Who Do You Want to Be?
Many of us experience the effects of negativity, cynicism and hopelessness in our lives. For the most part this is because we have learned to concentrate on the bad stuff, the failures, the pain, and the difficulties that life is full of. It’s very easy to fall into thought patterns that harm us and rob us of the small joys that are actually all around us all the time.
This isn’t necessarily our fault. Pessimism can be a defence mechanism that protects us from the pain of failure, of dashed hopes. If you expect bad things to happen then you are never disappointed when they inevitably happen. But, this also takes away our ability to fully enjoy when things go well for us. If we have a negative view of life we minimise our successes limit our enjoyment of things because, well, good things never last, do they? We learn to actively seek out the negative in everything, and there are almost always negative aspects, so that’s easy.
This overall negativity obviously affects our mental and emotional life, but it can also affect us physically; we smile less, frown more, slouch, and over the years our face and body begin to show our pessimism. Our health can be affected too. Pleasure, fun and enjoyment can potentially lower our blood pressure, improve digestion, and have a whole range of other positive physical benefits. Plus, crow’s feet are so much more attractive than frown lines, right?
How Do We Change?
How do we change our thinking from negative to positive? It’s not easy; it takes effort and a certain amount of discipline, but it is doable. Firstly, we need to change our inward focus to being an outward focus. The following are four exercises that WILL change your perspective on life if you incorporate them into your everyday life. Guaranteed:
- Develop Gratitude– think of an individual who has had a major positive influence on your life. Someone who inspired you or encouraged you, or believed in you when no one else did. Write them a letter. In the letter explain what they did for you, how it has made a difference to you, and express your real gratitude to them. Once you’ve done that, if possible, visit the person and read the letter to them before giving it to them. If they do not live close enough to you then post it to them. If you don’t know where they live, or if they have passed on, send it symbolically, maybe burning it in the garden, tying it to a balloon and letting the balloon go, sticking it in a bottle and throwing it into a river or the sea. If appropriate, read it to one of their surviving relatives, if they have died. Something that is meaningful to you. Remembering what someone has done for you helps you to see things are not always bleak. Expressing your gratitude reinforces that, and seeing the response in a person’s face when you do so is very rewarding.
- Develop Generosity – Do something kind for someone else every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or a family member, or a stranger, the important thing is that you do something significant for someone else every day; and do it without any expectation of thanks or reward. Perhaps buy a homeless person a sandwich (or make a sandwich and take it to them), pay someone a genuine compliment (it has to be genuine), make a meal for a sick friend and their family. There are millions of possibilities and they don’t have to cost money or take too much time, but just be nice and do something kind for someone else every day. Doing this helps take our focus off ourselves and lets us actively look at what may make another person feel good. Putting this into practice makes someone else feel good because you’ve done something for them, and it also makes you feel good, because you know you’ve had a positive impact on someone.
- Remember the Good Bits – Everyone has at least one, usually more, positive thing happen to them in a day. Get a little note book and at the end of each day list three positive things that have happened to you that day. They don’t have to be huge; maybe the fact that you caught the bus you thought you were going to be late for, even though you had to run the last hundred yards to get it, you found some money in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn for months, someone paid you a compliment or bought you a coffee or held a door open for you. There are always positives in your day. This exercise begins to train our minds to seek out the positives rather than the negatives. By doing this we start to notice all the little positives that fill our lives and begin to pay less attention to the negatives that are also always there. This isn’t an exercise in ignoring the bad things; it’s about restoring balance to your soul and helping you learn the habit of seeing the good stuff. Practice makes perfect.
- Count Your Blessings – Really, count them, because you have many. We all do. Do this at least once a day, maybe just before you go to bed, right after you list the positive things that have happened that day in your notebook. Think about your life, your work, or the fact you are able to look for work; think about your relationships, the people you love and who love you; think about your talents and abilities, your strengths; think about the fact you are able to do something good for someone every day, that you are able to express gratitude to people who have helped you or influenced you. There are many, many blessings in each of our lives, though it is sometimes hard to identify them and, if we are feeling particularly low or stressed or anxious or ill, it can be hard to bring them to mind, but this is another ‘practice makes perfect’ exercise. The more we do this, the better we become at remembering our blessings and the better we become at actually seeing blessings where we previously thought there were none.
These exercises really do work. They are simple but not easy, short but have deep impact, repetitive, but have a cumulative positive effect. They say that it takes between 24 and 88 days for something to become a habit, if you practice these exercises for three months you will find yourself doing them daily without even thinking about it and, here’s the real benefit, you will find your entire outlook on life and your response to adversity has changed for the better.