Skip to content
Join Life Time
a woman hugs herself

What if, here at the beginning of spring, you swapped out any relentless efforts to perfect yourself for an embrace of what you’re doing right — and of whatever might inspire you to do more of that?

In the world of self-improvement, we’re often encouraged to focus on what’s not working. We see a lot of people who may even identify themselves with their pathology: They are depressed, or they’re “just an anxious person.”

Yet, in our years of experience, we’ve found that people do better if they recognize how much they do right — how resilient they already are — instead of fixating on places where they feel broken.

We invite you to join us in a new approach. Training our focus on what we like and appreciate — both in ourselves and in our lives — gives us a stronger foundation for change than simply striving to be better. So we encourage you to test out this new belief: You do not need to be fixed.

Broaden and Build

There’s a theory from positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, that can help us stop trying to fix ourselves — and still help us feel better. It’s the broaden-and-build theory.

The basic idea is that practicing positive emotions and inner states creates a more flexible and expansive way of thinking and acting. This changes how we inter­act with ourselves and the outside world — and makes us more open to receiving the good.

That’s the “broaden” effect: We open up to ways of being that improve our resilience and overall mental and physical health in big ways.

This leads to the “build” effect. As we cultivate positive emotions and inner states, such as gratitude and receptivity, new pathways are created in our brains. Practicing these feelings helps those states become more durable.

This makes them more likely to show up in the ­future, with less effort, as they become part of our baseline. We find it easier to bounce back from setbacks and recover our equilibrium.

Spiral Upward

The broaden-and-build approach leads to another effect, called the upward spiral.

The benefits of an upward spiral are immediately visible. When we’re in an upward spiral, our inner states directly influence our daily choices and behaviors for the better.

When we cultivate flexibility and expansiveness, for example, those states feel good. This can lead us to pursue more healthy behaviors — like drinking more water or exercising — because those also feel good.

When our choices generate similar choices, this is sometimes called reciprocal causality. In an upward spiral, anything positive we do for the mind or body helps more positive emotions and inner states rise up, and do so more frequently. This leads to still more healthy behaviors — and on we go. Our behaviors keep fueling one another in a good direction.

This all can start to sound like we want you to be positive all the time. We don’t — that would be toxic positivity, and that is pretty much the same as toxic negativity.

In both states, we cling to emotions regardless of context. We block out what life is giving us and refuse to let in anything new. We narrow our perspective rather than broaden it.

Unlike toxic positivity, taking a broaden-and-build approach and cultivating upward spirals can support us to live more in tune with life.

Although we can’t expect to feel great all the time, we can become open to receiving the good that life has to offer. This leads naturally to us taking better care of ourselves, and we start to make the kind of changes we might otherwise try to force.

So, this season, instead of seeking to change ourselves, we’re seeking to tune in to the good that’s already here — and letting change flow from there. This is how we can find our way to a state of authentic flourishing.

And isn’t that where we all want to be?

In partnership with:

Joy Lab Logo

 Listen to the Joy Lab podcast.

This article originally appeared as “You Do Not Need to Be Fixed” in the March/April 2024 issue of Experience Life.

Henry Emmons, MD and Aimee Prasek, PhD

Henry Emmons, MD, is an integrative psychiatrist and cofounder of He is the author of The Chemistry of Joy, The Chemistry of Calm, and Staying Sharp. Aimee Prasek, PhD, is an integrative-therapies researcher and CEO of Natural Mental Health.

Thoughts to share?

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


More Like This

a woman stands looking out on a mountain lake with her arms outstretched

How to Develop a ‘Stretch’ Mindset

By Scott Sonenshein, PhD

Working with what you have can be the key to more sustainable success. Adopting a “stretch” mindset can help.

Back To Top