This post has been swirling around in my head for months now. I’ve wanted to share it, but the thought was raw and other than sharing that I was aware of a negative pattern of thinking I wasn’t sure where to go with it. Then my husband shared a TED lecture with me that brought it all together.
In the last year, I started noticing a pattern to my way of thinking that effected just about every decision I made. I recently name it my “if only…” attitude because I was weighing everything – my reactions and decisions – based on their ability to bring me to some imaginary place where life would suddenly be easier and therefore happier. I imagined a time and place where I felt more relaxed and pleasant and thought that I just needed to keep tweaking things in my life and eventually I might get there. It looked something like this.
I’d enjoy homeschooling more, “if only” I had a few days a week to myself to get the house cleaned, grocery shop and catch up on laundry. Then I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed. At one time it was, “if only” my husband was home more to help then I wouldn’t be so stressed. (And then he was and I was still stressed) “If only” the kids would sleep at night…then I wouldn’t be so grumpy. (And then they started sleeping and I was still grumpy) ”If only” the kids would pick up after themselves just a little or listen the first time I said something…then this house wouldn’t feel so chaotic. (They haven’t done that yet, but you get the point) There were lots of big “if onlys” too. Like, “if only” we made a little more money. Or “if only” we could sell this house.
The problem, I realized, was that even when my “if only” came to fruition there was ALWAYS another “if only” to take it’s place. “If only” I had more time to write. Think what I could accomplish. What I started to see was that my “if only” way of thinking was really just a series of excuses for me to focus on the negative or the difficult things instead of embracing all I have to be thankful for and enjoying the life I’ve been given. My “if only” attitude left me constantly disappointed, spinning my wheels trying to reach this nonexistant place where things would suddenly be easy. But life isn’t easy. I don’t think I know a single person who would disagree. We all have to make sacrifices. We’re all thrown curveballs, but it’s how we handle it all that really matters. I can choose to embrace what we have, the good and the bad, the stressful and the joyful, and learn to be happy with it or I can spin my wheels waiting on an easy life that’s never going to come no matter how many “if onlys” become a reality. I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to change my life - trying to make it better – trying to be better. But I’ve realized that what I really need to change is my attitude.
As I said, I’ve been aware of my flawed way of thinking for about a year, but I find myself continuing to fall into this pattern. I shared my thoughts with friends and family and I tried to remind myself of what I knew to be true. But it was surprisingly hard to stop making decisions and reacting out of that “if only” way of thinkig.
Here’s where things finally come full circle. Earlier this week, my husband told me about a video lecture he saw on TED where the speaker, Shawn Achor, talks about happiness and how to change our way of thinking. He points out that 90 percent of our long term happiness is predicted not by our external world, but by how we train our brain to process th world. Wow! 90% is a big number. So it really is all about attitude. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that I’m walking around depressed or miserable. It’s just that I tend to be easily overwhelmed and I spend a lot of time thinking about and making adjustments to try to make things better/easier.
Achor goes on to say and this really struck me “The absence of disease is not health…here’s how we get to health. We need to reverse the formula for happiness and success.” He explains that everytime our brain has a success we just change the goal post for success and happiness so we never get there. Which explains why no matter how many changes I make to accomplish my “if only” list I never reached that place of feeling lighter, happier, more positive. According to Achor, it’s because ”we’ve pushed the line for happiness over the cognitive horizon.”
The good news is, Achor says we can retrain our brains in 21 days to be more positive. Intelligence, energy, productivity etc all improve when we’re happy or positive. That’s what I’ve been working toward. I’ve just focused my energy in the wrong place. Instead of trying to change things around me, my never ending “if only” list, I need to work on changing my attitude.
Here’s the video from Shawn Achor. It’s short, entertaining, inspiring and worth a watch.
(On a side note) I realize this is kind of putting another set of expectations on myself. If only I can retrain my brain to focus on the positives… But I think this is finally an “if only” worth pursuing. If you’ve read 1,000 Gifts (and if you haven’t you should) you’ll find that’s these steps are actually in line with Ann Voskamp’s experience. Focusing on the positive is something worth striving for.
I’m always talking about the steps I’m taking to stay healthy, but I tend to focus on the most obvious components of health – diet and fitness. The truth is, I believe our spiritual and emotional health are just as important. What goes into our minds and our hearts plays a critical role in our health and happiness. They just aren’t as easy for me to work on or talk about, but I’m going to try to be more transparent about my efforts – starting with this 21 day mental exercise courtesy of Achor.
If you can relate, if you’ve read 1,000 Gifts, if you’ve tried this exercise prescribed by Shawn, I’d love to hear about it. Even though I often feel like I’m the only who struggles with this “if only…” mentality I’m sure I’m not alone.