Photo of crocus in garden

Are you flourishing?

What does it mean to flourish? defines flourishing as growing vigorously and thriving. The origin of the word flourish dates back to 1250-1300 from the Middle English florisshen, and Middle French floriss meaning long stem, the Latin florere, to bloom, which is a derivative of the word flos, meaning flower.

In order for a flower to bloom, it needs a favorable environment in which to grow. This is also true for any human, animal, or other living organism.

Are you flourishing in your life? Are you experiencing good health, happiness, and success? Do you have what you need to really thrive?

Just as plants, animals and other living things need nourishment to support their growth, humans also need nourishment and the exposure to the right types of environments to support their continued growth.

As adults with dyslexia and other types of learning issues, it helps if we are aware of the areas in our emotional lives in which we are feeling depleted, those areas which need to be recharged.

Our past struggles in school, work and life may have sapped us of our energy, and in turn, influenced the way we currently see ourselves in the world. The negative experiences of the past may affect our present level of self-esteem, our motivation, and our desire to keep moving forward. Negative self-talk narrows our view of what is possible for us in our lives, and it keeps us stuck. Some individuals choose to give up before they’ve even gotten started.

Nourishment is not just about food and nutrition for our bodies. It's not just food that we need to survive and thrive. Psychological and spiritual nourishment are equally important for our continued health, growth, personal well-being, and happiness.

Making the shift – The Importance of Self-Exploration, Small Changes, and Positive Connection

How can we begin to make some changes in our environments and in ourselves to encourage our positive growth?

First, It’s important to know where you are at in your journey, before you decide where you would like to go next. Taking the time to get in touch with yourself, your emotions, and your current situation will help you to decide what you want out of your life, and also help you to evaluate what changes you may need to make along the way as you travel.

Are you experiencing unhappiness in work, school or relationships? Are you feeling out of sync? Are you unable to reach your full potential? Is something missing? Have you been isolating and keeping things inside? If you could change one aspect of your environment which you feel is inhibiting your ability to flourish, what would this be? Would this change be situational or would this be one that needs to occur inside of you?

If you are dissatisfied with an area of your life, whether it be at work, at school or at home, consider making some small changes and mind shifts to disrupt your status quo. One way you can improve your satisfaction is by being open to, and seeking out others in work or school environments who seem to be supportive, interested in, and understanding of you.

If you feel that you can trust other people, you are more likely to make a connection with them.

If you have disclosed your dyslexia or other learning disability to co-workers or to your employer, take some time to reach out to them to strengthen your connection so they can get to know you better.

If you are in college, reach out to classmates, and consider joining activities and clubs to meet others. If you feel comfortable sharing about your dyslexia, then do so. If you’ve declared your disability to the college Office of Disability service, consider asking how you might start your own campus dyslexia/LD group at your university as a way to meet others, to give and get support and make positive connections.

If you follow social media, there are a number of groups for dyslexic adults and others with LD on Facebook in which you can find understanding and support. Some are closed groups and others are public pages like the Headstrong Nation Facebook Page . These online pages and forums are generally dyslexia/ LD friendly, inclusive places where differences are embraced and whose members are supportive. Typing “Dyslexia” into a Facebook search will yield a number of results to choose from.

Are you in a job that you once enjoyed but the enthusiasm for it has waned? Are you feeling stuck and unable to switch careers? Do you want things to be better for you on a daily basis? Do you desire more variety in your work? Do you feel valued? If you don’t speak up, no one will know what you need.

If your employer seems approachable, request a meeting to discuss whether you could branch out in your current position in a way that takes advantage of your specific skill-sets and passions. You might also ask your employer if he would be open to providing you with some additional training, specific software or productivity tools which may help you to be more efficient and less stressed in the workplace. Asking your HR manager at work about the ability to obtain productivity tools may help too.

Are you able to clearly articulate the skills and values that you bring to your job? What are you proud of? What are your signature strengths? Those who are doing what they love and getting compensated for it are very fortunate. Making small changes and adopting a “Take this job and love it” attitude may help you to get through some rough days in the workplace and may also help you to view your job through a new lens. If you cannot find any positives in your work environment and you wake up each morning dreading your job, perhaps it’s time to consider why you continue to stay and what might be preventing you from moving on"

How is your life outside of work or school? What do you look forward to in your off time? Do you have any hobbies or leisure pursuits you enjoy? Do you have support from family and friends?

