BREAK THE CHAIN – WILL YA?

The focus of all lockdowns has been to break the chain – breaking the physical spread of the virus. Apart from practicing the 3Ws i.e., Wear your Mask, Wash your hands and Watch your distance.

Has it helped? partially and in some places totally.

The unfortunate thing is that we have not practiced that on social media and in our thinking.

The “Law of Attraction” says that you tend to get what you focus your energies on. Now let’s look at the type of energies we are generating around the already stressful situation of the pandemic.

So much dread, fear, cynicism, and negativity. The only stories we are getting to hear are of how things are going from bad to worse, how governments have been failing us, how it is all a sham.

Every day, you open social media, turn on the tv, talk to people, the only talk is around how things are very bad and will get much worse.

How is it helping those who are suffering?

We know that words have power and they can shape our minds.

Can we attempt a hard lockdown on our negative stories? Can we STOP talking about how things are going downhill? Can we tell stories which will lift people’s spirit? Can we share the success stories of those who have recovered?

PLEDGE TO BREAK THE CHAIN?

Personality and Mental Wellness

According to APA (American Psychological Association, 2017), all individuals are unique and differ in their patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.  While your emotions may fluctuate during the course of your everyday interactions with the world; your personality infrastructure is thought to remain stable after a person reaches a specific age (McCrae & Costa, 2003). 

One of the foremost and widely researched personality models is the ‘Five Factor Model – Big Five’, measured by a set of highly reliable and valid inventory supported by McCrae and Costa’s work.  These Big Five measures the five descriptors of personality as ‘Openness to experience’, ‘Conscientiousness’, ‘Extraversion’, ‘Agreeableness’ and ‘Neuroticism’ or the ‘Negative emotionality’ or popularly known as the OCEAN Scale.  The core set of dispositional traits within the Big Five are the predominant aspects of a personality and provides a much organized framework with which a human personality can be measured.  While the Big Five can broadly predict your personal disposition, there are over 30 facets or sub-traits which go to make the Big Five comprehensively describable and accurate.

Over three decades of research focused on the relationship between personality and psychological well-being (eg: Schmutte & Ryff, 1997) and more recently Siegler and Brummett (2000) have shown a strong positive association of the Big Five traits and its related variables to mental wellness.

“Mental health is not just an ‘absence of illness’ as you have known.  It is rather the ‘presence of wellness’. There are human capacities which are needed for you to flourish and protect and are associated with being well.”

Mental Wellness – Prathibimb™

The ‘Prathibimb’ means ‘reflection’ in Hindi which builds on the most powerful framework and model of your ‘Mental Wellness’ which will help you analyze and organize your life better and help you generate ideas about how to lead and live a better, a more satisfying life.

With my experience of working with over 450,000 people across all walks of life and studying their behavioral dispositions and impact on mental wellness, I believe that as most of the big five research conforms, your personality has a strong correlation with your mental welleness.  Once you are able to deeply undestand all the personality traits and related variables, you will get a hold on how you respond to stimuli – both internal and extraneous.

We have identified, 6 Key dimensions of your personality which when related to your personality dispositions can be a good predictor of your mental wellness.  These six dimensions are your Emotional well-being, Defense mechanism, Anger response, Impulsivity, Purpose in life and Positive relationships with others.

Benefits

By understanding your personality or ‘Prathibimb’ and how it correlates with the mental wellness dimensions, you will derive immense benefits like;

  • Self-awareness and acceptance
  • Self-control and discipline
  • Greater understanding of your strengths and ability to use them to your advantage
  • Predict dimensions which could negatively impact your sense of well-being
  • Help you develop coping strategies for mental wellness

The 6 Key Dimensions of Mental Wellness

Each individual is unique and comes with a unique set of personality traits and characteristics.  These traits predispose them to certain behavior which contribute positively or negatively to their mental state.  While there could be many possibilities, our research says that there are 6 key dimensions the correlation of which provides us with a basis for predicting how an individual will respond to what is thrown at him/her; in turn influencing the mental wellness.  Given below are the 6 dimensions for your understanding.

Emotional well-being

Your Emotional well-being (EWB) is a cognitive appraisal of satisfaction with life in general and includes a positive balance of pleasant to unpleasant.  Well-being and mental health are issues of everyday life and emotional well-being can be considered as a component of positive mental health.  Experiencing positive emotions can be considered as one of the pillars of positive psychology.  Your emotional well-being includes how you relate to the subjective experience of the past, present and the future. (reference Keyes 2003).

