Use Positive Psychology To Change Your Brain in Healthy Ways

Have you ever felt stuck in a personal rut? Maybe not a full-blown crisis, but you’ve definitely been better? Psychologist Adam Grant terms this feeling “languishing,” and a large portion of the population finds themselves trapped in this mental-health twilight zone.

Jared Warren, associate professor of clinical and developmental psychology, has a solution. 

Warren studies positive psychology, or the applied science of well-being. His research objective is to connect people with evidence-based resources for living their best life possible.

“Positive psychology is about being a whole person,” Warren says. “A misconception about positive psychology is that it’s just a ‘focus on the positive, look on the bright side’ kind of naive approach to life, and that’s not at all what it is. It’s recognizing that there’s value in every experience, including the challenging ones.”

Warren’s research, among the research of others in the field, links principles of positivity like gratitude, mindfulness, self-compassion, and savoring to overall well-being. By learning these skills, anyone can take steps to flourish mentally. But, research also shows that simply understanding positive principles will not lead to personal progress.

Warren developed the course for and teaches Psych 349, “Introduction to Positive Psychology.” The curriculum gives students the opportunity to develop an attribute of well-being by practicing that attribute for three weeks. Known as “The 21-Day Personal Growth Experiment,” this assignment moves students from knowing about well-being to living what they know.

Dr. Warren also has a practice as a clinical psychologist at BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic. He says that his research has helped patients at the clinic “because some positive psychology practices are already baked into some of our best clinical approaches.” 

The John Taylor Building houses the Comprehensive Clinic (Claire Moore)

Many tried and true psychological treatments line up naturally with positive psychology principles, such as having subjects actively plan pleasant activities, consider their personal core values, and set goals to become who they’ve always wanted to be.

But positive psychology isn’t just for those struggling with clinical disorders. Wherever people find themselves on the spectrum of well-being, positive psychology can help anyone live a rich, vibrant, and meaningful life. The skills developed by practicing positive psychology build the capacity to handle unexpected stressors and challenges that will inevitably come into our lives.

So, how can you break out of the languishing rut? 

“To change the brain in healthy ways we have to practice,” says Warren. “My wish for the whole world is that everyone could spend 20 minutes a day practicing some of these skills for improving their well-being.”

To work through some positive psychology modules and improve your own well-being, visit the My Best Self 101 website developed by Warren.

Other mental health resources for students include BYU CAPS, the SafeUT App and webinars from the Hope Squad.

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers counseling services for individuals, couples, and families in the Utah County area. Services are provided by graduate student interns in Clinical Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Social Work. These graduate student therapists are supervised by experienced, licensed professionals, and faculty members. Call (801)422-7759 to schedule an intake.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day With a Free Relationship Checkup

In addition to your regular Valentine’s Day traditions this year, take advantage of the Comprehensive Clinic’s free relationship checkup.

By taking inventory of your relationship, you and your partner can create a deeper connection and build a stronger bond. In a relationship checkup, married, engaged, or dating couples have the opportunity to discover strengths in their relationship as well as new ways to improve. 

Checkups are conducted by graduate interns in BYU’s marriage and family therapy program and consist of three to five 50-minute sessions. In the checkup, couples participate in structured discussion, interviews, and questionnaires. By working together to build a healthier relationship, you’ll be saying “I love you!” in a brand new way.

Call 801-422-7759 to schedule your checkup or visit

Comprehensive Clinic Forming New Support Groups

Do you often feel blue? Stressed? Upset? BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic is putting together four new groups to help students and the general public cope with their emotional struggles:

Divorce Adjustment Group

This group is a place for those who are divorced to process feelings concerning that event. This could include residual emotions about the divorce as well as feelings about dating and the possibility of remarriage. The group will be held weekly from 7-8 p.m. on Thursdays. Please call the Clinic (801-422-7759) to schedule an intake for this group.26


Perfectionism Group

This group is for women with perfectionistic tendencies who are looking for a safe space to both share and process their experiences with others, and learn skills to help them withstand the pressures surrounding them to fit a “perfect ideal.” The group will be held weekly from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Please call the Clinic (801-422-7759) to schedule an intake for this group. As soon as there are enough participants, the group leaders will contact those interested in participating with the date of the first meeting.

perfection support

Sexual Assault Group

This group is for women ​who have experienced sexual assault and related trauma. The group will provide an opportunity for them to process residual emotions from their assault experiences and seek healing in the company of fellow survivors. Two separate groups will meet weekly—one on Tuesdays and one on Thursdays, both at 7:00 p.m. Please call the Clinic (801-422-7759) to schedule an intake for this group. ​​

assault support

Ethnic Minority Support Group

This process group is a unique opportunity for individuals from diverse ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds to come together to discuss what it means to be a person of color and a student in Utah Valley. Topics discussed may include coping with racism/colorism stress, dating and relationships, navigating micro-aggressions, representation in media, politics, etc., and more.  This will be held Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.

minority support

Newly-Remodeled Comprehensive Clinic Means Better Therapy

“We’ve arrived; we’ve made it to the Promised Land!” said Director Dean Barley in reference to BYU’s newly remodeled Comprehensive Clinic. Opened in the 70’s, the clinic was recently updated to allow for increased patient comfort and more space for students to work. Furthermore, a new assistant director was hired, David Fawcett, who will help move the clinic technologically forward in the hopes that it will be cutting edge and better able to serve the community.

