I made up a brand new tool recently. I made it up when I was walking through the swamp that is New York City, as it started to rain, and I was carrying two very heavy things in each hand, and I was tired, and I desperately had to find a ladies room. Wahhhhhh, moan, sweat, ugh.
I was having a massive pity party for myself, as we tend to do sometimes. It was hardly a traumatic event. I was just stomping my feet like a little child. A very miserable little child.
Once I realized how ridiculous I was acting, I decided to try a little experiment. I wanted to see if I could turn around this mental state through appreciation. I have about 20 things to be really really grateful for at any given moment and yet my mind still sometimes travels to this woe is me land.
I have a Gratitude App on my phone and a Gratitude Journal at home but with both hands in full use, there was no way I could stop to type up my list. I decided to go over my list in my head. I had 10 blocks to go in that sloggy, brain draining heat.
I started mentally naming all the things I have to be grateful for. I’m carrying 50 pounds of picture frames…because I just bought two beautiful, inexpensive pieces of art from local Brooklyn people to put in my office! I have an office…of my own! I love my work! Etc.!
The enthusiasm for my life snowballed as I walked along. The list got longer and longer and my mood got brighter and brighter. It was really quite a surprise to me.
Where I was emotionally, had completely changed in 10 blocks. I told this same story to a patient and she tried it too. Her exact words were “It was almost scary how quickly I could shift my mind set.”
Whether we are working through a very painful loss or just a run of the mill bummer mood, we have the availability to change our thoughts and change our entire emotional experience. Shifting our thoughts shifts our beliefs, which shifts our actions. We are powerful enough to change our mental game in an instant.
I often hear that people want to “cut down on stress.” This is a beautiful endeavor that can lead to whole life transformation. The truth is, if we were truly going to cut down on stress in our lives, we need to remove the main sources of stress.
Stress creates inflammation in the body and the fight or flight response. Stress can appear in the form of your boss, a bag of chips, your boyfriend or husband, your job, your forgotten dreams.
Instead of cutting down on stress, how about we just crowd it out? Rather than taking something away, let’s just get so full up on gratitude that there is no room for the stress. If we can use this tool to look at what we appreciate first, there is way way less room for focusing on what isn’t working.
I challenge you to try this radical perspective shift. Remember it when you are stuck in a long line, or waiting for the subway and it’s 1000% humidity, or you have slipped into self-flagellation mode. You have the power to change your mood and completely turn your hour or even your whole day around.
You can do this when you are walking, sitting in a meeting, waiting for a friend, pretty much anywhere.
If it’s a stretch to find something to appreciate, start with your physical body. I appreciate that I can see, that I can hear, that I have all 4 limbs that are fully operational. I can climb stairs and walk.