Tag Archives: attitude of gratitude

How to Use The Power of Focus To Improve Your Life

focus, how to focus, focus on the positive

Focus is a powerful thing. When used correctly, it has the potential to help us get our life back in balance and have more objective perspectives of what is going on in our lives, which in turn allows us to take a step back and make better and more informed decisions.  When used incorrectly, however, focus has the potential to cause us to feel utterly out of balance and become subjective, which in turn causes us to make rushed, uneducated decisions or poor choices that we may later regret, not to mention causing us added stress and anxiety about what may be going on.

Let me give you an example:

Take a moment to quickly evaluate your life as a whole and rate your current situation using a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 means you are at your ideal, exactly where you want to be, and 1 means there is MUCH room for improvement.  Now fold a piece of paper in half, and on one half of it make a list of the good or positive things in your life as it is right now and on the other half make a list of what you consider bad or negative things that you would like to change or improve on.

Let’s say rated your current situation a 4.  On one side of the paper you would list what’s good about your life right now; these are the things that helped you to rate your situation at this number. You could add things like:

I have a home
I have a job
I am healthy
I have a family that loves me
I do make some money
I can pay most of my bills on time
etc…

On the other side of the paper you would list the bad or negative things currently going on in your life.  These are the things which, when changed or improved, would help you to rate your life a 9 or a 10. You could add things such as:

My relationship with (…) sucks
I have no savings in the bank
I am fat
My car is old and broken
I don’t have money to vacation
etc…

So, in this example, the positive side is a 4 (because that’s what you rated your current situation) and the negative side is a 6 (the difference in the 1-10 scale).  Now take a look at your paper with your lists side by side and read them again. How does it make you feel?  Do you still believe you rated your life accurately? If you did this exercise honestly, you’ll probably realize that your initial rating was lower than it should have been.  I’m also willing to bet that as you were doing the exercise you had an easier time coming up with things to write on the “negative” side of the paper than on the “positive” side.  This is because on a day-to-day basis we’re generally mostly thinking about what is lacking in our lives rather than on the blessings that we already have.  Our focus is mostly on what is missing, what is wrong, what is broken, what needs to be improved.

Imagine that your life is graphed on a line like this one. We’ll place an x on it to indicate your rating:

Balance1

Now we’ll turn this into a scale or a balance by adding a support under it like this:

Which way is the scale currently going to tilt? It’s pretty obvious, right? It will tilt towards the “bad” side like this:

But now we’ll add something to our diagram; we’ll add focus which, for the purpose of this illustration weighs a full 10.  If we add it to the “bad” side of the scale, we’re stuck. In spite of the good things that are going on in our lives, we’ll continue to feel like nothing is working, like everything is bad, like this is a hopeless situation, because our focus is on what’s wrong, missing, or broken in our lives.  When this happens, we may enter a state of despair, depression, hopelessness, anxiety, sorrow, etc., and we miss out on appreciating and enjoying the blessings that we do have.

But what would happen if we shifted that focus and placed it on the “good” side of the scale? What will happen is that even with the rating remaining at 4 we will have managed to tilt the scale in favor of what’s good in our lives, and here’s where we can truly shift our perspective.

Here’s where we can truly see and accept that, while there is plenty of room for improvement, our life is already good. Here’s where appreciation and gratitude can truly take place, because our focus is now on our blessings, on what is working and what is positive in our lives. We’re not denying that there is room for improvement; we’re simply focusing our attention on what is already working because that is what’s going to help us get even better so that our diagram looks like this:

What we focus on expands

What we focus on expands, and what we resist persists. Focusing our attention on what is “bad” in our lives and resisting it or fighting it will only cause it to increase and persist.  It’s like trying to get out of a hole by digging the hole deeper.  This is not an efficient way of going about improving our situation. A more efficient and effective way would be to focus on what is already working and then figuring out how we can do more of it or expand it to other areas of our lives.

I picked a very low rating as an example to demonstrate that even with such a low rating we can shift our focus and gain a better perspective.  No matter how bad we think our life situation is, there is definitely much good going on already and there are definitely many things that are working. So I invite you to add the weight and power of focus to all the good that is already going on in your life and see how much better you’ll instantly feel as a result of it. You will not regret it.

To your success!

JC.

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Is Your Mind in a Constant State Of Emergency?

negative thinking, worry, fear, disaster, pain

In a previous post I mentioned that in my journey of self-discovery and self-improvement I came across the book Thoughts and Feelings by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning.  I learned a lot from this book, especially in the area of automatic thoughts and negative thinking patterns.  One of the negative thinking patterns that truly resonated with me was what the authors called “Catastrophizing,” which basically means turning any seemingly negative situation, no matter how small, into a major catastrophe in our minds.  For instance, not getting the job after an interview may mean that we will never find a job. When failing to make a sale, the salesman may conclude that he’s a failure.

