I bought a new dinette table months ago at IKEA but never put it together for lack of time. It became a fixture, sitting in the box by my door. I knew that deep down I wasn’t wild about the thought of putting it together, even though I’ve done it and know I can. This week I decided to just do it.
I opened the box and saw all the pieces. Then I looked at the instructions. As I went through the pages, I began to flip myself out. The instructions looked complicated. I almost put it all back in the box for another time but knew I should get it done. I realized I was looking ahead too much. Looking at the later steps made me nervous.
We often look ahead, speculate, and let intimidating stuff stop us, in a variety of situations.
A project at work may seem too tough if you think beyond what you have to do right now. How will I do this or get that once I’ve gotten started? What if I screw up halfway through my speech? Looking ahead can sabotage getting the job done, no matter what it is. In work or in life, we block ourselves from doing what we’re capable of doing by looking too far down the road. I decided to put the table together, one step at a time.
When you do something step by step, word by word, task by task, what you have to do becomes doable.
I opened the box and sorted the pieces of my table. Then I went in steps. First step: separate all the screws, nuts and bolts in sizes and make sure I had them all. I felt better when that was done and moved to step 2 in the instructions. When I’d finished that, I moved to the next step. As each one got done, the table came together and I laughed at how big a deal I’d made of the simple assembly. Things had seemed complicated when I looked ahead since I didn’t have the other steps done. When I did, I just kept going.
When you take any situation, task or fear one step at a time, you can get do what you have to do.
Putting the table together taught me a valuable life lesson—that when you stop looking at the bigger picture and focus on the first step to take, you can accomplish a lot more. We often project to the future and worry about what ifs. Plus, looking at things that come after taking the first steps may be harder to envision if you haven’t taken the ones before them. When I looked at all the pieces in the package needing to be put in the right place and instructions that confused me, my table almost didn’t get put together. But, I started at the beginning and got it done.
Once I put the first parts together, the confusing parts made sense.
This made me brazen and I bought a cabinet with doors that was much more complex than the table. I could have paid to have it assembled but chose to do it myself. I opened the box yesterday and my first thought was regret that I didn’t have the store do it. There was a huge bag filled with an assortment of pieces and screws in different sizes. My stomach turned. Then I stopped beating me up for insisting on doing it myself. I could do it—step by step.
There was a big slab of Styrofoam in the box and I used it as a tray to sort all the small pieces and screws and nails. There were many dozens of them! I saw things I couldn’t identify and decided not to worry about them—I’d discover what they were for when I reached the step for them. I identified what I could with the instruction sheet. Then I did the first step. It took a while. I made some mistakes and had to redo things. Each time I forgave myself for not checking that each shelf was facing the right way, etc., before I put screws in.
Instead, I reminded myself that when I put the second cabinet together (yes, I bought 2!), I’ll be a pro!
It took a while but now this cabinet is making me happy by giving me more storage space. Tonight I’ll do the second one and it will take be MUCH faster since I know exactly what to do. Often we look down the road too far and scare ourselves against doing something by allowing the future steps to seem too hard. Instead, do the first step, then try the next, and you’ll find it much easier to get whatever it is done.
Initiating an action, like applying for a new job or agreeing to make a speech, can seem scary. But you can do it if you just focus on what you have to do or say first.
Of course you should prepare for the bigger picture if necessary but focusing too far ahead or analyzing to death future steps will keep you from getting to them. When you take the first step and accomplish it, then look to the second, and so on. As each step is completed, your confidence will increase and you’ll understand more about what to do for the next one. This keeps a big endeavor from becoming overwhelming.
Trying to figure out how you’ll ever manage to finish step 6 when you haven’t done 1-5 sabotages what you’re trying to do.
Looking back, putting the table together was easy. The latter steps no longer seem confusing. After the foundation was together, the rest followed in a logical, doable way. Even the cabinet wasn’t hard when I assembled it step by step. I do this even when I’m writing a book. Sometimes I begin to consider later chapters and get concerned about what material I’ll put into them. But now I catch myself and write the first chapter. When I get to the ones I wasn’t sure about, I know what to say.
Most things are doable if you just take it one step at a time and let each finished one motivate you further. That’s how hard tasks become easier!
This is post 64 in my series on the Law of Attraction in Action. You CAN use your power to attract all that you need. I do it every day! Read the posts in this series to see how.
