What you’ll learn in this podcast:
- Science Says—Learn about heart rate variability and this powerful measure of the body’s resilience.
- Life Hack—Build heart rate variability with breathing exercises.
- Practitioner’s Corner—Meet Jillian Guinta, she supports her community and takes a positive psychology-based approach to trauma.
Read the interview from the Practitioner’s Corner:
Emiliya: Hello everyone, and join me today in welcoming Jillian Guinta. She’s coming to us live from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is a trauma recovery coach and teacher of therapeutic yoga. She’s also a trained positive psychology practitioner from us here at The Flourishing Center. Welcome, Jillian. It is so great to have you here.
Jillian: Emiliya, it’s great to be on with you today, as well. Thanks so much.
Emiliya: So tell us, Jillian: What brought you to this work? What brought you to positive psychology?
Jillian: Positive psychology, to be perfectly honest, was not on my radar. I was actually enrolled in a doctoral program when I found out about CAPP. I found out actually on a date with a really nice guy who had gone through the program, and as he was describing the program to me, I’m like, “Oh, man! That sounds so much more interesting than what I’m doing right now in grad school. And the tides in my life shifted, and the next semester I opted not to enroll in my university work and I went ahead and registered for CAPP. So it was really serendipitous to have met this person at all and then to have gone through the same program.
Emiliya: That’s awesome. I love that, I love that. I love that it must have just been a really great date conversation, as well, to be sharing insight about well-being. So tell us: What does your application of positive psychology look like?
Jillian: So, right now, I am using positive psychology in my work. I work one-on-one with clients that have gone through traumatic experiences, and then it informs my yoga as well because traumas will often get locked in the body, and so to be able to coach someone through using some of the skills that we’ve learned together such as habit change and things of that nature have been really instrumental in helping these people make the changes in their lives as they start to come up for them at different points in their experience.
Emiliya: That’s awesome. Tell us more about your background. Before you came to positive psychology, you were heavily involved in the fitness industry, right?
Jillian: I was. I was actually a personal trainer for many years. I actually have memories of being 10 years old at the grocery store with my mother and saying, “I want to be a personal trainer when I grow up,” and she goes, “What’s that?” I’m like, “I don’t really know, but it looks like they have fun and they’re in shape.” So I got that start towards the end of my college experience at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I stayed with that for quite some time. I ended up going, uh, switching careers in my early 20s and I went into a master’s program for education and started to just parse through the different backgrounds that I was experiencing and kind of coming into my own, really unsure about where I wanted to be in the world. And it was about that time in my mid-twenties where, you know, God or spirit, the universe–whoever–really upped my challenges, and I had some difficult issues, some traumas of my own that I had to work with. And I eventually found my way into yoga, then into a yoga program that was specifically for therapeutics, and we covered healing trauma. So I was able to then guinea pig these ideas and these different skills on myself and monitor my own healing. And then, having gone through the CAPP Program gave me a lot more confidence to go out into the world. Prior to that, I hadn’t done anything that would equip me with too many coaching skills. I had a sales background and personal training and I had learned how to do motivational interviewing in my yoga training. But there was still a big disconnect in knowing the most appropriate ways to speak to clients that have gone through really troubling events. The positive psychology work really helped me to refine those skills that I wanted to have but that I didn’t have yet.
Emiliya: Beautiful, Jillian, thank you so much for sharing that. Many of our listeners may not be familiar with some of the concepts because they’re more research-based in positive psychology and traditional psychology, so can you tell us more about motivational interviewing?
Jillian: So motivational interviewing is sitting with a client or someone who has yet to become a client and kind of sifting through the things that are pulling them forward and also the things that are holding them back. So for someone who is a prime candidate for motivational interviewing, they might be a little ambivalent to change. They’re not quite comfortable where they are but it’s familiar and they’re not sure if they want to go forward–often because they don’t see the pathways. So through the process of motivational interviewing and coaching them and finding out–What are the things that motivate them?, What are the things that they’re seeking?, gauging their present level of commitment or willingness–you’re able to then ask them different questions to help them see the pathways of how the change might be possible.
