I’ve recently become a subscriber to Headspace’s guided meditation app (hugely recommended), and I love the way Andy Puddicombe sets you up for a meditation. After you remind yourself of your personal reason for meditating, he asks you to reflect on the people in your life who could benefit from a happier, calmer you.
That might be your family, or your friends; it might even be the cashier at the grocery store. The point is to realize how your mood affects others, and give yourself a little extra boost of motivation to stick with the practice.
I think this same trick can be applied to pull yourself out of a negative mood, something I have lots of difficulty with. Something bad happens, a rush of negativity washes in, and I literally don’t feel strong enough to resist it. The world has been unfair to me; why should I have to put in extra effort to be positive on top of that? Sometimes I gather my facial muscles into a smile, but it doesn’t take long for my real emotions to peek through. I know being negative isn’t helping the situation; I know I’m wasting precious moments of my life; but being positive just feels impossible.
One night this sort of thing happened, and someone close to me looked into my eyes with a face of pain and sadness. I saw that my negativity was spreading – as negativity does – and I immediately stopped. I felt terrible. I literally said, “Fine, I’ll be happy” (and in my head added, “for you”).
For me at least, the desire to be positive isn’t yet strong enough to overcome negativity. But love is. Love, and wanting someone else to be happy, and not wanting to cause them pain. So when you’re feeling negative, try looking into the faces of those around you and asking yourself if you want to bring them unhappiness.
And this works both ways: if someone around you is negative, you can try to subtly appeal to their feelings for you. I have a relative who is often negative, and sometimes I’ll say, “I’ve had a stressful week and I really want to relax – can we just be positive?”
That said, I call this a “trick” because I don’t think it’s a long-term strategy. Friends and family can come and go, and you don’t want your motivation for self-improvement to go with them. And you definitely don’t want to become resentful of them for not appreciating all the hard emotional work you’re doing – “I’m doing this for you!” – when in fact you’re just making yourself happier.
But as a quick fix, it can train your brain that it is possible to be positive. It can help you see and experience – not just “know” intellectually – that positivity is the better path. And in the future, it can give you the strength to be positive for your own sake.
Photo by Flickr user PhineasX