Do you have any goals for the future? Would you describe yourself as generally happy?

In the Happyologist Happiness blog by Suzanne Halonen, Halonen lists three ways that an individual can flourish, based on research from The Happiness Institute -

"Top 3 ways to flourish in life:

  • Be yourself. Accept who you are and be proud of it. You’re at your best when you are yourself. There’s always ways for you to improve yourself and be the “best you” you can be. But it’s got to start with accepting who you are and understanding what’s important to you.

  • Believe in yourself. You can do it if you choose to believe in yourself. You have all the power you need to achieve whatever you want in life. It’s going to be a bumpy road but that’s a part of the fun. Go for it.

  • Choose to be happy. Yes, you can choose. You are in control of your own happiness so choose to act on it. Cherish each moment of joy as it comes along. And you can always look at identifying the good parts of unhappy moments. Though challenging, they all have them hidden in there somewhere."

Positive Psychology and Flourishing

Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson is an author, and researcher in the area of Positive Psychology, who developed a theory on positive emotions entitled the Broaden and Build Theory. Fredrickson’s research involves the study of positive emotions and how the practical application of Positive Psychology can help individuals live full and meaningful lives. By increasing the amount of positive moments in one’s life, the individual can begin to create an optimal emotional environment for continued growth and happiness.

Frederickson and her team at the Pep Lab study the effects of positive emotions on individuals’ thoughts, behaviors and physiological well-being. One of the goals of her ongoing research is to understand how positive emotions may accumulate or broaden in individuals and subsequently build to change their lives for the better.

Negative emotions narrow our focus and cause our minds to be fixed which prevents our ability to be open to new experiences, ideas, and people. They stunt our growth.

Positive emotions help us to be more open to new experiences, ideas and people, and to what is possible for us. They help us to flourish.

In Fredrickson’s Coursera course Positive Psychology – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frederickson uses the imagery of the Water Lily to explain her theories. “Just as Water Lilies retract when sunlight fades, so do our minds when positivity fades.”

She uses another analogy on how plants flourish to describe what we humans also need in our lives to flourish. Like sunlight, positive emotions are beneficial to us. Plants need sunlight, as it is necessary for them to live. Plants know this and therefore turn towards the light so that they may soak up all they can. This is called the heliotropic effect. Frederickson believes that humans have a similar heliotropic effect where positive emotions represent the “sunlight” which is crucial for the life and ultimate survival of humans.

According to Fredrickson, it takes three positive emotional experiences to cancel out a negative one. These positive experiences don’t need to be “over the top” ones, as different degrees and types of positive emotional experiences may serve to build our positivity resources.

If you are an adult with dyslexia and LD who has experienced great negativity and setbacks throughout your life, you may be operating at a deficit, with your positive resources depleted. Consider reflecting on how you perceive life in general, and how you react to the environment and others around you. Are you able to see the positive in situations, to let yourself relax and experience periods of joy in an otherwise hectic day? How connected are you to others? In what ways can you begin to broaden and build these “micro-moments” of positivity resonance into your daily life? Barbara Fredrickson’s course can help you to discover the value of connection in relationships, of being other-focused, and how applying the principals of positive psychology on a daily basis can make a difference in your ability to flourish.

Positive Psychology concentrates on what is possible for us. It helps us to focus on our strengths and our ability to experience happiness and growth through positive connection with others. It encourages us to engage with and stay open to those micro-moments of positivity in our daily lives, so that we may become the best versions of ourselves.

Stay open, and reach toward the sun! Go ahead, flourish!

To read more on the value of positive emotions, read Dr. Fredrickson’s article HERE, visit the PEP lab website Here, or consider enrolling in her Coursera video course, HERE. Enrollment for this session ends on March 19, 2016.