Emiliya: Thanks, Jillian. I am so happy you pointed out the word “ambivalent” because one of the things I feel like I’ve learned the most from using motivational interviewing for over a decade now is that when people are not making a change, oftentimes they’ll blame themselves. They’ll think, “Oh I’m not motivated enough” or they’ll just feel stuck and they don’t really know why they feel stuck, but recognizing that part of motivation is not just the fact that they want to do something or don’t want to do something–it’s that there might be something that is pulling them in two directions, like “on the one hand, I want to start exercising, but when I exercise my knee hurts more. And so I’m in this stuck place. Do I exercise or do I make my knee hurt?” Or, when it comes to people making changes to their body, you’ll see things like, you know, hiring a personal trainer has always been on their to-do list as maybe the last possible thing that would work for them, because so many things haven’t worked. And the fear that comes with trying the last thing that they haven’t tried yet–and what if that doesn’t work?–is part of the reason that sometimes people don’t start something. Because there’s this fear. So I think it’s such an important thing for people to hear that motivational interviewing is this really great approach of asking questions and reflective listening that does help people get motivated–but some of the ways in which it gets people motivated is by working through that ambivalence that they may feel of being pulled in different directions.
Jillian: Absolutely. It can get really challenging when you’re about to make a big scary change. There is always something that’s going to be willing to pop up in your face and say, “Hey, this is going to scare the pants off of you.” And then you need to see why it’s there and what you need to learn from it. Because ultimately we do want to change and grow and evolve. And I’m saying that as a blanket statement because I believe that to be true. But maybe we’d rather not have so many obstacles in the way.
Emiliya: Speaking of big scary changes you’ve made a lot of big scary changes in your life. Tell us about some of them.
Jillian: Oh wow. Yeah, I actually just a couple of days ago had my six month anniversary of being in a brand new city and a brand new state. I was born and raised in New Jersey and I recently moved down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in kind of a whimsical way. I was doing a lot of journaling at that point in my life. It was after a breakdown of my marriage that had gone from a very healthy relationship to a very unhealthy relationship. A lot of negative patterns had emerged in me and it was time to lay that aside and work on myself and grow something new. So about a year after the separation from my husband, I was writing in my journal just asking for guidance, saying, “Where do you want me to be? What am I supposed to be doing? Who am I supposed to be helping?” And the next morning, I woke up and a news cast was on about Baton Rouge. Then I hear my dad playing a song that mentions Baton Rouge. And we live right on the border of New York City–we’re not listening to a lot of music that references Baton Rouge, Louisiana! And then I would see it different places. And so I took that as a nudge from my own intuition saying, “Go here! See what this place is like.” I’d only visited Baton Rouge once and it was totally boring. I actually said at the airport, “Oh well, I’m never coming back here. See ya!” And lo and behold, one year later, I was packing up my little white Elantra and grabbing the things that I thought I would need–which really just consisted at that time of clothing and books–and drove down the east coast and cut across Georgia and eventually made it to Baton Rouge, and made myself a little home here. So it’s been six months. I arrived in March 2017, and since then, it’s really been very divinely guided that I’ve been meeting the people that I was intended to meet–the ones that would help me in my journey. I have had lots of positive interactions with people. It’s quite different from where you and I are from, Emiliya. It is a progressive city in the south but it doesn’t compare to the level of resources that we have in New York. They don’t have many folks that are doing trauma recovery. They don’t have anyone that’s doing positive psychology. Even advanced teacher trainings for yoga are few and far between. A lot of yoga teachers who would need to travel out of state to get some additional information and training. So it felt very much like an affirmation that I was in a place where I’m going to be used. And that’s been a really exciting shift in my life. What was really frightening for me was leaving this home town where I grew up. Although I had traveled extensively, I hadn’t lived anywhere else, but I kept coming back to the thought that if you’re following your intuition, you’re going to probably be fine. So here I am, six months later, with a brand new life.
