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90 Seconds to a Life You Love
How to Master Your Difficult Feelings to Cultivate Lasting Confidence, Resilience, and Authenticity
Read by Joan I. Rosenberg, PhD
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Sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration, and vulnerability. In 30 years as a practicing psychologist, Dr. Joan Rosenberg has found that what most often blocks people from success and feeling capable in life is the inability to experience, move through, and handle these 8 unpleasant feelings. Knowing how to deal with intense, overwhelming, or uncomfortable feelings is essential to building confidence, emotional strength, and resilience. Yet when we distract or disconnect from these feelings, we move away from confidence, health, and our desired pursuits, ultimately undermining our ability to fully realize our ambitions.
Neuroscientists suggest that the biological lifespan of a feeling, often known first through bodily sensations, lasts approximately 90 seconds. Dr. Rosenberg teaches readers to be aware, consciously lean into, and balance these unpleasant emotions by riding one or more 90-second waves of the bodily sensations. By staying present to these 8 feelings, we cultivate the confidence that we can handle life's challenges and the deep sense we can pursue whatever we want.
Combining more than three decades of clinical experience with aspects of clinical psychology, mindfulness, and neuroscience research, 90 Seconds to a Life You Love is a strategic and practical guide on building core emotional strength, reducing anxiety, and developing the confidence you need to create a life of your design — a life you love.
If you think back on your childhood or adolescence, you can likely recall a handful of boys and girls who were the last to be picked for activities by their peers. They were often a little withdrawn, and instead of participating, they spent their time away from the rest of their classmates. Maybe you were one of them. These so-called “wallflowers” seemed to be waiting for someone to notice them, start a conversation, or invite them to join in.
That was me. As a young child, I was self-conscious and exquisitely shy. I started kindergarten at four, and that early beginning left me the youngest and smallest in my class, which became a real liability over time. Feeling embarrassed and vulnerable was a constant. Inside, I felt raw and exposed. I distinctly remember my elementary school teachers having to ask my peers to be friends with me. On top of my feelings of vulnerability and my difficulties fitting in (and likely because of them), I became the target of unceasing teasing and bullying throughout my childhood and adolescence.
Why couldn’t I join in and have a good time like the other kids? I desperately wanted what I thought they had: happiness, confidence, and a sense of belonging. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was under the innocent but false impression that I simply needed to be around them to have all those things, too. But confidence isn’t contagious. I couldn’t magically develop an inner contentedness or find enjoyment in life just by being in their presence.
There was no dramatic or obvious reason I couldn’t have what the other children had. I came from a stable and loving family; although we certainly had our ups and downs like any family, there were no addictions, mental disorders, or abuse. I never resorted to using drugs or alcohol, controlling my food consumption, binge eating, cutting myself, or injuring myself in any way. As I got older, I didn’t lose myself in shopping, gambling, or any other kind of compulsive behavior.
Just because I wasn’t using those ways of coping, however, didn’t mean that I wasn’t hurting. I recognize now that the emotional pain I believed no one understood, noticed, or heard was there, in part, because I wasn’t fully experiencing it inside myself or expressing it to others.
At 19 years old, I started to recognize how I could change, a realization that was largely influenced by two life events. One involved a comment made in passing: I was told I was boring. The unkind comment, made offhandedly by a peer counselor at the end of a summer camp hayride, left me reeling. It felt like someone had stuck a fork in my gut and spun it around. Just like that, my world shifted. Her cavalier and off-the-cuff critique prompted me to reflect deeply on how I saw myself, how I imagined others saw me, and what it meant for my future. As painful as her remark was, some aspect of it hit me as true. In fact, I wasn’t sure which caused more pain in those moments: her words or my recognition of the truth.
I wanted to understand what was at the root of her comment and change accordingly so that others saw me as an interesting and desirable person. I wasn’t thinking that I needed to change so I could fit in with this particular group, or any other for that matter. Instead, I wanted to understand what makes people likeable and attractive, in an emotional sense, to others. I felt driven to uncover why her comment was so painful, especially since it made me see myself in a new light.
The second event, at age 21, involved the death of a close friend. After his passing, I was aware of knowing I was sad, and I knew it was appropriate to feel sad. Yet in those moments I couldn’t actually feel my own sadness. My awareness of this gap acted as another catalyst in my life, demanding I take notice and find answers.