Have you ever has something go wrong and you et it ruin your whole day? I have! Many times unfortunately. It can be something small like a comment about my weight. Or missing my train and being a little late. Then, instead of letting the incident pass, it pervades my mood for hours, if not days. I try to catch my response faster now but it’s still hard. A ten minute negative can pervade your life if you let it.
Negatives can really latch on like glue!
I thought about this yesterday. Something happened that I didn’t like and I held it with me all day. It was a bit of a dreary day and much colder than it’s been. Later in the afternoon I realized I’d let one small thing bring me down for the whole day. That’s so unnecessary. I like to feel happy! My thoughts were negative and I attracted a down feeling. I knew that I had to turn it around or I’d continue being tired and down.
I began thinking of positive things and saying them aloud when the negatives came into my head, determined to send a better message to the Universe. It worked!
I also ordered a light box to help me when there’s not enough sun. I get Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter. When the days get short, it makes me more tired and prone to feeling down. When there’s sunshine, my mood is bright and I absorb as much as I can. But on the cloudy and nasty days, I have to create my own. Expecting the light box to help. It’s important to find ways to diffuse the effects of negative incidents.
I can’t control the sunshine but I can control whether I let glitches in my day hang with me or let it go to attract more positive feelings.
Research for the new book I’m writing has taught me that negative emotions are much more potent than positive ones. You can have a fabulous evening at a show, come home filled with joy, and lose it by morning. Support from friends can be overshadowed by your boss yelling at you for 10 seconds. Feeling anxiety about being late for an appointment can stick with you for the whole day, well after it’s over. Stress can become a lifestyle if you don’t catch yourself. Yet joy and happiness and feeling positive are harder to maintain.
Negative feeling are sticky. They take hold like Crazy Glue if you’re not vigilant! And guess what they attract?
Negative incidents can happen throughout the day. It’s hard to avoid them. But a momentary unkind word or uncomfortable situation isn’t your whole day and therefore shouldn’t ruin it. When I was a DoorMat, someone would ask if I’d gained weight and my day would be shot. I held all negatives like a sponge. Hanging onto negative blips in your day attracts more negative feelings and reinforces what you felt at the time of the incident. I couldn’t let go back then. I was too deep in attracting unhappiness.
Leave life blips in the past and let them go so you can feel more positive.
Being positive and happy is a conscious choice. Feeling negative is a response to something unpleasant and goes deeper if you let it. Traffic can do serious damage to your mood, as can an annoying phone call, small disagreement, or other incident you don’t like. By feeding yourself a steady diet of positive emotions—joy, gratitude, satisfaction, love, self-approval, etc.—you can keep negatives in check and attract more positives.
It can take a conscious effort to not let a negative blip set the mood for your whole day, or week, or longer. But you can do it if you CHOOSE to!
How many times has someone asked how you are and you said a version of “Lousy,” because you’d had a negative blip? Maybe a co-worker disagreed with you or you missed your bus or you tripped and felt embarrassed or got a small stain on your shirt or a million others things that happen as part of life. Putting it out that you consider your life lousy or cursed or other negatives is the surest way to keep it that way. That’s the wrong message to send if you want to attract happiness!
When memories of a negative incident get into my head after it’s over, I try to say, “blip be gone!” Because it usually really is a small blip in the bigger picture of our lives, yet we give them so much importance. So, do you want to keep blipping through life, letting negatives rule your overall mood? Or do you want to minimize their effect and be happy most of the time?
When a blip haunts you, remind yourself it’s over. Past tense. Finito! Done.
Of course you can think about it and feel lousy for longer. That’s your CHOICE. I’d rather be happy now. And to accomplish that, I must keep negative emotions in check, and in perspective. I live for now. Anything that happened before now is over.
It’s so easy to hold onto past stuff that felt bad and so easy to forget the good. But you can change that dynamic!
Call a positive friend, talk it out and then let it go. Remind yourself it’s in the past and the past is over. Think about why it should impact on you now? Go to the mirror and express some love! Reassure yourself that you want to take loving care of your feelings and will try to let go of negatives. Words mean nothing unless you let them. Missed buses and disagreements are resolved. It’s the feelings you had that aren’t. So put them into perspective.
Why let them make you feel bad, which attracts more bad vibes when you should have good ones.
I love myself too much to do that now. Begin to be more aware of how negative blips affect your overall mood. Ask yourself if you’d rather be negative or be happy? If you choose happy, then put as much focus as you can on your positive blessings. Don’t let those negative emotions stick to you. The more they do, the more they build up like plaque on teeth, that’s hard to get rid of. Brush the blips off as they happen to keep your soul clear and leave room for happier things. You’ll see your life turn around in a dramatically positive way when you do!