Emiliya: I can’t tell you, I’m like, I have chills and I feel so positively choked up for you because I’m celebrating this vision I have that you listened to the call. You picked up the call and that coming from a place in the New York/New Jersey region, we have a lot of need for so many things–but we do have a lot of people who have access. You can find a yoga class. You can find someone who does trauma work. You can find positive psychology practitioners. And I almost get the sense that the hearts and souls of these people who are ready to change were calling to you, and you picked up the call–and I celebrate that so much for you because you’ve got so many tools to offer them, so many skills that most people are just not aware even exist. And when they get them, it’s like drinking water when you’re thirsty. Such an honor.
Jillian: Great, thank you so much. I’m really excited. I’ll be offering a training down here to yoga teachers, and I have some social workers showing up, as well as psychologists–yoga for trauma. It’s an eight hour intensive in just a couple weeks. And I’m really excited. They’re really excited. I’ve been making sure that my science is on point so I can deliver it well, and lots of people are going to heal–I feel that deeply–as a result of just sharing the information that we have access to.
Emiliya: Can you give me an example of some of the positive psychology that you find to be most helpful? So you talked about how you share the science of habit with some of the clients that you work with. What are some of the other positive psychology concepts and skills that you find really help people?
Jillian: I actually got to run one of our positive psychology Flourishing Skills Groups down here, and one thing that I noticed for me in my relationships was covering ACR–which is active constructive responding–has been huge for me. It’s something that my clients and my friends and acquaintances in my group were really excited about bringing into their personal lives–celebrating the good things that happen in life, without too much of a context for people needing praise, but just enjoying the things that happen because if we look at all these small details, there’s a lot that we can celebrate. So the active constructing constructive responding has been something really wonderful that we absolutely love down here. I have enjoyed doing “best possible future self” with people, and reframing mind chatter has been really helpful for everybody. Everyone has that–several voices in their heads, and they’re telling us all different information, so we need to know what’s coming up. If we don’t fully realize why our mind chatter is, we can’t work with it. It’s the process of tuning enough to become aware of the subconscious and then working with it consciously. So those are a couple of my favorites.
Emiliya: Wow. Thank you, Jillian. And those of you listening, I’ll just review some of the things that Jillian just said because those are awesome positive psychology exercises and interventions. Active constructive responding was a research topic that was uncovered by Dr. Shelly Gable and she recognized that we have a choice in how we can react to people’s news. People often react to people’s bad news by going, “Oh my gosh, what happened? Tell me more.” And we get very granular in our asking for details in our curiosity when negative things happen, when bad things happen. But when positive events happen, those of us who have people in our lives that just go, “Oh that’s great, congratulations, that sounds awesome” are responding in a positive way, but we can amplify that positivity by getting really curious and go, “Wow, tell me more. What enabled that?” And she found that the number of people that an individual has in their life that would help them celebrate their positive news and savor with them and be happy with them–not just happy for them, but genuinely happy with them–is a greater predictor of their well-being, whereas being silently supportive or the ways in which sometimes the people in our life are well-meaning and they want to support us, but you tell them things like, “Guess what, mom! I’m moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana!” and they go, “Are you crazy? How are you going to leave your job? You don’t know anyone down there!” and they give you all the negatives before first hearing out, “Wow. What makes you want to go there, and what is it about that that’s exciting to you? What made you come to that and what possibilities are there for you?” and then being able to say, “Have you considered that you don’t have a job there lined up for you and you don’t actually know where you’re living?” So the idea behind active constructive responding is savor and celebrate first. And it’s an awesome, awesome intervention. And the other two that Jillian mentioned: best possible selves–which I would imagine, Jillian, is really powerful for people who are recovering from trauma or have recovered from trauma but just because you’ve recovered from trauma doesn’t mean that you’ve built a vision of who’s the person that you want to be–so the best possible future self is about giving people the space to think about how they want to be in the world and write about it and visualize themselves at their best. What would it be like if I met my goals? What would it be like if I felt the way that I want to feel? And then the last one that Jillian mentioned… I totally forgot! What did you mention as your last one?
Jillian: It was reframing mind chatter.
