Making Space for it All

25 February, 2015

Are in stuck in fixing mode?  Trying to clean up and organise life, and then something 'goes wrong'?  How are you feeling - tired?  

I've had the good fortune lately to attend a couple of lectures on Positive Psychology, some of which I have written about in a previous blog - How Much Happiness is Enough? where I talk about a number of different research findings.  I was also able to join 200 other people in Wellington and spend an educational day with Rick Hanson last month, which I found really interesting and educational.  Although there are differences in the focus and findings of some of the research between psychologists working in this field, there are a few common factors in which everyone agrees.  I won't talk about all of them here in one blogpost, as it would be too long, and I would like to talk about one particular concept:

Positivity and/or happiness is not about 'getting rid of negative experiences' - it's about changing your relationship to them.  

I think this concept - which I will elaborate on - is, I'm learning, quite a crucial shift from this mode we can get into sometimes as human beings of fixing our problems, the self-improvement projects we latch onto, the cleaning up of 'stressful' emotions, arranging things so we don't ever suffer etc.  To an extent, this tendancy we have for self-improvement can lend itself to a perfectionist stance: we try to arrange it so that life operates perfectly, and 'nothing bad happens'.  To some degree - and I am sure this will be debated among my colleagues - this perfectionist stance is a philosophy that the NLP model can (perhaps unwittingly) support.  With all the technology we have available to help ourselves and others change for the better, who could ever have a negative emotion or a problem ever again?  Why not just get it fixed?  

Don't get me wrong, I am all for continuous self-improvement, I can't help it!  And, I also know that life is messier than that.  Things can never be perfect in my life, simply because I am not in control of everything - a concept that's difficult for me to accept, believe me!   Here's why I think it's important to change our mindset about so called 'negative experiences' in our lives:
  • Optimistic thinking can be just as damaging as so called Pessimistic thinking (Seligman).  It can stop us seeing the truth of life, and keep us in denail, and therefore remain unequipped when something unfortunate does happen.
  • So called 'positive thinking' can also be less than useful.  Instead, it's about 'truth telling' and seeing everything in life's rich mosiac, even the sucky stuff (Hanson).  Being able to see the whole thing, in an honest way, helps you deal with it all, and this is a necessary skill for resilience. 
  • It's all about the ratio of positive to negative.  As long we're balancing at a 3-1 (positive to negative) ratio, it's good for us and balances out some of those stress hormones.  Remember, increasing it to a 5-1 ratio makes little difference to your happiness, and a 1-1 ratio is predictive of depression (Frederickson). 
  • Sometimes learning from painful experiences is necessary.  There's even a new term getting bounded around in the psychology field called Post Traumatic Growth. In other words, how the expeirence you've been through, no matter how hard, helps you to learn and grow and subsequently deal with other difficult experiences more easily.
I don't know about you, but I find a sense of peace thinking about things in this way.  There's a sense of being able to open up, to travel downsteam instead of going against the currents of the river.  And knowing that the more and more you make 'space for it all' the easier it is to ride the waves of life.  So how about we reflect on your life?
  1. How many times have you become frustrated that things aren't quite the way you would like them?
  2. How many times have you thought 'if only that person would change, things would be so much easier for me'?
  3. How much time do you spend trying to control outcomes, rather than deal with outcomes?
  4. What's the ratio of positive - negative currently in your life?  What could you do to bring it up to a 3-1?
  5. How much do you long for things to just be a little 'different'?  If only.... if only...if only.... ?
  6. How often do you pause during the day, breathe, and be grateful for what you have?
  7. How often do you purposefully dwell on the positive experiences of your life?  A simple, tasty meal?  A peaceful sunset? An experience of being listened to?
  8. What would happen if you did?
As always, I welcome your communication below.

Love, Charlotte.

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