Month: June 2021

Returning to Joy

I recently discovered it was time to take a look at what I’ll call, for the moment, the “monster” I’m feeding. The pandemic has been like Godzilla and King Kong combined, trampling through our lives these past 16 months. Scary, not fun, especially because the pandemic was and still is a real monster with huge teeth. It claims lives and continues to do so. Please know that this piece of writing is aimed at those of us here in the United States or elsewhere in the world where life as we know it is beginning to return to some semblance of normality, albeit altered forever.

In this new reality, I’m finding that I have a choice regarding which monster to feed.

I can feed the languishing, depressed part who’s afraid of touching a chair, door handle, or walking into a crowded-basically-anything-at-this-point-in-time place. That monster, or way of thinking, served a purpose for the past year, but now feels less and less useful as I re-enter the world. The other monster of sorts is the return to joy. The truth is it’s super tough to get happy again, or at the very least is taking a lot longer than I’d ever imagined. This returning to joy has been a monster process in my mind.

But why?

There’s definitely a little post-traumatic stress at play. We’ve been hauled up for over a year at this point, and so many of the little things in life that brought us joy and meaning were temporarily suspended. That wasn’t fun, to say the least, and I believe there was a real cost to our psychological state. And we will recover. We will return to celebrating birthdays, weddings and graduations. We will return to days at the beach, park, or wherever people like to hang out with one another, and we’ll return to evenings at the movies, or seeing live theater and going to our favorite concert venue to hear live music. These perks of life, the little things that bring us meaning and happiness, are slowly but surely coming back. And just in the nick of time for my taste.

As I step back out more and more into the world, and as the things I love return, including the people I haven’t been able to see, I find I’ve got this golden opportunity to embrace my joy.

There’s a bit of melancholy present, and I’m choosing, opportune word here, to focus on the happiness, excitement, joy, elation, and even the bit of grief I’m experiencing as I step into my new life. And I’m seeing I have to make a conscious choice about which monster I’m feeding. I’m choosing to feed joy. Okay, so joy might not really be a monster, but choosing it still takes my full attention and requires me to be fully present to attend to it. To focus on it. To allow it to fill my heart space. Again, it’s a process.

This seems like such a little side note to our lives right now, but I actually think choosing joy at this time is essential because what we focus on grows. We’ve been focused on a virus for the past year, so it’s time to begin shifting our gaze to something more positive and uplifting. And I know the coronavirus isn’t going away. I get that piece on the deepest level, but even deeper I now realize I have to put my energy into rebuilding my joy account. It was emptied out over the heaviest parts of the pandemic.

Good news, opportunities are starting to pop up that will re-connect you to your joy.

See the new film “In the Heights” written by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and directed by Jon M. Chu as my favorite example. This film is brilliant, and a harbinger, I believe, of our societal return to joy. I laughed, cried, danced and sang my heart out, and all while seated in a dark AMC movie theater in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. I cannot recommend this gem of joy more highly, and in large part because it helped me connect more deeply with the joy of life, the importance of family, and our collective purpose for living. Because, as I see it, we have to, it’s why we’re here. Joy to the world, and joy to you. You deserve some joy today. And if all else fails spread some joy. I find that almost always, the act of giving creates a positive transformation in the giver. By sharing joy there’s a return that occurs which is deep and rich, as well as incredibly uplifting.

Joy is a main ingredient for thriving in our lives, so let’s all aim for a return to joy knowing we’ll land somewhere in the vicinity, and somewhere that’s more aligned with the new lives we’re creating now. It’s okay, and it’s time.

Barry Alden Clark is a writer and professional life coach. His work is focused on helping people live their best lives by acting as a guide for them to connect more deeply with their internal life force where creativity, purpose, and true freedom reside, while using humor, compassion, and kindness as hallmarks for the process of personal evolution. Recently Barry published his first book, “Living Life Now: Ingredients for Thriving In The Modern World,” now available on Amazon, and launched his new podcast “Living Life Now,” available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Music. You can reach Barry at

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How to Fail Forward

When you encounter a setback in life, how do you react?

Do you complain about it or succumb to frustration and anger and allow it to derail your progress?

Do you see it as a sign from the universe to quit or use it as an excuse to give up on your goals?

Or do you treat it like the valuable learning opportunity it is?

Today I’d like to teach you how to “fail forward” in life and transform every failure you experience into a powerful launchpad that catapults you even closer to your dreams.

The Truth About Failure

See, this is the thing about failures.

All our lives, we’ve been told that they’re bad and something to avoid or be ashamed of.

