Emotion Regulation Blog: Building Pleasant Experiences (REPEAT)

It occurred to me today when I started writing last week’s blog that I was having a Deja Vu moment. I have cycled through all of the modules with these blogs! So, rather than recreate the wheel, I am just going to copy each week’s blog, unless something new gets added or more I decide to integrate some more things. So, this is a repeat of the last time we were on this lesson, but here it is: 

The following is a synopsis of a weekly Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) group lesson, based on the work of Marsha Linehan out of the University of Washington.

DBT Skills Group Summary: Adding Positive Experiences to Your Life

This week’s skills group focused on ways to add pleasant things to our day, week. and life. We focused on:

  • Building positive Experiences
  • Being Mindful of Positive Experiences
  • Being UnMindful of Worries

A lot of the problems we have coping throughout our day are the result of our inability to see the joy in things. This idea relates back to an idea that is popular in Psychology; the idea of risk and protective factors. We know that the more risk factors a person has for a disease, a problem, etc., the more likely they are to develop that disease, problem, etc. Interestingly, the more protective factors a person has, the more they can bounce back (be resilient) from a difficult situation or variable (Bernard, 1991). Ultimately, reducing unhealthy behaviors or attitudes is great, but we have to build more positive ones to truly see long term benefits.

1. Building Positive Experiences: In the short term, we need to do things mindfully that we enjoy. In DBT, referring back to the “Adult pleasant Activities” list of ideas really helps, as we sometimes don’t know what we enjoy, until somewhere we get an idea to try it. In the long term, we need to work toward our goals, attend to relationships, and avoid avoiding in order to have long term positive experiences.

  • Working toward goals: The problem people encounter when trying to achieve goals is often that the goal seems too overwhelming. Instead of setting a goal and expecting to achieve it, we need to list the small steps toward achieving those goals, and then focus mindfully on just taking the first step.
  • Attend to Relationships: This is a very hard one for all of us, because there just isn’t enough time for everyone in our life. Its also hard because relationships are so important, that they can be very hard to navigate. Attending to relationships means that we are taking steps to repair old relationships that need repair, reaching out for new relationships by being around new people and/or situations, and working on maintaining the relationships that we currently have.
  • Avoid Avoiding: Giving up is never a good idea, yet we all want to quit things sometimes. When we become willful, we give up, and this will contribute to the cycle of shame and self-deprecation that many of us find ourselves in. while it is ok to try something and decide we don’t want to do it anymore, we do not want to get into avoidant patterns, where we avoid our responsibilities, commitments, or problems. In addition, many of us avoid the pleasant things in life, making life much harder then it already is. We need to acknowledge the good and the bad in every moment, in order to avoid avoiding.

2. Be mindful of Positive Experiences: Acknowledging the good that inevitably is in any moment, helps us feel more balanced and in control. We can do that by:

  • Focusing our attention on positive events that happen. Even the most awful, painful moment has things to be grateful for, feel good about, or ways to be more comfortable in. Did you smell a flower today? Stop to listen to the birds chirping? Acknowledge that today you have no physical pain? Or no fighting with friends? Or transportation to get you places? or….
  • Refocusing your attention when your mind wanders. When we get distracted with other things, we need to refocus on the positive things that are also part of a moment, and refocus on the whole picture, rather than just part of it.
  • Make a list of things that interrupt enjoyment and turn the mind away from them. There are lots of things that stop me from feeling good. The key is to know what or whom those things are and to make a plan to avoid them, or to cope with them when they rear their ugly heads.

3. Be Unmindful of Worries: We all have plenty to worry about. Even the most seemingly healthy, well-adjusted, or lucky people have worries and problems in their lives. Stressors are everywhere and if we allow ourselves to focus on the problems or stressors in our lives, of course we will be uncomfortable! So instead we need to distract from:

  • Thinking about when the positive experience will end. How many of us have the Sunday night blues? This week in group someone mentioned that her Sunday night blues start on Saturday! What an awful way to spend a Saturday, worrying about going back to work on Monday. Being mindful about the moment instead of letting ourselves focus on the end of the positivity will surely take the good out of any moment.
  • Thinking about whether or not we deserve the positive experience. We ALL deserve whatever life brings us, good AND bad. Life happens to all of us, it isn’t a question of who deserves what, it is just a matter of the moment. If the moment brings us pleasantness then let’s do that. If it brings us pain then be with it. Distracting from the judgement we attach to these things is important for our happiness and well being.
  • Thinking about what may be expected of us if we feel better. Life is easier when others don’t expect anything of us right? Well, not really. Other’s high expectations may be difficult to match, but who says we have to? Like the bullet point above, distracting from other’s judgements, and our own is important to help us feel happy. In reality, others will likely not expect more of us if we are happy or have a pleasant moment or two. If they do, that is really their problem to figure out isn’t it?Like most DBT skills, the beauty of them is in the Dialectic. Most of them are just a piece of cake to understand and to even remember. The other side of that is that they are super hard to do. PRACTICE this skill as much as you can. Daily is best, until you start to think and act this way more automatically. Hope to write you next week!

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