Prideful Moments: Positive Psychology through Journaling

Name one thing you did today that gave you pride. These actions could be something as big as “applied for a job” or “made a presentation at work,” or something as small as “cleaned out the inside of the car.” What does it say about you in terms of your qualities, attitudes, or your supports that you were able to do this?



Thing that gave you pride: Got the oil changed in the car.

1. Qualities: I can make a plan and stick to it.

2. Attitudes and beliefs: It’s important to take care of my belongings.

3. Supports: Money


Often we beat ourselves up over our mistakes or what we have left undone. But consider how children learn appropriate behaviors: criticizing and punishing them won’t work as well as praising them when they do something right. Grown-ups work the same way, but sometimes we’re the ones who have to provide our own reinforcement. The purpose of this exercise is to get you to focus on actions for which you can give yourself credit. As you deliberate on what you did and how you did it, you enlarge its significance in your mind.

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Breaking Down Big Jobs: Positive Psychology through Journaling

Think of a task you know you should do that’s been weighing on you. Break down the tasks into as many baby steps as possible. For instance, in applying for a job, you may have to: 1) do research on the Internet 2) download applications 3) fill out an application for the first job 4) contact your first reference 5) contact your second reference 6) contact your third reference 7) look up an address for an old place of employment 8) find the name of your last supervisor 9) proofread the application 10) make any necessary changes 11) submit the application 12) update resume.

Which one of these is an action you can take today, or depending on when you are writing this, tomorrow?



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Worst-Case Scenario: Positive Psychology through Journaling

Consider a future event that engenders fear or dread.


What is the worst-case scenario?

What is the percentage likelihood, realistically speaking, that this event would happen? If it were to occur, how would you deal with it?


This exercise is helpful when we are worried about a future event, such as an interview, a presentation, or another event for which we have major responsibility. Go ahead and consciously consider what your worst fear is. Is it fainting as you reach the podium? Is it people throwing rotten tomatoes at you? Whatever it is, writing the fears down will expose them and will place them outside of your mind rather than letting dire images of disaster whirl around in your head. Often our fears can become blown out of proportion. When looked at more objectively, you may find that yours has only a minuscule likelihood of happening. Sometimes in this process, you may find humor in the situation (“rotten tomatoes?”), which dissipates some of the anxiety.

For the final part of the exercise, assume the worst-case scenario might occur. How would you handle it, if it did? Let’s say that no one came to your open house. You may cry and feel disappointed and rejected, but at least you got your place cleaned up and had some good food on hand to eat. If you got a “B” in a class rather than an “A,” the world probably wouldn’t end, and it might have more to do with the instructor’s grading policies than your performance anyway. If a person rejected your invitation on a date, you wouldn’t die.

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Definitions of a Problem: Writing Your Way to Right Thinking: Positive Psychology through Journaling

Think of a problem you’re facing now and come up with three different definitions of the problem. If we can generate some different perspectives, we can become more flexible and less rigid in our thinking and feel less stuck. An alternative perspective may also allow us to see the problem in a way that is more solvable.  Hence, the second part of the exercise is to come up with two solutions for each of the new definitions of the problem.

For example, the problem of chronic lateness in the morning may be reformulated as the following:

1. Not having sufficient time to get ready in the morning

2. Trying to get too many things done in the morning

3. Putting off homework until the morning.

The first definition may lead to the idea of setting the alarm earlier. The second may help you realize that, realistically, you can only get certain tasks accomplished in the morning, but other things will have to be tackled the night before. The third definition may involve getting homework completed in a more timely manner.

Original problem:

Reformulation #1:




Reformulation #2:




Reformulation #3:










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Write Your Way to Right Thinking: Positive Psychology through Journaling: Role Models

Who do you most admire? For what reasons? In what ways are you already like that person?


Who do you most admire? My former supervisor.

For what reasons? She was calm and nonjudgmental.

In what ways are you already like that person? Because of her mentorship, I am more like this with students and people I supervise.

This exercise gives us an opportunity to think about role models, people who inspire and give us hope. By identifying the qualities, attitudes, and/or actions that a person takes, we can consider to what we would like to aspire. Sometimes we admire a person because he or she has qualities that we share, but perhaps have not yet developed as deeply.


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Write Your Way to Right Thinking: Coping with a Challenge

Name a time recently or in the past twenty-four hours when you were able to remain calm in the face of a frustrating or otherwise difficult circumstance.
What did you do?
What did you say to yourself?
What did you learn from this that you can take with you to other situations?

