Stop psyching yourself out of joy.
Can you "decide" to feel truly happy?
According to research from the Mayo clinic, the answer is resounding yes! Great, right?
According to the study, the key to happiness is to focus your attention on the positive. Simple, got it. But wait … it's not that easy, is it? (Or we'd already be doing that.)
Well, yes and no. The concept is that simple and straightforward, but consistently applying the concept takes tremendous control and practice. Lots and lots of practice.
But it is possible.
According to experts, the human mind is constantly scanning, resulting in a constant stream of thoughts: happy, sad, scared, angry and so on. You have to harness those thoughts and decide which ones to focus on. Yes, you really can choose (even though it's difficult to do so).
It helps if you understand why it's so difficult.
Our brains default to negative thoughts naturally. When you have a thought, your brain experiences an electrical and chemical reaction. Good thoughts and bad thoughts don't elicit the same reaction … negative thoughts invoke a greater response in the brain.
This makes complete sense if you think about it — early humans depended on this default to help protect them from harm — it's a survival instinct. But as you probably know, survival instincts are a pretty powerful force and by no means easy to override.
Dr. Theodore George, author of Untangling the Mind: Why We Behave The Way We Do, has studied our ability to override survival instincts. What he found is that it is possible, over time, to gain control over what our brain perceives as a negative thought or a "threat message."
With practice, you can re-train your brain to label that message 'harmless,' so that your brain no longer has to pay attention to it.
In my practice as a divorce coach, I encounter this struggle with negative thinking all of the time.
Clients come to me in all stages of divorce — but regardless of where they are in the divorce process (just starting it or years down the road), they still feel bitter, angry, and deeply unhappy. I think they've gotten stuck. In other words, they've permanently defaulted to negative thoughts.
I help them exercise their "muscle" of positive thinking. Over time, we shift their thinking so that they are able to default to the positive, rather than the negative.
Think about this: If you believe your ex is a vindictive monster seeking revenge, this belief will lead to feelings of hate, rage, fear, and defensiveness. You will act on these feelings and you may even take actions, that you will regret or be embarrassed about later. All of these repetitive thoughts and actions further reinforce this negative belief in your brain's wiring.
However, by deciding to believe that your ex is just as hurt and disappointed as you are, this invites feelings of empathy, understanding, and forgiveness. Those feelings lead to more positive behaviors that you are unlikely to regret later.
I call this "taking the high road."
Let's say your ex is undeniably making things more difficult than necessary — lying, tossing out accusations, refusing to resolve things, trying to hurt you financially — you still have a choice. You can choose to believe that your ex is making poor choices and that's his problem, not yours. Yes, you'll still have to deal with the fallout, there is no escaping that. But, if you work to see the positive side whenever you can, you'll feel better and stronger and therefore be able to handle whatever comes your way.
Will you fall down along the way? Most certainly. This doesn't come naturally to anyone.
Replacing an old thinking pattern with a new one takes repetition, persistence, and determination. Perhaps you can begin, not by trying to change how you think about anything and everything at once, but choose one thing for now. Think about something in your life that is troublesome or making you miserable, and walk through these steps:
1. Think about your thinking. What do you believe about this person or this situation? What else could be true here? What would an outsider to the situation say? How could you think about it in a neutral or positive way?
2. Choose a different path. Choose how you can think about this in a positive light. Consciously decide to think that way. How does that make you feel? As a result, how might you feel and act differently from now on?
3. Check in often. Stop regularly to take stock. This is a slow process. If you catch yourself thinking negatively, hit "reset" in your brain. Think the thought again, with a positive spin. Check in with yourself at the end of the day … was today a little better?
4. Practice (practice, practice). In addition to catching yourself, as often as you can, try journaling. Once a week, stop to write down three good things about your life. Psychologists Stephen Schueller and Acacia Parks completed a study in 2012 that found, the simple exercise of writing down three things you are grateful for "has been shown to provide, both, an immediate and lasting effect on happiness" for up to six months. Why not give it a try?
I'm guessing that if this article caught your eye, you would like to have more happiness in your life.Taking the time to focus on the positive will be worth the time and effort. Letting go of negativity in your life will allow you to live a happier, fuller life. Start harnessing that happiness today.
SAS for Women™ is a comprehensive divorce information, education and support center. "Women are turning to Liza Caldwell and her partner Kimberly Mishkin — two of the top divorce advisors in New York City — a new breed of advisers, who guide them through the journey every step of the way."- Porter Magazine, Summer 2015. Connect with SAS for 6 free months of coaching via your inbox.