Today is the first Thursday of September so that means its Skill of the Month time. Today, however, instead of giving you one skill, I'm going to give you FIVE!
I'd like to revisit a topic that I have written about before and that nicely works all five of these skills into one Skill I'm calling "Positivity". I recently watched the following TED talk and felt rather encouraged that the movement of "positive psychology" is expanding and continuing to help people function better overall.
First, let me talk briefly about positive psychology. It is a movement within the field of psychology that, according to Wikipedia "uses scientific understanding and effective intervention to aid in the achievement of a satisfactory life, rather than treating mental illness." To put more simply, it is the study of how to be happy, right now, regardless of your mental illness or, more commonly, your struggles (mental, physical, emotional, economic, etc.).
This is what I do with my clients because, as you can hear in the TED talk above, when we are positive, our brain actually works better--we're smarter, faster, and more creative. The problem with society today is that we are told that in order to be happy we need X (X could be this new outfit, this fancy house or car, or something as general as "success"). This then, is absolutely unattainable because if you've ever bought a new cellphone you know that within a few months there's a new model that does more than the one you just bought, or there's something better out there and your satisfaction with the one you have is now diminished significantly and you want the new phone (or car, or house, or outfit). Similarly, if your happiness is attached to something, then happiness can never be found because its constantly on the other side of whatever it is. Like Shawn Achor states in his talk, once you attain the goal (good grades), we tend to increase the difficulty of the goal (now get better grades) and so on--thus never reaching the ultimate goal of happiness which waits, tantilizing us, on the other side of X.
The thing I love about this talk is that Mr. Achor actually gives some really good advice on how to begin to retrain our brain to look for positive instead of negative, thereby increasing immediately our level of happiness--no matter what circumstances we're in. In doing this, we have the added benefit of actually increasing our success as well, since research shows that when we're happy, our brains work better too. His five recommendations (our FIVE Skills for the month) are as follows:
1) Gratitude: write down 3 new things each day that you're grateful for.
2) Journal: write about one positive experience that you had that day in order to relive it.
3) Exercise: get active to train your brain that your actions matter.
4) Meditate (or use mindfulness): to "get over cultural ADHD" (I LOVE that description!) and improve your focus.
5) Random (or Intentional) Acts of Kindness: help someone else to feel better/happier in the moment and see your own happiness and positivity increase as well.
I agree with each and every one of these items and have blogged about them or intend to blog about them in the future. They're really quite easy to do--note we're not telling you to become an Olympic athlete for your exercise or to publish a journal article about your positive experience. That intentional act of kindness can be as simple as an email to someone you care about to just let them know you're thinking about them or are thankful for something they've done.
This whole idea is also very similar to one of my most favorite books of all time (and I'm not exaggerating--I recommend you run out right this moment and get a copy of it and read it several times--I've even given you a link so you can order it immediately from Amazon!) Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I've actually purchased this book multiple times because I've leant it to clients and they never returned it so I had to buy it again (and again... this actually happens a lot!) This book was written by a Holocaust survivor that was, prior to his internment, a psychiatrist. He observed, in the midst of the horrors that were occuring around him and frequently to him, that those people that remained hopeful, that continued to believe that things would improve, they'd be released soon... whatever it was--those were the ones that survived the longest, many of whom were ultimately liberated (as was Dr. Frankl). He observed that the people that "gave up" were the ones that soon afterwards perished. I love this book, again, because it certainly gives us living in the United States in the 21st Century a bit of perspective. We may THINK we've got it bad but whatever we are dealing with is much more tolerable that the Holocaust! And, more importantly, if people like Dr. Frankl could survive THOSE horrors, certainly there is hope that we can survive our inconveniences and discomforts as well.
So as you go about your day, be consciously looking for something, ANYTHING, that is positive. One of the first questions I almost always ask my clients upon seeing them: "Tell me one good thing that happened or that you noticed today." Go about your day with the belief that something good will happen and I can guarantee that at least one good thing will indeed happen, you just have to see it. Tonight, write down three things for which you are grateful and each night thereafter, come up with three new things. Or, if you prefer, take a break from the list of three gratitudes and journal in depth about just one positive experience. Every day, get some exercise (walking is perfect!), do some meditation for just a few moments, or do just one intentional act of kindness: hold the door for the person behind you, send out an email to your mom, brother, or boss, letting them know how much you appreciate them or that you're thankful that they're in your life. Do at least one of these things every day (try to do 4-5 everyday!) and see what effect it has on your immediate and long-term happiness.