Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wanting What You Have

I am a recovering longer. Many people who know me will find this amusing, since I am shorter than most people. But by "longer," I mean I habitually long for things I don't have. In no particular order, right now I'm longing for cooler weather, health for my patients, a to-do list that gets checked off each day, more disposable income, a new car, to feel comfortable and close with all my talented friends, to finish my book, organize my home and office, and to buy new clothes. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Many of those things are worthy, or at least not bad goals. But reaching for them has not left me fulfilled and happy. Instead, this continual list of wants, needs, and "should-do's" leaves me ill at ease, and feeling I can never just let down and enjoy myself.

Somewhere deep in the ole noggin' I once decided that being comfortable with your here-and-now equates to not taking life seriously. So when I try to have fun, it must also serve some "useful" purpose. Meaning even my fun was a burden.

There is a song, Knee Deep in a River, and Dying of Thirst, about only appreciating what you have when it's gone. I didn't want to look back and see I was living that song.

So I decided to go radical. If cornered, I will readily admit that my life is pretty sweet. I work for myself, set my own hours, and have more control over my time than most people, even if I don't use that control as much as I'd like. I have a fine husband who understands me, appreciates my sense of humor, and likes having me around. He cooks for me! I live in a convenient place that is attractive to pull into at night, and have a short commute. What if instead of constantly trying to improve where I am in life, I start wanting what I have?

So I've been at it for about a week. Surprisingly, (or not, if you are wiser than me), I have:
  • slept better;
  • felt more equilibrium;
  • gotten several "to-do" projects I've been putting off done;
  • made more money; and
  • enjoyed my days more.
 I recommend gratitude all the time, to patients, my husband, friends, and anyone who will listen. I did not realized until this week, though, that I saw gratitude as a duty. "Better be thankful for food, or maybe you won't have any" is not really wanting what you have. It's trying to appease some angry god who in no way resembles the God I believe in.

Wanting what you have is real gratitude. It is also a choice. I was surprised to find I look at everything from the lens of how I can improve it. My poor husband has a checklist by his face in my mind, as does my cat, my office, my writing, my time management, any good deeds I perform--and raising the bar on my accomplishment is always a goal.

Last week I started the process of letting that go. This week, I am simply enjoying what is there. My husband is a blessing just as he is. My cat loves me more than anything else on earth. . .except fresh chicken, but I can live with that. My work is aimed at helping others, and I love doing it. And while I suppose doing good deeds because you feel they are expected is better than none at all, I am focusing on enjoying the ability to serve others rather than looking for the "goodest good deed" I can find to do.

It's a little scary to let so much pressure off myself. But it's also exhilarating! When I feel the need to beat myself up for something that isn't done, or done the way I want it, I simply pull back and remind myself, "This week we're trying out wanting what we have. This situation/interaction/experience is something we have. What can I do, or how can I think about, so that I want it?"

It's all part of my growing in aggressive positivity. Optimism creates zeal and joy, and zeal and joy are what I've sometimes been missing in my relentless pursuit of improvement. What I have in my life is positive, and focusing on those positives will allow them to grow. Please let me know in the comments what strategies you use to stay grateful and want what you have.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Aggressive Positivity

I don't know about you, but I sometimes struggle with negativity. I get a bad case of "nothing will ever go right again's" and it can ruin a day, suck the joy out of life, and leave me with no motivation to do anything at all. I'm working to make optimism my modus operandi. To that end, I've developed a philosophy of Aggressive Positivity--fighting negativity anytime it rears its ugly head. 

