We humans are a tricky species. Thanks to our ancestors from way, way, waaaay back, our brains have developed an ability to focus on threatening situations in order to help protect us from harm. For instance, I might think “Hmm, I could get mugged on the metro so I’d better pay attention to my purse.” As much as this way of thinking is often helpful, it can just as often be overblown, for instance, when I overestimate the likelihood of a mugging or avoid public transportation altogether. Luckily, thanks to good old neuroplasticity, we have the ability to gradually change how we perceive and organize information, and effectively problem-solve.
This exercise from positive psychology trail-blazer Martin Seligman is a way to cultivate a greater attention to what is going well and to effectively analyze a situation to increase the likelihood that things continue to go well. In his new book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Dr. Seligman suggests we try to regularly engage in the following exercise to practice strengthening these useful mental muscles that help us notice information that contributes to our contentment and sense of well-being.
At the end of the day, think back on three things that went well from the day. Write down each of these events – they do not have to be major, life-shaking occurrences- just three positive events. Next to the event, write down one reason that this event might have gone so well. Try this out for a week and see if it has any affect on your mood.
As an example, here’s my list from yesterday:
1) Event: I got to a meeting on time. Reason: I planned ahead and was organized and ready when the time came to leave the house.
2) Event: I made a good dinner for my family. Reason: I was more creative in the kitchen than usual.
3) Event: My son had a great time playing with his friend. Reason: My son really enjoys the company of his friends.
It may feel strange at first but keep at it and see what happens. Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!