I once received an unusual gift. By unusual, it wasn’t a book or a gift card, or something with cute owls on it. It was a small plaque that said, “SOAR. One’s attitude determines one’s altitude.” I put it on my desk and figured it would last a month or two and then I’d replace it with a picture or other trinket. It has stood the test of time, however, because every day that I look at it, I believe more and more in the truth of those words. Attitude is everything. Seeing the positive side of things is tough, especially in the face of illness or tragedy, but starting each day with good thoughts and unbridled possibilities will lighten your outlook and possibly surprise you.
Recent research by Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina has revealed some interesting insight into the function of our brain regarding negative and positive emotions. Essentially, our brain is programmed to become narrow and focused when having a negative reaction. It closes off any other possibilities and rallies around our feelings of fear and anger. Conversely, when the brain experiences positive emotions, options and possibilities significantly increase. When we are positive, we see more avenues for happiness and satisfaction. An open mind leads us to try new things, develop new skills, and experience more happiness.
For the last five months, I have started each day by looking at my plaque and thinking about three things that make me happy, right there in the moment. Some things are consistent, like my husband or my dog, but I am also happy about an experience, a place, or even a good manicure. Setting my brain to “positive” helps me to maintain that status for the day. Doing this has led me to some interesting conclusions:
1. The small stuff doesn’t matter. I used to get upset if the car in front of me didn’t speed up for the yellow light or if the lady in front of me in the 10 items or less line at the supermarket had 32 items. Having that anger in my brain blocks me from moving forward and erases the good things of the day. The anger lingers and I let it consume precious space in my brain that should be dedicated to imagination and happiness. It’s just simply a waste of my energy.
2. If you think you’re going to fail, then you’re going to fail. Starting off with negative thoughts has already focused you on failure and prevents you from being your best. Believing that you can accomplish a goal, even if it may be unrealistic, will get you closer to that goal than letting the dark cloud loom over you. Maybe you didn’t accomplish that goal of not procrastinating ever again, but in trying to reach that goal, you likely procrastinated less than you used to. That’s still success.
3. Think big. Don’t let time or even lack of skill keep you from at least trying. I assign a research paper to my students, which takes most of the semester to complete. They are devastated when I tell them that it must be a minimum of 3,000 words. I counter with positive statements about their ability and potential to complete such a huge task. I have them imagine the finished paper with their name on it. I take them step-by-step through the research process, reminding them of that image of their finished product. At the end, the papers are turned in with a smile because I never let them consider that this couldn’t be done, and they are more skilled for having attempted it.
4. Avoid negative people. I recently read in a magazine that if someone is determined to be unhappy, there is nothing you can do to deter them. When I encounter these people, I smile, I pay them a compliment or wish them a good day, and I keep moving. They are not welcome in my happy place.
5. Play. It’s important every day to have some fun. When I get home from work, I change my clothes and play with my dog. She’s a boxer, so she is a high-energy clown. I smile, I run, I laugh. Even if I didn’t have a great day at work, any negativity vanishes in that half hour filled with tennis balls and squeaky toys. Find a time slot in your day to do something you enjoy.
My challenge to you, dear reader, is to give a positive attitude a chance. Write a positive phrase on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you will look at it each morning. Take a few minutes while brushing your teeth or putting on earrings to think about how your day is going to be great. Think about what makes you happy. Think about how you are great. Imagine overcoming the difficult things in your life with positive results. Walk out the door smiling, and enjoy the view from great heights as you soar!
Ever since I was a child, I so enjoyed random conversations. I used to get in trouble in school because no matter who a teacher sat me next to, I would spend the day chatting away. These random conversations usually revolve around subjects which truly matter to that person; life, purpose, following ones deep desires, etc…This is how I connect with people spiritually. This is not just with people I don’t know, but also with the people I care about and love. I take this opportunity to create a space for that person to see themselves for who they genuinely are. We get so buried in the external noise, family, friends, work, media, telling us who we are or should be that we forget what is real(ly us). I love nothing more than to hold up a metaphorical mirror (in the way of a conversation) so that person can reconnect with their true self.
More and more in the recent months, I noticed that my phone wasn’t ringing (except for work, ugh!). Those wonderful happy hours, coffee dates, and lunches were not being scheduled with family and friends. When I did reach out to friends to connect, they believed that our dates could be more infrequent as they were caught up on my life via Facebook. This made me so sad for so many reasons. The first being the most obvious for any of us. Social media is a blip on the radar of our lives. Twitter only gives you 140 characters…can you fit you into 140 characters? Next, I was sad because I largely used Facebook for mass communication and acquaintance connections. Now my family and friends relied on this method of communications to “catch up.”
Before I go on, I want to be clear that I am not advocating for a mass exodus of Facebook or social media. There are plenty of well documented reasons why social media, used effectively, connects people to people, events, causes and such. I need to take (and do) full responsibility for the dynamic I created by updating my family and friends as to what I was doing electronically. What I am saying is that when I found myself lacking meaningful connections and conversations in my life, I decided to unplug from social media so I could reconnect interpersonally.
So, over the last month, I took the Facebook app off my phone and deleted the tab from home computer. I have reached out to family and some friends to let them know that I want to recreate a new dynamic…old school conversations. Let’s talk to each other on the phone again, let’s go to lunch or coffee, let’s go for a walk and catch up on what is going on in our lives. I also have committed to leaving my phone at home when I am spending quality time with my loved ones. I want them to feel that the time they have chosen to spend with me is a priority to me and no call trumps that.
