Not too long ago, I came home from a particularly grueling day at work. I was tired, stressed, frazzled and ready to quit. I drove straight home, hopped out of the car and practically ran inside to the blessed comfort of my home. Instead, what I found was pure chaos! Our two young daughters were crying, my husband was upset, the dinner was ruined, and the house a wreck. I’m sure most of you can picture this scenario and perhaps the same event occurred in your own home at some point. Unfortunately, my family and I did not handle the stress very well and it ended up being a rough night for all of us.
As a Positive Psychology Life Coach, I often ask my clients: How do you face challenges in your lives, much like the one I just described, with optimism? For me, that question in itself feels like a challenge but I want us to explore this idea. Positivity and optimism are not aspects of our lives we hope to attain some day. These are qualities of a process that can shape our thoughts and feelings and are actually completely within our grasp right now. But again, I ask: how exactly do we accomplish this?
Let’s dive into my story: A grueling day at work is a fact of life for most, if not all, of us. No job is perfect and very often we must make do with the work we have. It’s fairly easy to think “I hate this job” when we don’t feel appreciated, or are experiencing burnout. Try this thought, either as a replacement or a response to the previous one: “This is/was a tough day, but I’m strong and confident, and tomorrow is a new day.” On that particular day from my story, I hadn’t finished everything that I perceived needed to be done at work. My thoughts were frantic and harried: “I’m so far behind. I’ll never get caught up.” My body and mind were in total disarray. Next time, I could try to be more optimistic when it comes to my workload: “I accomplished a lot today and I’m proud of that. I’m learning what can and can’t get done in one day.” Coupling those statements with several deep breaths, I would have a much better chance to invoke a body at peace and a calm, quiet mind.
Often our days are so busy and complicated, we can’t seem to find the time to dedicate even a few minutes to stop and think. I look back on that day I described, and can recall a jam-packed schedule. However, there is a moment in my story where I could have taken the time to reset: right before I “hopped” out of the car! I raced inside expecting my family and home to calm my nerves, but they were not available to me in that capacity. Nor was I available to them in their time of need. Taking just two or three minutes after I parked the car to breathe, to focus my mind on those positive thoughts, and to acknowledge one thing I am grateful for would have helped everyone in that poor house, including myself.
If I had cultivated a calm and loving mindset, I would have been willing and able to help the girls who both had trouble at school that day. My body language would have been relaxed and warm, ready for a loving embrace. I could have listened attentively to them and given them the emotional support they so desperately needed, not to mention my poor husband who was trying to manage their needs, make dinner and deal with his own stresses of work! Once the chaos would have subsided (and I ordered take-out), my family could have possibly been open to helping me in return. The “rough night” would have ended peacefully, and we would have learned a valuable lesson about what it really means to be a strong and loving family.
Being an optimistic and positive person does not mean life suddenly is perfect, or that we don’t face challenges on a daily basis. It means we have an arsenal of small, but powerful, tools we can use to help us get through those challenges with patience and grace. Voltaire, a French writer and philosopher of the 18th century said optimism is “a mania for maintaining that all is well when things are going badly.” Some of us may still hold on to this definition, but I would challenge us to reshape our thoughts. Seek out those small, transforming moments of optimism. They can help guide us to create a more meaningful, peaceful and happy life.