“Change your thoughts and you will change your world” is a quote hanging on my kitchen wall. In the current climate, with the world in lockdown, and so many of my talented colleagues and friends losing their jobs last week at #Tripadvisor, it is truly heartbreaking to imagine how tough it must have been to be part of the 900+ layoffs last week.
I wanted to share some thoughts on handling difficult times by thinking differently just in case someone needs to read that right now. In every difficult situation, there is an opportunity for us to grow and become an even better version of ourselves.
It is not all or nothing…look at the bigger picture
Whether we like it or not, adversity is part of life. Money magazine reports that 61% of people under 70 have lost a job and been without one for more than a year and that divorce rate in the US is above 40%.
For whatever reason, our minds are built in a way in which negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. Psychologists call this the negative bias, and it can impact your behavior, your decisions, and even your relationships.
When we go through rough times such as losing a job, at first we tend to automatically switch to imagining the worst case scenario: my life is over! I will never find another job again! However, if we rationalize, we have no way of knowing what is going to happen, correct? (unless you have fortune telling skills and in that case, please give me a call!) Why can’t we train ourselves to believe that this is an opportunity to find a new and interesting job, maybe even better than the previous one, instead of concentrating on negative aspect of the situation.
We all know people that have been through hard times and thanks to them, came out stronger: for example, a friend’s daughter had a stroke in her twenties. While it was obviously a traumatic experience, and the recovery was a very long and winding road, they both say that if they were given a magic wand, they wouldn’t change that moment in their lives. The experience that they gained through the journey of recovery enabled them to see the word as well as life through a new lens and helped them become who they are now.
Unexpected life events take us out of our comfort zone when none of us particularly enjoys being out of control.
Now, when a crisis strikes let’s not fall into the trap of ignoring the positive aspects of our lives and only focusing on the negative ones. Instead, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture, there is always a positive side to a negative situation: Divorce? There are so many other parts of our lives to be grateful for, family, friends, health, work, etc… We must try to leverage what is stable in our lives as source of strength against adversity: Losing a job? This is the perfect opportunity to try something new, invest in ourselves and spend time with our loved ones. Let’s not allow the challenge we are going through control our every thought.
Train your brain to work for you and not against you
What can we do to train our brains to work through challenging times rather than spiral into our negative thoughts: Well, the good news is that our brains cannot make the difference between what is real and what is not. This can help with switching from negativity to positivity. Need to be convinced? Just picture what I will be describing below.
Just imagine you have been given a lemon, a big juicy yellow one. Hold it and feel its roughness, as you smell it, it gives of that unique citrus aroma, which floods through the air. As you begin to cut through the lemon with a sharp knife you notice the juice coming out of the sides and dripping down the lemon’s side. As you cut the lemon into quarters and place a piece in your mouth you take a nice juicy bite, instantly you mouth is flooded with the sweet yet sour taste of the citrus. Now take note of the experience in your mouth.
You may have noticed that your mouth started to water and produce extra saliva. Researchers at MIT established that our minds cannot make the difference between real and imagined events. In other words, whether we imagine eating a lemon or actually eat a lemon, the brain will consider it as the same event.
So how can you train your brain to think more positively in challenging times?
Well, there are multiple ways to do so, I am just going to give you a few techniques I like to use, such as daily positive affirmations. By doing so, you teach your brain a whole new way of thinking about the world, enabling you to see the world from a new point of view.
Another approach is to express gratitude; this allows your brain neurotransmitters that make us feel good, such as dopamine and serotonin. Even in challenging times, you always have things that you can be grateful for: friends, family, pets or even just having hot water.
Yet another technique you can use is meditating (or at least trying to), it can also be a great tool to deal with negative thoughts and relieve stress.
And my simplest tip of all is to use a different word to be able to see the positive side of things. Try changing from “I need to “to “I get to” and notice the difference. Try to switch from “I need to stay home due to lockdown” to “I get to stay home due to lockdown”. As simple as it may seem, it makes a huge difference.
Your thoughts affect your actions
Controlling our thoughts matter because ultimately thoughts will power actions.
We have plenty of thoughts about things we want to do but often they stay at the idea stage because we keep limiting ourselves based on how we view ourselves, what we assume people will think, what they might do or based on previous experiences. More often than not, we end up thinking things like “this will never work”, “why should I even attempt to do it”, etc… Next time you start thinking those thoughts, just stop yourself for a second and think about all the ways you could succeed in your project, because that will you help you achieve your projects.
When faced with adversity, reach out and ask for help. Asking others for their opinions will help put things into perspective as in difficult times our heart tends to rule over our heads.
Being able to express what you feel, will help you clarify your thoughts. Even if just want to stay on your own and you feel that nobody can understand what you’re going through, remember that you are not alone! There are many people around you who want to support you and help you through tough times and difficult moments. I am one of them so please feel free to reach out.
Lastly, I am not saying that we need to ignore the initial pain. It is painful, and it is scary and you will most probably go through the 5 stages of grief as defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and ultimately will reach acceptance. Understanding how you can control your mind will hopefully make that process easier.
So remember everything you are feeling is completely normal. Challenges are what makes life interesting- I like to think that they are like levels in video games- they allow you to access the next levels of your lives. Embrace them to discover what you are truly capable off. You will always become stronger out of adversity and to quote @Dermot : Even if there are clouds overhead the future is bright! So Just hang in there.