[Podcast] Lessons in Life from 2020
Every single event in one’s life may have positive, negative or neutral qualities. In many cases a single event may have a combination of all three. We are all unique and the quality we tend to focus on is often a representation of our past experiences, or in some cases, our current emotional state. For example, as a child I was picked on a lot, so for about the first 40 years of my life I always focused on the negative, even though there were many aspects that were positive. This “negative focus” narrowed my thoughts and prevented me from growing while simultaneously causing me to never be satisfied. Conversely, my wife always focused on the positive and thus, possessed a can-do attitude and accomplished just about anything she put her mind to. Marriage helped me realize that every situation was a shared experience opening my eyes to the fact that it’s how we each perceived it. As individuals we choose which quality to focus on and I was constantly focusing on the negative. I had no idea what this “positive focus” was all about, but I did know one thing for sure, my wife had the “Midas touch” and I wanted it too.
“Positive emotions broaden your sense of possibilities and open your mind, which in turn allows you to build new skills and resources that can provide value in other areas of your life.” (https://jamesclear.com/positive-thinking) Barbara Fredrickson introduces the broaden-and-build theory in her research to illustrate how positive emotions build the skills that help in the future. Humans possess the fight or flight response mechanism that served our ancestors well when faced with life-or-death situations. It focused their attention and allocated resources to vital muscle groups and organs to help them survive. When our “lizard brain” takes over we become laser focused on the task at hand, survival, nothing else. Focusing on the negative narrows our thoughts, preventing the opportunity to see other paths or ideas. When one deals with fear, anger, anxiety, etc., one makes decisions that appear inappropriate or irrational to those observing their actions, however, that is just their survival instincts kicking in, narrowing their focus. Conversely, when we focus on positive aspects; joy, happiness, love, etc., our minds are open to all the possibilities before us, thus broadening our horizons and increasing the opportunity to acquire new skills. That is not to say we won’t encounter negativity in our lives, it’s just important to understand that we shouldn’t dwell on them, and when appropriate, focus on the positive. Like the myth of the phoenix, we are reborn from the ashes. There is no doubt that COVID has ravished people’s lives and our economy, but there has been some positive. Local eateries moved our dining experience outdoors, reminiscent of the quaint dining experience so common throughout Europe. My childhood came alive with the reintroduction of drive-in movie theaters providing an opportunity to share a wholesome family activity with my children. Business owners were forced into a work from home model and realized that productivity did not suffer, it improved, and those employees have a better work-life balance decreasing turnover and absenteeism. Manufacturers stepped up and started making essential items such as hand sanitizer, masks, and face shields. On the home front families are bonding over board games and baking. When life gives you lemons, make a lemon meringue pie.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Changing a habit takes time so take it one bite at a time. Here are some suggestions. Each day write down one positive thing that happened or that you are thankful for. Concentrate on how that makes you feel. Before you know it, you’ll be writing more than one positive thing each day eventually shifting your mindset to focus on the positive. If you love being active, try incorporating your favorite activity into your daily work routine. For example, I love cycling but was never able to get enough miles in outside of work, or on the weekends, because I didn’t want to take time away from my family. So, I started commuting to work, I figured I need to go there anyway, why not cycle? Now I average 77 miles per week taking no time away from my family. The improved physical and mental wellbeing has transformed my workdays as I am more energized and filled with ideas. You may have heard the saying birds of a feather flock together, well the same holds true for humans. As much as you can, surround yourself with positive people. Misery may love company, but many hands make light work. Changing a habit is not easy, but you must start somewhere, so make one simple change today, then let it grow so you can improve your tomorrow.