The idea of failure has been built up to be so catastrophically terrible that most people choose not to take any risks at all, rather than risk even a small chance of failure.

And that is a huge problem — because if you don’t take risks, you can’t grow as a person.

You see, growth only happens when you leave your comfort zone. It requires you to venture into unknown territory and try something different. That’s how we learn the new skills and knowledge we need to become the kind of person who is capable of taking our lives to the next level.

Growth requires risk. And if you’re so scared of failure that you refuse to take risks, then you’ll always remain right where you are.

Failure Is Essential to Succeeding

This is the difference between highly successful people and those who never achieve their dreams.

Successful people realize that failure is an important part of the learning process. They know that failure is just a way we learn by trial and error. Not only do we need to stop being so afraid of failure but we also need to be willing to fail — even eager to fail.

I call this kind of instructive failure “failing forward.”

Simply get started, make mistakes, listen to the feedback, correct, and keep moving forward toward the goal. Every experience will yield more useful information that you can apply the next time.

That’s why I always encourage my students to view failure as a learning opportunity.

CS Lewis once said, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

They point you in the direction you need to go next if you want to reach your ultimate destination.

So please don’t let fear of failure stop you from taking the risks you need to take to achieve your goals. It’s only by taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from your failures that you will ever reach any real measure of success.

How to Fail Forward

To make it easier for you, here are some tips on how to fail forward by learning from your setbacks and transforming your failures into powerful lessons that actually accelerate your progress toward your goals.

Every time you experience a setback or failure, I want you to ask yourself the following questions…

  • First off, ask yourself, “How did this happen?”
  • What was the outcome you wanted — and what prevented you from achieving that outcome?
  • What unexpected complications arose? In what ways were you unprepared to deal with them? How can you prepare for them next time?
  • What role did YOU play in creating the setback? What skills or knowledge do you need to acquire to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
  • Who can you ask to help you acquire those skills and knowledge? Who can you ask for feedback on how to do better next time? Who can you ask to support you in your efforts? Do you need to add anyone to your team in order to get better results?
  • What went RIGHT during the experience? What did you do right? Which of your efforts produced good results and how can you replicate those efforts or expand on them to get even better results next time?

Once you’ve answered these questions to your satisfaction, your next step is to write down everything you learned from the experience and come up with a plan for what you are going to do to get better results next time.

Above all, remember that failure is not a dead end. It’s merely a detour that may take a bit longer to get you where you want to go but will equip you with the tools and resources you need to reach your destination.

It may feel like a delay, but really it’s a necessary pitstop that will empower you to get much better results in the future.

In fact, the lessons you learn from your failures might actually end up accelerating your progress by empowering you to easily overcome even bigger obstacles that might appear on your path in the future.

Put It to the Test

Zig Ziglar once said, “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.”

I love this saying because it shows you how an unexpected stumble can end up bouncing you closer to your goals, faster than you might expect.

So this week, I encourage you to take some time to evaluate a recent failure you might have experienced.

Or maybe you can focus on a setback that happened a long time ago but still makes you feel bad when you think about it.

Ask yourself the questions I just shared with you.

  • What prevented you from achieving the outcome you wanted?
  • What happened that you didn’t expect?
  • What role did your actions or assumptions play in creating the situation?
  • What skills or knowledge would have helped you avoid that situation?
  • If you were in that situation again, what would you choose to do differently?
  • And who could have helped you avoid that failure or recover and learn from it faster?
  • Finally, what will you do differently going forward?

By embracing your failures and learning the valuable lessons they can teach you, you will accelerate your own personal growth and become the capable and successful person you most desire to be.

For additional success strategies and resources, download my Affirmations for Success. This step-by-step guide will help you replace limiting beliefs and learn how to fail forward to success in your life.

As the beloved originator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul® series, Jack Canfield fostered the emergence of inspirational anthologies as a genre—and watched it grow to a billion dollar market. As the driving force behind the development and delivery of over 100 million books sold through the Chicken Soup for the Soul® franchise, Jack Canfield is uniquely qualified to talk about success. Jack is America’s #1 Success Coach and wrote the life-changing book The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be and Jack speaks around the world on this subject. Check out his newest book The 30-Day Sobriety Solution: How to Cut Back or Quit Drinking in the Privacy of Your Own Home. Follow Jack at and sign up for his free resources today!

Image courtesy of Sami Abdullah.

