June 6, 2014

Somewhere Between Childhood & Adulthood we Stop Focusing on the Good. ~ Michelle Sweezey

Norman Rockwell

Some Mondays I wake up and I think, “Uuunnnhhh. Yeah. Bring it Monday. Whatcha got? I’m ready to handle it. Show me your best stuff, I so got this.”

Some Mondays, I, uh, don’t.

This week, my Monday was one of the latter. One of those Mondays. A holy crap kind of day where it would have felt so much better to just crawl back into bed and sleep the day away rather than get up and handle my shit.

But I don’t do that. Never have, not likely to start now. So far, my success rate of turning today into yesterday (tomorrow?) is 100%. I intend to keep it that way.

This week, having reached a peak in obligations personally and professionally while simultaneously not getting enough sleep, come Monday morning I was operating in PLOM (Poor Little Old Me) mode from the second my eyes popped open in response to the bearish beep of my alarm clock.

Well, at least for the first ten minutes anyway, until I kicked myself in the ass and got it together.

My last three or so months have been a hyper blend of awesome and total train wreck. Of incredible, intense, raw moments that have indefinitely and inexplicably shaped my future and my being. By their nature then, they are bittersweet.

They bring pleasure and pain, joy and fear, appreciation and avoidance, and, most importantly, the choice of which lens to view them with.

When things go badly, or at least, not as we had planned, we are quick to complain, to commiserate, to seek solace in numbers (okay, and maybe also in fermented grape juice, but that’s a different story).

However, when things go well, how often do we recognize it? When do we remember to acknowledge and celebrate the little victories, the sweet spots of life, the brief but happy moments?

Misery loves company, right?

Well in the event of complaining, that room quickly reaches max capacity. Name five people who have complained today already. Bet we can rattle off those names in less than 30 seconds. How about five people who have shared some good news? Can we name any? Can we be included in this list?

I think the problem is when so much in our lives is going right and we choose to see only the things that are not right, because they are “easier” to see. We are quick to disregard the 45 things that went right with our morning and notice the burnt toast instead.

In a field of daisies, the dandelion stands out. We are hardwired this way.

Our brain, being a pattern-seeking device, gets so accustomed to things going in a particular or certain order with familiar sights, sounds, smells etc., such as, during your morning routine, that it no longer pays much attention to them. Then, when something is suddenly different, the Reticular Activation System (RAS) lights up, and now all we can focus on are the negative things, the “bad” things and the “wrongness” at hand.

We are now Alexander, and this is a “Horrible, Terrible, No-good, Very Bad Day.”

Case in point—me. Monday morning. I felt like shit, I looked like I had gained 20 pounds of fluid, in my face, directly under my eyes and as soon as I woke up from my three or so hours of un-restful slumber, little random negative thoughts began zipping around in my head.

This is my own fault. I didn’t make rest a priority, I didn’t do my journaling the night before, and instead of reading something engaging and positive before I finally did go to sleep, I worked and did what felt like 55 loads of laundry followed by a deep cleaning of my house. Fun times.

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we lose our ability to focus on the good.

We get so caught up in our day-to-day business of “handling” things that the small things get swept away in a sea of obstacles that we perceive to be bigger, more important and more significant.

How sad.

Yesterday my daughter ran into the kitchen, delighted and giggling, because when she undid her French braids her hair was curly.

“Mommy look! My hair is curly like yours! Isn’t it beautiful?” Followed by a full twirl, mind you.

Now me, being busy working, looked up for three seconds, gave a quick, “uh huh” and went right back to typing. Nice. Smooth move, Mom. Had she walked in and said something snarky I guarantee that I would have snapped right to attention to correct that nonsense.

Shame on me.

Categorize that as a #momfail. How wonderful, pure and joyful is the act of a child displaying happiness?  Something as simple as curly hair absolutely made my eight-year-old’s day, and rather than reinforce it, I barely even noticed.

How do we learn to focus on the negative? Uh, hello. From our examples. Namely, for my kids, me. If I don’t model being positive, optimistic and resilient how can I possibly expect them to develop any other habits, attitudes and beliefs?

Now I know this is an average of experiences. I don’t expect to walk around with a perma-grin and be Susie Sunshine all day every day. I won’t run at 100% in my efforts and don’t want for my kids to only see the good stuff; watching me manage the not-so-good stuff is equally important.

What I hope to do, on average, is to model being calm, collected, responsive and upbeat.

Here’s the thing. I can’t control the past. I can’t control the future. But, I can control myself, right now.

How can I make right now happy?

Be present, be grateful, acknowledge the good, understand the bad and let it be, don’t feed it. If I let the inner child notice and observe the world around me, I can truly find wonder.

On a practical (fix-it!) level, we can all do this—we are all capable of reaching bliss to some degree by using brain science to our advantage. We can leverage our RAS and switch it from negativity magnet to one that attracts light and love. Here’s a starter list of ideas for turning PLOM moments (or days) into awesomesauce:

  1. List ten things that have gone well today. Verbally or on paper. Just do it. Don’t overthink it, just get started. Got out of bed without tripping? Numero uno. Brushed your teeth, with toothpaste? Score! Have hot running water? Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
  2. Then list ten more, possibly slightly more sophisticated items like “offered the children a balanced meal,” “drank entire cup of coffee without use of microwave reheating skills,” “got an amazing hug from my son, just because.”
  3. Practice reframing. For every negative statement, make three new positive ones to balance it out. “I am so lucky I have a car to drive with all these other people who have cars to drive and how lovely that we are all going to the same place at the same time at the speed of molasses in January.” Just kidding. That’s a bunch of crap. Maybe try, “I get to go to work now,” or “I get to take my beautiful children to school,” or “I am choosing to prioritize my time today so it benefits my well-being most. I am going to use this extra time in my car to listen to a Ted talk and get inspired.”
  4. Take a moment to read the news and come to terms with your first-world problems.
  5. Give five compliments to other people—real ones. Not, “I like your shirt” kindergarten stuff here people, but “Your shirt is such a lovely shade of blue, it really compliments your eyes.” A+ from the English Professor herself if you can throw in a big vocabulary word or two.
  6. Have a 30 second dance party. To whatever, wherever, with whomever. Do this in the car, while you are in traffic. See who you can get to join in the fun and get that party crackin’.
  7. Meditate for a minute. Even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom and do this seated on the bathmat. Spend that 60 seconds just breathing and being aware of your body. Wear earplugs to block out the noise if you need to. Oh, and don’t fall asleep. Tile floors are hard on the head.
  8. Find laughter.
  9. Work on your morning routine.
  10. Sleep well, eat well, exercise often and take your vitamins (thanks Mom).

Have a happy week my friends. Peace out.


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Apprentice Editor: Amanda Fleming Taylor/Editor: Travis May

Photo: Norman Rockwell

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