It’s November 29, 2021. Here in the United States most of us celebrated Thanksgiving last week. I love Thanksgiving for many reasons, but mostly because of the simplicity it can be.
Decorations for this particular holiday can be elaborate or simple, or none at all. The food can be elaborate or simple. There are no gifts, or predesigned rituals (although we manage to create plenty of those for ourselves :)).
It is a day where we can make as much or as little of the celebration as we like. I like it because it is time I spend focusing on how much I have to be grateful for and being with family.
So how can we make thanksgiving last longer in our lives? Maybe not the abundance of food, but the mindset. How can we develop a practice of gratitude?
I was visiting with a friend today who told me about her married daughter who we will call Jane. Jane had set a goal for herself to have a “No Complaining November”. Jane did not tell anyone of this goal in the beginning. Personally, I thought that sounded like quite a challenge for me, not that I feel like a huge complainer, but I definitely can find reason to complain now and then, even if most often it is just to myself.
What was interesting to my friend, and her daughter, and to me as she recounted it, was how challenging it was the first week. Jane felt like she couldn’t recount what had happened during her work day without complaining, which had the mother feeling like her daughter was closed off in their conversation. Remember, Jane did not tell her mother what she was trying to do.
During week two Jane did tell her mother why she was acting differently and determined she could reframe what recounting her work day looked like. Jane could talk about work in a “non-complaining” way and the mother felt Jane was more open with her. A seemingly small adjustment.
In week three was when the “magic” happened! Jane started to recognize that she had greater mental space each day because she wasn’t complaining. It freed her up to more easily recognize all the many things she already was truly grateful for in her life. She didn’t feel burdened trying to “find” her gratitude. It naturally and organically improved as she complained less.
So what does this mean for me and you?
Our brain seems to be pre-wired with a negativity bias. In my preliminary learning it appears to be the way we evolved. But we don’t need to judge it too harshly because this bias for negativity came in handy when life was more precarious than our present day.
This negativity kept us safe. Being skeptical of unknown plants kept us alive rather than eating something harmful. Being afraid of what might be in the brush kept us watchful for saber-toothed tigers and other dangerous animals that might eat us. Being part of the group meant safety and security.
What if we are still using that primitive part of our brain even when there are no saber-toothed tigers? What if the “safety” of that negativity has outlasted its usefulness? What if it is actually diminishing our ability to see our life for what it really is, and what it truly could become?
What would be your “saber-toothed tigers” today? For me, they have included the following to name a few:
- Being seen as less than perfect
- Earning or proving my worth and value
- Financial status – Bank balance
- Other people’s opinions
- Making myself more visible
But these modern-day saber-toothed tigers will not kill us. They just cause us to feel emotions that we would rather not feel because they are uncomfortable and/or “negative”. And in our world successful people are happy all the time!!! At least that is what all the marketing and advertising tells us.
I’m Michelle. I am learning how to minimize my overwhelm, perfectionism, and people-pleasing and I am ready to help you do the same. I’m a certified Life Coach and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Come with me and learn how.
The other challenge that we face is that studies have shown that it takes 5 positive thoughts/experiences to offset one negative thought/experience. If you subscribe to the belief that all of life can be 50-50, meaning 50% positive and 50% negative, how might this negativity bias be holding you back? If it is held in our brain as a 5:1 ratio positive to negative, that makes our 50-50 life actually feel like 20% positive and 80% negative just because our brain holds on to the negative. What if life was actually 80% positive and 20% negative but this negativity bias skewed the balance?
What might developing a practice of gratitude “open up” for you? What if you decided, like Jane, to go on a “Negativity Diet”? What if you gave it up or restricted you negativity like you might restrict carbs or sugar? How much mental weight could you lose in a week? Two weeks? A month?
I am going to make a more intentional effort this month to restrict my “negativity” intake, or at least what I pack in my bag to carry around with me. I don’t believe it is possible to completely cut it out because I believe in neuroscience (I am a secret science nerd). But I do believe that even small efforts on my part can have dramatic effects on that same neuroscience. In fact, in some research it is believed to actually change our DNA and genetic markers. That possibility fascinates me.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not see my life as “Pollyanna”. There are definitely things that I choose to feel negatively about. However, I also don’t want my life to be like “Debbie Downer” either. Knowing that my brain is predisposed to the negative can help me make decisions for myself. I can consciously choose to “see” the positive and realize that more often than not the worst thing that can happen to me is just a feeling.
Maybe you are ready to try a new way of thinking. Maybe you are willing to do an experiment to see if it affects your emotions. Maybe your are open to trying something new. If you want to work with me on developing a practice of gratitude just “Contact Me” and send me a quick email. If you prefer, you can “Schedule a Consult” for a free session to discuss what you want to work on and how to get started.
And as always…..Remember…..It’s ALL good!!