Have you ever thought back to a difficult time in your life and wished you could go back and do it over? That’s likely because, as Dr. Rick Hanson tells us, our brains tend to be like Velcro for the negative and like Teflon for the positive.
How we remember an experience (and how we perceive an unfolding experience) has much to do with what we choose to pay attention to.
Before you say yes to that do-over, try this exercise:
Think of one of the biggest challenges you’ve had in your life, one that was so difficult you thought you’d never get through it. Now ask yourself this: Did anything good come of it? Did I learn anything about myself or life? Am I stronger, wiser, more resilient? Did this challenge lead in a direction I might not have otherwise taken?
In paying attention to possible positive aspects of the experience, you are shifting your attention, reframing the experience. That doesn’t mean ignoring the difficulty or pain. It simply means broadening your view to include any positives that may have come of it. Keeping in mind that adversity is our common humanity, doing this helps keep perspective.
Try broadening your view to current challenges to include any possible positives, keeping in mind those past experiences.
The glass is, after all, both half-full AND half-empty.
What does humility have to do with mindfulness? In a word – acceptance. In this case, acceptance that we’re all human with our foibles and limitations. No one is perfect.
Being humble doesn’t mean being meek or weak. We have all met someone who demonstrates a humble confidence, taking ownership of mistakes and sharing successes. And we’ve all met someone who demonstrates an insecure arrogance, blaming others for mistakes and taking credit for successes. Whom would you prefer to work with? Live with? Be?
Here are a few tips from Donald Altman in one minute mindfulness to help think about humility:
- What mistakes have I made and what lessons in humility do they hold?
- How can I demonstrate to others that we’re all in this together?
- How can I remind myself that humility is a strength?
When I had my first child, my mom signed me up for a subscription to Reader’s Digest, telling me that it’d be a long time before I’d have time to read anything longer than what I’d find there.
She was so right about that! Twenty-two years later, she still gifts me this subscription and I’m finding lots of good mindfulness material there to share with you.
In the October 2016 edition, Lisa Fields writes The Goodness of Gratitude. In it, she tells us that we are living increasingly in a “me-focused world” of social media where saying thanks may be a dying practice. Say it ain’t so!
Take a moment to recall how it feels when someone does something kind for you. It may be as simple as holding open a door for you as you both arrive at the same time. Now take a moment to recall the feeling you get when you express gratitude for both the small and more significant kindnesses.
So whether it’s a quick but heartfelt thanks to the stranger on the bus or a surprise thank-you post-it note left on the mirror for your loved one, set an intention today to say thanks to at least one person. Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.
Here’s a mindfulness exercise from Donald Altman in One Minute Mindfulness:
Think about the first thing you tasted this morning, perhaps a sip of coffee or minty toothpaste or cereal with milk. What, if anything, do you remember about it? If your answer is “nothing”, you’re in good company. As rushed as we are in the morning, it’s easy to go from one autopilot moment to the next without paying attention. Set an intention for tomorrow morning to pay attention to that first taste. Sip and savor instead of slurp and swig! This small step will help you as you develop a mindset of paying attention to what’s happening in the moment.
People sometimes ask me how to know whether they are being mindful or not. Good question! It might sound as easy as saying “if you are, you’ll know it” or “if you aren’t, you’ll know it” but I don’t think that’s always the case. Here’s my quick checklist to help you decide.
Do you often find yourself:
- Thinking “I wish . . . ”, meaning you wish things were different than they are
- “I wish I could lose 10 pounds.” or “I wish my life wasn’t so hard.” or “I wish I had a better job.”
- Thinking about the past and what you might’ve done differently
- “I should have studied something different in college.” or “I shouldn’t have wasted so much time on that project.”
- Thinking about the future, with some degree of anxiety
- “I have so much I need to do!” or “I’m worried this won’t turn out ok.”
- Thinking judgmental thoughts of yourself and others
- “Nothing looks good on me!” or “I can’t believe she wore that.”
- On auto-pilot, going through the motions with reduced awareness of your experience
- “I don’t even remember driving home.” or “I do that with my eyes closed!”
- Characterizing life/your day in an “either-or” way, i.e.: all good or all bad.
- “I had a horrible day!” or “My life is a hard one.”
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re in good company! We live hectic lives in an increasingly complex world where information comes at us from more sources than ever before, all vying for our attention. It’s no surprise we’re not more present, more fully aware.
Remember the line in the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby, “wearing the face that she keeps in the jar by the door”? I don’t know what Paul had in mind when he wrote that but it makes me think of the different faces we wear depending on the time of day, the people we’re with, and the environment we’re in.
Here’s a mindfulness exercise to help us notice what face we wear when, where and with whom. Pay attention to the face you present in the following situations. Make a mental note or jot down a note about each. You can even use emojis to help capture your face, For example, for those who aren’t early birds, your waking up face might be a grumpy face. If you feel stressed driving to work, a tense face might fit.
Waking up face:
Arriving at work face:
Arriving home face:
Greeting partner face:
Greeting kids face:
Going to bed face:
Now review your faces and decide if there are any that you want to change, particularly if you often wear that face and it reflects a not-so-happy you. We’re often unaware of the face we present to others. Here’s a chance to notice.
Scientists tell us that our genes play a big role in our temperament – whether we are naturally positive or negative, high-strung or low-key. Does that mean, however, that we have no control over how we feel or on our outlook on life?
We all know people who seem to enjoy being miserable. They find fault with everything and everyone, feel victimized by life, and seem to not experience any happiness. We also know people who seem to bounce from one happy moment to the next, always looking at the bright side, and spreading joy wherever they go. Most of us are somewhere in the middle as we navigate life’s ups and downs. Is it possible to shift the scale to more happiness and less dissatisfaction? YES! As with anything, it takes practice. What could be easier though, then practicing being happy?
Practice Being Happy
- Hang out with happy people. We may not get to choose our family but we can choose our friends and acquaintances. If a relationship is not mutual, if it is dragging you down, consider pruning your friendship tree.
- Show thanks. This is one of the easiest things to do and the return on investment is incalculable.
- Look for purpose. Ask yourself, “what is my purpose in life?” and you’re likely to find reason to be happy. Perhaps it is to be the best mom you can be or to serve others or make lives easier/better in some small but significant ways.
- Look for meaning. When things go wrong, as they do, find meaning. Don’t dig too deep! It may be as simple as a lesson learned or another step in resilience.
- Live in the moment. Make an effort to let go of yesterday and not worry about tomorrow. All that you have any control over is what is right in front of you today.