People who catastrophize tend to use phrases that start with “What if…” and what follows these words is usually something negative and of an apocalyptic magnitude.  Here are some examples of everyday scenarios and some of the thoughts that may surface for a person who tends to catastrophize:

[While going for a night out] What if my house gets burglarized while I’m out?
[While driving on the freeway] What if I one of my tires blow up while I’m driving?
[When about to give a presentation] What if the entire audience hates me?
[When going into a tall building] What if there’s an earthquake while I’m in the building?
[When experiencing a headache] What if I have a brain tumor?
[Regarding our kids] What if my son starts using drugs?
[When watching a movie at the theater] What if there is a fire?
[When taking a flight] What if the plane malfunctions and crashes?
[When hearing of a couple who got divorced] What if it happens to me?
And the list goes on and on.

Now I’m sure many of us have experienced some form of automatic negative thoughts along these lines at some point or another, especially when something negative happened recently that may be related to the situation in which we are.  For instance, if we’re watching a movie at the theater and we suddenly recall that we heard in the news about a recent fire at a movie theater and recall hearing that there were many victims, the thought that it could happen to us may suddenly take a hold of us and cause a wave of panic to sweep over us.

This is normal and can usually go away with a bit of rationalizing; a person who does not tend to catastrophize will usually ask him or herself, “What are the odds that it could happen to me?” and this is usually enough to stop the negative thinking pattern and be able to enjoy the movie.

However, for a person who tends catastrophize it’s not as simple.  One catastrophic thought leads to another, the images in their minds become more and more vivid, and pretty soon they find themselves almost feeling as if the situation is already happening to them.  At this point it becomes practically impossible for them to enjoy the movie, and they may end up choosing to leave the theater because the uncomfortable feelings are just too strong to ignore.  As you can imagine, the level of stress and mental anguish that a person experiences as a result of these negative thinking patterns are very high.

So how can we deal with this?

Catastrophizing is a mental habit, and as such, the more we do it the stronger the habit becomes.  So the first thing we need to do is become aware of when we’re doing it.  This awareness will also be a tool in helping us stop the negative thinking pattern.

We also need to develop a plan action in advance.  If we know that we tend to catastrophize, we need to select a few techniques that we can use once we become aware of the negative thinking pattern.  Once technique I found extremely useful was asking myself the same question I was already asking (“What if …”) but in a positive way instead.  For instance, if my catastrophizing thought was, “What if my marriage fails?” I would switch it to, “What if my wife and I find a way to reconcile? What if everything turns out ok? What if everything is better tomorrow?” or something along those lines.  I would make it a point to replace every catastrophizing thought with 3-5 better feeling thoughts, and this usually did the trick.  Not only would I save myself unnecessary mental and physical stress, but I would also free my mind to consider better possibilities and see opportunities to improve my situation.

I used multiple positive “what if” questions in order to re-train or re-condition my mind to take this route instead of the one it was used to taking.  Remember, catastrophizing is a mental habit and like any other habit, the best way to get rid of it (in fact, some argue it’s the only way to get rid of it) is to replace it with another habit that serves us better. And just like anything else, the more we do it the stronger the new habit will become and the weaker the old habit will be.

The key here is to use better feeling thoughts that are believable to us, as opposed to positive but unrealistic thoughts that we don’t believe.  If I said to myself “Everything will be wonderful tomorrow!” not only would I be deluding myself but my mind would not accept it, and I would experience a different kind of stress caused by the conflict between my current reality and what I’m trying to make myself believe.

The magic of “What if” is that we open ourselves up to the possibility of something positive happening; we’re not forcing it and we’re not pretending it, we’re simply acknowledging the possibility of it.  Shifting our attention from the catastrophic thought to the possibility of something positive happening has the ability to help us feel more peaceful and at ease almost instantly.

Another good technique to use in conjunction with the “What if” technique is the rubber band method I shared with you in a previous post.  Wearing a rubber band around our wrist and snapping it lightly when we catch ourselves in the middle of a negative thought pattern can help snap us out of it, and then we can switch to using the “what if” technique described above to ease ourselves into better feeling thoughts.

Negative thinking patterns can be replaced with positive ones, but it takes patience, dedication and persistence.  If you find that you experience this negative pattern of catastrophizing, give this a try and let me know how it works for you.  Or if you have any other techniques that have worked for you, please feel free to share them in the comments box below.  I’d love to hear from you!

To your success!

JC

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The Secret To Achieving Inner Peace and Satisfaction

Would you like to achieve more satisfaction with life and experience more inner peace?  We all do, don’t we? To some degree or another we want to feel more inner peace and overall satisfaction, but we don’t know how to go about it.  We spend hours, days, months, even years trying to figure out how to make that happen.  Teacher after teacher has spoken on this subject and has revealed the key that unlocks the door to these most-sought after treasures, personal satisfaction and inner peace.  The key to which I refer is Gratitude, and now we even have scientific research to back it up.

