• Stress management tip: Find & focus on the positive

    March 15, 2017 | curtrosengren
  • [Back to How to stop stressing so you can change the world]

    Let’s face it. There’s a lot wrong in the world. And when we allow ourselves to care enough for that caring to fuel our action, it’s easy to get consumed by it.

    There’s a problem with that, of course. An unbalanced focus on what’s wrong in the world is neither helpful, nor accurate. There is a spectacular amount of “what’s right” going on in the world as well, but it tends to get a disproportionately small share of our awareness.

    Countering that unbalanced perspective takes a conscious effort. Here’s a short list of things you can do to bring more of a positive focus into your experience of the world:

    Make a habit of asking, “What’s good here?”

    The more time you spend focused on what’s wrong, the more your brain is going to be primed and ready to notice it. The more you notice what’s wrong, the more what’s wrong fills your world view.

    Make a conscious effort to habitually ask, “What’s good here?” That might be on a big scale (like good news about the environment) or a small scale (like noticing a beautiful flower, or how enjoyable it is to be hanging out and laughing with a friend).

    The good is always, always, always there. And the more consciously you look for it, the more of your experience it will fill.

    Three good things

    Research has shown that this simple exercise increases happiness and decreases depression.

    At the end of each day, before you go to bed, look back and identify three good things that happened that day. They don’t need to be big and dramatic (though they could be). They can be small things, like getting a compliment, or feeling good about an accomplishment.

    Go deeper into each of them by asking, “Why did that happen?” Asking this pulls you in more deeply to the experience of it.

    Practice gratitude

    I call gratitude the well-being wonder-drug. Many studies have shown the impact of a gratitude practice on both our emotional and physical well-being.

    You can take a formalized approach, like writing in a gratitude journal. Or you can incorporate the practice into your entire day, pausing regularly to ask, “What can I be grateful for right now?”

    You might also have regular gratitude conversations. That might be, for example, a daily check-in with a friend (“What are you grateful for today?). Or it might be a nightly ritual with your family at the dinner table.

    Savor the good

    Just noticing what’s good is only half the story. If you really want to take advantage of the opportunity to tilt the scale in a more positive direction, you need to spend time soaking it in.

    Our brains evolved with what scientists call a “negativity bias.” In a nutshell, that means we’re more sensitive to the negative than the positive. This made sense when we lived on the African savannah and needed to avoid getting eaten by a lion. But for most people today, when most of the dangers our brains respond to are more threats to our self-image than actual physical threats, it’s not an especially helpful trait.

    To counter that negativity bias and help the positive land more solidly in your brain, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson suggests what he calls “taking in the good.” When you notice something good, take 20 – 30 seconds to really savor it. Feed the positive experience.

    Doing that multiple times per day will help the good land more deeply. It will start to rewire your brain to both notice more of what’s good and experience it more readily.

    Here’s Rick Hanson sharing more about taking in the good at a TEDx talk.

    Celebrate successes

    What’s not going right catches our attention. But a steady diet of what’s not going right is disheartening at best, and debilitating at worst.

    If we want to be a force for change for the long haul, we need to also reinforce the potential for progress by celebrating the successes along the way. These could be successes specific to the focus of our activism, or simply small personal wins like sticking with a new exercise regimen for 30 days.

    Reinforce the wins. Celebrate them. If we don’t, the scales of perception tilt all too easily towards what’s wrong.

    Book suggestions

    Hardwiring Happiness


    Love 2.0

    Like what you see? Subscribe to this blog here!

    Got stress?

    Download my ebook, The Aliveness CODE First-Aid Kit, FREE!