Are you sometimes wondering why some people seem to be a lot cheerier than you are, or a lot more resilient? There are of course a lot of aspects to this and some of them are outside your circle of influence. Let’s look at them first. When you are going through a major bereavement, serious illness or loss, then it is absolutely normal to feel low and not to greet the day with a smile on your face. When your life circumstances are dire or throw a lot of difficult problems at you, it is really hard to remain composed, strong and positive. Another important aspect is your genetic makeup that might have given you a predisposition to be negative. All of these things might be going on for you. And these are the things that you have no say in. Losses, illnesses and death are painful aspects of life. They happen to all of us. And sometimes they happen all at once. Our genetic makeup is the hand of cards we got given when we were conceived. There is not much you can do about that either. But what you can influence is, how you relate to that. Here is one way of doing this.
You might have heard me saying this before, setting an intention is a great way to orientate your mind towards what you want. It is also a wonderful way to change the emotional tone of your experience in the moment. Living with intentionality creates direction in your life. This can be particularly useful at the beginning of your day, because you are setting the tone of your day. It feels much better to start your day with an intention like: ‘Today is the happiest day in my life!’ (That one always makes me smile) Rather than: Oh no it’s Monday again! (Meaning: my fun weekend is over and I have nothing good to look forward to!) You can try this out for yourself and notice how this tends to have an immediate effect on your mood and emotional tone. It might not be a complete change but there is often a slight noticeable shift.
Now if waking up and thinking about something positive was all that is needed, we would all be smiling a lot more than we do. However before we move on, when did you last wake up and consciously created a good intention for your day? It’s a start, and definitely worth practicing. But it is not the whole story. In my last newsletter I shared my thoughts with you about some of the reasons why it is so hard for us to stick with our new year’s resolutions. If you remember, I suggested that one of the issues that is getting in the way is our existing brain wiring, our existing habits. Habits are fascinating. Whether we are talking about good habits or bad habits they all have somethings in common. They all are a combination of behaviours and beliefs. Depending how deeply engrained or old your habits are these factors can be on a completely unconscious level.
Whenever we learn something we go through four stages of competence:
Unconscious incompetence. You don’t know that you don’t know something or that you have an issue. Conscious incompetence. You woke up to the fact that something is wrong and you are trying actively to do something about it. But you have not mastered what you are trying to do yet. This is where you are when you try to learn something new. Conscious competence. You have created a new habit and you know it. You have done the training and you have practiced enough to be proficient. Unconscious competence. You have integrated the new habit into your life by repeating it again and again and again. You don’t need to think about it anymore. This is where our old habits live. And at the stage of bringing in something new – the conscious incompetence – we usually encounter resistance or failure. Our old, unconscious habits take over.
So what does that have to do with setting an intention at the beginning of the day? Everything, because what happens after you consciously set an intention? You default into what you tend to think usually. You do not continue to think: Today is the happiest day of my life! Your brain goes back into it’s habitual way of thinking: Oh no it’s Monday again!
The thought and intention of “Today is the happiest day of my life!” gets completely drowned in the sea of “Oh no it’s Monday again!” One thought against a hundred, possibly?! If you want intentionality to work more effectively, you need to give it conscious thought, not just once but over and over again during your day. Set yourself a reminder maybe and check in once an hour with your thoughts. Replace any habitual negative thoughts with repeating the intention you set in the morning. Or, if you feel up for this, replace them with positive, encouraging and supportive thoughts that feel right to you at the time. We cannot force ourselves to stop thinking, but we can train our minds to think differently. Feeling more positive and happier begins with one conscious, intentional, positive thought at a time.