The Remodel

An updated therapy room

 The much-needed remodel had been a goal for decades; limited space made it hard for students to work and sparse therapy rooms sometimes made the work difficult. Specific changes that were made include:

  • Accent walls, whiteboards, and TVs  in rooms
  • Soundproof therapy rooms
  • A mothers’ lounge
  • Increased storage and moving shelves
  • A play therapy room with a plethora of toys, a castle, and a sand table

“It’s great, [I] love it,” a student working at the clinic said. “It’s good to be back, now I have a space.”

What is the Clinic?

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers counseling services to members of the public in the Utah County community. It is a research and training facility where counseling is provided by graduate student interns under the close supervision of experienced faculty who are licensed therapists. In addition to therapy, the clinic offers various psychological assessment. In 2016, 1,191 people were helped at the clinic; this was higher than average, as the clinic sees 900-1,100 people a year. More than 100 therapists are employed there and oversee a multitude of graduate students. They supervise their therapy and teach them the skills they need to be successful at their work.

LDS Family Services and the Communication Disorders Department are housed in the clinic. In addition, BYU recently acquired the old seminary building adjacent to the clinic; they will host psychology students there.

Panorama of the new play therapy room

Future of the Clinic

“It’s a brave new frontier,” said Dr. Barley in reference to the future of the clinic. He and Dr. Fawcett will use technology to supplement their therapeutic process so as to improve it and the flow of the treatment. To him, the remodeled clinic is truly “a dream come true.”


Feature image: By GreenwoodKL (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Self-Compassion: Five Tips to Tame Your Inner Critic

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found.” –Buddha

4332713390_623910c93d_o Backgarden Buddha care of Flickr Daz Smith

Post by Olivia Thompson, Psychology undergraduate student

The concept of self-compassion emerged primarily from Buddhist psychology and grew out of the more well-known work on mindfulness. Self-compassion entails having kindness and understanding toward ourselves and has numerous mental health benefits, emerging as a valuable construct in the positive psychology realm.

What is self-compassion the way it’s studied by psychologists? To understand self-compassion, one must first understand compassion. Compassion is the desire to ease suffering in another person or another living thing. Compassion does not keep its distance from suffering (like pity does), but approaches it, does not fear or resist it, and desires to alleviate it. The mandate we have to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8) is a commandment to have compassion in this way. However, sometimes we are not quick to include ourselves in the reach of our compassion. With self-compassion, we give ourselves the loving kindness we might more instinctively give to a good friend. Self-compassion means to bear witness to our own pain and to respond with kindness and nonjudgmental understanding.

6209756718_20b6b0e3a5_o kindness via Flickr Margaret Almon

Researchers argue that self-compassion is actually one of the most natural things in the world because wanting to be free from suffering is something we strive for consistently. However, we also have the tendency to resist painful experiences and emotions as the fight-or-flight response is applied to emotional dangers. A commonly cited equation among self-compassion enthusiasts is that pain x resistance = suffering. Self-compassion is about turning toward our emotional pain and being open to it.

Self-compassion can also be understood in terms of its components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. In 2003, Kristen Neff developed the most widely-used measure of self-compassion, the Self-Compassion Scale, which uses as its six subscales these components and their negative counterparts:

  • Self-kindness, the opposite of which is self-criticism, includes not judging or blaming ourselves when things go wrong, as well as being understanding toward personal shortcomings.
  • Common humanity, the opposite of which is isolation, entails viewing our difficulties as part of the human experience and our suffering as something all people experience.
  • Mindfulness, the opposite of which is over-identification with our thoughts, means holding emotions in perspective, or taking a balanced view of a situation.

There are also a few things that self-compassion is not.

  • First, self-compassion is not selfish. It doesn’t close us off from others but brings us closer to the rest of humanity. It is also not selfish because demeaning our suffering by comparing it to others’ can mean avoiding our own pain, which decreases our ability to care for others.
  • Second, self-compassion is not self-esteem. Self-esteem is contingent; it is based on self-evaluation and has comparison at its root, while self-compassion is not dependent on any quality in us or in others.
  • Lastly, self-compassion is not passiveness. The number one reason that people are self-critical is that they think they need it to motivate themselves, that too much self-kindness will lead to laziness. However, research has shown that the opposite is true.

7342808810_580ef6650b_b warrior of the heart via flickr mehmet nevzat

Research on the topic of self-compassion has increased dramatically in recent years. Some topics currently being researched in relation to self-compassion are body image and eating disorders, caregiving and burnout, and health and athletics. Self-compassion has also been found to be successful in alleviating depression, with negative cognitive style, including rumination, shame, avoidance, self-criticism, and irrational beliefs, being the mediator in this relationship. Worry has also been found to at least partially mediate the relationship between self-compassion and anxiety.

