A jewel of therapy is unconditional positive regard from your therapist. No matter what you say, I search to find the good in you. I have to believe that there is good in everybody, and that everybody has the potential to change. Granted, there are always exceptions to the rules, but of the hundreds of people I've met and worked with there are only 1 or 2 that made me question this fundamental value of counseling.
What does this mean for a client? You get to tell me whatever you want, in the way you want it. I don't blindly condone everything people say and do, but unlike a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend there's no chance that I'll say "I can't believe you did that, that was a terrible choice." What it means for the purpose of this blog post is that people tell me about arguments they've had with important people in their lives, and they get to fully tell me their version, as they see it (which 9 times out of 10 starts off with them as the victim). We all have a tendency to do that. You get in a tiff, and you want to be right! So you tell your story from the version where you're right, and you seek out the people that will agree with you.
I don't tell people when they are right or wrong, that's not my place. And it's also not possible when I only have half the story. But recently I have noticed that many people seem to focus on what people don't do for them. How their spouse doesn't do certain things. How their parents don't support them the way that they want. I catch myself doing this sometimes, as well. I notice when my husband leaves dishes in the family room, instead of focusing on how he got dinner started or made by himself because I was teaching yoga.
This line of thinking is generally not helpful. It means we are wearing "clouded lenses." Now, my husband can tell you that my glasses are often smudged and rarely ever clean, but I'm not talking actual lenses. Focusing on what everyone in our life isn't doing for us, or all the things we don't have, or all the ways we've failed demonstrates viewing the world through cloudy lenses. Technically, we call those cognitive distortions. But essentially the lenses we are wearing/the thoughts we are having are focusing on only half the story- the negative half. It's as though our glasses are blocking out all positive aspects of our existence, and the world is a dreary, dark, drab place where nothing goes right, nobody cares about us, and we're going to stay stuck.
Woof. That's not a good place to be for too long. We may have all felt aspects of that here or there, but that's what living with depression is like (although you don't have to have depression to experience those types of thoughts). There are also many factors leading to acquiring cloudy lenses, but that's a focus for another day.
So here's an example. You noticed how your dog was chasing a rabbit (hound dog problems) and it took forever to get him inside before you left for work. And you noticed how cold and cloudy it was. And how you forgot to make tea before you left the house. And how your 12 pm client cancelled- again. And how many buses were stopping to let sloths moving through quicksand off the bus on the drive home. (And by you, I mean me. Those are actual things I've observed many times. Yoga is a practice, because we never become perfect.)
And now you're grumpy and frustrated? How shocking!
You could have focused on: how cute hound dog was when he was snuggling this morning; how nice it is to have a cozy coat and heat that works in the car; that you packed a good lunch and tasty snacks; how you got a bunch of work done in your unexpected free hour so you have less to do at home; how the fact that you're stuck behind school buses means you get to go home pretty darn early. I feel good just reading all those positives!
What do you tend to focus on in a day? All the short-comings and mishaps? Or all the beautiful gifts and positive outcomes?
One of the easiest ways to begin cleaning our lenses is by practicing gratitude. Some of you may be thinking "Ew, I expected a way better solution than this one." I mention it because it works. In yoga we call this a bhavana, an attitude or mindset. We can learn to cultivate the mindsets we prefer by incorporating bhavana practices in our daily life.
The moment you begin thinking negatively about your day- whether it's before you get out of bed, as it happens, or ruminating at the end of the night- let a big exhale out. Observe what's happening- the lenses are getting clouded. Choose a different path. Actively acknowledge anything you are grateful for, no matter how small it is. Identify positive things you did that day, good things that happened, and overall what went well. Silently thank the people in your life that make life better (it's even better if you tell them!).
Start doing that in the morning, throughout the day, and before you go to bed at night? That frustration, feeling of being stuck, and overall negative emotion is going to shift to gratitude, joy, contentment, and awe.
Gratitude isn't enough to fix deeply held unhealthy thought patterns. We can both agree on that. In that case, you're going to need a few more tools and some individualized help. But it's a start. In order to remain balanced, we have to actively choose to keep our attention focused on things that bring joy and nourishment.
Below is a gratitude practice that I often employ in my yoga classes, as well as in my office, to cultivate feelings of gratitude and joy. It involves gently moving with the breath, while focusing on things you are grateful for. Forward folds are great ways to release the things holding us back- let go of the negativity and the cloudiness. Doing a pose in 4 directions creates an energetic space with the energy, intention, and mindset you are cultivating. (Instead of turning back to the front, as I did, make sure you fold to all 4 directions. I opted not to fold to the back wall so as to avoid showcasing my tail end. )