Nicole Arnold's Adventures

My impressions as I boldly go where I have not gone before.


positive psychology

Securing the High Ground – How to Find Joy in the Storm

Have you noticed that when it’s sunny and beautiful, we’re drawn to the scenery, taking in a ton of details about what’s in front of us? We don’t even always notice the sun – instead we notice the green of trees, the blue of the sky and great summer dresses. (The last part might just be me).

I’m looking outside my Starbucks window at an assortment of yucky weather. Snow, ice, steady rain, grey skies. Light brown snow banks that probably weigh 30 pounds per cubic inch. If mid November and mid March had a weather love child, it would be the past three days in Toronto. It’s hard to look past all of this to the trees, sky or the people walking by. It’s hard to see anything except for potential hazards.


I see differently when it’s sunny out. I feel energized and excited. I feel inspired and surrounded by beauty. Seeing differently inevitably leads to feeling differently.


So, am I left to only feeling good when it’s sunny out?

My puppy, Lily, teaches me otherwise. She bounded outside yesterday to race happily around as little ice pellets fell from the sky. Her mind was on other things – in this case, birds, squirrels and whatever captivating treasures lie along our fence line.

dog in snow

Lily knows the way to the mental high ground and it leads her to find joy regularly – even through the storms.

I think Lily’s life is simpler than mine. I definitely took a more complicated route to discovering the formula to the mental high ground. First, I needed the find a physical high ground.

Despite the messy, icy streets, I decided to walk to my neighborhood Starbucks this morning. There are no school buses today, so the kids happily took the opportunity to be cozy at home. That was tempting to me too, but work was more tempting – so out I went, with my eldest daughter vigilantly confirming that I made it down our steps without mishap.

I spent the first half of my walk assessing the sidewalks, in an effort to determine if enthusiastic 50lb+ Lily  will pull me off my feet when I take her for a walk later this afternoon. (Okay, I’m obsessed with the puppy.) Those thoughts occupied me until I reached an intersection that needed more of my attention. The snow plow had just gone by, redistributing the snow and ice into a very fast moving slushy water barrier.  It reminded me a little of McTavish and Doctor Penfield after a storm. This weather always evokes Montreal for me.


I gingerly made my way across the slippery road, negotiating the quick moving slush. When I triumphantly reached the middle of the street, I smiled at a man standing in front of his driveway and happily said, “You just gotta find the high ground.” He looked around frowning and replied, “That’s just the problem, isn’t it? No high ground to be found.” I looked down, incredulous. There was only asphalt underneath my feet, no water, snow or ice. What was this, if not a high ground?

I realized that I saw a high ground while he did not, which led me to the question:

“How often am I missing the high ground when it’s right in front of me?”

I contemplated this for the rest of my walk to Starbucks.

Like any budding scientist, first I needed to define the high ground. That felt easy. I was always the kid with my hand up in class for these sort of questions. The high ground = out of danger. A place of safety.

This led me to reframe the question from:

How often is finding the high ground a matter of perspective?


How often do I think I’m in danger when I’m actually safe?

I did some quick brainstorming on that when I got to Starbucks:

Here’s what I came up with:

I am most likely to misread danger when…

I am tired.

I am hungry.

I feel rushed.

It wasn’t hard to make the leap from this list to some concrete examples of when I am misreading danger. For example, when I’m tired, rushed and hungry (or really, any combination) and my husband asks me if I need help, I’m pretty likely to snap at him. Sometimes, I angelically exercise self-restraint and only silently resent his ‘interference’. In these situations, he doesn’t look like he might bring me close to safety, instead, he looks like danger.

Why does this feel like danger? Well. First of all, even the effort of having to respond to him feels like a burden, an expenditure of energy, that I just might not be able to afford. Second, he’s is reminding me and anyone who is listening that I don’t have this under control. Third, by asking, he is telling me that he knows that I don’t have it under control.

The whole interaction can feel energy draining and devastating to my self-esteem.

None of this feels like a matter of perspective – it feels like truth.

Except for these truths:

  • It’s unlikely that responding yes or no to help is actually going to be a costly physical expenditure.
  • There is no time when I have EVERYTHING under control. Who does?
  • His offer of help is usually anchored in his desire to be helpful versus his assessment of my helplessness. He likes to be helpful – it feels good for him.

I can see all these additional truths when I have the benefit of the high ground. But, when I don’t, I can’t see the high ground even when it’s right in front of me.


So, how can I be like Lily and find sunlight in the storm?

