Tips for observing our thoughts and intentions to help keep an optimistic outlook
During the winter months emotions can mirror the weather, feeling heavy, cold, dark and stuck. Personal motivation and inspiration may become scarce, and our hope to keep a positive perspective can turn into the tunnel vision of how to simply cope with “what isn’t working.”
Keeping a positive view on life is not pretending to be happy and hopelessly self-affirmed (I think I can, but deep down inside, I don’t really believe I can) it’s seeing things as they are, with a positive outlook about how we can create a beneficial change in our lives.
When we begin to focus on the areas of life that are not working, we can become overwhelmed and feel helpless. Seeing things as they are, not worse than they are, can help us to clearly realize the actions that need to be taken to create the change that we want.
Shifting your focus to positive action, is a great way to start turning things around, for a better day.The Mayo Clinic writes that “positive thinking lowers the rate of depression, increases longevity, gives greater resistance to the common cold, and produces better coping skills during times of stress.” An optimistic approach also creates a broader outlook in terms of seeing what is possible or achievable in life.
This year, if you want to creating lasting impactful change, you must first face the inhibiting thoughts and emotions that serve you no longer. The Dalai Lama wisely and simply states, that “Destructive emotions and thoughts do not bring inner peace.” Mindful tools can help you to face your thoughts, emotions and reality head on. They are not an escape or distraction. Instead of replacing your feelings with the entertainment of being busy, a new relationship, or another goal to achieve, start by having the courage to observe the root cause of your feelings.
The first step is to gain clarity. Then, you can create meaningful and lasting change from a place of courage, optimism and conviction. You can be positive that it may uncover the best version of you.
Understand the root cause of your feelings
The moment that we observe a negative emotion arise within us, we can decide whether we want to engage with that emotion in a destructive manner, or if we want to simply observe the negative feeling. If we are able to witness the emotion when it arises and not be consumed by it, we can free ourselves from a destructive reactionary emotional pattern and gain clarity about the root cause of the emotion.
Internationally renowned Zen Meditation Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains a mindfulness technique to acknowledge negative emotions, and overcome their grip. Begin by recognizing the negative emotion as it arises, then acknowledge the negative emotion and welcome it as a friend, calm the feeling with your breath, release the feeling and finally look deeply into the feeling to contemplate its cause.
For the full in-depth practice, refer to Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Become aware of your inner dialogue and negative self-talk
Negative self-talk can be like your own inner bully. The moment that you begin negative self-talk, choose not to engage in the self-conflict, take your attention out of the destructive thinking and focus on your breath. If you feel guilt, self-blame, doubt, imperfection or failure with no self-worth, breathe. The negative thoughts will tug at your mind and bully you into feeling less than you are. Comparison and competition, can also create negative-self talk. Do your best to meet your own standard, not the standards of others. Acknowledge that the negative self-talk is just a series of thoughts and keep focusing on your breath. Breathe slowly until the thoughts begin to dissipate.
Eckhart Tolle shares that real change happens when a negative thought becomes an opportunity to practice mindfulness. When you become aware of the negative self-talk, you start to recognize that a thought form is simply arising, but the negative thought, to give-up or that you’re not good enough, is not true. Bring awareness to the thought, acknowledge the negative thought and persevere with positivity. As we face these thoughts, we can choose to grow and change from them.
Pay attention to your emotional needs
Instead of seeking inspiration, you could do something that inspires you. Chalking out time to do the activities that you love are an important part of feeling balanced and staying positive. This helps to foster a sense of autonomy and freedom that you may not feel at work or at home.
Learning something new is also great way to meet people and keep your mind focused, agile and positively active. If you choose to do something challenging, remember to celebrate your successes and learn from your challenges. Socialization is also an important way to shift your mental state, so get involved with a community or group of friends who are supportive.
Goals and new experiences do not always create lasting happiness, so if you learn something new, stay present with it and be mindful of the thought processes that arise as you learn.
Move your body
If you are feeling stuck, yoga, tai chi, qigong, exercise and outdoor activity can help you to feel refreshed and less stagnant. Body treatments or massage along with a hot tub, steam or infrared sauna are also excellent ways to keep your body feeling renewed and your mind clear and refreshed.
Make small changes to create a positive atmosphere
Create an environment that is nurturing and meaningful for you; one that adds value to your life and heartens inspiration, conviction, passion and motivation. A positive environment is an intrinsic way to sustain your personal fulfilment and optimism.
Listening to your favourite music at work, adding a salt lamp on your desk or having pictures of your loved ones nearby, can keep you feeling connected. Playing motivational talks, wearing warm colours, eating nourishing warm food and soaking in some sunlight can also help to keep your spirit up.
Spread some self-love and gratitude
Focusing on your resources, and being grateful for the positive elements that you have in your life, can impact how you feel. A recent study revealed that the Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM), originally known as the ancient Buddhist practice of Metta Bhavana* (metta meaning love and bhavana meaning cultivation) can increase positive feelings. “When people initiated a practice of LKM, they enjoyed payoffs both immediately, in terms of self-generated positive emotions, and over time, in terms of increased resources and overall well-being.”
Here are the steps to the Loving Kindness Meditation:
In a comfortable, seated position, mentally repeat the following phrases slowly: May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I live with joy and ease. Take the time to feel the words and sit in a space of connection and love for yourself.
Then think of a friend or someone that you care about. Slowly repeat the phrase of loving-kindness toward them: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and may you live with joy and ease.
The words should come from a place of authenticity, care and kindness toward them. You may then choose to extend this phrase to many other friends, animals, or people that may require care or compassion.
Finally, think of the people who have created difficulty for you. Try to sit in the feeling of compassion, knowing that those who inflict suffering are also feeling suffering within, and when you feel ready, slowly repeat the phrase: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and may you live with joy and ease. Allow any feelings or thoughts to come up, observe them and then let them go.
*Metta Bhavana is most commonly known as an ancient Buddhist practice that was traditionally used to increase compassion, unconditional love and kindness.