Every one of us has our own version of that gut-punch that challenges, or even demands, we change direction and wake up to who we are supposed to be. For me, those punches, and others, were the painful moments behind my desire to become a psychologist and to understand what truly helps us develop confidence, emotional strength, and self-esteem. I now know that anyone can create a life they love because even though my early life was the very picture of doubt and disempowerment, my adult life has been the opposite.
Maybe you feel like you don’t belong or fit in. Perhaps you feel different, closed off from relationships, or anxious about the goals and dreams you think you’ll never reach. You look at others who seem to radiate confidence and wonder why you can’t have that, too.
You don’t have to be stuck. There is a way to build and maintain lasting confidence, and it starts with the intention to change. With consistent focus, you can experience rapid progress as you transform your life into one you love.
The Rosenberg Reset™
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the key to cultivating confidence and creating a life you love lies in the ability to handle unpleasant emotions. Confidence develops when you have the deep sense that you can handle the emotional outcome of whatever you pursue. If you can experience and move through eight unpleasant feelings, you can pursue anything you want in life. How do you move through these feelings? By following one simple formula: one choice, eight feelings, 90 seconds.
The Rosenberg Reset1, as one of my colleagues affectionately termed my method, is composed of just three steps, each occurring almost simultaneously:
First, you make one choice to be present—to be aware of and in touch with as much of your moment-to-moment experience as possible. When you make this choice, you open yourself up to encountering your whole range of feelings, from pleasant to unpleasant.
Second, since unpleasant feelings are generally harder to face, you acknowledge your willingness to deal with or tolerate the following eight common unpleasant feelings:
Third, you bear and move through, or, for some, endure, those unpleasant feelings by riding one or more 90-second waves of bodily sensations; physical sensations, such as warm cheeks, a pounding heart, or a pit in the stomach, are how the body communicates our feelings to us. Riding out the physical sensations and the emotions they represent is an essential part of the Rosenberg Reset.
Disconnect or distract from these experiences and you’ll go through life feeling unfulfilled, knowing deep down that something is missing. Connect to your moment-to-moment experience by riding the waves of one or more of eight uncomfortable feelings, for up to 90 seconds each, and you connect to the vitality of life. Master this reset process, and you are headed into a life that feels fully lived and expressed—a life of your own design.
The Reset resolves a broad array of common complaints. You can put an end to worry, anxiety, fear of failure, and feeling judged by others. The negative self-talk that belittles you with harsh self-criticism can be silenced almost immediately. Letting go of that old emotional baggage will seem simpler and will free you to take risks, trust others, and let yourself be open and vulnerable. You will begin to welcome change. And as long as you continue to use the Reset, unwavering confidence and emotional strength will become your new normal.
As you read, I want you to be aware that the difficult feelings I’ve chosen to include were distilled from the common, practical, everyday use of the words we employ as we go about our daily lives. My list is drawn from more than four decades of clinical work—day in and day out with clients and graduate supervisees. Over this time I found certain words were too vague (e.g., “pain,” “hurt,” “stressed,” “under pressure”); for instance, therapy conversations about being “hurt” failed to provide genuine relief. Yet, when someone would use a more specific word to describe what they were feeling (e.g., disappointed), there was often an “aha” moment—a click of knowing as if something had just lined up inside them. Clarity and a sense of calm would invariably follow.
I do use feelings and emotions interchangeably. No doubt, we could engage in long conversations about the complexities and science behind these two words. And you may have other ideas about what you would include as difficult or unpleasant feelings. Mostly, I just want you to understand that the 90 Seconds approach and the specific feelings I discuss are included because they best represent our everyday experiences and use of those words.
With the exception of trauma, the 90-second range I discuss here holds true across most circumstances; in fact, it’s often less than 90 seconds. You may be thinking, “No, way—feelings last so much longer than that.” I explain later in the book why feelings seem to linger on and on. You can also let the idea of this 90-second range serve as a metaphor for the brief time it takes to move toward your difficult feelings. As others have told me they’ve said to themselves: “I can handle 90 seconds.” You can handle 90 seconds, too, right? Then you have just what it takes to lead a confident, resilient, and authentic life.