Audio: Grounding Practice

Audio: Grounding Practice

Do this grounding practice for 3-5 minutes at different times of the day to steady yourself. With each breath, exhale tension. Let yourself imagine that you have roots that go deep into the soil of the earth, to steady and nurture you. If images help, let yourself remember a wonderful tree from your life—an old tree, a strong tree. Imagine that you are standing in front of the tree, meditating together. Just as this great tree has a strong trunk that has weathered storms and the changing of the seasons, feel your own body steady like the trunk of that tree.


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Emotional Valence vs. Arousal: Two-Dimensional Model for Emotions


The two-dimensional model of emotions is a simple but helpful way to classify your emotions and better understand them. It categorizes emotions based on their degree of “valence” and “arousal.”

There are many different dimensions to our emotional world.

While there are countless ways to breakdown and classify emotions, one helpful model that is well-known in psychology is the two-dimensional model of emotions.

It’s a simple model but it provides a useful framework for analyzing your emotions and the potential function they serve in your life.

In the two-dimensional model of emotions, emotions are seen in terms of two factors:

  • Valence: the intrinsic attractiveness of an emotion (“feeling good” vs. “feeling bad,” or “positive” vs. negative”).
  • Arousal: the level of activation in the nervous system (“feeling energetic” vs. “feeling lethargic,” or “wakefulness” vs. “sleepiness”)

Every emotion can be classified based on its degree of valence and arousal.

On the valence dimension, emotions are typically described as “positive” or “negative” – this refers to the overall tone behind an emotion. For example, we typically want to experience “positive emotions” such as joy, excitement, or contentment; while we typically don’t want to experience “negative emotions” such as fear, sadness, or guilt.

Keep in mind, “valence” describes the subjective experience of that emotion, but it’s not a judgment of that emotion in-itself.

While negative emotions generally “feel bad,” that doesn’t mean they are always bad – and while positive emotions generally “feel good,” that doesn’t mean they are always good. This is an essential insight behind learning emotional intelligence.

On the arousal dimension, emotions are typically viewed as “energizing” or “lethargic.” For example, fear and anger can be seen as negative emotions, but they are also energizing emotions because they activate your nervous system and motivate you to take action. In the opposite way, relaxation and contentment are seen as positive emotions, but they also tend to be lethargic emotions that cause you to sit back and not take action.

Just as with the “valence” dimension, the “arousal” dimension describes the subjective experience of an emotion – it’s in no way a judgment of that emotion.

Let’s now take a closer look at how other emotions fit into this two-dimensional model.

Emotional Valence vs. Arousal: Two-Dimensional Model

Here’s how different emotions fit into this model. Each of the 4 sections represents a certain type of emotional experience (although each emotion has its unique flavor to it).

As you can see, emotions that are both high in valence and arousal include “astonishment,” “excitement,” “happy” and “delighted.” These are all emotions that not only feel good, but also energize us and make us feel alive.

Emotions that are both low in valence and arousal include “sad,” “miserable,” “gloomy,” and “depressed.” These are all emotions that not only feel bad, but also make us not want to do anything (which can probably make them that much more self-fulfilling).

In truth, no specific emotional experience is “good” or “bad,” what matters is the context behind that emotion, how you interpret it, and how you choose to respond to it.

I believe that knowledge of the two-dimensional model can help you respond to your emotions in a smarter and healthier way, because they often reveal the underlying function or purpose behind that emotion.

Helpful Guidelines Based on the Two-Dimensional Model

Here’s a simple guideline for how to respond to each of the 4 categories of emotions.

While every emotion is unique and requires its own response, this breakdown can give you some direction and insight into how to respond to certain types of emotions.

Here they are:

