More often than not, I come across friends and strangers who are completely unaware about how they’re choosing to see life. Many of those people then go through a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts, getting them to end up feeling ungrateful, worthless, depressed, and even suicidal. Even though almost everyone in this life will go through a life-changing challenge or a few, I’ve seen that the people who have a mindful and aware mindset come out of these challenges strong and powerful rather than beaten.
Some people I know have gone through very difficult things like death of a parent/child, or being abused as a child, and seem to still be able to appreciate the small things and feel grateful about the life they’re living. While others, could go through something like a heartbreak or being rejected by someone they love, which in retrospect, is trivial, and end up feeling worthless and disappointed in God or life, not wanting to live another day.
I am not belittling pain, and I hope that I am right about the fact that I will always have an option about how I choose to see things and feel about them. The thing is, it’s not what you’ve been through that breaks you, it’s your mindset of feeling powerless and giving up, instead of doing something about it, or working on how you will accept it. If you want to be ungrateful, you will always find something to make you feel that way, no matter how good life is, and the opposite is also true.
Another thing is, it is never too late to alter the way you think. Never. Our brains are fascinating, they make it easy for us to change anything, even if this has been a thought we’ve been thinking everyday since we were born, all we have to do it know that we are capable of physically reshaping how we think. Our brains have synapses and neural pathways which work in a certain way. The thoughts and things we do (physical and mental) over and over again carve specific pathways, when we replace that thought or habit, our brain follows new pathways, and forgets about old ones.
Think of it this way, the first time you ever drove to a new job, you might have been a little bit confused. However, the fact that you drove to the same job everyday for a while got you used to it, that it started to feel like your car just knows which turns to take. It became very automatic. You just had to practice it a few times first, and then the road was engraved.
Neuroplasticity is exactly that! It’s proof that our brains are not static organs, you can reshape your brain over and over again however many times you want, all you have to do is show it which stream to follow, and it will keep doing that, using the older streams less and less. All it takes is a decision.
If you’re going through a negative phase right now, here are some things I like to do that help me get out of being overwhelmed with negativity. Remember that what you want to do is change your brain to feel this less often, that means that you can’t jump from total sadness to extreme joy, it’s just not realistic. You won’t believe it, you’d just be numbing it out, which is not the point. Again, if you can’t change the situation or what got you here in the first place, the next action step should be to accept and forgive.
1. Focus Wheel (Extracted from Abraham Hicks’ many teachings):
One of the things that help me feel better almost instantly is usually diminishing my troubles and gaining perspective. Your problem, it’s not that big, there are people who are in way worse circumstances. The first step is to identify how you’re feeling, and the fact that you want to take an active role in changing it. You need a pen and paper for this exercise, feel free to do the steps as you read this. Do not right down the negative emotion, just know it in your head. What you want to draw is a circle, with the outcome you want in the end, inside it. So if you’re feeling demotivated to get a job done, you want to write something on the lines of, “I am feeling enthusiastic and motivated to finish this task with ease.” Don’t worry, you don’t have to believe it yet, you just want to expect this outcome with optimism, and write it as if you’re really feeling it now, don’t worry about how.
Draw another big circle around the one you started with, and divide the space between the 2 circles into 8 to 12 equal steps. Number these sections from 1-8/12. Starting with 1, write down your current (negative) emotion or problem. It would probably be something like, “I am feeling lazy and shitty.”
The aim from step 1 until the end is to choose a slightly better feeling thought every step of the way, so your brain can actually believe it. In 2, you could accept the fact that you’re feeling lazy. After that, 3, you can express that you know you’ve had way more difficult/boring tasks before. Then you want to, 4, take it to the next level telling yourself that it’s an unworthy burden, so you might as well get it done. Then, 5, write about how it actually won’t take as much time as you think. Keep going and going until you’ve filled up all the steps, choosing something better every time, with the purpose of feeling enthusiastic/joyful in the end.
Take your time with each step, and really raise your emotional level to that thought, don’t just write it, the point is to become more aware about how small and insignificant in your life this can be once its over.