There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Extraversion.  Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as;

Sanguine optimist – Those who are usually cheerful because they are not unduly troubled by problems, and who have a keen appreciation for life’s pleasures. They are quick to recover from setbacks.  Nothing in the world which would often worry or frighten others, bothers them.  They have confidence in future possibilities and are focused on the same.  Their cheerful nature manifests in all their interpersonal interactions, spreading positivity all around.

Apathetic – Those who often have tendencies showing a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, or concern about things. They tend to remain in a state of indifference and show little or no interest in the happenings and events that would excite or worry others.  In their interpersonal interactions they may come across to others as cold, insensitive, uncaring, and bland.  As an apathetic person they may lack a sense of purpose, worth, or meaning in their life. They may also exhibit insensibility or sluggishness.

Sombre pessimist – Those who have heightened levels of negative emotions and frequent bouts of anxiety, worry and stressful episodes, you often find life hard and joyless.  Their predisposition towards lower levels of social interaction makes it difficult for them to vent and share your negative emotions leading to a downward spiral of negativity.  They tend to have little faith in the future and often come across as pessimists to people who interact with you.

Highly emotional – Those who often experience high levels of negative emotions with frequent mood swings, negative thoughts, high levels of stress, and anxiety. Add to this their inclination towards high levels of social interactions make their interpersonal transactions extremely tumultuous. 

Defense Mechanism

Defense mechanism points to how your personality traits influence your mental processes to find solutions to stressful episodes in your life.  It points to the ways in which your mind will project your negative emotions into thoughts and feelings.  This mental process is usually unconscious and tends to conceal your internal drives or feelings that threaten to impact your self-esteem and provoke anxiety.

There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Openness to experience.  Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as,

Super-sensitive – Those who fall under this category of emotional super-sensitivity have something like a sixth sense, a highly developed level of empathy, that allows them to recognize different emotions in others.  The problem is that it affects them, and because they feel much more than everyone else, they feel other people’s pain in their own flesh.

Non-adaptive – A non-adaptive person’s anxiety, stress, negative emotions are often not lessened by their own behavior and is dysfunctional to the individual.  They may often find it difficult to find solutions to the anxiety you experience. They may be prone to using repression and denial as a defense mechanism. 

Under-sensitive – People with an under-sensitive personality rarely experience negative emotionality and often downplay its affects.  They do not dwell too much on their setbacks and instead move quickly to solutions.  This is often to distract themselves.  The threshold for pain is so high in them that they may often overlook or are not sensitive to the impending dangers. 

Adaptive – These individuals are often calm in the face of threat, stress, or any problem.  They are naturally prone to find solutions and use their creative abilities to adapt themselves to various situations.  They find humor in the face of stress and often calm nerves using their vivid imagination.

Anger response

Anger is a natural and mostly automatic response to pain of one form or another (physical or emotional). Anger can occur when people don’t feel well, feel rejected, feel threatened, or experience some loss. The type of pain does not matter; the important thing is that the pain experienced is unpleasant.

There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Agreeableness.  Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as,

Timid – Those who are timid often lack in self-confidence and are apprehensive over their response to conflicting emotions which make them angry.  They get easily hurt and often feel down, taking a long time to recover from negative feelings.  They are easily angered when faced with adversity and their reticence often makes them direct their anger inwards towards themselves. 

Moody – Those who are moody often overlook the impact of their anger on others.  They are easily angered and direct their anger on others.  In their interactions with others, they come across as volatile and get irritated over minor issues.  They boil with anger for prolonged periods of time and are always at the tipping point of an angry outburst. 

Callous – Those who are callous do take offense, but they have the ability to remain calm and not be overpowered by feelings of anger.  They are very calculative in their interactions with others and have the propensity to seek revenge in a cold-blooded manner.  They could hurt people nonchalantly and hardly ever feel bad about it.

Mellow – Those who are mellow do not get angered easily.  They remain calm and in the face of interpersonal conflict would prefer to forgive and forget.  They believe that most people are of good intent.  In the face of any dispute with others, they try and focus more on reaching a common ground for resolution.