I think the solution lies in my brainstorming session.

Before I started brainstorming, I imagined the cues would be relationship-related. Instead, generated a list of states. I believe the key to recognizing safety more often and seeing danger less also begins with my state.

I brainstormed a list of when I am likely to feel safe or quickly recognize that the danger I see isn’t real. Here’s what I came up with:

When I am well-rested.

When I am productive

After a yoga class.

After journaling.

When I eat in healthy ways.

Even though I already knew these as my building blocks to thrive, this exercise brought them front and centre for me. Monday is my week planning day, so seeing this list in black and white led me to think about how to make time for each in my schedule.  I want to be on the high ground as much as possible – it’s the best feeling!

Here’s a 5 minute exercise to help lead you to your high ground this week:

  • Set a timer for 2 minutes. Close your eyes and imagine feeling safe, excited and hopeful. When do you feel that most? Brainstorm a list.
  • Set a timer for 2 minutes. What can you do to feel this way more often? Brainstorm a list.
  • Set a timer for 1 minute. Identify one action you can do today that helps you feel safe, excited and hopeful.


Let’s all spend more time on our high grounds this week! Let me know how it works out.


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How my Goal Setting Turned into a Wall of Resistance

I hit a wall this week.  Hard.  I didn’t want to do anything and the desire to curl up into a fetal position was strong. I am diagnosing the problem as too many goals. Here are the goals that I’ve been working on and their associated platforms/structures:

Streaks Goals 

  • Daily flossing
  • Stretching for 10 minutes daily
  • Journaling for 10 minutes daily
  • Logging my food daily
  • Writing a self-compassion letter to myself weekly
  • Mindful meditation for 10 minutes daily (I also entered at 21-day Mindfulness Challenge in January that had the same goal – 10 minutes daily).

Because I embrace moderation and reasonableness, I took the three times a week, 15-minute strength building session out of my Streaks app about a month ago.

There is also the writing 500 words/day for 31 days that I started last Wednesday and the flash fiction contest that I’m currently in the midst of writing. The deadline is midnight tomorrow for posting a 2,500-word short story.

Then there are my business goals – such as developing two business lines for January and following up on all of my leads.

My Fitbit goal is set at 10,00 steps a day.

I aim to walk our dog twice a day for 30 minutes each time. That has maybe happened three times in the five months we’ve had her, but maybe that’s because I haven’t put the goal into Streaks??

One of my favourite lines in the movie, Shrek, is when Donkey and Shrek are standing in front of Farquad’s ridiculously large castle and Shrek says to Donkey, “Think he’s compensating for something?” I look at this list and think (with Mike Myers’ questionable Scottish accent), “Think she’s compensating for something?”

That’s an easy one for me: I am regularly compensating for the sense that I’m not accomplishing enough (that’s code for: not enough). Brene Brown’s work has helped shift my thinking tremendously in this area.

The wall I hit this week didn’t feel like exhaustion exactly (although it might have been). What it felt like was resistance to doing anything that felt like a commitment. If I expected it of myself or anyone else was expecting it of me, it felt like a burden. I wanted to be free and I wanted to rest. At the same time, I fought rest. First of all, I hadn’t completed everything on my list for the day. Secondly, I feared the slippery slope – if I don’t meet my commitments today, then I will be out of practice and then start slacking regularly.  Before I know it, I’ll be reading books in bed all day, every day.  That’s the fear. Who am I kidding? It’s also the dream – there are so many books I want to read.

I know that fear only motivates me in short spurts. If I want motivation the balance of the time, I need positive emotions.  Lots of them. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading emotions researcher at UNC, Chapel Hill has identified the ideal ratio as 3:1 positive to negative emotional experiences each day. While I’m not measuring that precisely, I do know that if I’m hitting a wall, that in order to get past it, I need to be constructing more positive emotion experiences in my daily life.

I’m not going to add this to my Streaks app.

What I am going to do today is think about the positive emotions that light me up and practice them. I’m going to bring humour into my writing and kindness into my interactions. I’m going to bring curiosity into as many situations as I can today and every time I feel commitment resistance, I’m going to be gentle with myself.

Positive emotions are such a powerful antidote to fear. I can feel their super powers stirring as I write.

Wishing everyone a great day full of curiosity and kindness!



What Does it Feel Like to Fall?

