In challenging times, there are ways we can actively seek out the brighter side
There are good things that happen to us in life, and there are bad. One doesn’t exist without the other; this is the way life is.
You can get a new, high-paying job in field you love and end up with a terrible boss. We all know alcohol can be enjoyable to consume, but in excess can be quite dangerous. Or perhaps you have endured a highly stressful event in your family, only to come out stronger and wiser at the other end.
Regardless of what is happening around you, it’s always important to keep perspective on all aspects of your life, rather than just focus on what’s in front of you in any given moment. Often we only focus on:
- – what we don’t want
- – what we’ve missed out on, or
- – what we believe should have happened
…but the reality is, right here right now, this is your reality.
If you keep circling around the story of what you don’t have, your brain will naturally keep finding evidence of what you don’t have, and you’ll keep feeling bad about your reality. Thinking this way repetitively becomes a habit – just like driving a car.
As Richard Carlson (author and psychotherapist) said:
You are what you practice most
What you think about and focus on will inevitably expand in that direction.
Refocusing with Gratitude
As human beings, our brains are biologically wired to focus on the negative as a survival mechanism, which is why many of us cannot look away during a car crash. This means, however, that it takes effort to be positive, or to see the silver lining.
If you practice looking for evidence that:
- – life isn’t always bad,
- – you’re just experiencing something unwanted right now, and
- – you have been able to learn something from the unwanted
…you will start to feel a lot less stress and more in control of things in your life.
Regularly practicing gratitude and appreciation for the small things in your life helps to change the brain’s natural instincts to watch the ‘doom and gloom’ around us; thereby forgetting about the blessings that are in there as well.
Start finding what’s good, beneficial or helpful about unwanted situations by regularly asking yourself questions like:
- – What can I be grateful for in this situation?
- – What am I, or my children, learning from this unwanted event?
- – Where is this unwanted event leading me that is wanted?
- – What is the opportunity that can be found in this event?
- – What am I getting from this event?
There are, of course, other ways to cultivate gratitude to keep your focus on the positives in life; it’s just about finding what is right for you. Some examples include:
- – keeping a gratitude journal
- – actively noticing or catching things you are grateful for more immediately
- – sharing what you are thankful for with your family
See if you can come up with the ‘hidden good in the bad’ for yourself, just by shifting your focus through gratitude.
Refocusing with Mindfulness
In addition to practicing gratitude, mindfulness is also helpful in refocusing your mind away from the ‘bad’ and towards the ‘good’.
The non-judgemental approach to mindfulness practice significantly reduces the amount of negative information you recall, whilst improving your ability to remember more positive information, such as a small personal win or achievement.
Regular mindfulness practice throughout your day will continually strengthen your brain’s ability to file away these positive thoughts and experiences as memories, which creates a wealthy repository of ‘good’ things to refocus on during tough times.
For tips on integrating mindfulness practice into your life, read through our article on Mindfulness Matters.
Positively Using Negative Emotions
Negativity is a very natural and important psychological resource, and negative emotions can be highly beneficial in life. All emotions, both positive and negative, serve to motivate both your thoughts and actions; they are psychological measurements of your wellbeing and tell you when you are more or less happy.
There are moments where allowing yourself to acknowledge and experience negative emotions can help prompt you to act upon your current circumstance and generate positive changes. You don’t change because you are feeling good. You change when you feel something is wrong; when something is making you unhappy and you can’t bear it any longer. Negative emotions motivate us to act towards change, and feeling constantly frustrated or unhappy are clear signs that you need to make changes in your life in order to take back control.
Finding ways to reduce stress and mental load is a great place to start gaining control over negative feelings. The better you get at dealing with stress, the less something will appear to be an issue, due to the clarity and insight you gain from stress release.
The next step is to counteract or change the negative messages your brain is sending along with the negative emotions by:
- – reminding yourself of past, related events where you were successful in achieving something
- – reminding yourself of all the skills you have to perform well with
- – daily practice of positive affirmations, such as “I am a strong, beautiful woman and a great mum” or “I am doing a great job”
Obviously, there are always going to be ‘bad’ time when it is natural and appropriate to feel negative emotions, however when you catch yourself focusing on what you don’t want or what you’re missing out on, practicing gratitude and mindfulness, and taking steps towards positive change can lead to less stress and healthier thinking that is focused on the ‘good’.