Ya know, bad things do sometimes happen to good people. My younger daughter attests to that often when she comes home outraged about some new injustice perpetrated in the school yard. “Today was the worst day ever!” Oy.
And then there’s the REALLY bad stuff. Like my friend’s teenage son’s battle with Guillain-Barré, a weird syndrome that paralysed him completely for a time before he gradually regained mobility. Crazy.
At times like these, it’s completely normal to feel not-so-positive emotions (fear, anger, sadness, powerlessness).
But our positivity tools can still help us navigate the difficulties, whether big or small. Here are a couple of tools for tough times that work for me and my clients.
|When things aren’t going your way it’s completely normal to feel not-so-positive emotions (fear, anger, sadness, powerlessness).
It’s how you deal with those emotions that matters.
Instead of bottling negative thoughts or feelings, often causing them to intensify, I use and teach the 5-minute aware-acknowledge-accept process.
- Step 1 – Be aware of what emotion you’re experiencing. This can take practice. It’s easiest when you rid your mind of expectations and judgment, and instead cultivate your curiosity.
- Step 2 – Acknowledge the emotion. For me, this often means normalizing what I’m feeling in light of the situation. (i.e. Of course I’m worried about my friend’s son, and sad for my friend.)
- Step 3 – Accept the emotion. I don’t mean resign yourself to always feeling terrible, but accept that whatever you’re feeling is your emotion in this moment, and know it will pass.
Harvard social psychologist Daniel Wegner calls it “ironic processing” when we attempt to suppress a natural phenomenon, only to experience it more acutely.
Better to find an appropriate way to unconditionally accept our emotions, both positive and negative. Then we give ourselves permission to be human—a pillar of a healthy and successful life.
Accentuate the positive
A recent innovation we’ve experimented with in our family is having our young daughter match each of her complaints of the woes of the world with at least two positives. The first few are hilarious, brightening her mood dramatically, helping the positives become more heartfelt. She’s even started to initiate her positive list-making without my asking.
This particular exercise comes from research by relationship guru John Gottman. He discovered that flourishing relationships enjoyed a positivity ratio of 5 to 1, while relationships that languished or ended in divorce had positivity ratios lower than 1 to 1.
(Note: The likelihood our daughter would find five positives for each complaint isn’t high, so we’re starting slowly. 🙂 )
Countering negatives with positives is important for our well-being, because when we’re deep into the vortex of negativity, seeing the world through the distorted lens of negativity – it doesn’t lead anywhere good. That’s when you can bring in the heavy artillery from our January tool to combat negative Thinking Traps.
As Barbara Fredrickson, my favourite positive psychology researcher, points out, heartfelt positivity goes beyond self-talk. It actually infuses our minds and bodies, increases our creativity, our resilience and our ability to connect with others—all important strengths we can turn to when those inevitable bad things do happen.
In the meantime, continue to lead your life with a focus on G.R.A.C.E. [Grow Relationships & Choreograph Efforts]…enjoy yourself and the moment…and lead with confidence!
May the (positivity) force be with you.
.. Mary Ellen (ME)
Mary Ellen Sanajko
Leadership Coach & Trainer