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Photo of celadon glazed pottery bowl

Imagine being asked to cover a lunch break at a folk festival for an artisan that you are planning on apprenticing with. You are given a cash box, and a little worn out card with sales tax amounts printed on it. You have no calculator. You mention to the artist, a potter, that you are not good at math, and that you are uncomfortable with this idea. She giggles and says “nonsense! I will only be away for a half hour to grab a pulled pork sandwich. You’ll be fine.” You feel ashamed because she is minimizing your concerns. You’ve always been “math anxious”. Your inability to work with numbers has affected your life in many ways. You always did poorly in school, and couldn’t keep a waitress or retail job operating a cash register. Your dreams of becoming a nurse were dashed because you failed the medication math exam and you dropped out of nursing school as you felt inadequate. Your parents were disappointed in you. You felt lost and less than. That was almost 20 years ago. You are only being asked to play cashier for thirty minutes but the pressure you feel is tremendous. You tell yourself again, "I’m an adult, how hard can this be? You can do this!"

You are asked to take an item of pottery the customer would like to purchase, wrap it securely in paper, place in a bag, then add up the total cost of the items. Once you have a subtotal, you will look at the paper card to obtain the sales tax and then you’ll add the sales tax onto the subtotal and let the customer know how much he owes. After you’ve been given the money, you will make change and give this to the customer. You take a deep breath, and wait for the first customer, determined to do your best. Five people approach your stand, and your mind goes blank. Everyone is waiting, your hand is shaking as you try to add the numbers on a pad of paper. You’ve given back the wrong change, miscalculated totals, and forgot to add in the sales tax. Forget about counting up! You find it difficult to breathe, your face is flushed, you’re sweating in your long plaid skirt with a stupid frilly bonnet on your head. You keep smiling though, pretending like you have everything under control, handing out business cards for the potter, complimenting the customers on their choices, and wondering why you ever agreed to this in the first place.

Graphic Numbers make me numb with math signs and numbers all over the page

A half hour later the potter returns from her pulled pork sandwich, notices your mistakes and your upsetment, and shoots you an expression of mild annoyance and disappointment when you inform her that you’ve just botched up a number of transactions. Now, it’s your turn to take a break. In a fog, you wander aimlessly around the fairgrounds, trying to make sense of what just happened. You don’t feel hungry, and you don't feel like looking around at the sights. You’ve shut down. You can’t feel your feet on the ground, as you’ve gone numb, you’ve stuffed it inside. You count down the hours until the end of the event. You are silent on the ride home, and you find your mind trailing off during the chatty upbeat conversation in the car. You aren’t feeling very upbeat. You have no appetite for the ice cream that the potter stops to buy everyone in the car. You felt you didn’t deserve the ice cream anyway, since you're such a “screw up”.

You return home and the tears come. Your husband meets you at the front door, wide eyed. You rip off the stupid skirt and stuff it, and the frilly bonnet, in a bag. It’s hard to shake these feelings off. They are all too familiar. You feel ashamed and inadequate. Then comes the anger. You’re angry at yourself, angry at the potter, angry at the other woman in the car who can make change. Why didn’t she listen to me? Why didn’t she believe me? Then you berate yourself. There goes the tape again. The one that plays itself over and over when events like this happen. There is something fundamentally wrong with you. Why can’t you do what others do so easily? The tape continues, and you let it wash over you. You feel small.

photo of small ceramic pots on a hand

A week later, you write the potter a polite note, thanking her for the opportunity to help and for the ice cream. You repay her for the price of the clay that she had offered you in exchange for helping her out. You inform her that you are unable to apprentice with her in her studio as something’s come up, and you don’t offer her any more details. She’d never understand anyway. You’re done. The block of clay sits unused, and you let your dreams of working as a potter fade away. The next folk festival you attend, you cringe when you see a sign for pulled pork sandwiches. You never liked pulled pork, anyway...

Shame. Another opportunity lost.

I was the apprentice. - Eileen

Moving Forward:

In the past I let my failures define me. I know better now. My failures are not who I am inside, or what I am capable of becoming.

Failure and missed opportunity were an ongoing theme for me. I focused on my weaknesses at the expense of my strengths, and I was uncomfortable asking for help. I did not understand that my failures could be opportunities for learning and growing. I spent a lot of time comparing myself to others, and always fell short of my ideal. I dropped out, quit and started again many times. Persistence wasn't something I was good at. I preferred to run away.

At the age of 18, I dropped out of nursing school in the first 10 months, after struggling through the program and failing a medication math exam. I felt the need to get away, so I applied to live as an exchange student in Sweden for a year to “find myself”. Living away from home helped me to gain some perspective, and gave me some time to lick my wounds. Upon my return to the U.S., I was able to begin a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. It was a major that did not have a huge math requirement, and my advisor let me work around some of this creatively through taking a foreign language.