90 Seconds to a Life You Love is a strategic and practical “how-to” guide for building the emotional strength, confidence, and resilience that will help you deal with your most difficult emotions. As much as this is an emotional practice, it’s also a philosophy for living. To show how that can happen, you’ll read stories of people who reinvented their lives by giving themselves permission to be who they really are.
The Reset promotes rapid insight and accelerates sustained personal transformation. It enables you to confront what is holding you back by embracing your emotions, and, in doing so, lets you set yourself free to create and live the life you want. It’s a tested and proven process, drawn from more than four decades of clinical practice and my personal experiences supervising and teaching psychologists-in-training at the University of Southern California; the University of California, Los Angeles; and now at the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology. 90 Seconds to a Life You Love offers a provocative approach to change, transformation, and personal growth.
Now it’s up to you. Your ability to develop core emotional strength, achieve confidence, and build a fully authentic life is literally in your hands.
It only takes 90 seconds to change your life. What are you waiting for?
Living a Life by Design
More. Did you ever want to be more or have more in your life? Even if you’ve accomplished all you’ve dreamed of or desired, perhaps you’ve noticed that there’s a part of you that keeps nudging you toward whatever is next. As I’ve made my way through life, I, too, have always desired more. I didn’t want to have more things in a physical sense; instead, my aim was to become a better person: more knowledgeable, more thoughtful, more generous, and more loving. Despite my professional successes, I never fully understood why I continued to desire more until I met Mary Morrissey, a premier personal development expert, cherished mentor, and dear friend. Mary was the first to introduce me to the idea that, as human beings, we are always seeking a freer, fuller, more expanded version of ourselves and that life is always seeking its fuller expression through us.1
Take some time here and really think about how this might manifest itself in your life. Consider the following questions: How do you want to live your life? If you were living a life you truly loved, what would it look like?2 How would it be different than it is now? What would your health look like? What would your relationships be like—romantic, familial, and otherwise? With whom would you be hanging out? Would you travel or pursue hobbies you love? What would you be doing with your time?3 Since I know it’s tempting to breeze by these questions, I’d like to encourage you to grab a journal or notebook so that you can jot down some initial ideas.
When I ask clients these questions, I get responses that range from impassioned, detailed descriptions about a great imagined future to quizzical looks that convey countless doubts about the ability to achieve any of their dreams. Yet most people share a few important responses:
1. They desire to be fully engaged in something that feels meaningful and purposeful.
2. They want to experience their impact on the people and situations in their lives.
3. They consistently want to feel more confident and empowered, and less affected by life’s daily challenges.
No matter how many times people have been advised to be more confident or have higher self-esteem, rarely are they told how to achieve these goals. Rest assured, it can be done. In fact, you can definitely learn how to be confident and resilient.
The challenge is that most people believe that life is doing something to them, so they live by constantly reacting to life’s dilemmas. If you perceive life as a set of difficult problems, criticizing and complaining can become coping strategies you use to deal with what you perceive as the harshness of such a life.
People often don’t realize that they have a hand in creating the life they want. Once you start setting clear intentions and taking inspired action to meet specific goals, then you begin to develop a sense that you have a say in how life unfolds for you. In fact, many people find their purpose in life by actively pursuing their goals or dreams. When you experience purpose and meaning in what you are doing, it often feels like you are the conduit through which life is fulfilling itself instead of a mere victim of life’s hardships. Personal development trainers often describe these two very different approaches—reactionary versus creative—as, respectively, living “life by default” and “life by design.”
This book was written to help you live life by your design. You have a hand in creating a life you love—one that enables you to be confident, emotionally strong, enthusiastic, purpose-driven, and resilient. The process involves embracing all of life: all of the good, fun, enjoyable, happy experiences, and all of the crummy, messy, unexpected, and unpleasant ones, too.
The Gift of Unpleasant Feelings
Most of us want to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings either because they are so darn uncomfortable or because they elicit some measure of pain. This avoidance, what some psychologists call “experiential avoidance,”4 occurs through distracting yourself. By moving away from difficult feelings, you actually cut yourself off from emotional information that could help protect or enhance your life. Consistently distracting from or avoiding what is unpleasant and uncomfortable is, unfortunately, often the start of a slow trek to increased anxiety, bodily pain, vulnerability, and disempowerment. If you continue to distract or stay disconnected from the truth of your own life experiences over long periods of time, you may experience feelings of emptiness, numbness, and soulful depression™—a result of being disconnected from yourself. Eventually, this can transform into something worse: intense feelings of isolation, alienation, or hopelessness.
