Today I'm reading an article about positive emotions by Barbara Fredrickson, positive psychologist and author of Love 2.0. As I read it, I'm reminded how important it is for all of us to develop the ability, as Fredrickson calls it, "shift sets," which is to say, shift our mood and mindset. Fredrickson's research has shown that positive emotions increase our resilience because they are accompanied by broader perspective and more flexible thinking (unlike negative emotions which tend to narrow our point of view and shut down our ability to generate options).
So whether you wake up on the wrong side of the bed one morning or find yourself dealing with a major life stressor, it's important to have a set of skills that you use to bring some positive emotion online. Here are three little practices I like to do to shift my mood.
1. Locate Five Beautiful Things: Wherever you are right now, identify five instances of beauty. These things can be very small. I'm not in a particularly majestic location at the moment, so here's what's in my view as an example: a splash of deeply saturated aqua blue on a book cover, the curling grain of the wood in my table, fresh green leaves that tip up toward the sky, glitter on the face of my watch, and my dog's velvety brown ears. I blogged about this boost after I read versions by Tara Mohr and Laurel Holman. This practice shifts your attention.
2. Look Up: Go outside and look up at the sky. The movement of standing on your own two feet, and tilting your head up toward the sky is naturally heart-opening. A little and sunshine or blue sky can be an added bonus. There is ample evidence that body posture impacts mood, so it's great to get in the habit of taking advantage of this quick boost (a great TED talk by Amy Cuddy discusses how body posture can impact who you become). This practice shifts your position.
3. Ask Yourself "What else can I enjoy?" Ask this question silently to yourself. Perhaps you can enjoy the cooling sensation of your breath passing by the tip of your nose. Perhaps you can enjoy the soft texture of the shirt you are wearing, or perhaps you can enjoy the smell of coffee brewing. Notice the subtle but important mind shift that accompanies the "what else" aspect of this question. According to Steve Andreas, neuro-linguist and author of Transforming Negative Self-Talk, the assumption that you were enjoying something before you asked yourself this question, even if you don't believe it, is a powerful cognitive shift. In my experience, when I ask myself this question, the assumption seems to prove itself over and over. This practice shifts your cognition.
PS I hope that if you practice with these skills you'll see that the idea here is not to aim toward becoming relentlessly and cloyingly cheerful. Instead, the invitation is to experiment with these little in the moment practices, and see for yourself if they introduce access to energy or options you might not have noticed before. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.