I had a eureka moment when I was thinking through this blog. I started out thinking about fear of failing. Usually, when I think about failing, the voice of Dave Gorham (who was my Frame of Mind Coaching coach) enters my head and prods my negative beliefs about failing. Today, the first voice I heard was that of Junior Diljohn, whose yoga classes I have been attending regularly at Moksha Yoga Thornhill.  As we test our strength and balance, Junior asks us, “What does it feel like to fall?” When I heard his voice this morning, I realized that my fears about falling and failing are interchangeable and that embracing both brings similar benefits.

Here’s what happens in my Moksha yoga class: first of all, it’s really hot. Not as hot as the Bikram classes that I attended, but hot enough that I’m sweating before I’m moving. Secondly, the class is social and anti-social at the same time. It’s social, because I’m there with other people. I like having people all around me. Sometimes they serve as a guide to what a pose can look like and sometimes they’re a reminder of what is left and what is right. It’s anti-social, because we don’t talk to each other.  At all. We don’t even meet each other’s eyes during the course of the class. It’s a respectful, non-verbal, supportive space. I can’t remember ever experiencing anything quite like it – where I felt both connected and alone at the same time.

It is in this environment that I am beginning to consciously explore what it might feel like to fall. I am no stranger to falling by accident. In fact, the fall that broke my knee when I was twenty-three continues to impact my life – both in terms of the impact on my physical structure as well the domino effect the experience had on my life, leading me to break off an engagement and pursue a relationship with the incredible man that I share my life and children with.

What does it feel like to fall?

It can hurt. It can be embarrassing. I often fall walking up the stairs at home.  Usually when I’m moving very quickly. Falling in this way often leads me to slow down for a while (until I forget) to prevent subsequent falls.

In yoga class, I am directed to find stability and then look for my edge. I love doing this most for the tipping poses that are on one leg. First, I root my foot into the ground. Then, I feel the strength and power in my standing leg. Once I feel solid, I begin to tip forward. I tighten every muscle that I can – my legs, my stomach, my back – and I simultaneously reach toward the mirror with the crown of my head and reach toward the back of the room with the foot that is in the air. When I begin to wobble, I tighten up more. Sometimes, I lose my concentration, or my balance and I fall out of the pose. When I fall and there’s still time, I move back into the pose, slowly making some adjustments – tightening up my back a little more, focusing on the quad in my standing leg and I find more balance, more stability. Sometimes it’s all I can do to maintain my wobbly stance.  Other times, I find more strength and get a little closer to the mirror and at the same time, a little closer to the back of the room. As the sweat pours off of me and I feel the presence of the people beside me who I don’t know, but still appreciate, I feel powerful.

What does it feel like to fall?

I associate falling with weakness – both the weakness that led me to fall (since I associate my klutziness with weakness) and the weakness that can follow an injury.  I associate falling with fragility. Yet, when I peel away my beliefs, I know that I also associate falling with strength. The strength it takes to heal. The strength required to take steps after falling. The courage to work through pain. More than anything, I associate falling with learning. In yoga, when I go back into the pose, I experiment with adjustments and see what impact they have. I learn what my capacity is and the scope of my power. I do the same thing in my life every day – through journaling, through taking responsibility in conversations, through generating ideas to develop my business.

When I reflect on my personal stories of pride and inspiration: leaving fundraising to go back to school and study Psychology; leaving the PhD program to be a coach; breaking off my first engagement; I realize that there were seeds of failure in all of these stories. I didn’t think my route to professional success was as a fundraiser; I didn’t think my route to success in the field of psychology was as an academic, I didn’t think my route to romantic success was with my first fiancé. I initially failed in all of these areas. I fell and fell hard.

What does it feel like to fall?

Falling feels scary.  Falling feels risky. Falling can be painful.

At the same time, falling (failing) is incredibly productive. It’s inspiring. I think it’s necessary. It motivates and changes me.

I was thinking about failing this morning because tomorrow marks an incredible beginning for me. I am testing a Kindness Challenge that I have designed. It has been my dream to take what I learn by studying psychology research and build programs that are accessible and effective for increasing people’s well-being. Over the next two weeks, about twenty-five of us will be testing this Kindness Challenge to learn if I have designed it in such a way that people are motivated to participate daily and equally, to learn if this practice increases their well-being.

What does it feel like to fall?

As I embark on these two weeks of testing, falling feels like reaching.  Reaching back to what I’ve learned and forward to what I’m dreaming about, with a focus on stability supporting me in between. Falling feels like embracing community, power and humility at the same time. It feels a little sweaty – but mostly amazing.

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