The other morning I woke up at 4:30am (insert scream face emoji). I laid in bed for about 20 minutes hoping to fall back asleep, and it just wasn't happening. To be honest, I was not happy about the entire experience, and in the past I would have had an entire array of negative thoughts waiting in line to run through my head. On this particular morning, because I've been making an effort to be intentional about how I start the day, I decided to use the extra hour and a half to my advantage. I read an inspirational book, and by the time Matt got up, I was in the best mood, inspired, ready for the day. Rarely, do I have the entire house to myself to read quietly without distractions, but that morning was the perfect opportunity. I made the decision to use the time to do something positive, intentional, to change the meaning of that early morning in my mind. Instead of assigning my early waking with a negative meaning, I was able to assign it a positive meaning based on how I chose to spend that time. I may have been a bit sleepy that day but I was in the best place mentally and emotionally, and it turned out to be a great day.
We assign meaning to every event in our life. The meaning we assign to events, experiences, interactions, and relationships, positively or negatively affect how we feel. Fascinatingly, we can control the meaning we assign, with mindfulness, intention, and action. If you're stuck in traffic, listening to an inspiring podcast or book on tape can completely transform the meaning of that experience for you because traffic now equals time spent listening, learning. When you're feeling alone, take yourself to a movie, or spend a day pampering yourself with an at-home mani/pedi and transform the meaning of that day from alone to self-care. You might even pack yourself a lunch, and go for a hike, making an effort to connect with nature, notice the smells of the fresh air, taking time to luxuriate in solitude rather than wallow in loneliness. Someone flips you off while driving and you flip them off in return equals yucky negative experience. Someone flips you off while driving and you smile, wave, or give them a thumbs up could equal an opportunity to show compassion, to give someone love or understanding when they need it most. You have the power to change the meaning of that event through your thoughts and reactions.
So I suppose my number one, biggest trick for preventing a negative experience from ruining your day would be to change the meaning. Below are my tips for putting this concept into action:
- Practice mindfulness. Observe your initial thoughts and urges to react and take a pause to decide if that's what you want to think and/or how you want to react. Notice how those thoughts affect your emotions, energy and body (e.g. tension, anger, sadness). You can't change what you're not aware of, so building awareness of your own internal process is crucial and the first step towards changing meaning in your life.
- Set an intention. Set an intention to feel good, or to be inspired, or to use your time wisely, or to love yourself, or to be open, or to feel peaceful, etc.
- React. Based on the information gathered in your mindfulness practice, keeping your intention in mind, decide how to best respond so you're most likely to get the results you want. Is there a more positive response, a more positive story you can tell yourself about what just happened? Is there a different way to look at the situation? Any opportunities within this seemingly negative situation?
This process takes practice, so do have compassion for yourself when you're working on meaning making. I don't even like using the word 'negative' because that implies the event has a meaning already. If you aren't able to change the meaning of a potentially negative event, and it ruins your day, please don't make that in and of itself negative. Lastly, try to have some tools stashed away in your bag or on your phone like inspiring quotes or music to put you into a positive vibe should a potentially negative event happen. This will make it easier to get into the headspace necessary for changing old reaction patterns. Every potentially negative experience brings with it the opportunity to practice taking the power back, changing destructive thought patterns, and realizing our true potential to take control of our thoughts and emotions so be gentle with yourself and act with an loving heart.