A theme coming up in my work this week is one of multiple truths, which is really about perspective taking. All day long we’re talking to ourselves, creating narratives about what is happening around us, what things we have to do, and challenges we’re facing at the moment.
I’m not a huge fan of what I think of as empty positive thinking. Sure, affirmations can help. Everyone embraces the fact that how we talk to ourselves impacts our reality, our feelings, and our behavior and decisions. But, it’s empty when you’re crying, standing knee deep in mud, and hiccuping uncontrollably into a mug of lukewarm hot chocolate to say to yourself, “This is great! Everything is fine! The universe is sending me what I need!” Empty. It feels un-genuine. It feels like lies.
The bulk of what I try to both present and create space for with clients is genuineness – being who and how we really are. That’s not possible if I’m telling people to actively BS themselves into positivity. It’s impossible, and it’s empty.
Don’t throw out your affirmations, yet. They do have their place, but that’s a different blog for another day.
Today, we’re looking at reality.
Let’s look at an example:
You’ve recently moved to a new city and you haven’t found work yet, the prospects don’t seem great, and everyday there’s a new rejection for a position you’ve applied for.
This plainly sucks and carries a lot of stress with it. Most of us need to work to survive. That’s a truth. It’s also true that it’s lonely in a new place and lonely doesn’t feel great. It can hurt. That’s a truth. Rejection, whether from a romantic interest or a prospective employer hurts. That’s a truth.
We have these less than positive truths and they’re totally valid. What else is true, though?
A new place brings opportunity for new connections and new activities. A new place brings new opportunity for work and advancement. A move to a new place is a courageous thing. Looking for work brings the opportunity to learn and do new things.
These are also true.
You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, and the same applies here. Action is needed to get to the good stuff. If the heel of your shoe is stuck in the not so happy parts of what’s going on, it’s hard to get through to taking action that brings about the good things. We’re way less likely to commit to helpful and resourceful action when we’re focused on all the suckage going on, when we’re focused on only that first set of truths.
It’s a matter of perspective, but it’s not all your fault.
Your brain is wired to focus on the negative. You read that right. You’re wired to focus on the negative.
Survival. Back in the day when we were running from large things that wanted to eat us, living without the benefits of modern agriculture, and frequently having to fend off neighbors who might invade and steal what things we were trying to eat (survival isn’t always pretty), we had to learn to think about how to stay alive. This meant finely tuning our brains to scan our environment for potential danger. We had to learn to take in all kinds of information, flip through it and sort what might hurt us, and then address those dangers – lest face the very real possibility of death.
That part of our brains is still alive and well. It scans every social interaction, every job interview, every intersection, everything. Every. Thing. It naturally piles up all the potentially dangerous items in a heap. It knows we need to know those dangers so we can address them, so we can survive. We don’t really need to note how beautiful the clouds are when it comes to survival; we overlook the more positive things or protective factors in favor of assessing and addressing danger.
Modern agriculture, housing, and social developments have meant that we’re relatively safe for the most part. We don’t have to worry about survival in the same way our ancestors did. Yet, our brains haven’t caught up. For those of us with anxiety, adverse childhood experiences, trauma, etc. we’re especially prone to noticing potential dangers.
Wanting to feel better and respond to stress and challenges better means we have to steer that high-powered brain to make sure it takes note of all truths in a situation before we let it rip on survival. It means noting all the things that suck comes naturally and noting the positive things does not. We have to do that bit of leg work. It has to be conscious at first, meaning even when things aren’t so hot, we have to take the time to note the things that are ok.
There are lots of ways to do this, but our brains like routine and they learn from it. Making a habit of spending a few minutes at the start or end of everyday will help build a good habit that will train your brain to look at all the truths in a situation throughout the day (with regular practice).
To create this habit and rewire our brains for balance (for multiple truths), a little writing is helpful. The journal exercise below is one that I use myself and one that I frequently refer clients to. It’s called a GLAD journal, and it works very simply by having you list out:
G – something you are grateful for today
L – something you learned today
A – something you accomplished today
D – something you took delight in today
Some days that “G” will be fantastic and easy to come up with. Some days you may have to look around and muster up some gratitude for socks. Some days you’ll have learned something fantastic from a book or TV or a training at work. Other days you may have to write, “learned Aunt Rita’s cat likes to sleep on the kitchen counter”. Some days your “A” will be amazing, like, “accomplished certification for work,” and other days it may be more like, “I didn’t get fired today.” Your “delight” section can be anything that makes you smile, even a tiny bit for just a second even.
This takes about 1 minute once you get the hang of it, and is fantastic and promoting real, positive change in how you respond to the curveballs that life frequently doles out.
Balance in acknowledging the reality of multiple truths leads to wellness – it just takes some doing.