Reasons to be thankful: a psychological gearshift
Autumn is, in many cultures, the Season for giving thanks for the bounty of the harvest. Today we are celebrating our 10th Thanksgiving Dinner, the big difference this year being that my son, Louis, is hosting it in his new home: a weird and wonderful milestone!
In keeping with the American custom, we shall observe the tradition of family and friends gathered round and sharing what they are thankful for. I love this ritual: a meaningful pause as we approach the end of the year, allowing us a moment to reflect before the sparkling merriment of December. There have been years when giving thanks has been joyous and easy, when the festival catches us in a happy moment in our lives. And there are years when it has been tough, when some of us are in a place of adversity and sharing has been painful. Either way we have learned not to sit in isolation. That to share the happy and the sad times in our lives is what brings us even closer.
And of course, this is true at any time: it’s easy when it’s easy but how do we dig down deep and feel thankful when it isn’t? Life happens and we all have ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
I was asked by a client recently what helps to channel this positive authentic mindset and energy if we are not feeling it. We cannot fake it: that becomes horribly insincere and impacts trust. I call it the ‘Used Car Salesman Syndrome’: we can sell anything to anyone if we don’t care about building trust, core to great business as well as essential in our personal relationships. If integrity matters to us, our positive energy has to be real.
Essentially, it’s a conscious will and discipline to stay positive. It’s very easy to plummet and see and expect the negative and many of us have been raised in a family and/or culture that expects the worst, and often for good reason. Generations of hardship creates a mindset that sees pessimism as being realistic. If we expect the worst, then we won’t be disappointed!
It’s much tougher to fight for hope in the knowledge that a positive outcome is not 100% guaranteed, much riskier knowing that we could experience and feel the burning ‘ouch’ of failing to secure that particular goal. And that's the point. We have to feel the fullness of what life brings us. We can only feel heart-singing joy if we allow ourselves to feel the paradoxical pain of loss and sorrow. It is this embracing passion that fuels our hunger to live our life to the full and to create an extraordinary life. And beyond this, to deny that depth of feeling keeps us isolated and stuck in our heads, over-intellectualising and divorced from others. Meaningful connection, intimacy and compassion can only come from our heart.
Like attracts like: if we expect the worst, then we are much more likely to bring that in. Imagine going for a job we really want: if we expect not to get it then we behave accordingly. Our mindset, energy, body language, communication and actions will set up a self-defeating cycle and our internal ‘critical parent’ kicks in telling us we are useless and what else did we expect to happen? This repeated experience creates the ‘victim loop’, having a huge negative impact on our inner confidence and self-worth.
Conversely, if we consciously make a psychological gearshift into a positive mindset and energy, then we are giving ourselves the best chance to succeed. It is never going to be 100% guaranteed but that’s old defensive thinking, and yes, if we fail it does burn. We feel the ‘ouch’ because we have put our heart and soul into it to make it happen and we didn’t protect ourselves with the defence mechanism of a victim failure mindset. But this is how champions become champions. As George Kohlreiser says in ‘The Hostage at the Table’:
‘For many people, the surprising discovery is that our brain is hardwired to look for danger and potential pain. This is how we have survived as a species for thousands of years. However, every event that happens in our lives has both a negative and a positive aspect. Using the mind’s eye, we can make the choice to focus on the positive or negative aspects of any event. In that sense, being negative is a choice, being positive is a choice, and being happy is a choice.
High-performing people in sports, arts, and business do not allow their mind to focus on the negative. They are able to maintain a positive state of mind. When they have a setback, they are able to go through the disappointment, frustration, and grief reaction to clear their mind quickly so that they can continue in a renewed positive state. Those who allow negative feelings to linger put themselves into a losing cycle, which may then perpetuate itself.
Athletes and inspiring leaders learn to master both inner and outer states.’
And, for me, the precious motivational gold dust is increasing inner confidence and self-respect: "Wow! I survived that and it wasn’t the end of the world.” We become deeply proud of ourselves and that gives us the courage, trust and resilience for next time and it gets much easier as we begin to experience the extraordinary rewards of choosing a positive mindset and energy.
So what helps make the psychological gearshift?:
- You have to believe in the hope of a better future and it all starts with believing in yourself. This ultimately means believing you are worthy of receiving love. If you don’t love yourself, not ego love but deep inner love, then you cannot begin to love others and embrace your life.
- Work out how you sabotage yourself: i.e. being cynical or doubting, freezing in fear, over-thinking or being distracted by the ‘noise’. Understanding the ‘games’ we play to sabotage ourselves defuses their power and enables us to move forwards.
- Be disciplined if you find yourself spiralling down. Transform that inner ‘Critical Parent’ into a ‘Championing Parent’ who is kind but not over-indulgent or colluding. Everyone is different and you will know what this means for you.
- Part of this is learning how to decompress from stress and anxiety fast: exercise, mindfulness, nutrition, massages, breathing, whatever works for you.
- Vision yourself deeply happy and fulfilled and start behaving now ‘as if’ you are already there. Your mindset, energy, body language, communication and actions will set up a self-fulfilling cycle.
Finally, this is how I prepare each year for Thanksgiving. I create a quiet space and then I write a litany in my journal:
I am thankful for… I am thankful for… I am thankful for…
I start with baby steps: small and obvious things, but as I get into the rhythm of the litany, my list deepens, connecting me to my core authentic truth. And each time an extraordinary thing happens: as I begin to let go of all that is wrong in my life, everything I feel anxious or hurt about, and instead focus on all that is good in my life, I experience an energetic shift. It starts viscerally i.e. my instinctual body knows first. My heart opens and I feel a warmth and peace flowing through me. This is what our inner voice, our core authentic truth is: it is an instinctual ‘knowing’. Our instinctual body knows well before our cognitive brain catches on, something beautifully educated high achievers take time to learn, making many disastrous decisions before we get there! This increasing trust in our instinct and intuition can then be trained into a conscious ‘psychological gearshift’.
So, in this season of Thanksgiving, how about taking a moment to pause and give thanks for all that is good in your life? And Happy Thanksgiving everyone!