Is there a thought that you find pops up in your brain over and over again? Most of us have a few, and often, they're negative; they don't make you feel good. Frequent ones I see include:
What else is going to go wrong?
I’m so tired.
I don’t want to ...
I hate ….
This is the worst.
This should be different.
It makes sense that we have frequent negative thoughts: our brains are programmed to look for the negative. But these common thoughts drain us of our energy; they can literally suck the life out of us.
One game I like to play with my clients to help open up their minds to what’s possible is the circumstance game. Here’s how you play:
1) Choose one thought that you would LIKE to keep coming up for you, kind of like a motto that you think over and over again.
My coach Jody Moore’s is: "This is going to be fun."
How would it be to just decide everything is fun? In what way would that change how you experience your life?
Mine is: "Everything is perfect exactly as it is right now."
I’ve seen other people use:
"I’m living in the moment."
"Everything is rigged in my favor."
"I have everything I need."
2) AFTER you’ve chosen your motto, test yourself with different circumstances and see if you can find a way to make your motto true.
Here are some circumstances to think about:
What if I’m stuck in traffic? How can I make my motto true?
What if my child told me they hated me? How can I make my motto true?
What if the “wrong” presidential candidate just won the election. How can I make my motto true?
What if I just got diagnosed with cancer? How can I make my motto true?
I want to be really clear here: This is an exercise. A game. I am NEVER going to ask a client just barely diagnosed with cancer how they can make that fun. Do not do this to yourself with real circumstances that you are having highly emotional thoughts about. Your job in those situations is to just feel and process all the natural emotions that are coming up for you.
But can you use this exercise to expand how you think? To consider things you never have before? Can you use it to open your mind to understand that you really do create your own feelings with your thoughts?
Let me show you how I might do this with my favorite thought: "Everything is perfect exactly how it is right now."
If I’m stuck in traffic I might think about how I get extra time to call my daughter or listen to my favorite podcast. I might think about how I'll have to endure less of the boring meeting I am headed to or how my husband will have completed all the bedtime chores by the time I get home.
If my child just said “I hate you,” I might think about how this is actually a very normal part of human development, and my child is right on track. I might see it as an opportunity to take a break and then come back and connect to my child with more love. I might think about how I know my child loves me; children say "I hate you" when they have big feelings they don’t know how to deal with properly. I can help my child learn how to communicate their feelings after we’ve all had a chance to calm down.
If the "wrong" candidate just won the presidential election, I might think about the qualities they DO have that will be great for the country. I might wonder if this election could arouse greater demand for change. Could this election make it more likely that congress falls my way during the next election?
If I was just diagnosed with cancer I might wonder what I might learn from the experience, how it might help me become more compassionate or learn how to better serve other people. I might think about how I get to take a break from my volunteer PTA job or get lots of downtime to rest and watch some Netflix. I might even think about how I'm going to die exactly when I'm supposed to.
If I was diagnosed with cancer, I might think about how I no longer have to do that PTA job I hate, or all the things I might learn from the fight with cancer. It might make me more resilient or more compassionate, better equipped to serve others. I might think about how I will die at exactly the right time for me.
These are MY thoughts -- ones that work for me. They might not work for you, but can you find some that do for the motto YOU chose?
This exercise is not meant to teach you how to think positively all the time -- we don't want to think positively all the time. It's meant to teach you the power of your thoughts and the power of reframing situations when the time is right. As you practice, you may be able to bump up your personal happiness set point just a bit as you learn to live more authentically from your chosen motto.
I’m writing this post on an airplane, and I've been watching one of the flight attendants as she travels up and down the aisles. When I got on the plane, she greeted me with a huge, warm smile, spoke to me with genuine curiosity, offered to get me extra snacks, and seemed excited and happy to be doing her job.
When I went back to the restroom a few minutes ago, she clapped her hands and said “You’re so lucky! Both restrooms are open!” And when I went toward the one on the left she stopped me.
“Oh no,” she said. “You want the one on the right! It has a window! This is the only airplane model in the fleet with a window in the bathroom. You don’t want to miss it!”
I adore this woman. I want to hang out with her to see if some of her happiness can rub off on me. I don’t know if she has really thought about a personal motto – a thought that just keeps popping up in her mind -- but if I had to guess hers it would probably be something like:
“It’s all so wonderful!”
That would be an amazing thought to live by.