Studies conducted by Professor Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis found a direct link between gratitude and a deep sense of satisfaction with life.  He found that people who practiced gratitude through the use of journals on a regular basis exercised more regularly, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who wrote about negative or even neutral life events. In addition, participants who kept the gratitude journals were more likely to make progress towards their personal goals in life.  Here are some of his conclusions based on his findings:

  1. People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others.
  2. Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods.
  3. They are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated.
  4. They are less envious of wealthy persons, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
  5. They reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.
  6. Participants were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.

 How can we learn to cultivate gratitude? 

Focusing on what we do have versus what we don’t have seems to be the key. Reminding ourselves on a daily basis of all the things that come our way keeps us grounded in gratitude instead of want.  At any given moment during the day we can stop and look for something to be thankful for.  It is during these moments that we can become truly attuned to the feeling of gratitude.  There are hundreds of such things in any given day if we choose to be mindful of them.  They add up and build upon one another to create a more centered, content and positive perspective on life.

Professor Emmons recommends keeping a record of these moments in the form of journaling.  When we feel overwhelmed and down in the dumps, we can look back at our notes and remind ourselves of just how fortunate we really are.

Also, the act of giving back compounds the effects of gratitude.  Emmons found that the act of gratitude and the act of giving back reinforce each other and lead to the inevitable: more fulfilling, meaningful and happy lives.

The research conducted also showed something else that was interesting:  grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.  Gratitude does not mean turning a blind eye towards the misfortunes that befall us or the challenges we encounter.  However, given the perspective that gratitude gives us, we are undoubtedly more equipped to handle life’s challenges in a more positive way.

Our attitude determines how effective we are in coping with what life throws in our direction.  As we have said time and time again, our perspective on life determines our reality.  If we approach things with a perspective based on the belief that life is unfair, everything that turns up will look unfair to us.   On the other hand, the practice of gratitude will bring with it the optimism and drive necessary to handle disappointment and push past any obstacles that we may encounter.

How can we start to practice gratitude?  

We must begin with the art of mindfulness, being totally present in the moment.  This will allow us to notice all the little things that surround us, things we might take for granted if we hadn’t stopped to appreciate them.

We must acknowledge these gifts and write them down in a gratitude journal.  These little things make up the fabric of our days, our months, and our years.  We tend to not notice them because we are so caught up in the task of living.  But as they say, we must stop and smell the roses to really appreciate their beautiful fragrance.

Consider what you have been given in life.  Are you blessed with financial security?  Do you have loving children, a supportive family, a nice home?  Are you in good health?  Do you enjoy your work?  Do you have wonderful friends?  Do you have a supportive and loving companion? What does nature give to you?

Start practicing gratitude today.  Pull out a notebook and for just one minute write down anything that comes to mind that you are grateful for.  One minute is not a long time, and you’ll find that the more you do it the easier it will get.  You’re training your mind to look for things to be grateful for, and as you go through the day you’ll be collecting moment after moment and thing after thing to add to your gratitude journal.

Commit to adding to this journal every day.  A good time might be before bedtime when you have time to reflect back on your day.  Think of all the good things that occurred.  Nothing is off limits. Anything that improved your life experience in any way counts. Even the things that you may initially have considered as bad, you may have realized that in the end, they really helped you in some way.

Regardless of what it may look like, life is always working in your favor.  Anytime you find yourself in a situation that seems bad or negative, ask yourself: “Is there good for me in this situation?”  You may not immediately be able to answer in the affirmative, but as a result of you posing this question to your mind it will be looking for the good in it.

For instance, on one occasion my car would not start due to a dead battery and my first reaction was one of irritation because I was going to be late.  However, I reminded myself of the good in everything, and let go of the irritation.  It took me no more than 10 minutes to jump my battery and get on the road; as I was driving I noticed that a car accident had just occurred.  Who knows? Had I been on the road just 10 minutes earlier, I might have been involved in that accident.  The thought of that possibility caused me to feel grateful for my dead battery. I don’t know about you, but I’ll pick a dead battery any day instead of a car accident.

Rhonda Byrne, author of the book “The Magic,” offers another very useful tip to really cultivate the emotion of gratitude.  She recommends that next to every item that you add to your gratitude list you also add the reason why you’re grateful for it.  This prompts your whole being to truly get into the act of appreciating the things that you have listed, rather than just making a list of those things.

Again, journaling at night just before you go to sleep may be ideal for you.  You may just find out that once you’re done writing in your gratitude journal, you’ll be able to sleep better.  And isn’t that something else to be grateful for?

Do you have any questions or comments you’d like to share?  Drop me a line in the comment box below, or email me directly at jc@effect180.com.  I’d love to hear from you.

To your success!

JC

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