See all the Law of Attraction in Action Series..
We all know that the economy isn’t so great for many people. Many are cutting back on spending. With the season of gift-giving bearing down on us, it’s good to think about gifts that don’t cost anything but that can be a blessing to others, and to yourself. I was thinking about things that make me happy to receive and to give and shall share them here:
Compliments?: A kind word to someone can brighten their day. Expressing appreciation for how someone looks or something they did can be a tonic for many. While I have great self-esteem now, I still love when someone has complimentary words for how I look. You might not think it but men love compliments too! We often give them more to women but everyone likes to feel appreciated or know that you recognize their good qualities. So be generous about letting people know what you like about them.
Heartfelt thank yous: Nobody likes to be taken for granted. Often we just expect people in our lives to do the things they do for us and don’t stop to let them know we appreciate it. You might not actually feel appreciation if you take someone for granted. But you should! ?Expressing appreciation for what others do is a form of gratitude, and gratitude brings many gifts. Think about what people in your life do for you and tell them it isn’t unnoticed.
Sending a handwritten note in this age of quickly written emails makes you stand out and is usually valued by the recipient. I still remember people who sent me a personal thank you note in the mail after hearing me speak. Notes matter! Send a card to your mom or a friend when it isn’t an occasion, just to say they’re special. That can be better than anything you buy.
Active listening?: There’s listening—being there, nodding appropriately but not really processing what’s being said as you wait for your turn to speak. And then there’s listening with respect and caring. The latter is a gift. When someone comes to you with a serious concern, make listening about them only. Ask questions to show you’re paying full attention. Let them know you care and are willing to put your personal thoughts aside to give them your full focus. This is a gift that will bring you great rewards in return!
Love: I don’t mean romantic love or the deep love you have for family, though that’s good too. Be a loving kind of person to others—warm, friendly, caring. I love being that way. ?I hug people a lot. Most know to expect one for hello and goodbye. I have a friend who is very undemonstrative. She didn’t have much love growing up and has a hard time expressing it. Whenever I’d go to give her a hug she’d stiffen up and didn’t quite hug me in return. Her hands would just kind of pat my back. I thought it made her uncomfortable so once when saying goodbye, I didn’t reach out to hug her. Surprisingly, she came forward with her arms out, waiting for one. She didn’t know how to receive love but liked the hugs just the same. Hugs are very therapeutic for everyone.
Support: A wonderful gift is to give support that THE PERSON needs. I emphasized THE PERSON because often people offer the support they think the person needs, or that they want to give. Men get into trouble with their romantic partner when they try to tell them how to fix a problem instead of just offering supportive words or asking, “What do you need from me?” Many folks give what according to their own agendas. When my mom passed away suddenly from an accident, one friend kept calling me, asking sadly how I was doing. Her whole attitude was negative.
I explained I’d rather she call less. I’d be counting the blessings about my Mom, feeling grateful for my wonderful memories, and she’d call and depress me. She drove me so crazy that I had to tell her that she was the cause of me feeling down. She indignantly said that if it were her, she’d want people to hover. But I wasn’t her and had to eventually get mean to stop her depressing calls. Letting someone know you’re there if needed is often support enough. While I’ve never called my neighbor who said I could call even in the middle of the night if I had a problem, I feel good knowing I can.
Smiles. Smiling and a cheerful demeanor put people into good moods. It will put you into a better mood too! BE generous with smiles and an upbeat mood.
Time. Making time to spend with those you care about can be the biggest gift of all. Often we’re so busy we forget to visit friends and loved ones or postpone calling them and they feel neglected, even if they don’t tell you. Studies show that good relationships with others can give the biggest positive boost to your health. Making time allows you to feel the love too! It also helps you to prevent regrets if something happens to a loved one.
These gifts will enrich the lives of those on the receiving end and enrich yours too! Think about who you can give these gifts from the heart to. And for ideas for material gifts to give, you can check out my blog post from last year—Giving Gifts that Nurture People & Our Planet—where I reviewed some wonderful products that nurture. And don’t forget to do or get something(s) special for YOU!
If you enjoyed my post, please leave a comment and/or click on the bookmark and write a short review at some of the sites, especially Stumbleupon and Digg. Thanks!