I realized that one of the things I enjoyed most about my brief experience as a nursing student was helping each patient to feel as comfortable as possible during their stay in the hospital. I was able to identify this desire to help others as a strength for me which helped in the selection of my new major. I obtained my degree in a little under 10 years part-time, while I worked at a variety of temporary jobs. The combined work and college experience was stressful for me, as I struggled to maintain a healthy GPA.

This was a time before PC’s and Macs, and Iphones with apps. The technology that most of us take for granted now. All assignments were either written by hand or on an electric typewriter, and I used my share of Wite Out. Toward the end of my senior year, I spent much of my paycheck from the local college diner where I worked to hire a typist who could read my poor handwriting and type my research papers. I requested a dishwasher job working the night shift, as I never got the hang of waitressing as I was unable to keep track of who got which meal at which table, and I was afraid of operating the dreaded cash register. At age 27, upon graduating, I chose not to celebrate my success with a graduation party. I felt I had taken too long, and it was time to move on to the world of work, whatever that might look like for me. In retrospect, I wish I had acknowledged my achievements and taken some time to celebrate.

Hindsight enables me to understand my past struggles. After my youngest son was identified as dyslexic, I began to reflect on my past and was able to put together the pieces. I realize that my challenges in math, although I'm not formally diagnosed, are likely due to dyscalculia, a math disability. I realize now that it's never too late to learn something new, to ask for help, and to choose a new path for myself that is more in line with my strengths. It’s how I perceive my failures and how I rebound from them that is most important. I understand that I must be vigilant, daily, at keeping those old ineffective, damaging messages of the past from occupying my mind. it’s important for me to reach out to others early and often when I’m feeling stuck. I know that persistence and hard work pays off, and that it’s important to be patient with myself. I make mistakes daily, but I am not a mistake. I've learned that it’s o.k. to fail...Really! It’s how I will grow.

More on the value of failure coming soon!


Share your stories! We'd love to hear from you! Please visit us at our Headstrong Nation Facebook Page and share live, or if you'd prefer, message us privately at the page. Follow us on Twitter @headstrongnatio Follow us at our Headstrong Nation You Tube Channel too! - Glad you are part of our community! - The Headstrong Nation Team

Photo of Sunset with text - Moving Beyond the Shame

This is dedicated to Natasha, Ben, and Larry for seeing beyond my limitations while enabling me to focus on my strengths. For this, I thank you.

Strengths, Guilt, and Shame

There has been a lot of talk about the inherent strengths related to dyslexia, the spatial ability, creative and artistic talents, out of the box thinking, and entrepreneurial skills. This is all very empowering and wonderful to see. However, there seems to be less conversation about the shame associated with dyslexia and this concerns me. Shame isn’t something we generally want to discuss, but until we confront our shame by revealing ourselves and sharing our fears with others, it will be very difficult to move forward. The shame associated with dyslexia will rear its ugly head at times throughout our lifespan even when we feel we are at the “top of our game”. Some individuals experience more feelings of shame than others, based on their individual experiences. Shame is toxic, and it affects how we relate to ourselves, to others around us, and how we approach situations daily. As an adult, the events of the past come to visit me on occasion as painful memories, and they can affect my perspective, beat me down, and wreak havoc with my self-confidence. What goes on in between my ears can be very powerful, and at certain times, won’t be easily silenced.

Shame is not guilt. Guilt is an emotion that you may feel when you do something morally or ethically wrong. When a young child takes a toy from a friend, and stuffs it in his pocket because he wants it for his own, he knows that his actions are wrong, and he may feel guilt as a result. Guilt is linked to an inappropriate action or behavior. Shame, on the other hand, is an emotion stemming from the behavior or action of a person that is often judged negatively by another. This emotion is one of deep humiliation. As the behavior often cannot be changed, the person feels wrong to his core, for something that he may not have any control over. He feels powerless. Shame occurs when you personalize an action or behavior and attribute it to who you are inside, in your soul, your heart, the fiber of your being. You give yourself permission to become “IT”. "IT" may be translated into stupid, incapable, or a failure. “I have failed a test, therefore I am failure”.

