“The Good Life is a Process…Not a State of Being.” –Carl Rogers
Are the demands of seasonal social gatherings and family getting you down? Are financial pressures or employment piquing your positive perspective? Does it feel like chaos and worry are taking over your life?
The practice of Positive Psychology holds the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. This area of study focuses on the strengths that enable individuals to thrive, which result in enhanced experiences of love, work, and play — those elements that can be lost in worry and apprehension.
Try the following four positive psychology exercises during these stressful times. The exercises, of course, carry the most benefit when practiced regularly. Why not start now?
1. Write a Self-Compassion Letter
Self-compassion means that you treat yourself with care and concern when confronted with your own mistakes, failures, or shortcomings. If we can incorporate the following three elements into the letter, we are in fact building self-compassion:
- Self-kindness invites gentleness and understanding to ourselves, minimizing our inner critic and judge
- Sense of common humanity speaks to our connection with others who have had a similar experience by trying not to feel alone and isolated in our challenge
- Mindfulness asks us to balance our response to an experience with an effort not to minimize or exaggerate its consequence
Write in your letter about how this experience made you feel. Identify those thoughts, images or emotions that surfaced. Then imagine that someone who unconditionally loves and accepts you is talking to you about your strengths, accomplishments, and opportunity for growth through this experience. Once you imagine this interaction, write a letter to yourself from their perspective about the initial experience.
2. Take a Daily Vacation
Research shows that the frequency of positive emotions and feelings is a strong predictor of overall happiness. Makes sense, right? Keep in mind that frequency outweighs intensity, meaning that genuinely smiling at someone regularly and receiving a smile back is a better predictor than infrequent “over-the-top” outings with your friends. Frequency.
Every day, begin to practice “taking a daily vacation” [remember frequency]. The daily vacation does not need to be elaborate, like a dream trip to Bora Bora [remember, intensity is not a predictor]. Pick something you enjoy doing like walking on the beach, getting a massage, watching a sunset, or the smell of a coffee shop. Set aside some time. [I like mornings to start my day…find your favorite time.] The type of daily vacation can be “in vivo,” meaning actual, or done in a meditation or visualization.
- During the vacation try to be present by truly experiencing what is happening
- Try using your five senses as a guide to the experience – your sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Reflect on emotional and physiological changes that are taking place and how they are positively shifting you
- At the end of the day, revisit these emotions before going to bed, again reflecting on the positive space you are in.
3. Envision Your Best Possible Self
Envisioning your best possible self has been shown to increase optimism and hope as you move forward with your life. The analogy I like is the lesson we learned in driver’s education about aiming high on the road as you steer the car, keeping you moving forward smoothly and minimizing jarring adjustments with “surprises” on the road.
With either a notebook or drawing pad, visualize your best possible self on any given day. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Think about your best possible future self and write about it, or draw it on your paper. Don’t worry about grammar or drawing proficiency, just be expressive with this image of your best possible self, and be creative if the spirit moves you!
After completing the exercise, reflect on the following questions:
- Does this exercise affect you more emotionally, or on your current self-image?
- Did it motivate you or inspire you to continue on this path, or to make some changes?
- What are some “first steps” to any changes you may want to make?
4. Take a Three-Minute Breathing Space
It is not uncommon to get stuck in a negative cycle of thinking or feeling; getting a speeding ticket can activate an autonomic series of thoughts. [“Insurance is going up again”, “I should have slowed down”, “Why wasn’t I paying attention?”, “My luck is always bad luck”.] This thinking can also raise strong feelings or emotions such as fear, anger, blaming. These feelings may connect to past situations where we experienced negative consequences. As such, the cycle is created.
Giving yourself a three-minute breathing space follows three basic steps:
- The first is to ask yourself the following grounding questions: ‘Where am I?”, “How am I?”, and “What am I thinking?” You have now stepped out of the reactionary mode into a thought-process mode.
- The second step involves a single focus of attention, that being on your breathing. Take a slow count of 5 to inhale and a slow count of 5 to exhale. Pay attention only to breathing.
- The third step is expanding your attention beyond just breathing to include your body senses. Feel the air come in and go out. Attend to your muscles as they relax; take in the shift in your body as the breathing continues. You have now regrounded to the present with a greater calm to manage the situation in front of you.
With these short exercises I wish you a festive season as we end this year, and encourage you to put more positivity in your life in 2018! You deserve it!