You’re Always One Thought Away From Changing Your Life

How a small shift in perspective can alter your world

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

This past year has been a bit of a bitch. We’ve lost our jobs, health insurance, homes, and sense of security. Many have lost loved ones. Our mental health has suffered from the loss of community, not to mention our immunity has faltered from isolation.

Despite the changes and losses we’ve collectively experienced, the past year has been one of my best yet.

Why? Because of what I’ve chosen to see.

The power of positive thinking is hardly a new concept. Many people believe it’s a crock of shit that causes us to overlook issues and problems that need our attention.

Believe me — I was one of them.

My teens and twenties were riddled with bad decisions that seemed to follow me wherever I tried to adjust my path. Someone once told me I had a black cloud over my head — and I chose to believe them.

It has taken almost two decades to learn to shift my perspective, especially the last few years since losing my son, but it has ultimately changed my life.

I’m not talking about positive affirmations where you tell yourself in the mirror that things are going to be a certain way. I’ve done my fair share of trying to speak my dreams into existence. The only thing I got in return was the awkward feeling that someone might be watching me talk to myself and think I was losing my mind.

Life only became better when I learned to focus on the good that was already there, instead of trying to force my desires onto the universe.

Training your mind

Both positive and negative thoughts work like the domino effect. Continuous thoughts from either end of the spectrum will cause you to sink deeper into a hole of depression, or help you climb back out. Changing your outlook won’t happen overnight, but small steps over time can make a huge difference and build the foundation needed to change how you see your world.

Focusing on possibilities

In 1999, I was twenty-five with two young kids, pregnant and about to be homeless. My partner had left and gone to prison, and I was tired with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. One evening, while suffering from an intense feeling of panic, I thought life was just too hard to bear alone.

I wanted it to end.

After several moments of crying on my bathroom floor, my thoughts shifted to my kids and the baby growing inside me. I knew then I wanted to hang in there to see what happens.

In this instance, I wasn’t able to directly notice the positive as it hadn't yet occurred, but simply focusing on the possibility of a positive outcome and on the future immediately changed my thinking. That one thought might have been the shift that kept me — and my unborn son — alive.

I believe all negative situations make way for a positive outcome of equal magnitude. In the last twenty years since that day, this outlook has never let me down.

Sharing the load

I was a single mom working three jobs and not knowing how I was going to pay my rent. I met another single mother in my apartment building who was in the same boat. We became fast friends and decided to move in together for support and alternate child-care until we got back on our feet.

Although the arrangement wasn’t well-received by either of our conservative families, the sense of community we established by joining forces made our struggles a bit more bearable. Not to mention we had our own built-in single mom support group when we needed it.

That time in my life was such a struggle, but we made the best out of our situation. We learned to laugh at ourselves through quite a few evenings of living room dances with cheap wine and made awesome memories that I’ll always cherish.

Choosing to be thankful

My oldest son died in 2016. At the time, I was convinced that this life blow would do me in and I’d never recover. Shortly after his death, I found out I had a whole new family and brothers when my mother revealed that the man who raised me wasn’t my biological father.

My maternal survivor’s guilt wanted to force my brain into depression, but I chose to focus on what I’d gained instead of what I’d lost. Despite the tragedy of losing a child, I had received an equally life-changing gift. As I mourned my son, I also used that energy to plan a reunion with my newfound family.

Although the beautiful discovery of my family wasn’t a direct result of losing my son, I tend to associate them as something my son might have made happen from the other side.

Either way, the shift in focus saved me.

Stop your whining

First things first — stop complaining. The more you complain, the more negative you’re bound to see. Life is hard for every soul on this planet in some way. For every adversity you face, many people are facing much worse.

I realize this doesn’t do much to minimalize the struggles that you might be facing, but it’s one step closer to being thankful. Our perspective sets the tone for each moment of our lives.

The physicality of positivity

Many people believe that their depression is due to a chemical issue that is out of their control. For many, that is the actual case. But did you know that your outlook and your environment can actually alter your brain’s chemistry?

Every thought we have causes changes in our brains. When we consciously and routinely practice gratitude, there is a release of the neurotransmitters and chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine, and we experience a surge of alertness and happiness.

A positive mindset has also been associated with greater heart-health by reducing heart rate and blood pressure in stressful situations, as well as helping to boost immunity according to studies in the relatively new science of Psychoneuroimmunology.

It's not magic, it’s work

For most, it’s much easier to get stuck in the downs than it is to see the positive. Our minds tend to hang on to negatives for much longer, as they have a much larger impact due to our survival instincts. We learn what hurts us, and then we hold on to that memory so we don’t make the same mistake again.

We have to work against that basic instinct, and as humans, we come equipped with that capability.

Rhonda Byrnes’ book, The Secret led many to believe that simply thinking about what we want out of life will magically make it manifest out of thin air. While there is much truth to positive thinking bringing forth positive outcomes, that’s not quite the way it happens.

It’s not the single act of positive thinking that manifests the desired result; it’s how one positive thought generally leads to another and gradually alters your focus. The more positive you notice, the more confidence you build which allows you to be more productive and not let small setbacks deter you from reaching a goal or enjoying whatever prosperity might come your way.

Remember, you’re still human

I’m not trying to fill your brain with a load of fluff by making you believe I’m a positive ray of freaking sunshine regardless of what comes my way. The reality is far from it. I still have many down days. We all do. Constant positive thinking is unrealistic and unsustainable.

When I’m having a particularly emotional day, whether it’s chemical (hormonal) or I’m just too exhausted to mentally change my outlook after a memory evokes sadness, I choose to give myself a sick day.

After all, controlling your outlook is work. Please don’t think it should be an easy fix and there’s something wrong with you if you struggle. Like everything else, it takes practice.

I’ll still allow for my emotions to feel whatever they need to feel, and I always end up stronger the following day.

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

~Friedrich Nietzsche

My oldest daughter recently sent me an inspirational post she found on Instagram. The premise of the post was choose your hard.

Life is going to be hard no matter your circumstances. Even those that appear successful and happy, still have to put in the work to get that way. Suffering is hard, and work is hard. You can’t get to where you want to be in life without both. There is no easy path to happiness, and we must also remember that happiness in itself — is not a destination.

Reasons to be grateful are all around you in life. Don’t wait till you get to the end of yours before you take notice.

Free-floating centrist, writer of inspirational stories, middle-aged “woke”-ness, loss, mental health, and minimalism.

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