You know how it starts. Your alarm doesn’t go off and you wake up late and in a panic. The clothes you’d planned on wearing turn out to be still in the wash basket, you burn your toast and you miss your train. Today, you decide, is going to be one of those days.
When you’re telling your partner later about how it started, and about how a colleague later took credit for your idea, and then how you got stuck behind the slow old lady in the supermarket queue, you conclude that your first decision about the day was absolutely right – it has been a stinker.
But you forgot about the fact that the sun had come out when you were expecting a downpour, that you had received a lovely compliment that made you smile, and that there was a new series of your favourite TV programme starting tonight.
Because here’s the deal: when you make a decision, your subconscious gets to work finding evidence to prove you’re right.
Every day, every minute, every second of our lives we are bombarded with information and stimulus which our brains work ceaselessly to filter, prioritise and make sense of. Imagine if right now, reading this, you were as aware of the feel of your clothes on your skin and every noise around you as you are of the words on this page. It would be overwhelming, wouldn’t it? It’s not that you are incapable of noticing these things; it’s just that you are not paying attention to them right now because you’re paying attention to something else.
It’s the same with our thoughts and opinions. Having decided that you are ‘obviously going to have one of those days’ (or that you’re fat, or that networking is scary, or that men called Dean are not to be trusted), your subconscious will filter out most of the ‘unnecessary’ data that points to the contrary, and will focus your attention on anything that corroborates your theory. A string of ‘bad days’ then leads to a long-term gloomy outlook.
The good news is that you can use this to your advantage. If you’re feeling blue, you find yourself always expecting the worst or moaning to friends, you can turn things around by changing the filter you see the world through. A bit like putting on rose tinted glasses (only without the Pollyanna connotations…)
It’s ridiculously simple, but incredibly powerful. Here’s what you do:
Each night, just before you go to sleep, write down 3 things that made you smile in the day just gone. Repeat for at least a month, or longer if you want to.
The 3 things don’t have to be big or dramatic. They could be things like having exactly enough change for the parking meter, noticing a robin hopping about outside your window or having a glass of wine with a friend.
At first, it can be hard to think of 3 things, and that’s ok (but do make sure you scrape that barrel to get them down). After a while, you might find yourself choosing which 3 things to write out of several good candidates. And after a few weeks, you will almost certainly be clocking smile-worthy things all over the place, making a mental note to make sure they are written down in your notebook at the end of the day.
What happens is that you reframe each day, panning through what has happened and looking for nuggets of happiness. Gradually, you get better and better at spotting them and you start finding them everywhere. Et voila – a more positive you emerges.
Bad stuff will still happen of course (this isn’t magic, you know!), but it will take a back seat to the good stuff, on which you will be focussing. A bit like that optical illusion where you see either the old woman or the young woman and you can change your focus but it’s hard to see them both at the same time.
And of course it’s a great excuse to get a beautiful new notebook 😉
Try it. Let me know how you get on. And please share this far and wide – we all need to smile a bit more.