It has been lonely at times because the “instant gratification” that came with checking on Facebook for my friend’s lives fooled me into believing I was having those important conversations that I love so much. What has started to happen is that I have a better understanding of who is invested in my life and I in theirs and who is an acquaintance.
This topic is close to my heart because of the media attention on school violence. Nearly every time we hear the background on an incident of school violence, it is a child that felt this act of violence was the only way of being heard. How is it that a society that is so plugged in to information and communication can’t hear a child’s pain, frustration and anger? Relationships cannot be started, maintained or repaired effectively electronically! It is time to put down your cell phone, close your laptop and “reach out and touch someone” (an old commercial reference). I know for sure that there is someone in your life that needs to hear from you. That one conversation will restore their faith, help them make a decision, remind them to believe in themselves or even break through the darkness of depression and anxiety. You can help someone feel connected when you chose to electronically disconnect.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I just need a little reminder from time to time about ways to simplify life and improve my happiness. We only have one shot at enjoying our moments and we are in charge of how we take it all in. I found this image of the 7 Steps to Happiness and it resonated with me and I wanted to share. It truly sometimes just takes simplifying things to find what you need. For me, it’s important to think less, judge myself less, and be appreciative.
I was driving home from work the other day and was overwhelmed with multiple stresses weighing on my shoulders. I had noticed over the weeks leading up to that car ride, that I was not stepping back from situations to find joy (and I was definitely not taking time to enjoy my moments). I was being extremely critical of myself. The strangest thing is that the expectations I hold myself to are unrealistic and I wouldn’t even treat others that way (yet we are supposed to be our own biggest fans, right?!). During that drive I had an internal conversation with myself placing an emphasis on the power each of us has to control how we let situations affect us, how we let others’ behavior hurt or hinder us, and how we treat others stemming from it all. As Miguel Ruiz shared in The Four Agreements, “Don’t take anything personally.” He expresses that the way others behave and act (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with anyone but themselves. So, in essence, you can’t change how you’d like to be, what you do, or how you enjoy life as a reaction to others who aren’t thinking of you in their own actions! I had an “Ahah moment,” and since then have been continuing to remind myself that I only get one life to live and I never want to look back with regret that I gave that power to anyone but myself. I set a truce with myself in that car ride. I can’t continue to let everything else circling around me create chaos and affect my happiness.
I am not sure if you have had any similar instances of this, but I think we all can benefit from taking time to evaluate what we let get in the way of our happiness. It’s okay to give yourself a break and enjoy. Sometimes it is the smallest thing that can change your outlook. We may all have our laundry list of things not going right or what we wish we could have, but don’t allow that to take away your happy moments. What is certain is that we should not waste the precious commodity of time by allowing temporary chaos, drama or challenges to change our outlook of enjoying happiness. We all have control of being happy. Be grateful. We are all very lucky to be here and we will not have another opportunity to redo life. I challenge you to think less, smile more, listen more, complain less and appreciate more!
The world lost an incredibly insightful, talented and wise person this past week. Maya Angelou, an American author and poet, passed away last week. It has been truly inspirational to see all of the outpouring of gratitude and expression that people have shared about her lifetime of work via TV, social media, and in conversation this past week. It’s been a delight to turn on the radio and log into social media to hear and see yet another incredibly wise quote or poem by her, honoring the meaning and far reaches her life’s work has achieved in our society. I’ve always loved to find ways to make meaning of my feelings through others’ words and quotes, and Maya’s are no exception. In honor of Angelou, please take a moment to read some of her exceptionally poignant and spot-on quotes below. I am positive many of these quotes, if not all, can relate to your life.
1. “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
2. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
3. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
4. “When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”
5. “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
6. “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”
7. “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life’.”
8. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
9. “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”
10. “If I am not good to myself, how can I expect anyone else to be good to me?”
11. “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
12. “No matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”
13. “Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.”
14. “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
15. “I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.”
16. “We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”
17. “We need much less than we think we need.”
18. “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”
19. “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
20. “I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”
I have always struggled with the concept of “control.” Even in my family, I’m not alone; I come from a very long line of “control” junkies and it’s just who we are. It wasn’t until this phase of my life that I realized that “control” is just an illusion, and that the more I thought I controlled, the less life was truly in line with what was supposed to happen.
Never was this more true than when I interact with my patients. Recently, I spoke with a relatively young patient that told me that “Life doesn’t always go the way it is supposed to.” I told that patient that “Life doesn’t always goes the way YOU think it should go, but it always goes the way it was supposed to go.” Like that Rolling Stones’ song, “you can’t always get what you want…you get what you need.”
I shared with that patient that I don’t believe in mistakes or cosmic accidents, but that life happens exactly the way it is supposed to happen. The one thing I have wanted everyone to take away from life recently is that no one has complete control of every aspect of his/her life. There is no control in life except how we react to how we are treated. There is no controlling life’s outcome or believing that you have so much power in how it is going to end when there are SO many players involved.
Hopefully, it helps to know that no one is control of anything other than how he or she handles how they react to their situation. At best, you are in control of how you react to people around you. You are not in control of how people will interact and react with you, but that the only control you have is how you react to them. You don’t have to feel you failed because life didn’t turn out “the way it was supposed to.” The belief that you have control is an illusion… the knowledge that you are in control of how you understand people, is key!
I was given the honor recently to sit on a committee that selects scholarships for high school seniors looking for funding to help pay for college. One of the requirements for the application is to complete an essay asking “what goals have you set for yourself and how do you plan to achieve these goals.” While making my way through over 50 essays, I was sparked to write a blog post this week on goal setting in hopes of sparking some near-future list crafting of goals. Enjoy!