“Resilent people are really good at choosing carefully where they select their attention . . . and make an intentional, deliberate, ongoing effort to tune into what’s good in [their] world.” —Lucy Hone, psychologist and grief expert
Each of us grasps life lessons at our own pace.
Whether due to our own motivation to grow or the quality resources available to teach us what would be helpful to the student along our life journey, when we see in fact the new skill does make a positive difference, it is then that we are most likely to be convinced of its value and choose to welcome it into our own daily life.
Much of American psychiatry in the mid to late twentieth century focused on the exploration of one’s past to heal patients, and while self-awareness and clarity acquiring as much as possible the full context of past events certainly is helpful, dwelling upon them, ruminating endlessly has in new studies been found actually to have detrimental effects on forward progress and positive growth. Psychiatrist Sally Satel and philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers found in recent research into negativity, resilience and neurology “nothing unanimously liberating about having a good weekly cry in your therapist’s office. Neither is the almost universally accepted doctrine that ‘uninhibited emotional openness is essential to mental health'”.
In sharing this, the guidance and objectivity of a trained counselor can be incredibly helpful; however, the key is to find someone who is forward thinking, and helps you to build constructive skills for living fully, rather than lingering with troubling thoughts. In my own experience, it was my third counselor who I found to be not only a good ‘fit’ but also someone who has helped me look forward and acknowledge and teach the skills needed.
Enter the skill of ‘benefit finding’.
Dr. Tchiki Davis, the founder of The Berkley Well-Being Institute explains “benefit finding involves thinking through and mentally listing all the positive things associated with a situation.” Or as Lucy Hone defined for herself – consciously finding things to be grateful for.
As I was reading Bryan Kazlowski’s Long Live the Queen! 23 Rules for Living from Britain’s Longest Reigning Monarch, specifically rule #14 “Ostriching”, I was better able to understand Queen Elizabeth II’s stoic demeanor and more importantly, see vividly, the benefits of her choice of ‘niggling out the good’.
Upon reflection of my own life, I learned this lesson late – not dwelling or worrying – but I am grateful I finally learned it. While my mother will never admit her relief in my eventual aha regarding this topic as she has kindly and generously been supportive during all of my life chapters, she was burdened with my worried phone calls during times of uncertainty in my life. (Mom, it finally sunk in! I graduated! ;)) Because to be entirely honest, the worrying, the dwelling did exactly as studies found – it “delayed the natural healing process”.
“Being too introspective can become ‘the psychological equivalent of picking at the scab on a wound'” shares philosophy professor William B. Irvine. The difference between learning from the past and dwelling on the past is being honest about what can change and what cannot.
“They have a habit of realistically appraising situations and managing to focus on the things that they can change and somehow accept the things that they can’t.” —Lucy Hone, TED Talk
Not only will shifting to seeking out the good, and letting go of the negative chatter help your own mental health, studies have shown those who acquire this beneficial skill perform better at solving problems, are more liked by their peers and enjoy a healthier self-image than their “ruminating counterparts”. Not to compare, but to observe the overall life benefits we gain when we acknowledge what is helpful for an improved quality of life and what is not.
For many years, I too had been convinced ‘venting’ was helpful, but again, even as far back as 1959 as part of psychologist R. Hornberger’s research “observed that when people were allowed to ‘release’ their emotional frustration, they acted more aggressively after the fact than people who contained their frustration.”
Finding healthy ways to ‘let off steam’ such as exercise, mindfulness practices, journaling and consciously building a life which reduces the stresses rather than requires that you ‘manage’ them endlessly assuming you must keep such tasks, practices in your life have demonstrated to be constructive rather than regressive in their effectiveness.
So how do we “tune into the good”?
We intentionally look for it. Jay Shetty, as shared in detail in this post, suggests beginning the day before even stepping out of bed expressing gratitude for something making your life good – from the fact that you are breathing to having the awareness to see the good that surrounds you in that moment and in your daily life.
Here on TSLL blog, each month on the final Wednesday for the past two years I post a list of moments that made me smile. Not only does this exercise help remind me of all that has and is going well, but it reminds me to slow down my life regularly to see all of the good, because there is an abundance.
“A 2005 study led by Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, found that completing this exercise every day for one week led to increases in happiness that persisted for six months.” Walk through the six-step guided process of successfully integrating this practice into your life.
As you will see in the final step shared in the link above, simply welcoming a gratitude practice into our lives won’t be enough. Your new skill of daily gratitude cannot share space with negative thinking. We have to reduce and/or eliminate the negative chatter in our minds, and that in itself is a necessary skill to master as well.
In 2019 I shared 5 Ways to Harness the Power of Your Mind and How It Can Improve Our Lives, and this post, Quality Thoughts = Quality Life in 2017, but it was this post written nine years ago, A Thinking Life = A Happy Life inspired by one of the greatest aha books for my “life class” that extols the value of taking the driver’s seat of our thoughts. If we don’t, we linger in a life of worry, frozen to act in any way that might improve our lives for the better. Instead, when we harness and strengthen our mind, we can quell the need for external reassurance by venting endlessly our worries and fears thinking somehow we are helping ourselves and instead home in on what we have control over and choose well the best decision for a better life moving forward.
The Queen’s mannerisms and approach to living which Kazlowski reveals to readers in great detail may to outsiders at first appear somewhat cold in demeanor or in denial, but the writer biographer describes “Elizabeth is what psychologists more accurately term a ‘purposeful repressor’. Compared to ruminators (people who repeatedly reflect over distressing events), repressors seemingly break all of the rules of our modern mental health culture. They spend very little time talking about, let alone acknowledging, negative events and will quickly exchange a passing unpleasant thought for something more optimistic.”
When we choose carefully what we give our attention to, acknowledging we don’t need to respond to everything thrown onto our path, we give ourselves time to gain clarity as to what we have control over and what we do not. Staying informed is one thing, ruminating and worrying about it is quite another if we have no intention to involve ourselves in change. Expending our emotional energy endlessly at the whim of the cultural’s dictates is to deplete our daily finite resources which when better utilized, elevate each day and reduce our stress along the way.
Today, instead of examining the times in which you dwelled unhelpfully on the past or worried about the outcome of future events, start looking for and celebrating the good, make plans for positive change if your life is calling for a needed shift and then in small steps begin to do so. Along the way and in every day, there is much good to celebrate, and I will be celebrating along with you in my own life. Cheers to living well and letting go of unhelpful past practices.
~today’s images were captured in the past couple of days. All moments which I am deeply grateful to have experienced and enjoyed.
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episode #206, Simple LifeHacks to Get Back on Track