Below are some points to use in becoming aggressively positive. Before we get to that, let me say this. Optimism, or positivity, does not mean being a Pollyanna and refusing to acknowledge the things in your life that are wrong or negative. When you suffer a loss, or have anger, or sadness, or frustration, feeling those emotions is critical to processing them. The positive, or proactive response is to feel the uncomfortable (but not truly negative) emotion, and then focus your mind on the positive side of the situation. With practice, you can find the positive in anything, even if the actual experience is not good at all.
  1. Be positive. And be positive. And be positive. There is nothing that a positive attitude cannot improve--either in the situation or how you deal with the situation. In all things, look for the good. When you feel down, write what's bothering you, and then what can be good about it. If a loved one has died, make a list of anything positive--things you learned, experiences you loved, problems you are relieved of, or suffering that the person is freed from. If you are sick, list the people you've met from the illness that have been uplifting, of the new perspective you've gained, of the closeness you've built with family members that often comes with illness. You can choose positivity even in the most negative of circumstances.
  2. Fight the negative. You don't have to ignore negative things. You don't have to put on a smiley face when you want (or need) to cry. Processing emotions is a positive action. If you have a loss, cry for the loss. Go over the things you'll miss. But once you start to dwell on what's missing in your life, it is time for balance. Look for the positive. Especially if you have dealt with depression in the past, fight negativity as if you were at war. Negative thoughts damage your immune system, cause you to limit yourself, and leave you thinking small. Discouragement from negative thinking saps your energy, so it takes more work to do less. Any time you have a negative thought, counter it with a positive one, even for major life events. "I'm so lonely since I divorced" can become "I was willing to make a difficult decision. I will go to my friends and make new ones to get me through the transition. In the meantime I will enjoy the peace now that I'm not always arguing with my ex." It isn't easy to fight negative thinking and replace it with positive thinking, but those who expect great things from themselves don't always get to have an easy life--they have a great life!
  3. Know what you believe.  Do you have a philosophy of life? Do you believe good conquers evil, that you get out of life what you put in? Do you believe in God, in the importance of being kind, in sharing? Write down the major tenets of your beliefs. Now be sure you are living them. Positivity means freeing yourself to live by your beliefs instead of letting "real life" dictate what you do. What would you change if you had total freedom? Make that change a reality. I tremble a little even as I type this, because I have some big dreams and big things I want to transform in my own life. But the truth is you do have total freedom--you can choose to reorder your priorities, change you diet, your schedule, or how you respond to the difficult people in your life. The changes may not be comfortable, and some may take time to put in place, but you have the freedom to do it--do you have the courage? When you choose to look at life with a positive lens, living life according to your beliefs and  making changes that are good for you becomes simple. If you believe life works, then living life with integrity and purpose means you can't fail in the areas that really matter.
  4. Take care of yourself. Be as healthy as you can be, because positive, long-lasting accomplishment cannot happen in the face of self-destruction. Your life is a bigger project than any Olympic games. So be like an Olympic athlete--take your day-do-day routine seriously. Eat well--focus on really enjoying the good-quality food you eat as well as eating in moderation. Get enough rest. Most people don't get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation affects your ability to think, and predisposes you to a host of problems, including depression, lowered immune function, and clumsiness. Turn off constant exposure to violent programs, bitter conversation, or other llfe-sapping entertainments. You are a treasure--treat yourself with respect.
  5. Seriously find humor in everything.  Laughter is one of the cheapest and healthiest treats you can give yourself. It releases endorphins, can give your abdomen a workout, relieves stress, and causes a cascade of positive hormonal functions in the body. Regular laughter rewires your brain to seek joy. Find reasons to laugh as often as you can. When you can't find anything to laugh about, laugh anyway. If you are in the midst of loss, laughter may provoke tears, but that is also a natural energy release, and is healthy.
A positive outlook increases your enjoyment in life, improves your health, and greatly improves your ability to do the things you want to do. These five points will help you live a positive life doing the things you want to do and enjoying them! 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Create Your Mind Culture

I have spent a lot of my life in worry mode. Worrying about money, worrying about what other people think of things I've done or haven't done, worrying about my career and health, and worrying about worrying so much. I got so much into a worry rut that I worried whenever I saw envelopes because they reminded me of bills! I was experiencing the wonders of neuroplasticity. (This post is inspired by Neuroplasticity: Healthy Shortcuts to a Happier Life, which has some great tips).

Neuroplasticity refers to the way the brain changes its functioning based on what you experience. When something scares you, your brain tries to protect you by cataloging what was happening when you experienced  the fear, and may trigger fearful feelings whenever something similar happens. Like my envelopes, sometimes something completely innocuous gets lodged in the brain as associated with a threat, causing extra worry. If you are having trouble with repeated worry, here are a three ways to train your brain to think happier thoughts: