The holiday season starts with a gift that can be lost in a frenzy of planning, shopping, cooking, and gatherings with friends and family. Giving thanks, or expressing gratitude, is a powerful antidote to all forms of negativity. Focusing on positive aspects of life has been found to decrease depression, anxiety, and aches and pains. It improves the quality of sleep, and increases energy and motivation. Studies have found that gratitude even affects metabolism and stress levels. Thanksgiving reminds us to give thanks, which in return gives us the gift of improving our minds, bodies, and our quality of life.
One of the wonderful things about gratitude is we can practice it anywhere, at any time. Any amount of practice helps, and it's a skill we can build. Many people have heard of writing daily in a gratitude journal, or sending thank you cards to express gratitude. Here are some additional less familiar strategies that can be very helpful:
Turn a "Have To" into a "Get To"
Whatever it is that we feel we have to do, reframing it as a "get to do" changes everything. It does not change the reality - but that's not what we need to do. We just need to shift our perspective, which shifts our mood, starting a domino effect of positivity, instead of negativity. I heard about this a few years ago and have been using it ever since. For example, when I'm walking my dog in the freezing cold, instead of thinking of it as a miserable chore, "BRRR! I'm freezing! I can't stand this! Hurry up!" I think, "This is what it feels like to be alive!" This completely shifts my perspective from feeling pressured and uncomfortable, to being grateful for my dog and to feel the air. The coldness brings my focus to gratitude for being alive, instead of focusing on feeling discomfort, and the activity is no longer a chore.
Turn a Hardship into an Opportunity
Choosing to view a situation that is challenging as an opportunity to grow our skills helps shift from feeling powerless to feeling empowered. It is a self-talk strategy to use when feeling defeated or overwhelmed - a tool that calls upon our rational part which knows that adversity can lead to growing stronger. From sitting in traffic, choosing to focus on growing the skill of patience instead of allowing feelings of anger to build, to being caught in a disagreement, choosing to grow the skill of respecting others' points of view instead of allowing intolerance and frustration to fester, there are many opportunities to use this perspective if we choose to.
In addition to these, there are all of the daily moments that are really OK and which we can choose to be thankful for, taking our focus off of problems we may be distressing ourselves about. No matter what is going on in our lives, there is a half-full or silver-lining perspective available if we remember to look for it. We can wish for a Happy Thanksgiving, as well as for Giving Thanks which can make us Happy!
We could always use another strategy for shifting our attention. Our thoughts, as well as related feelings and actions, are determined by our focus, our mental spotlight. At times, we aren't even aware of thoughts brewing in the back of our minds, and we may find ourselves unexpectedly in a rut that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Our mental spotlight has become hijacked.
We can proactively displace negativity by cultivating a goal-oriented perspective in everyday life, in everything we do. This is living from the inside, out and here are some ways to get started:
ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION
Shifting to a healthier focus can start with a very simple question. Throughout the day, asking, "What is it that I would like to do here?" pulls us back into a sense of purpose. Asking this question helps us return our attention to what we want to do and helps us break out of negativity. Unhealthy thinking patterns which are often about the past, the future, other people, or situations out of our control can derail us and take us off-track. Our minds were made to wander. Whether it's about self-care, relationships, completing a chore, or tackling a big job, remembering the goal in the moment helps us direct our mental spotlight and our energy. Being mindful of your goal generates constructive focus on the here-and-now.
FOCUS ON YOUR EFFORT, NOT THE RESULT
One of my favorite mantras is, "I am only responsible for my effort, not the result." Focusing on effort helps to act with energy and purpose. Putting forth effort is an active, constructive expression of hope, which allows for any outcome. Conversely, expecting a specific result could lead to disappointment. Focusing on expectations is an irrational attempt to impose our will on the future.
ADD IN SOME GOOD HUMOR AND SELF-COMPASSION
When we focus on our goals and efforts, noticing frustration helps us uncover unhealthy, unhelpful, and unnecessary self-judgment. We may unknowingly be a bully in our own heads, making things more difficult for no reason. The antidote for this is keeping a sense of humor, rejecting harshness and self-criticism, and turning consciously towards self-compassion. Committing to being a kind, encouraging, and reassuring friend to ourselves makes much more sense, and is entirely doable when we are thinking about our thinking.
MARSHA MANDEL, MA, LMHC, CCTP
Master Accelerated Resolution Therapy Clinician
National Accelerated Resolution Therapy Trainer
National SAF-T Trainer
Certified Clinical Trauma Professional