Some Experiences with Shame:

Reading - Were you made fun of when you read aloud in class? Did you dread this activity? Did you count the number of seats ahead of yours to figure out which paragraph would be assigned to so you could attempt to practice it before it was your turn? Then, when you fumbled through it, did your ears turn beet red and you couldn’t feel your feet on the floor? Did you re-read passages over and over again and still not understand what you read? Did most of your peers seem to have an easier time of it in the classroom? Did you find homework looming on forever? Did you feel alone in this?

Shame – I am wrong. Something is wrong with me. I am stupid.

Writing – Did you feel like you wanted to form the letters neater but that your hand wouldn’t cooperate? Did you secretly envy others with neat handwriting? Did you make so many erasures that you made holes in the paper? Did the thought of answering a prompt or short essay send you into a panic? Were you at a loss on how to start? Did you have a lot of ideas in your head but couldn’t get the right words to move from your brain, down your arm, and onto the paper? Did your teacher’s frowns and the big red “D” or "F" on this paper make you feel worthless?

Shame – I am worthless, I am deficient. I'm no good.

Spelling – Did spelling words make you crazy? Did you practice over and over and still get them wrong for the Friday test? Or if you got them right on Friday, did you forget them by Monday? Did your flash card pile get bigger and bigger? Did you do some of your best writing and still get marked down because of poor spelling or punctuation?

Shame – My brain does not work, I’ll never get this, I want to give up.

Directions and organization – Do you get lost easily, even with the GPS? Do you lose your place, do you fight with your computer and can’t find files? Is your left the “other left” and your right your “other right”? Do you struggle to read a map, figure out which way to turn the key in the lock, figure out where you stored the file, which way to open the faucet, and so on. Do you move in circles? Do you spin your wheels?

Shame – I am so incapable, so frazzled. Why can’t I get this?

How many self-defeating statements continue to be part of your repertoire, the tape that continues to play in your head? Do you find that this negative “self-talk” continues to limit you? In an attempt to move beyond it, do you also engage in self-defeating behaviors, like retreating, stuffing emotions inside, overeating, or other quick, self-soothing, yet destructive actions that serve to keep you down? Do you blame others or play the victim?

Have you had the desire to apply for a particular job, but feel fear at the thought of completing certain aspects of the job due to your challenges with dyslexia/LD? Have you passed over these types of jobs because the thought of disclosing your weaknesses to your employer in an interview petrifies you? Do you find yourself “quitting” before you even accept the job? I have engaged in this thinking numerous times and it has cost me many missed opportunities and limited my potential. However, I know that my situation won’t change unless I make the decision to change from the inside. It starts with me... letting go of my shame.

Picture of a sky

So how can you begin to move beyond the shame? As I can only speak from my own experience, I’ll tell you what I'm determined to do, one day at a time, to work through the complex emotions that occur as a result of dealing with the shame that rears its head in my life: It's time to re-write my script, to reinvent myself. One step at a time.

What Helps Me:

I share. I talk about my dyslexia/LD with friends and family I know and trust (My dyslexia/LD community). I am upfront about what works and doesn't work for me and I keep no secrets about this. I let my guard down and let myself be vulnerable, and open to feedback.

I listen. I listen to others’ stories of how they’ve risen above the paralyzing effects of shame related to their dyslexia/LD. I ear-read or eye read articles and books that inspire and encourage.

I watch and Learn, viewing webinars, talks, and videos from experts in the field on topics like letting go of shame, and letting myself become vulnerable. I explore ways to tap into my strengths and to increase my self-confidence. I also learn much from my son, who is way less serious and intense about life and his dyslexia. His youthful wisdom helps to keep me in check!

I engage with and help others in any way that I can. It’s in our relationships where we can truly flourish, learn and grow, through our shared experiences. In a supportive community, of others who “get me”, I know I am not alone, and this is very empowering.

I redirect myself in healthier ways. I work daily on avoiding ineffective coping methods. I reach out and talk to trusted friends who know how hard I can be on myself. This is much better than keeping it all inside, over eating, or engaging in other self-defeating behaviors.

Letting go of shame isn't easy, but it is possible. Accepting yourself, confronting fears, finding a supportive community, and changing your negative self-talk and behaviors, are all positive steps in the right direction. Releasing the shame in your life will leave you open to embrace your strengths so you may begin to live your life to the fullest!


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