Want Less Stress and More Happiness? Get 'FAT'

Whether you want more happiness, less stress, or to build your resilience reserves, the key is to get FAT -- flexible, accurate and thorough -- about your thinking. The ripple effects will astound you.
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Happy boy spinning around his father on a beach. Motion blur.
Happy boy spinning around his father on a beach. Motion blur.

When it comes to your thinking, how "FAT" are you? That is, how flexible, accurate, and thorough are you at identifying what's working -- and more importantly, what's not working -- for you in the different areas of your life? Increasing my ability to be a FAT thinker has changed my life in many ways, and I'm lucky that my work now helps other people get FAT. When you become an expert at FAT thinking, your happiness and resilience will increase and you'll be better able to manage the different stressors in your life. So, what is FAT thinking?

FAT Thinking

Happy and resilient people are FAT thinkers. They focus their time and energy on matters within their control, and they know when to move on if certain strategies aren't working. Second, FAT thinkers know "this too shall pass." They understand that while the ride of life may be bumpy at times, bad stuff usually won't last forever. Finally, FAT thinkers can compartmentalize. They don't let an adversity in one area of life spill over into other areas of their life.[3]

In addition, FAT thinkers are quick to recognize thinking errors -- overly-rigid patterns in thinking that cause them to miss important information. FAT thinkers are also skilled at identifying specific, deeply-held beliefs that underlie stress patterns. For example, a FAT thinker might realize that the belief "I have to be perfect and do things perfectly" might be driving procrastination or a fear of being criticized. A FAT thinking strategy to help might be creating a "best possible" standard to replace the unachievable standard of perfection.

FAT Thinking and Your Emotions

FAT thinkers are skilled at knowing when to show emotion and when to hold in emotion. In addition, FAT thinkers leverage positive emotions. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson's research on positive emotions reveals that they help you to broaden your mind and build your resources.[1] Specifically, positive emotions help you to think more creatively and be solution-focused, which builds your psychological strengths, social connections, and your physical health.

Activities that have been shown to increase positive emotions, such as capturing three things each day that went well for you or writing or sharing a gratitude letter, increase happiness.[4] It's important to remember that negative emotions have their place too, but FAT thinkers know how to use negative emotions at the right time, in the right place, and in the right context.

FAT Thinking and Your Health

FAT thinkers know how to manage their stress. In order to better manage their stress, FAT thinkers know their stress type. Managing one's stress is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and FAT thinkers use stress-less strategies that specifically work for their stress type. (To learn more about the different stress types and helpful stress-less strategies, click here.)

A colleague of mine increased his FAT thinking and dropped over 100 pounds, and has kept it off for several years. In order to facilitate his weight loss, he identified a handful of thinking errors that were sabotaging his weight loss efforts and incorporated more FAT thinking strategies into his diet.

FAT Thinking and Your Relationships

I work with many people who realize that their own "skinny" thinking has had a negative impact on their relationships. FAT thinkers build supportive social networks that not only facilitate coping during times of challenge, but may also help speed up cardiovascular recovery after negative events.[2]

In addition, leaders who are FAT thinkers make time for the people they work with and mentor. It takes lots of time and energy to keep connections thriving, but FAT thinkers put in the time and effort.

FAT thinkers ask these four questions during relationship challenges:

  1. What other factors might have contributed to the problem?
  2. If I shared this issue with another person, what would he/she see as potential causes?
  3. What parts of the problem can I directly control, influence, or leverage?
  4. What solutions have I not tried?

Whether you want more happiness, less stress, or to build your resilience reserves, the key is to get FAT -- flexible, accurate and thorough -- about your thinking. The ripple effects will astound you.

Paula Davis-Laack, is an internationally published writer and travels the globe as a stress and resilience expert. She has trained nearly a thousand professionals on how to manage their stress by building a set of specific skills designed to increase personal resilience and FAT thinking. Paula's new online magazine, Build Your Strong, helps busy professionals manage stress and build strong, happy, and healthy lives. Check out her online magazine at www.pauladavislaack.com.

Connect with Paula on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pauladavislaack or via email at paula@pauladavislaack.com.


The 4 questions in the FAT Thinking and Relationships section were developed by Dr. Karen Reivich and appeared in an article in Health magazine entitled "How to Bounce Back Better" by Jancee Dunn, September 2012 issue.

[1] Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown Publishers.

[2] Lyubomirsky, S., and Della Porta, M.D. (2010). "Boosting happiness, buttressing resilience: Results from cognitive and behavioral interventions." In J.W. Reich, A.J. Zautra, & J.S. Hall (Eds.), Handbook of Adult Resilience (pp. 450-464). New York: The Guilford Press.

[3] Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.

[4] Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., and Peterson, C. (2005). "Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions." American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.

For more by Paula Davis-Laack, click here.

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