<a href="http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php" onclick="addthis_url var addthis_pub = ‘wryter’;
Today I’m delighted to have an excerpt from a fantastic new book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience Of Happiness, Love & Wisdom (New Harbinger Publications, November 2009), by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Richard Mendius, MD., which provides a Buddhist path to changing your brain in order to improve your life.
by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Richard Mendius, MD
I did not know I held so much goodness.
—Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
Much as your body is built from the foods you eat, your mind is built from the experiences you have. The flow of experience gradually sculpts your brain, thus shaping your mind. Some of the results are explicit recollections: this is what I did last summer; that is how I felt when I was in love. But most of the results remain forever unconscious. This is called implicit memory, and it includes your expectations, models of relationships, emotional tendencies, and general outlook. Implicit memory establishes the interior landscape of your mind—what it feels like to be you. In other words, you are largely what you (implicitly) remember, the slowly accumulating residues of lived experience.
In a sense, those residues can be sorted into two piles: those that benefit you and others, and those that cause harm. To paraphrase the Wise Effort section of Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, it will help you to create, preserve, and increase beneficial implicit memories, and prevent, eliminate, or decrease harmful ones.
The Negativity Bias of Memory
But here’s the problem: your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences; as we’ve said, it’s like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. Consequently, even when positive experiences outnumber negative ones, the pile of negative implicit memories naturally grows faster. Then the background feeling of what it feels like to be you becomes undeservedly glum and pessimistic.
Sure, negative experiences do have benefits: loss opens the heart, remorse provides a moral compass, anxiety alerts you to threats, and anger spotlights wrongs that should be righted. But do you really think you’re not having enough negative experiences?! Emotional pain with no benefit to yourself or others is pointless suffering. And pain today breeds more pain tomorrow. For instance, even a single episode of major depression can reshape circuits of the brain to make future episodes more likely.
The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences; when they happen, they happen. Rather, it is to foster positive experiences—and in particular, to really take them in so they become a permanent part of you.
INTERNALIZING THE POSITIVE
Here’s how, in three steps:
1. Turn positive facts into positive experiences. Good things keep happening all around us, but much of the time we don’t notice them; even when we do, we hardly feel them. Someone is nice to you, you see an admirable quality in yourself, a flower is blooming, you finished a difficult project—and it all just rolls by. Instead, actively look for good news, particularly the little stuff of daily life: the faces of children, the smell of an orange, a memory from a happy vacation, a minor success at work, and so on. Whatever positive facts you find, bring a mindful awareness to them—open up to them and let them affect you. It’s like sitting down to a banquet: don’t just look at it—dig in!
2. Savor the experience. It’s delicious! Make it last by staying with it for 5, 10, even 20 seconds; don’t let your attention skitter off to something else. Focus on your emotions and body sensations, since these are the essence of implicit memory. Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible. For example, if someone is good to you, let the feeling of being cared about bring warmth to your whole chest.
Pay particular attention to the rewarding aspects of the experience—for example, how good it feels to get a great big hug from someone you love. Focusing on these rewards increases dopamine release, which makes it easier to keep giving the experience your attention, and strengthens its neural associations in implicit memory. You’re not doing this to cling to the rewards—which would make you suffer—but rather to internalize them so that you carry them inside you and don’t need to reach for them in the outer world.
The longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the trace in memory (Lewis 2005). While you’re savoring an experience, your amygdala is busily highlighting its positive emotional meaning for your hippocampus, which integrates that information into its packaging of the experience for storage in long-term memory.
You can also intensify an experience by deliberately enriching it. For example, if you are savoring a relationship experience, you could call up other feelings of being loved by others, which will help stimulate oxytocin—the “bonding hormone”—and deepen your sense of relatedness. Or you could strengthen your feelings of satisfaction after completing a demanding project by thinking about some of the challenges you had to overcome.
3. Imagine or feel the experience is sinking deeply into your mind and body, like warm sun into a T-shirt, water into a sponge, or a jewel placed in a treasure chest in your heart. Keep relaxing your body and absorbing the emotions, sensations, and thoughts of the experience.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher. A summa cum laude graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, he cofounded the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and edits the Wise Brain Bulletin. http://www.wisebrain.org Check out Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience Of Happiness, Love & Wisdom if you want to take more control of your life in a mindful way by learning more tips like the ones in this excerpt. This has a Buddhist approach, which I fully agree with, because it focuses on your inner well-being, which radiates out to all th eareas of your life. I’ll be reviewing this book next mo