Tip 3: Focus on the Positive Aspects (Part 2)
The key here is to recognize that by choosing to focus on the positive, you are in essence choosing to feel good. Let me illustrate. Pretend there is someone in your experience who has nine horrible characteristics and one wonderful one. Naturally it’s easier to focus on the 90 percent of this person that is negative. This is the path of least resistance: responding to what you are observing. If you want to feel good, to create a sense of wellbeing for yourself, then you want to choose your focus intentionally. You need to shift your attention to the one positive trait. Allow this one positive aspect to become 100 percent of who this person is. You are now feeling positive about this person. When she enters your space, you are opening the door for a positive experience.
The same process works for difficult circumstances you encounter in your life, such as setbacks, illnesses, rejection, or loss. When you experience a difficulty, your first thought is usually that you want the situation to change so that you will feel better. In reality you are powerless when you take this approach because you do not have any control over external circumstances. (Remember from tip 2 that you may be able to influence circumstances, but you really have no control.) On the other hand, you can make the decision that no external event has the power to create a negative experience for you. One of the best ways to achieve this outcome is to deliberately shift your focus to the positive aspects.
One of the best ways to achieve this shift in focus is called reframing. Think about a picture you have hanging in your home. Now, imagine that same picture in a different frame. The picture looks different because the new frame changes your perspective. Now, think about a difficult experience from your past. With the passage of time, we often reframe that event by realizing it was really a good thing. For example, say you got fired from a job. As you reflect on the experience, you might say, “If I hadn’t gotten fired from that job, I would never have gone back to school and learned that new skill and gotten this great new job.” Reframing is the ability to find the gains that are hidden in the difficulty. By practicing reframing when you are in the midst of a trying situation, you identify the possible gains that might come from the event. You can then focus on these positives and balance out the crisis and the negative feelings, and stop the logjam of your positive energy. You basically say: “Yes, this is hard. Yes, this is frustrating, but I am going to get something out of the experience that will help me in the future.” What I’m suggesting is that when you’re having difficulty in the present, concentrate on the gains rather than the current problem. Think about what is happening in the present day as if you were looking back at it and appreciating how you benefited from the experience. By reframing the event, you’re finding a perspective that motivates you to move on when bad things occur. Reframing works best with day-to-day stressors and frustrations.
Let me share a story from my life. At age 35, I was engaged to be married, and had given up my job and belongings to move to England to be with him. The relationship did not “make it,” and when I returned to the U.S. after breaking off our engagement, I was devastated. It was a very painful period and took a while to get over. Now, looking back, I can see that I learned a lot about what I needed in relationships from that experience. I was forced to work through my negative feelings about my body and realize that I had to make myself happy rather than expecting a relationship to do it for me. Also, when I came back, I began to work in addiction counseling and established a career in that area. All of these things might have happened eventually, but the negative experience with Nick forced them to happen. The benefits were not obvious at the time of Nick and my breakup but became clear in hindsight.
I share this experience to reinforce that difficult situations are really a catalyst for examining your life and an opportunity to make choices and decisions that will enhance my future. By looking for the positive aspects, you are empowering yourself to view obstacles from a new angle and gain new perspectives. In this way, you unleash your positive energy and reinforce your freedom to choose the way you want to experience any situation – good or bad – thereby putting you in the driver’s seat of your life.