2. Count your blessings/Write a list:
Being consumed in the big unfortunate thing happening in your life at the moment will keep you stuck there, when it’s probably not something that is worth it. You know what they say about gratitude, “count your blessings.” So do that, don’t just count them, write them in a list. If you’re feeling worthless, write the things you love about yourself, and if you can’t write a lot, ask your friends and family what they love about you most. Negativity makes us blind to all the good things around us, but if you just take 10 minutes to be thankful for the bed you get to sleep on and the roof over your head, it will make you realize that no matter how bad you’ve got it, there are people out there who are in way more gruelling predicaments.
Meditation is all about being fully aware of the present moment, and watching your thoughts pass by but without them rushing into your mind and staying there, also without judgement. It’s all about clarity. Meditation isn’t only done while you’re sitting in a certain position and being guided by a recorded voice of a Buddhist monk. Meditation could be anything that calms your mind and settles it. Find your own meditation, whether it be writing, painting, taking photographs, or anything that keeps undeserving thoughts from ruining your clarity.
If you do prefer to meditate in the more traditional way, there are phone apps like “Stop, Breathe and Think”, “Digipill” as well as loads of Youtube videos to help you become more soothed. So take a short break that will get your mind off the problem, and you will realize that it no longer has to occupy space in your head.
4. Sleep it off, but decide to wake up feeling better:
“Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right.” Because of our, once again, fascinating brains, we should all agree with this quote by Henry Ford. If you’ve got the confident optimism that you are powerful, your brain will believe that and help you accomplish whatever it is you’re wishing for. Maybe all you need is some sleep, so call it a day, and promise yourself that once you just get some rest, you will be waking up feeling fresh and crisp, just believe that without thinking about how, and it’ll come as long as you don’t doubt it. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to do everything yourself, your brain can help, even while you’re sleeping. You can do it!
5. Cleanse your anxiety away:
With dust everywhere around us in Cairo, it’s easy to say we’re all pretty contaminated after a long day outside. What you can do is actually use this to your advantage, and imagine that the dust and mud represent your worries and anxiety. Go for a shower and really savor it, enjoy the heat or the chill of the water, whichever you prefer, and imagine that you’re not only cleansing your body, you’re also cleansing your soul. Turn the everyday experience into a non-physical one as well.
Did you know that it’s scientifically proven that if you give away a small percentage of your money to others, you become happier about how you spent it? Now I’m not saying you have to buy someone a gift (unless you want to), all I’m saying is, if giving money makes you happier, wouldn’t giving positive emotions give you joy as well? Don’t you feel happy when other people around you are happy? Doesn’t joy multiply infinitely when it’s shared, rather than become depleted? Next time you’re feeling low, try to give someone a hug rather than asking for one, you’ll be surprised at how good supplying love makes you feel. Be like the Queen of Fire:
“The Queen of Fire is so rich, so much a queen, that she can afford to give. It doesn’t even occur to her to take inventories or to put something aside for later. She dispenses her treasures without limits, welcoming all and sundry to partake of the abundance, fertility and light that surrounds her.”
Extracted from the “Sharing” card from Osho Zen Tarot.
7. Walk/Dance/Skate it off:
When you’re feeling stuck with a problem, you want to, in a way, distract yourself, and not think too consciously about it. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Just cut off thinking about the problem, and do something that your body knows how to do, which would keep your attention on something general like your body. You will feel better, maybe because your blood flow will increase, or perhaps because good ideas will rush towards you making you feel better than A-OK.
8. Trust the process and the outcome:
Lastly, more frequently than not, we feel confused, lost and unhappy due to things not happening like we want them to, or taking too long to flourish. This is when you need to remember to trust the process. Stop working so hard on how you’re going to make everything happen, everything is happening as long as you’re positive about the outcome and you trust it. Just relax, and let things be, knowing that everything will fall into place. You’re here for joy.
I feel substantially good just to be writing this. Thank you for reading.
Many of the ideas in this blogpost were inspired by:
Creative Confidence by Tom & David Kelley
Osho Zen Tarot – Cards