Dr. Jared Warren, associate professor in the department of psychology at BYU, began teaching a class on positive psychology in the fall of 2014 and has recently put together a research team to study self-compassion and other positive psychology topics including growth habits, interconnectedness, flow experiences, and mindfulness. He and his research team are excited to include BYU in the circle of researchers exploring cutting-edge positive psychology topics.

To apply self-compassion in your own life, try to:

  1. Notice the great compassion that others have for you, including parents, mentors, or deity figures. Learn how to treat yourself from the way that person treats you. Or, notice the compassion you easily have for a close friend or loved one. Harness and observe that feeling, and then replace that close friend with yourself.
  2. Practice informal mindfulness in everyday life. Be a nonjudgmental observer of the present moment. Try to refrain from making quick value judgements. Periodically take a few conscious, deep breaths.
  3. Learn to label your emotions – this helps them be seen as just emotions; it gives enough distance to not be drowning in the feeling.
  4. Repeat self-compassion phrases to yourself throughout the day such as “May I be happy,” “May I live with ease,” “May I love myself just as I am,” or “May I be free from suffering.” Feel the warmth of loving intention.
  5. Simply take a moment and be kind to yourself, however that looks for you! There’s no wrong way to be self-compassionate. You might say things like “Self, I’m so sorry you’re hurting. Sometimes it’s difficult to be a person, isn’t it? You’re dealing with some really hard stuff, and I validate that. But I also know your great capacity to overcome!”

If you have interests in formally developing self-compassion, you may want to look in to loving-kindness (or metta) meditation. Guided loving-kindness meditations can be found online, including at

On Creating Couple Safety: FHSS Expert Jonathan Sandberg

Note: This is a guest post from Dr. Jonathan Sandberg, a professor in FHSS’s School of Family Life. Professor Sandberg is involved in the Marriage and Family Therapy Programs at BYU, a Certified Emotionally Focused Supervisor with the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute, and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Utah.

sandberg, jonathan
Jonathan G. Sandberg, Photo by: Elisa Tittle/BYU Copyright BYU PHOTO 2008 All Rights Reserved

I once heard from a young person something very insightful, a comment like this: “I guess I am just in love with the feeling of being in love.” Yes, feeling deep love from and for another person is a sublime experience. But, it is about the deep, serene, and settled sense of safety and security that comes with mature romantic love I write about today. That type of safety within a couple relationship has a name; it is called “attachment security”. The concept of secure or insecure attachment actually has its roots in parent-child research. John Bowlby (1), and later others (2), proposed that when a child feels a parent is accessible (“I can find you”) and responsive (“you reach out to me and comfort me when I call”), a secure attachment can develop. Accessibility and responsiveness become key attachment behaviors.

Other researchers have since proposed that a similar process occurs within a romantic relationship (3), namely, when a partner can consistently reach out for and find love and reassurance from her/his spouse, a secure bond of attachment is created. Sue Johnson has described this bonding as engagement (4,5). Accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement are three key attachment behaviors, and when present in a relationship, couples are more likely to feel satisfied and stable in their relationship, as well as communicate more effectively (6).

How then can a couple promote these key attachment behaviors in their relationship. Permit me to suggest a few do’s and don’ts.

Attachment Do’s and Don’ts

To be more accessible,


  • answer her/his phone calls
  • schedule and follow through on plans to spend face-to-face time (not facetime) together


  • place work, church service, or children above the marriage
  • give too large a portion of your time to hobbies

To be more responsive,


  • put down or put away all electronic devices when together with your spouse—this appears to be the primary impediment to responsiveness in modern marriages
  • develop good listening skills (look at your partner when s/he is talking to you, validate, etc.)


  • ignore or dismiss your partner or her/his feelings
  • give the silent treatment

To be more engaged:


  • be warm and reassuring when your partner is in distress
  • express your commitment to and confidence in your spouse


  • criticize or give advice when your partner reaches out to you
  • take over her/his problem, which conveys a message that you think they are not competent

22146076165_539f75c0db_h Man yelling at woman courtesy Flickr InfoWire dk
Photo courtesy of Flickr.

We can all take small steps to increase our accessibility and responsiveness to and engagement with our spouses. These steps can make a difference in our marriage. If you are interested in learning more about attachment and how to create security and safety in your relationship, I suggest you read one or both of Dr. Sue Johnson’s books which are listed below.

What are your thoughts on these do’s and don’ts? What has worked for you in creating attachment security?

  1. 1.Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  2. Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1973). The development of infant-mother attachment (pp. 1-94). In B. M. Caldwell & H. N. Ricciuti (eds.), Review of child development research (Vol. 3). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Feeney, J. A. (2008). Adult romantic attachment: Developments in the study of couple relationships (pp. 456-481). In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (eds.), Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  4. Johnson, Susan. (2008). Hold Me Tight. Little Brown, NY.
  5. Johnson, Susan. (2013). Love Sense. Little Brown, NY.
  6. Sandberg, J. G., Busby, D. M., Johnson, S. M., & Yoshida, K. (2012). The brief accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement (BARE) scale: A tool for measuring attachment behavior in couple relationships. Family Process, 51(4), 512-526.