But it doesn’t need to move in that direction at all. Just as there’s a path to soulful depression5, there’s a path to confidence, emotional strength, and resilience—three qualities that have a direct impact on your ability to lead a meaningful life.
How, then, do you develop into an emotionally stronger and more capable person? As paradoxical as it seems, the answer is tied to your capacity to tolerate pain—or your capacity to handle unpleasant feelings. The more you are able to face the pain you experience, the more capable you become. The essential keys to developing confidence, feeling emotionally strong, and being resilient involve an openness to change, a positive attitude toward pain, a willingness to learn from any experience, and a capacity to experience and express unpleasant feelings.
When you’re able to effectively handle unpleasant emotions, you’re likely to feel more centered, confident, capable, and calm in the moment. Your consistent ability to deal with difficult feelings translates into relief from anxiety, harsh self-criticism, and negative self-talk. As you continue the practice of experiencing these unpleasant feelings, you increase your capacity to engage in courageous conversations, which often results in mending and deepening relationships. If you stay well connected to your moment-to-moment experience, not only will you move your life more fully into who you want to be and do more of what you love, you’ll start to develop a greater sense of purpose and meaning in your life.
Why wouldn’t you want to embrace your unpleasant feelings if it results in living the life you’ve always wanted?
Building the Framework
Early in my career, I worked as a psychologist in the student counseling center at the University of California, Los Angeles. I was initially hired because of my skills and experience counseling women who struggled with a variety of eating problems like anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating. Without exception, their attention was always on food, weight, or appearance.
Liz was a prime example. At 20 years old, she carried an extra 30 pounds on her five-foot, four-inch frame. Liz told me that emotional eating, or what some call compulsive overeating, defined her.
“Whenever I’m upset, lonely, or bored, I eat. Sometimes it’s because of a low grade on a paper or exam, sometimes it’s because I’m procrastinating, and sometimes it happens when I’m upset with one of my friends and don’t feel like I can say anything to her. Other times I don’t even know what it’s about.”
When I talked with Liz about her eating habits, she said that she ate until she felt sick and then tried to stuff down even more food. She hated carrying the extra weight and finally acknowledged that consuming all that food wasn’t solving anything. It never took away what was really bothering her. Instead, she would feel even more upset about her eating and the extra pounds, and she would still have to face the other problems that remained long after she binged. This understanding fully clicked into place the day after she’d eaten a large pizza because she was angry and wanted to “get back at” her mom; it dawned on her that her mother wouldn’t feel any of the effects of eating the pizza—only Liz would. And she was still angry. Nothing went away, and nothing changed.
From my work with Liz and countless others, it quickly became apparent that the problem for which they came to therapy was a clear signal of something deeper and harder for them to experience. There were consistent patterns to the students’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For students with eating-related struggles, their overfocus on food, weight, and appearance kept their attention on the wrong issue. Rather than an eating disorder, they had what I describe as an emotional management disorder.
Invariably, there were two layers of problems. Despite the fact that eating-related behaviors were significant—and sometimes even life threatening—they served as the cover and distracter for the true sources of these behaviors. By the end of the first session with each of these students, it was apparent that the real problem they faced was an inability to comfortably manage their everyday emotional reactions and experiences. They had difficulty tolerating their thoughts, feelings, needs, and perceptions. Their particular focus on food, weight, and appearance kept them totally distracted from painful thoughts, feelings, or needs that were harder to bear. They had been focusing their efforts on “controlling” the wrong thing.
Emotional Strength and Weakness
Over my four decades of counseling, I came to recognize a pattern among many of my clients that involved common-yet-destructive misconceptions about emotional strength and emotional weakness. I found that individuals with the lowest levels of self-confidence generally held tightly to the beliefs or behaviors described below.
