Sometimes it’s hard to look at the “bright side” of life. Sometimes it feels like you get hit with one thing after another, after another, and you just can’t seem to catch a break. It’s okay to feel upset when bad things happen. Get angry, work through those emotions, but the trouble comes when we allow ourselves to sit too long with those negative thoughts. We live in a time of constant exposure to media that showcases the very best of our friends’ lives, that highlights super stars, and the talents of everyone we wish we could be. We all fight our own battles behind the scenes, and sometimes anxiety, resentment, fear, sadness, they just take over. But why do we have so much negativity? How do we overcome it? Should we try to brush it aside?
In a study published by the Educational Publishing Foundation, titled “Bad is Stronger than Good,” researchers explain the necessity of negativity from an evolutionary perspective. Historically speaking, if an ancient individual saw the world as bad and honed in on negative situations worth avoiding over positive opportunities to take advantage of, they had a greater chance of surviving and creating the next generation. If you missed the chance for innovation sure, it was lost potential, but at least you lived to see another day back then. Made a mistake and got eaten or poisoned- forget about the notion of potential altogether. People needed to be hyper aware of danger to make it through the day.
Fortunately today we have significantly less to worry about, but our minds still get caught in a loop of negativity. While that negativity can still provide some type of protection, in the long run it will hold you back from acting on those remarkable opportunities ancient peoples of the past didn’t have the time for. Professor of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science Dr. Richard Boyatzis states, “You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive.” So how can you switch gears when the anxious thoughts of worry, and confusion, and stress take over? And what about when things actually go wrong when you did your best to do everything right?
Below is a mini Field Guide to finding the silver lining:
Breathing exercises: In the event of a stressful or overwhelming situation that is causing an immediate negative or series of negative responses from your brain, begin by refocusing your breathing. The brain is an organ- a part of your body and you need to regain control over your body. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is a simple method that will help you begin the process of redirecting you energy from stressed to success. Simply breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, then exhale for 8 counts. This process acts as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” It will calm you, get oxygen and blood flowing through the body, and give you a minute of thinking that is focused solely on your breathing and not the problem at hand. Begin with the breath.
Think about what could go right: Let’s say you’re in a situation where you’re thinking about all the things that could go wrong. What if my car breaks down on the way? What if it’s too expensive? What if they don’t like me? What if they start yelling? What if I get lost? What if I don’t know what to say? For every thought you have of a fake scenario where your situation turns wrong, produce the alternative if it went horribly right. What if it’s on sale? What if they turn out to be a new life long friend? What if they know someone I know already? What if I get there early and find a new store to look in with cool stuff? What if they don’t know what to say, and I make them feel more comfortable? Start thinking of alternates for your “what if” moments, and at the very least it might help calm some nerves. You might even come up with a few ideas to try out in the future of new things you actually want to test out.
Stop asking “Why me?”: Be true in who you are. You are radiant. You are magnificent. You are on your way to creating so many wonderful things. The bad things that happen to you are not your fault, but they also aren’t anyone else’s fault either. Sometimes people aren’t nice, sometimes they do wrong by us, sometimes they hurt us. Do not allow their actions to control your mindset, and do not let that run the course of your life. And also, sometimes things just happen. There isn’t a reason why some people seem to get hit with one tragedy after another, and others seemingly glide through life. Everyone has their own personal battles, and some just don’t talk about it. If you allow your pain to become what defines you, it will eventually consume you. You must let it go. Some of the most beautiful moments of my life would have never happened had I not gone through the darkest times. I would never wish those events to happen, but they did and I am here and okay, and every sadness that touched my life lead to some type of good, because I allowed room in my heart for good to enter. You must be open to healing. Keep your heart open.
Break down gratitude: Write a list of everything you are grateful for. Break it down into 4 categories: the essentials, accomplishments, people, and then everything else. Begin with the essentials. What basics of life do you have that you are most grateful for? Get specific, not just “food, a roof, clothes.” Pick out your favorite food, or the best thing ate all week, your favorite room in your house, your favorite shirt. Then move to accomplishments, what have you done today you are proud of? This week? This year? The past few years? Your whole life? Reflect on how far you have come. Think about the last time you felt discouraged and how you overcame that. Be proud of yourself. Honor yourself for the work you do everyday. Next- people. Who in your life are you grateful for? This week who helped you most? Who was a light in your life? Who has been a guide for you? Have you done anything for them lately? Finally, list everything else. What was the last you did that was fun? When did you last smile? What was the last celebration? Do you have a job? Have you worked on some personal projects? Have you had free time? Find something in everyday to be grateful for. Break it down. Reflect.
Let the little things go: Don’t get worked up over minor inconveniences. If you aren’t allowing the small problems of your day to work you up, you will have more energy to rationally think through the tougher issues that are worth your tears and your heart. Out of copy paper? Long line at the check out? Store isn’t stocked with your favorite flavor soup? Breakfast spilled? Traffic jam? Ignore life’s little problems. Often times these are windows of opportunity to explore something new. Try a new flavor, pick a new store, take the scenic route. Keep your stress levels low by seeking opportunity from inconvenience. Innovation stems from exploration. So go explore. Change your mindset from routine to seeking new things. You will find there are so many more options available to you when you break habits, whether forced to switch up or by your own choice. Even slightly bigger things, like one mean comment from a passerby can ruin an hour, but don’t let it control the rest of your day. For every mean thing someone says about you think of one kind thing to say about yourself. Or take it a step further and think of one kind thing to say about them. For every mean thing you think about yourself, think of a nice thought to contradict that too. Don’t like your nose? But have you seen the way your eyes sparkle? You take too long to finish your workload? Your submissions are always flawless and done with care. Turn negativity into an opportunity to find something wondrous.
It’s important to feel through your emotions when you’re upset. Grieve. Love. Get angry. Be sad. Just don’t dwell on them. Life is full of highs and lows and sometimes the lows seem to dig deeper, and deeper, and deeper, and we start to feel like we are drowning. Don’t give up. Breathe. Regroup. Visualize where you will be once you work through this, and remember how much love you have to give to this world. You have talents and gifts that are entirely your own. Every experience is something you can draw from later on in someway or another. Keep going. Keep growing. You are capable of so much. You can do anything, no matter how dark it may seem right now, allow the light to come in. It will guide your way. You may feel stuck, but no matter where you are at, you can do anything.