Impulsivity

Impulsivity, or an impulsive behaviour, is broadly defined as actions without foresight that are poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unnecessarily risky, and inappropriate to the situation. Impulsivity is associated with undesirable, rather than desirable, outcomes.  From making hasty decisions to getting into fights, impulsivity can cause harm to yourself and those around you.  In addition to undermining relationships and your overall sense of well-being, impulsive behaviours can also lead to personal harm if left unchecked.

There are two key factors of the big five which influence your state of emotional well-being namely, Neuroticism or Negative emotionality and Conscientiousness.  Basis on how you score on these traits, either high, average or low, you would show dispositions which have a certain impact on your mental status and could be described as,

Over-controlled – Overcontrolled people are tense and stressful with a high need for control.  They look for perfectionism in everything and tend to get edgy and agitated when they are unable to achieve those levels.  They are obsessed with the need to reach an imaginary high level of performance which are often unrealistic and at times unattainable.  They often feel a sense of incompleteness in their work which puts them under undue stress.  They are often so worried about the outcome that they find it difficult to stop.  They tend to panic for the slightest reason. 

Under-controlled – Undercontrolled people often lack in self-discipline and cannot pull back their urge to do many things at the same time.  They are often unplanned and do not pay attention to detail which comes back to hurt them in the long-term.  They frequently switch their attention from one activity to the other leading to sub-optimal outcome. They are prone to high levels of stress as they encounter more failures than success.  It takes them on a spiral of dysfunctional behavior of seeking solace in external sources.  They are prone to the feeling that everything around them is going out of control and they cannot do anything about it.  They may indulge in behaviors which risk their health.

Relaxed – Relaxed people are never really bothered about the outcome and they do not feel the need to exercise control over their actions.  They often find it hard to motivate themselves and they are hard to be motivated by others as well.  They don’t easily get disappointed when results are not as expected.  They tend to brush aside setbacks with such ease that others may find them to be disinterested, disinclined, or plainly not bothered.

Focused – Focused people are clear about what they want in life and work diligently towards achieving their goals.  They are not flustered by setbacks and have the ability to recover quickly to continue pursuing their goals.  They remain calm and composed in the face of adversity and are not angered easily. 

Purpose in life

It relates to one’s ability to feel that there is a purpose to life.  It indicates a clear purpose and meaning of life.  It relates to your sense of directedness and intentionality.  It is about your drive to achieve your goals.  It’s your pursuit of making life meaningful or purposeful.  You could either be seen to have a ‘strong’ purpose in life or ‘weak’ purpose based on the scores on the big five factors and related variables.  The factor of conscientiousness has a major influence on this dimension.

Strong purpose in life  – People who score high on the aspect of “Purpose in Life”, always have goals and a sense of directedness in their life; they feel there is meaning to their present and past life; hold beliefs that give life purpose; and have aims and objectives for living.

Having a strong purpose in life is a good predictor of both health and longevity.  Evidence suggests that the ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting challenges, may be a mechanism underlying the resilience in those who have a strong purpose in life. 

Weak purpose in life  – Those who show a weak purpose in life may lack a sense of meaning in life.  They often have few goals or aims, lack a sense of direction; do not see purpose in their past life; and have no outlook or beliefs that give their life meaning.

Positive relationships

It is your ability to have positive relationships with others.  It emphasizes the ability to form close union with others, and the guidance and direction of others.  It relates to your ability to maintain warm, affectionate, friendly, cordial relations with others.  It is an indicator of your social wellness.  You could either be seen to have a ‘strong’ positive relationship with others or ‘weak’ relations with others, based on the scores on the big five factors and related variables.  The factor of extraversion is known to have a major influence on this dimension.

Strong positive relationship with others – People with a score indicating strong positive relationship with others, have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others.  They are concerned about the welfare of others and are capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy.  They understand the give and take of human relationships.

Weak relations with others – People with a score which indicates weak relationships with others have few close, trusting relationships with others.  They find it difficult to be warm, open, and concerned about others.  They often find themselves to be isolated and frustrated in interpersonal relationships.  They often are not willing to make compromises to sustain important ties with others.