  • Fear, Anxiety, Anger (Low Valence, High Arousal): This is often a sign that you should channel that emotion in a constructive way through some type of action (exercising, conversation, writing, creative hobbies, going for a walk, etc.) When these highly energized negative emotions aren’t channeled in a healthy way, they are susceptible to build up and eventually spillover into some type of destructive action (such as lashing out at someone when we are angry, or running away from a situation when we are afraid, or engaging in self-sabotage behaviors when we are anxious). A good “rule of thumb” is that if an emotion is both negative AND energizing, it’s usually trying to motivate you toward some positive and productive action. One of my favorite examples of this is reframing anxiety as motivation.
  • Sad, Gloomy, Miserable, Depressed (Low Valence, Low Arousal): This is often a sign that you need to be patient with yourself and start with a super small change to help reverse the flow of the emotion. This is due to the fact that these low-energized negative emotions can easily become self-fulfilling – they demotivate you and make you want to do nothing but lie down, which only leads to them continuing to fester and linger (I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’m depressed because I don’t exercise, and I don’t exercise because I’m depressed.”) Identify one super easy change you can make TODAY to gain positive momentum (such as taking a minute to reflect on what you’re grateful for, doing a 5 minute workout or mindful stretching, or writing down your thoughts). The opposite action technique can be helpful for these types of emotions, because your goal is often to do something counter-intuitive to reverse the self-fulfilling cycle. Don’t want to go outside? Maybe some sun and nature is exactly what you need. Don’t want to see anyone? Maybe you should reach out to someone to talk to. Don’t want to exercise? Get down and give me 20 right now! (I know these things are easier said than done, but the more inertia there is the smaller you need to think to get the energy moving in the right direction).
  • Content, Relaxed, Calm (High Valence, Low Arousal): Generally we don’t feel the need to change these positive emotions since they both feel good and calm our nervous system. The only caveat is if these emotions are in excess, they may demotivate us or cause us to slack on our responsibilities and goals in life (“I’m not going to go to work, I just want to chill!”) Trying to be completely calm and content 24/7 is often an unrealistic goal, and even if we could achieve it we wouldn’t necessary want to because it would often end up interfering with our larger goals and values in life. If you find yourself struggling with these lethargic emotions, consider getting an accountability partner or using an app to measure your progress to help kick your butt into gear when it comes to habits you’re procrastinating on.
  • Excitement, Happiness, Aroused (High Valence, High Arousal): Again, we don’t generally feel the need to change positive emotions, but the high arousal ones definitely come with a caveat as well. Since these positive emotions are more energizing and motivating, they can also occasionally lead to risky decisions that can end up hurting us more in the long-term; even too much optimism can blind us – if we ignore the realities of a situation, we may end up doing some stupid or foolish things. “Excitement” and “aroused” (while positive emotions) can sometimes fuel destructive habits or unhealthy thrill-seeking through sex, drugs, gambling, or alcohol. If you have trouble managing excessively high positive emotions, it’s probably a good idea to teach yourself some relaxation techniques such as a 100 Breaths Meditation or Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This will give you more control over your nervous system overall, and help to calm down those “high arousal” states.

These are rough guidelines, but hopefully they give you some idea of the different ways you can respond to different emotional states.

The first step is to identify which category of emotions you tend to struggle with the most. Then devise a better plan for how you can respond to those emotions in the moment, without letting them takeover.

Overall the two dimensional model of emotions is a very simple but helpful framework for analyzing our emotional world and learning how to better navigate it.

Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement from The Emotion Machine:

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Beginner’s Mind, Imagination, and Expanding What’s Possible

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” And I believe that wholeheartedly. It’s the reason representation, and not just diversity and inclusion, but equity and justice are so incredibly important.

But what if what you want doesn’t exist yet? What if the world you want to live in is very different from the world you live in now? How do you bridge that gap when you can’t actually see what it is you want somewhere in the world?

This is where, if we give it power, our imaginations can change everything.

This is the radical potential of storytelling: to craft a future that is so enticing, so beautiful, and so resonant that we can’t help but draw people to us who are willing to help create it.

Sometimes, as a jaded, aging anarchist, I hear about an idea that feels so enormous, that would require such a paradigm shift, that I feel myself dismiss it out of hand. Because, my inner voice asks, “How would that even work? What would that even look like?”

My expert-mind what-about-ism kicks in, and the possibilities seem small, limited. My love of strategy and logistics and taking things step by step wants all the answers before we can move forward.

Let me be clear: while she has the best intentions of protecting me against disappointment, that jaded energy is not what is going to get me (or anyone else) free.

It’s in those moments that I try to soften, to call up the endless possibilities of my beginner’s mind. I use my imagination to remember the goal: collective liberation and recognition of our inextricable interconnection.

In the last year especially, I have been practicing with ideas that seem impossible. I call them things that “aren’t possible yet.” These are the ideas that, on the surface, I agree with. I would love to see them come to life. But I just don’t know how we’re going to collectively get there.

I don’t believe in them wholeheartedly yet, because I can’t see the whole board and how it will all play out. But I’m willing to try these ideas on. I’m willing to play with them, and to let them live in my mind. These are the ideas I’m willing to practice believing. And each time I do, it expands me.

One of my favorite quotations is from Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Which is to say: we need to be quiet, we need to listen, and we need to remember that the sound of that more just world breathing.

It’s us. We are the ones who are breathing life into this new world, into these radical possibilities.

We are not only possible, we are on our way.

Christy Tending is an activist, educator, and writer. She teaches online courses about sustainable self-care to students all over the world, and hosts the podcast Tending Your Life. She lives on occupied Ohlone territory (Oakland, CA) with her family. You can learn more about her work at

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