It’s very common to focus on what is lacking . Ever have a job evaluation and spend 90% of the meeting talking about a few things you could do better? Or have 90% of your day go smoothly and then ruminate on one or two things that didn’t go well? This lack type of a focus creates suffering. Add that to a lack of sunlight and exercise in the winter and you can end up feeling pretty crappy.
Today’s tip for beating the winter blues is one I got from a friend. It’s super simple and highly effective. He said he and his wife have an agreement: when one of them is upset about something or they get in an argument, they will get in each other’s face and say, “go write down 10 things you’re grateful for;” and typically that really shifts the energy and de-escalates the tension and stress.
Perspective Check. Focusing on what we’re grateful for helps us think straight, regain perspective and gets us into a more positive mindspace where we recognize the many things that are actually going quite well in our lives. In fact, Stanford psychiatrist and professor Dr. David Burns asserts that focusing on shortcomings and ignoring positives – what he refers to as a “mental filter” – is just a form of distorted thinking that leads to feelings like anxiety and depression and leads to relationship problems.
How we feel is directly linked to what we think. “The idea is that when you’re feeling upset, you’re often involved in a mental con, but you don’t realize it,” Dr. Burns writes. “You’re telling yourself things about yourself and the world that aren’t really true. And when you change the way you think you can change the way you feel.”
Here are a couple other examples of distorted thinking, per Dr. Burns, where we’re ignoring the good in our lives and creating our own suffering:
- overgeneralizing (thinking that if something went poorly, more bad things are on the way)
- all-or-nothing thinking (thinking if I fail at something, then I’m a failure)
Stop the Slump. So instead of going down the rabbit hole of distorted thinking, stop the cycle. Recognize that you’ve engaged in distorted thinking and regain perspective by writing down 10 things you’re grateful for. You’ll probably end up with a lot more than 10 things.
Keep It Simple. If you’re really in a slump and having trouble thinking about what you have to be grateful for, focus on simple things, like the fact that you probably have clean water to drink, central heating and a roof over your head. There are a lot of people who don’t have these things. It’s easy to forget how blessed we are, how abundant our lives really are.
Phone a Friend. If you’re still having trouble, check in with a friend and get some help creating a reality check. You’re not in this alone.
A Simple Twist. If you’ve been having some trouble and have been feeling down about yourself, write a list of ten things you’re grateful for about yourself. There are a lot of great things about you. Give yourself some credit. Not sure? Ask a friend to make a list about you. And then return the favor and make a list about them. I’ve done this and it works wonders to help me get out of a slump (and be sure to keep your list(s) to refer to in the future if you need another reality check.)
Do Tell. Do you catch yourself sliding down the slippery slope of focusing on what you don’t like? Do you feel a shift when you start to focus on what’s going well? Do tell. I’d love to know about your experience. I’m in the midst of creating a mental health app to help people shift out of depression and anxiety; and your feedback would be really helpful! In fact, it could help save a life. Thanks in advance!