Note: Sree Kumar, the author of this article, who is the co-founder and partner at Equinox Consultants, is the co-creator of the Prathibimb Mental Wellness™ (PMW) Model and framework.  This article is intended to outline the framework.  For more information on the PMW assessments and how it can help improve your personal and organizational wellness, you could get in touch with him directly at sree@equinox.co.in

Copyright: Prathibimb and Prathibimb Mental Wellness Assessment™ (PMWA) are copyrighted and are the intellectual property of Equinox Consultants.  No part of this document or related assessments and suggestions may be reproduced, copied or used without the written and explicit consent of the authors.

How Freedom Of Choice Is Leading To Stress?

“Should I kill myself, or make myself a cup of coffee?”

Famous quote from the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, driving home the point that in every area of our life and in every moment, a choice is waiting to be made.

According to a study, the number of people who can describe themselves as “very happy” has nosedived during the last 30 years or so and the most painful manifestation being the increased prevalence of clinical depression.

So what is causing this?  While there could be many reasons, one which affects all of us is the stress from making choices; everyday – every moment!

There are so many alternatives to our choices.  Fortunately for us most of our day-to-day choices are on autopilot and we don’t really need to ponder for long.  Putting on your clothes or brushing your teeth before you step out to office don’t really count.

I am talking about the innumerable choices we are faced with, which demand a lot of effort – both intellectual and emotional.  Right from choosing a health insurance to an educational program; from fitness program to a diet plan; a mobile device to a laptop, our choices have become incredibly complicated.   I hardly know a person who fully understands what his health insurance covers.  Most of us sign on the dotted line fatigued by reading the lines and between them and end up ‘choosing’ – yeah well that’s a choice as well 😊 to go with what our investment advisor told us.

We have so many alternatives that making the choice puts a huge burden of responsibility on the individual.  The free markets have added to the burden.  One’s ability to make choices is probably the single most important skill to learn today, especially so when it comes to critical ones like finances, health and medicine, education, fitness and diet, and buying a home; the stakes for the individual are very high.  A bad investment decision for example, can bring complete financial ruin to an individual’s life, forcing the person to prioritize between food and medicine.

The effect of these incredibly demanding choices we have to make ourselves, makes it harder for people to choose wisely.   In fact, the so called ‘freedom of choice’ sometimes feels like a crushing burden on us.

Even with few alternatives on hand, our decision making is prone to error.  It’s partly due to the fact that they are partially impacted by our memory and conditioning which are often biased. 

As Daniel Kahneman states, “how we remember a past experience depends almost entirely on how the experience felt to us when it was at its best or worst, and when it ended”.

With online digital shopping in vogue today, making a choice has become more and more difficult.  I am sure you would have felt that at the end of an experience of an online purchase it robs us of the much-needed satisfaction and happiness of having finally made a choice.  For example, I myself experience this every year, when I am tasked with planning a vacation for my family.  At times it has taken a month before I finally arrive at a decision.  After skimming through the web with so many alternatives and with intense brainstorming with the stakeholders i.e, family, it is so exhausting for all that you are still reeling under the thought whether you made the right decision in the end?  At times I have experienced, I am in the midst of the holiday reminded of the options I could have considered which would have possibly been better than the one I chose. That spoils the whole vacation.  Have you had similar experiences?  Not just a vacation but any other choice which you have made in the recent past?

These are nothing but what we popularly know as opportunity cost of passing up the opportunity that the other option could have possibly provided.  Whenever we think of opportunity costs, we are prone to feel less satisfied with our choice that we would if the alternatives were unknown.

Today, the Mental wellness and Emotional Wellness industry is growing at a fast pace.  Did you know what’s behind their growth?  Widespread unhappiness!

Sometimes you wonder, with so much of development taking place around the world where man has even planned to set foot on Mars, why is here so much unhappiness all around?

Simply put, we are spoilt for choice.

We are suffering because we have been presented with unlimited options on a daily basis and we are prone to make errors of judgment where our choices turn out to be disappointing.  We start blaming ourselves.

You start to sense a lack of control.  As Martin Seligman says, “failure or lack of control leads to depression”.  You end up blaming yourselves and such self-blame is easier in a world where your options are unlimited.  The modern epidemic of unhappiness is highly correlated with this abundance of alternatives of which you have to choose.

You may realize that the unlimited freedom of choice in every aspect of life might be actually making us lonely and cause us more distress than we realize.

So what can we do to alleviate the pain? Limit the choice and don’t be too informed is my advice.

What’s your advice?  How do you think people can make ‘choices’ that make them happy?