Throughout my life, I’ve believed that in order to acknowledge what’s going well in my life, I have to first solve any difficult emotional situations. Over the last several years, I’ve realized that it is often more effective to focus on the positive, instead of first trying to solve the negative.
Instead of waiting for things to go just right, it’s a lot more effective – and more fun – to focus on the things that are already going well. Here are some tools that can help…
Celebrate the small things
By celebrating the small things that are going well – no matter how small they are – we get more practice with celebrating. Don’t wait for things to go well in order to celebrate. Practice and you’ll be surprised at how much more quickly you are able to feel good about seemingly mundane things in your life.
Habit: First thing in the morning, write down one small thing that went well from the day before..
Flip the negative
I have daily practice with my best friend: we phone each other and inquire “Is there a judgment that you would like to flip?”
We choose a negative judgment – that we’re holding about ourselves or in the world around us – and look for the positive.
If I’m berating myself for a misunderstanding with my mother, I’ll look for ways in which that misunderstanding could be beneficial. If I’m judging myself for pushing through an injury, I’ll examine how that pain could actually be helpful and result in recovery.
By taking something that you are judging as bad and looking for the positive in that same example, you are ” flipping the negative” and practicing gratitude.
Habit: Flipping judgements requires a lot of mental dexterity, so start small. Select something small about yourself or something else that you are judging as bad. Write a few sentences about how that situation could, hypothetically, be beneficial.
Worst case scenario
Tim Ferriss popularized the idea of “fear setting” through this TED talk and the article “Why You Should Define Your Fears”. The purpose is to identify the worst case scenarios, which usually turns out to not be quite so bad.
My worst case scenario usually ends up with me shitting my pants in public and leaving the country in humiliation. But even in my hypothetical worst case scenarios, I usually survive and learn from the experience.
For extra credit, you can also explore the Best case scenario!
Habit: When you’re considering something you are scared of, ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Write down a few of your answers. You might be surprised by some of your answers.
What went well exercise
What Went Well is my favorite among the many exercises Martin Seligman, teaches in his book Flourish.
Traditionally, psychology research focused on “abnormal” psychology or problems to be solved. More than 30 years ago, Seligman began researching and teaching tools that help everyone improve.
One exercise that Seligman teaches is “What Went Well.” Very simply, the practice is to list out three things every day that have gone well.
This practice forces you to focus on the specifics of what has gone well. By bringing attention to them, you recognize them, reinforce them and make them bigger.
Habit: Write down three things that went well for you in the last day.
In Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg coined the word “Shine” to describe the internal positive emotion we give ourselves when we’ve done something well. When we reward ourselves with that internal feeling of celebration, we create a positive feedback loop. For more on Shine, here’s an article on the topic from TED.
Habit: Take 2 minutes and deliberately feel good about something you’ve done today. Pat yourself on the back, pump your fist or smile in the mirror.
Look for awe
I was sitting in the sauna a few weeks ago and struck up a conversation with UC Berkeley Professor Dacher Keltne, who has spent his career studying awe.
As we began to talk about his research I was reminded of the life changing moment when I first saw the circus. My parents took me to see Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria, shortly after I began studying gymnastics at 17 years old. Watching the acrobats opened my eyes to what the human body is capable of and led to the last few decades of my movement career.
Awe has the capacity to fundamentally change our perspective or widen our world view.
(I’m also going to attend the professor’s last class of the year next week and will report back!)
Habit: Seek out awe. Whether through a beautiful view, over a meal with family or in listening to great music, look for an experience of awe. When you open yourself to the feeling of awe, you’re more likely to experience it.
As you spend time with friends and family this holiday weekend, or go about your life, I hope one of these tools is helpful.