Every time I teach a workshop I am confronted with individuals who seem to want to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on what’s wrong in their lives. They are usually the types that have spent years rehashing the same old stuff because they have become accustomed to seeing the world through a negative lens.
Our brains are trained to be on the alert for danger and to make sure that we get what we need to survive, i.e. food, shelter, clothing. This model was incredibly useful a million or so years ago since we could become a meal any minute for a hungry behemoth. Our ancestors survived harsh conditions through a negative bias. In other words they learned from bad experiences, not necessarily good ones.
Unfortunately we are still at the mercy of some of that training, which makes it difficult to learn how to install beneficial experiences. Oh we can read lots of books on how to be more positive, see a therapist or coach, but taking action is what creates new neural pathways that can help change our behavior. Even more importantly is the practice of those actions. We learn through practice whether it’s negative or positive.
Our chaotic, driven culture adds to the problem. Most people have become hostages to their schedules and their attachment to getting as much done as possible. They don’t realize that within that framework lies precious moments that can be utilized to change the brain for the better. I don’t know how many times I have heard individuals tell me they don’t have the time to change a certain behavior. “Someday they will”, they say. But when will “someday” come? Unfortunately, the longer we submit to feeling negative, the harder it is to change.
So what can we do? Believe it or not, most of us have experiences in our daily lives that can help reframe situations for the better. Developing the ability to stay with those experiences for a few moments throughout the day helps cultivate inner strengths that can help us cope with life. Life is not easy. No one has been promised a journey without ups and downs. But it can be made easier by growing the seeds of appreciation, gratitude, love, altruism, and humor.
Take time to savor what might even be fleeting moments of joy. A cup of coffee, a smile from a loved one or a colleague at work, someone who lets you into a line of traffic, a blue sky, a call from a friend that checks in to see how you are, a pet that looks up at you with adoring eyes. Don’t just let these go, before you take the time to “savor them”. Even a few minutes throughout the day will begin to make a difference, not only in your life, but in the lives of those around you.
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