Hassles, such as traffic, deadlines, messes, pointless meetings, rude or inconsiderate people, confront us on a daily basis. We will never be able to abolish these from our lives. But we can control our response. This exercise gets you to consider a response you had to one of those incidents in which you were able to keep your cool and/or make the best of what the circumstance had to offer. Perhaps you were able to listen to an audiotape while stuck in traffic and therefore catch up with a book you wanted to read. Perhaps you were able to get other work accomplished in a boring and otherwise non-productive meeting. Perhaps you were able to brush off rude behavior without personalizing it. This exercise demonstrates that you don’t necessarily have to succumb to negative experiences and let them ruin, or at least mar, your day. You can instead seek out, and give yourselves credit for, those times when you handled stressors well. Reflecting on these times also gives you ideas about how to handle the inevitable frustrations that come our way.

Here’s an example from a former student:

I volunteered to help with an event at my child’s preschool and became resentful because of the amount of work involved, making phone calls, sending faxes and e-mails with attachments. I was already feeling too busy and this added to my workload.

What did I do? I worked though each task step by step.

What did I say to myself? I reminded myself of the reasons that I was so eager to do this in the first place and why it is important that I continue. I reminded myself that even though it feels hard, I have a lot to offer to this particular job, and if I had chosen not to do it, there would be some missing pieces from this project. Others are working on it, too, but I came to the table with some unique ideas and opportunities. I am also doing this so that I can feel more useful. I love being a stay-at-home mom but I have felt useless and deprived of intellectual stimulation, as well as adult interactions. This is also giving me the opportunity to learn some new skills and practice interacting with people in ways that I am not typically accustomed.

What did I learn? I learned that I feel better when I follow through with obligations in a timely manner. I learned that it is typical to spend much more time in the anticipatory anxiety phase than it realistically ends up taking to complete the task.





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Write Your Way to Write Thinking: Journaling through Positive Psychology

WRITE YOUR WAY TO RIGHT THINKING was created as a way to do regular journaling that will help you enact positive psychology principles in your life.  Originated by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, positive psychology emphasizes the study of well-being, strengths, and what is already going well rather than trying to remedy deficits. For more information, see

In this blog, at least three times a week, I’ll post a series of questions for you to reflect upon by writing in the comment box. (Of course, you can also write in your own journal.) A brief explanation of the rationale and purpose of the entry will follow for further guidance, as well as a de-identified example from an anonymous contributor. You can also comment about how processing your experience through writing was helpful for you. Working with the entries over time can solidify your positive, or at least realistic, thinking patterns so that you can feel better toward yourself and others, enjoy improved relationships, and experience more hope for your future.

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West End Farmers Market Book Event June 2

I’m at an author’s event on Sunday June 2 at West End Farmers Market in Alexandria.

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Upcoming Appearance at Alexandria, VA Main Library



Wednesday, OCTOBER 10, 2012 at 7:00pm
at the Beatley Library

5005 Duke St., Alexandria

Donna Andrews, Meg Langslow Series
Jacqui Corcoran, A MONTH OF SUNDAYS
G.M. Malliet, St. Just and Max Tudor Mysteries
Lane Stone, Tiara Investigations Mystery Series

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Review of CRIMINAL

The disappearance of a teenager involves the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and links back to a series of disappearances at the time of Amanda Wagner’s first law enforcement job, working at the Atlanta Police Department. Will Trent wonders about Amanda’s involvement in the current case and why is so determinedly leaving him out. The reasons end up being a big part of the story, which is told in both past and present.

One of Karin Slaughter’s strengths as a writer is the way she realizes her characters, and it is fascinating the way she brings different characters to the forefront each time. The best part of this novel was the historical element and finding out about 1970s Atlanta police force when sexism and all the other “isms,” such as alcoholism and racism dominated.

What I didn’t understand was how Amanda went from being a naïve, father-pleasing, young rookie to hardened creature that she is now. Too much of a disconnect without there being a satisfying portrayal of her change. I also find long kidnapping scenes at the hands of a serial killer pretty boring reading. I had a hard time distinguishing between the three victims in the past, as we never really meet them as characters. It was hard to care about their fates, as a result, although I got the point that Amanda and Evelyn were not as quick to dismiss them as were the men of the department. Some of the scenes between Amanda and Evelyn trying to work out the details of the case got a little “talky.” The ending was interesting though, and the way the threads came together.

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