little ahead of myself. I continued on with my lesson, listening to Dr. Seligman give examples of ways optimists and pessimists react to unpleasant situations. Through them, I developed a clearer understanding of how externalizing blame truly is beneficial. The idea, he notes, is not to avoid personal responsibility, but to strike a balance and keep troubles from ruining your life. As a pessimist, I have been quick to fault myself for bad events in the past. And as Dr. Seligman explains, this thought process can be crippling. Rather than taking constructive actions, as an optimist would, a pessimist will feel dejected and shut down. My addiction, it turns out, is harmful in ways I'd never even considered. Good thing I was getting help!
At the conclusion of my first day's session, Dr. Seligman gave me an assignment. I was to log five adverse situations and my reactions to them. The first step in my recovery, he says, is becoming aware of when I use my pessimistic explanatory style. Then we can work on changing it. But let's keep it between us that my immediate reaction to the assignment was, "Great, five bad things have to happen to me this week," all of which I plan to blame on Dr. Seligman.