Emiliya: Reframing! I had to reframe my mind chatter and how I’m going, “What am I thinking? I can’t remember what she just said.” But I actually want to celebrate that moment for me because before I learned positive psychology, Jillian, I would have been like, “Emiliya, you’re an idiot. How did you just forget what she said just a few moments ago?” But luckily, my brain didn’t say that, and I had a permission-to-be-human moment. So reframing mind chatter. Jillian, when you give people some examples, what are some of the ways that they can reframe their thoughts? Or what type of thoughts should they be on the lookout for that are worth reframing?
Jillian: So, the ones that you’re going to look out for the most–you can think of it almost like being at a picnic. If you have one little ant come by, not a big deal. But when a whole bunch of ants come by, that’s kind of a big deal–especially in Louisiana because we have red ants and they bite! And I found that out the hard way. So when you start to notice repetitive negative thoughts that are making blanket statements about you or blanket statements about the world that are saying, “You’re a bad person” or “You’re so irresponsible” or whatever it happens to be. You referenced memory. I have also gone through memory issues. It’s very common for folks that have gone through traumas in their life to struggle with short term memory. So something that might come up for them is like, “You’re so dumb! You can’t remember anything. Like, you may as well be 100 years old.” Not a helpful thought–that’s not going to be something that helps you improve your memory. So a reframe around having a lackingness in your short term memory might be: “I struggle to remember, but it’s something that I’m working on every day” or “I forget things frequently, and so I use my calendar to remind myself.” Things like that, that take something that could be a negative–maybe not always a negative, but could be a negative–and make it either neutral or a positive or something that’s already being observed would be an appropriate reframe. We don’t need to go from “You’re so dumb” to “You’re the smartest person on earth.” It needs to be a believable and helpful reframe. Another one that I have struggled with is “You’re so irresponsible.” My “You’re so irresponsible, Jillian” then becomes “You took a great risk and you are rebuilding parts of your life.” That would be a neutralizing thought that counters this highly negative one of being an irresponsible person in the world. It’s not true. So these couple of reframes and many, many other ones have been ones that I’ve used in my own personal life. They come up for my clients and for my students, as well and we’ll continue to use them and will continue to reframe until we no longer need to–until we’ve either healed that area or have done enough of the healing that that’s no longer our focus.
Emiliya: Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing those, Jillian, and it’s so powerful to just remember that we can doubt our doubts and we can judge our judgments. And so many of us just walk around with our thoughts just going amuk. And so thank you for those really specific ways that we could address our mind chatter. Jillian, I’m curious if you can close us off with any words to live by that you feel are your mottos in life or your guiding philosophies.
Jillian: My guiding philosophy right now–ah, this is such a great question. One thing I’ve been tinkering with and trying as often as possible to implement is an intervention for my own worry. And that intervention is just to say, “Don’t worry about the how.” Don’t worry about how it’s going to come. Get clear on what you want and start playing with ideas. Worry is not going to be something that’s helpful unless it’s a very short term problem. But you can always look for pathways, so don’t worry about the how. The how will happen if it’s something that you truly desire.
Emiliya: Beautiful, Jillian. Thank you so much. And one more question. What does it mean in your heart and in your eyes for people to flourish?
Jillian: In my heart, when I see and acknowledge people that are flourishing, they are taking it one day at a time. They are staying present for what’s coming up for them. They are moving forward courageously and to the best of their ability. They’re perhaps not always 100 percent happy 100 percent of the time because we are humans and we get to be participants in a whole range of human emotions. But these flourishing people that I see in the world are the ones that are staying present and engaging with whatever comes up and letting it wash right past them when it’s over. So that’s what flourishing is to me.
Emiliya: Thank you so much, Jillian. Learn more about Jillian’s work at jillianguinta.com. Here is how you, too, can create a career out of helping people thrive. Learn more about how to teach and spread positive psychology to your organizations and communities by visiting our website: www.theflourishingcenter.com. Thanks for listening, and until the next episode: may you be well, may you be happy, may you feel fulfilled.