We’ve All Been Low
I’ve been there. Most of us have. If you’ve ever been to a point in life that looked bleak, looked like nothing could ever improve, the word daunting seems like an understatement. Fortunately, understanding how our brain works can change our outlook and change our life. You see, when things look hopeless and we focus on the hopelessness of the situation, we create thinking patterns that sustain the despair. Remember learning in Introduction to Psychology about Seligman’s 1967 psychological experiment in which dogs received shocks but no recourse except to endure the inescapable stimulation? After a few trial, they stopped even trying to make it go away and it became the new normal.
Unless you want your normal to be hopeless, helpless, despairing, and bleak, you MUST break the script. The longer your script has been running, the more your body will fight the change. Your life doesn’t improve on its own. You must improve it. I will share three ways in which you can change this script. But before I go on, I want to reiterate a little tidbit that will make a big difference in your choice to change. I mentioned above that your body and mind will fight to keep the status quo. Change is uncomfortable because as humans, we are wired to pick up on patterns. When those patterns are not obvious, we tend to get quite uncomfortable. These habits and scripts that we are constantly running are patterns that we’ve “solved”. They are things that we no longer have to put our energy into because we know what is supposed to happen and our body and brain react accordingly.
If you’ve heard the term “cognitive dissonance”, this is an example of what occurs when we try to make sense of something that is not jiving with our current set ideas, beliefs, constraints, etc. When feeling this cognitive dissonance, it is easy to back down to more comfortable ground. But, instead of backing down, just notice what you feel. Don’t judge it as good, bad, or otherwise, just notice the constriction in your throat, the pit in your stomach, the tension in your chest, the tingling of your skin, or the pressure in your temples. I’m a big fan of thinking about how we think, or metacognition, so with that out of the way, onward to three (of many) activities that can help you change the way you are thinking and change your life.
1) Your Personal Narrative of the Life of Your Dreams
In my coaching practice, I call this Dreamweaving. I ask clients to write a personal narrative of the life of their dreams. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What are they be doing? Who are they be with? Where do they live? Using as much detail a necessary to fully visualize the life of his or her dreams forces the mind to step outside of the current self-sustaining reality and into another realm of possibility. It is important that your dreams are self-fulfilling rather than selfish because doing otherwise will create another type of . I ask that clients avoid dreaming ideas that are out of their hands like winning the lottery, because such ideas are dis-empowering and create more helplessness. Most important is to create these dreams in the present tense as if it is a current part of life. This actually changes the way in which the brain processes the thought. You can experiment with this by just identifying a portion of a dream. First, visualize it some time in the future. What do you feel? Next, see it as something that is a part of life RIGHT NOW. Most likely, the cognitive dissonance is much, much stronger when you process this dream as a current reality. By writing and revisiting this narrative over time, you are priming yourself to change. When you make this bright future comfortable, you reduce the likelihood you will sabotage your efforts just to reduce the cognitive tension between the old script and the new.
2) Vision Board
Similar to my Dreamweaving activity, a vision board is a visual representation of the life of your dreams. Essentially, it is a poster of your life-to-be in a visual format. It takes pictures from magazines, the internet, or even your life at a time when you were in sync with your dreams. You would include images, quotes, verses that represent your life at its best. This activity can be done on an old fashioned, cork board, a poster, or even as a Pinterest board. The key is to make sure that it remains part of your daily life. A dream in a drawer is nothing more than the other forgotten items hidden in the dark with it.
I find myself wanting to use the word “things” as I write about vision boarding. It is important to remember that this process isn’t all about stuff. While it is likely that most of us will need certain tools like a vehicle, home, and money, that in and of itself does not create joyful life, we do. How will you use your time, talent, and gifts to make a positive impact on the world around you? As Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Studies verify that giving of oneself is one of the greatest predictors of a person’s reported happiness. Concrete or abstract, as long as the items on your vision board are meaningful to you, they will impact your perception of your life.
3) Gratitude Journal
It is so very easy to focus on the stresses in life. Bills, chores, blog posts (how did that one get there). It is easy to take other things for granted that we’d yearn for if they were taken away. As I write this, I could choose to focus on the muddy shoe prints on the porch and into the house from the fresh Michigan March snow (after a weekend in 60’s). Or I could choose to be so incredibly appreciative of the bright sunshine, the warm house, and hot cup of oolong tea on which I sip. That which I choose to embrace will paint my perception about my day and my life. Could I come up with a list of complaints a mile long? Probably. Could I come up with as many positives? I’m not sure, but today, right now, I am deciding to put my energy to the lighter things. The last thing I wanted to deal with today was that messy clogged sink. But now it is done. I am thankful that the sludgy toothpaste ooze no longer gathers and glops at the drain after the water slowly trickles away.
I challenge you to identify and write out three daily gratitudes. Do not gloss over the things that should happen and do. If your kid picked up his dirty socks, be thankful. If you jumped out of bed with your alarm, be grateful. If the hot, cold, damp, dry breeze felt good on your face, enjoy.
Go Forth and LIVE Life
Changing your life is about taking action. These activities are just three of many. They certainly will not fix your struggles on their own. You will have to take more steps that align you with your dreams and goals to make that happen, but you’ve gotten this far. Keep plugging away. Share your questions and comments or ideas below or email me if you would prefer to communicate with me privately.