When life throws something very challenging at us that we did not choose – for example, an illness, death of a loved one, a redundancy, or trouble with a partner or child – it is natural to resist. Cortisol rises rapidly and our entire system becomes inflamed. Depending on whether we tend towards hyper- or hypoarousal, we feel anger and resentment or hopelessness and resignation. So what can we do? Somehow, we have to live through the situation in hand, be willing to accept it, become stronger and learn through it. We must try, hard though it may be, to find peace, opportunity and motivation for positive action.
Here are three exercises to help us face and accept the challenge and then shift our mindset so that we can move forwards positively.
Exercise: “I Won’t/I Will”
I Won’t/I Will’ is a powerful private exercise that discharges the chemistry of extreme negative emotion and replaces it with the chemistry of optimism.
• Prepare by securing a private environment where you can speak out loud.
• Place your hand on the area of your body where your emotions are having the most impact.
• Breathe and feel the full force of your resistance.
• Use this force to say out loud, or in your mind, ‘I won’t have this, I don’t want this.’ Repeat these phrases – or versions of them – again and again, expressing the full force of the resistance, until you run out of energy. Some people like to push against a wall or make fists and punch the air. Some people cry during this part.
• Once you feel your energy is sapped, pause, and breathe. When you are ready, try saying the words ‘I will take this on’ or ‘I will handle this’. You are not saying you submit to what others want, or something that will be harmful to you: you are saying you will accept what is happening – you will apply your energy and commitment to dealing with it and take clear- headed, positively motivated action. Some people like to stand still, open the chest, open the palms of the hands and look up.
• Now, if you have committed fully to executing the steps above, you will have literally changed the negative charge of the emotions you were feeling and be able to decide what you will do now. What action do you choose to take? The choices that occur to you after you discharge the chemistry of shock and resistance are often surprising. We unearth resources that we did not know we had.
Exercise: ‘Curiosity Generator’
Once you know how to become more optimistic with regard to individual circumstances, it is worth practising this next technique which fosters curiosity as an essential feature of learned optimism and a growth mindset. Curiosity is a strong desire to learn or know something, and the spirit of enquiry is a great alternative to snap judgments and presumptions. Broadening the mind enables us to understand multiple perspectives and be more resilient in situations of conflict. Curiosity is vital in conversations that may need to cover difficult ground, or where there are strong feelings, because it enables you to discover and respect others’ perspectives as the starting point for finding resolution.
• Choose a situation that you find difficult to understand.
• Note down three statements, assumptions or judgments about this situation.
Notice how your body feels – note it down.
• Notice which emotions you are experiencing – note them down.
• ‘Zoom out’ – see the whole situation in wide angle.
• Breathe freely and put your body and mind into an open and receptive state – i.e. release tension, sit/stand tall and center yourself.
• Release your inner five-year-old. Ask yourself and others, ‘why, how, where, what, tell me more . . .’
• Start your sentences with ‘I am curious, tell me . . .’
• Note down your insights.
• Be patient – the answers may not come immediately.
• Note down the ideas this process gives you for moving forwards in the situation.
Exercise: ‘Falling Leaf’
Here is an exercise that will allow you to manage acute negative emotions, dissipating them enough so that you can continue your day. As we know, stimulating the visual cortex of the brain releases dopamine. Through the ‘Falling Leaf’ visualisation, we can temporarily turn negative emotional states into more manageable optimistic ones.
• Do three ‘recovery’ breaths (in a reclining position, breathe in deeply, pause, breathe out to a count of 10, expel all remaining air, repeat 3x )
• Locate the physical centre of the negative emotion in your body.
• Ask yourself: What does it feel like? What is it saying?
• Imagine a leaf gently floating down to rest on that area.
• As it settles in your imagination, let it spread a balm that dissolves the negative emotional charge.
• Allocate time at a later date to look at the root cause of this emotional state using the ‘Bounce Positive’ technique.
Some people like to manage their expectations using cynicism or pessimism so that they can never be disappointed. Habitual thinking of this nature holds us down and reduces our overall resilience. What happens to us in life may not always be what we desire -- regardless, how we respond to it can make us more resilient. With this two week series on optimism, you now have a number of resources to take charge of your own optimism, using these techniques to bounce back quickly from anything life throws at you with a realistic optimism that is of your own making.
About Companies in Motion
There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)