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Habits that help you thrive in an imperfect world

3rd February 2019 | Beverly Landais

Research shows that people who express gratitude tend to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled. Being grateful can help people cope with stress and can even have a beneficial effect on heart rate. Studies over two decades have shown that the practice can increase happiness and decrease anxiety for up to six months. What is more, researchers from the University of Manchester found that people who expressed feelings of gratitude not only sleep better but also had more energy and increased focus.

Remembering to be grateful for the good things in life isn’t difficult to do, but it does take practice. It can be hard to shift focus from dwelling on what is wrong and broken in life to reflect on what is working well for you. This phenomenon is called the negativity bias. Human beings are wired to be on alert to things that might be harmful or dangerous and take evasive action. A fundamental aspect of our survival instinct, it serves us well in genuinely life-threating situations. Unfortunately, the negativity bias is also triggered by everyday experiences.

Try exploring this for yourself. Think back over a few days. What leaps to mind? The chances are your thoughts have flown straight to receiving a poorly worded email or perhaps that stressful train journey or maybe feeling misunderstood. Pleasurable experiences such as sharing a joke with a friend or receiving positive feedback from a customer pale into insignificance by comparison. This is your brain’s negativity bias in action. As positive psychologist, Dr Rick Hanson says, “In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”

How can you counteract this? 
Begin by redirecting attention to what is right in life. This doesn’t mean ignoring problems or pretending everything is perfect. It merely is redressing the balance in how you view the world so that you are better equipped to deal with the difficult things that require attention. Here are some habits that will help you to thrive in an imperfect world: 

Adopt a confident and resourceful attitude. 
Tap into your brain's analytical capabilities by choosing to consider the best, most likely and worst outcome in any situation. By taking control of your thoughts, you activate your brain's ability to be creative, solve problems and plan action. You also counteract the brain's autopilot emotional response that is responsible for triggering the negativity bias.

Try investing one-hour in the following exercise designed to put you in a confident and resourceful state of mind. First, think about a specific issue, problem or situation. Set aside 40-minutes when you will be undisturbed. Consider the following questions and write down your thoughts:

  1. What is the best that can happen? How can get as close to this outcome as possible?
  2. What is most likely to happen? What can you do to improve on the ‘most likely’ and get closer to ‘best that can happen’?
  3. What is the worst that can happen? What is the evidence for this? [If it remains a possibility] what can you do to mitigate and improve upon ‘the worst’?
  4. Now think back to a time when you achieved something good. What strengths did you use? How can you use these now? 
  5. Who can you ask for support as you stretch for the best outcome?
  6. What other resources are available to help you?

Now take a 5-minute non-digital break - maybe go for a short walk, stretch out or make a drink. Return refreshed. Sit down and review your answers. Is there anything else to add? Decide on your actions. Use the rest of your time to set a goal and deadline for its completion. Then take the first step towards your best outcome. 

Notice three good things in your life.  
Boost your wellbeing by noticing three good things that happen as you go about your daily routine. These don’t have to be big things – just something that energised you, made you smile, allowed you to see the brighter side of life. Working at this will serve you well as you go forward. It will increase your appreciation of what is right in life and put you in a better frame of mind to deal with life's challenges. Spend just 5 minutes at the end of your day thinking about these. Better still write them down. A simple tip is to buy an attractively designed journal and keep it by your bed.

The three good things don’t need to be extraordinary; just noticing and appreciating the pleasant everyday things in your life will make a difference in your mood and attitude. Why not take a few minutes to try it now. Reflect on the past few days and think of three good things that have happened to you. Write them down so that you remember them. Consider these questions if you are finding it tough to get going:

  • What has gone well for me?
  • What am I grateful for in my life?
  • Who am I thankful for in my life?

Try it every day for one week then shift to once or twice a week. It only takes a few minutes and costs you nothing but the effort of focusing on what has gone well for you. This habit is also an excellent way to promote self-awareness and a healthy growth mindset. It will also help you to accept without self-criticism that all your emotions are valid, and then you can choose to focus on the positive ones. 

Look outward instead of just inward.
You can also promote positivity through simple actions. Make civility and kindness a habit. Thank someone. Smile at the person who serves you coffee. How about buying a drink for the person next in line? Offer support for someone who needs a boost. Purposefully look outward instead of just inward. The kind yet straightforward things that you do will not only make others happier, they will also enhance your wellbeing. 

This article is a revised version of the one first published in the Trusted Coach Directory in January 2019. 

3rd February 2019 | Beverly Landais

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