Take a mental snapshot of your life at this very moment and hold it out in front of your mind's eye. Does that picture make you swell with pride, happiness, and positivity about the day ahead? If that seems like a silly question, let me reframe it for you: do you wake up in the morning believing that the potential for a great day lay ahead, or do you wake up convinced that everything will be terrible, the whole day through?
Reframing the way we think about things is the simplest way to change our feelings about a situation. We often do not have control over our circumstances (economic, relational, health, etc.), only the way we choose to live in spite of these challenges. It’s easier said than done to just “stay positive”. How can we give ourselves hope in hard times? Here are some strategies to not just “turn that frown upside down”, but work towards an attitude of gratitude, even when things may seem bleak:
1. Allow yourself to feel.
It is okay to be upset about your situation. In fact, it is important that you allow yourself to feel sad, mad, or anxious, acknowledging and validating your feelings. The key here is to set an amount of time (an hour, a day, a week) to confront the reality of your situation and the feelings it brings up, and once that amount of time is finished, you commit to a fresh mindset and then a plan of action to lift yourself up.
2. Bear down and beat the negativity.
You’ve allowed yourself to be upset, maybe even wallow, but that time is finished. Now you must focus on lifting yourself up. When we’re emotional, we aren’t able to put our best foot forward in problem solving because our brains are otherwise occupied, caught in a loop of negative thoughts. This is why it is important to clear the mind (take a walk, do some yoga, meditate/pray, or whatever works for you) and start fresh. After your mind is clear, fill it with memories of times you’ve successfully overcome.
You are strong. You are wise. You are able.
If it helps, repeat those words to yourself until you feel them in your bones.
3. Reframe the picture.
In the same way that you might see a picture in a frame that doesn’t match or fit the print properly, the way we see ourselves or circumstances can be in the wrong frame of mind. What I’m going to ask you to do is difficult and takes practice for it to feel genuine. With that in mind, give this a try: instead of focusing on what isn’t going right, focus on what isn’t going wrong. Reframe your situation. (Note: This is different than “at least it isn’t ______” or “things could be worse”. All problems are relative and dismissing one based on someone else’s arbitrary judgment of the size or seriousness of the problem doesn’t bring us any closer to resolution or positive feelings.)
Here’s an example:
Patricia is unhappy with her weight. One of her medications makes it difficult to shed the pounds to reach her goal of dropping a dress size. She thinks to herself “I hate the way I look. This medication is expensive and I hate the side effects," and then bursts into tears.
If she were following the strategies we’re working through right now, she would acknowledge that anger and frustration and then, she would choose a mind-clearing activity, such as taking a short nap, resulting in waking up refreshed.
When she is ready, she reframes the situation and her feelings. Her thoughts begin to look more like this: “I am frustrated that losing weight is more of a challenge than it used to be, but I am grateful there is medication that helps me live a normal, healthy life. I am grateful that I have health insurance that helps keep the cost down to just expensive and not completely prohibitive. I am grateful that my body is strong enough to overcome my issue and carry me through the physical activities I love to do and will eventually help me reach my goals.”
Practicing this resilience building process allows us to strengthen the mental muscles needed to reframe and refocus on the beauty of the picture we see today, to better prepare for, and work towards, the picture we dream of seeing tomorrow.