Track yourself here, too. If you notice similarities, highlight the belief or put a check by it.
disdain uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings
doubt or question most things they say or do
are hesitant to take risks
often feel anxious
tend to worry about being a burden to others
worry about what others think of them
believe they have to do everything independently
hate asking for help
make other people’s needs and feelings more important than their own
are not emotionally expressive to keep from feeling vulnerable
don’t want to show any signs of vulnerability because they might be perceived as weak
diminish their hard work and accomplishments
hide their successes or devalue appropriate recognition of success and achievements
I came to realize these beliefs and behaviors all lead to problems with emotional management. They can be found underneath many concerns, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol misuse or abuse.
What also captured my attention were the long-held yet damaging views of what it means to be emotionally strong or weak. What have you been taught about emotional strength and weakness? Do any of the following statements sound familiar to you?
Tearfulness and crying make you look weak.
Tough it out.
Get over it.
Will it away.
Snap out of it.
Do it yourself.
Don’t be such a baby.
Don’t show your soft side.
You’re not feeling that way.
That’s not like you.
You create your own success.
Don’t even think of asking for help.
Tender emotions are a sign of weakness.
Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
You want help? You have a hand at the end of each arm.
While potentially helpful in the short-term, these clichés sustain views of emotional strength that are generally hurtful in the long-term to the individuals who abide by them. I have an entirely different view of what it takes to be emotionally strong. Let’s start with my redefinition of the essential elements of emotional strength.
Emotional Strength Redefined
Emotional strength means feeling capable and being resourceful. Feeling capable of facing life’s challenges emerges out of your experience of effectively handling the eight unpleasant feelings. It’s entirely internal—you deal with your own emotional experience on your own emotional terms. Your sense of being resourceful has an external element to it that involves relying on others and includes acknowledging needs and limitations, asking for help, and graciously receiving the support offered. Thus, believing you are capable and resourceful means you possess the emotional resources to go after the dreams and goals you have set for yourself and the courage to ask for help when needed.
Although it may seem obvious, many people maintain a faulty perception of emotional strength; they believe being emotionally strong means controlling, shutting down, or shutting out thoughts, feelings, needs, and perceptions—in other words, dismissing what you know. When you distract yourself by shutting out what you experience, you can no longer use the emotional reactions that evolved to protect you or help you connect with others.
Shutting down in this way actually leaves you feeling weaker and more exposed. This “emotional weakness”—or, rather, vulnerability—is experienced even more intensely when you avoid, suppress, or disconnect or distract from your everyday, in-the-moment reactions to life. Such disconnection is “trying not to know what you know” and is directly related to avoiding the difficult feelings instead of making the one choice to stay present to your moment-to-moment experiences.
By contrast, when someone stays aware of and attuned to their experience (“know what you know”), they consistently feel more empowered and more willing to take risks in all areas of their life. Likewise, when they stay well connected to their friends and family, let others really know them, and are willing to lean on those who offer their help and support, individuals become more centered and calmer; that sense of inner peace is another outgrowth of emotional strength. Both feeling capable and being resourceful are necessary in order to develop true emotional strength, confidence, and a sense of well-being.
- "A groundbreaking book built around a simple idea that will energize, transform, and uplevel your life."—Joan Borysenko, PhD, author of Minding the Body, Mending the Mind
- "Joan's approach is simple, practical, and effective. It represents a significant breakthrough on the path to success. If you want unwavering confidence to pursue your goals and dreams, then this will guide you to it."—Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and The Success Principles
- "Every once in a while, you meet someone capable of turning conventional wisdom on its head. Dr. Joan Rosenberg is both a brilliant clinician and compassionate presence. Her book inspires and invites people to be authentic, to become their best and most fully expressed selves. It's a game changer for anyone ready to take their life, relationship, and career to the next level."—Ron Howard, film director, producer, and actor
- "As for so many others, Dr. Joan Rosenberg has been my lifeline...There is a special kind of hope that comes from finally understanding that fear is not your enemy. Until you experience it yourself, it's hard to imagine what a difference 90 seconds can make."—JJ Virgin, New York Times bestselling author of The Virgin Diet and JJ Virgin's Sugar Impact Diet
- "Dr. Rosenberg has created a novel technique, based on traditional practice and solid science, that can be used as a very effective adjunct to any form of therapy with consistent positive results. Highly recommended!"
- On Sale
- Mar 12, 2019
- Hachette Audio