CBT An Anxiety
One of the techniques in The Feeling Good Handbook is a Cost Benefit Analysis. This one is fairly simple: You start with a belief or attitude that you want to change; you list the pros and cons of believing it; and then you try to come up with a revised attitude that is more useful.
This may seem mechanistic, but I’ve found it helpful at times. When I was deep in the pit of depression, I found it very difficult to argue with some of my thoughts. “I’m a horrible person,” I would think, and it seemed so obviously true, and my brain was so good at storing up evidence for that perspective, that arguing against that thought felt impossible. But even at my worst, I could still recognize that the thought wasn’t useful — it did not, in fact, make my life or anyone else’s life better. I developed a heuristic that sometimes usefulness trumps truth.
Today, inspired by my work yesterday, I’m going to tackle the belief that I must get everything done before I can relax.
Pay Attention To Kindness
I am never so aware of my own negativity bias as when I’m trying to do one of these all-day exercises. I know that kindness happens all around me, but it’s surprising how much effort it takes to notice it. Noticing irritants, on the other hand, is automatic.
Some recent kindnesses:
- My sons took a moment this morning (before rushing out to their computers) to give me a hug and connect.
- The whole family (even the two-year-old) pitched in with cleaning the kitchen.
- A stranger held a door for me while I was struggling with a large bag of books.
Take A Vacation
I seriously debated whether to keep this exercise, because I find it surprisingly difficult. But eventually I decided that is exactly why I should keep it. The fact that I have so much trouble creating that “I’m on vacation” mindset probably means that I should do it more often.
There was a golden age of summer vacation when I was young, between about the time I was eight until I became old enough to drive, which I remember as endless long sunny days alone. I would spend all day in the woods or on the beach, sometimes hardly seeing another human until my parents came back from work. I remember the calm of it, the way time was never measured, only enjoyed.
That’s the mental state I’m reaching for now. I find it much more difficult to achieve, surrounded by walls or the sound of traffic, and most especially by people. Historically I’ve just assumed that those factors make it impossible. But recently I took an evening walk with my two sons, and noticed that despite the traffic noise and people, it was pretty easy to relax into the moment. So today I’m going to try to find that kind of vacation.
Most Moments Are Positive
There’s a brief description of this exercise on the Exercises page.
Already this morning I’ve found this exercise timely. During my morning routine (news, exercise, meditation, etc) I was interrupted twice by unhappy children. Neither needed more than a few minutes of attention, and yet I noticed how automatically I focused on the interruption of what I jealously consider “my” time.
Instead I tried to shift my focus to the positive: the pleasure of exercise, the enjoyment of that first drink of water afterwards, how nice it is to give a hug to an unhappy child and feel that small body relax trustingly into me. Then there is just the background positivity of my life: that I have a safe home, that my body is strong and healthy, even that there’s supposed to be sunshine today.
And the world now looks better.
Reflect On Social Connections
There’s a description of this exercise on the Exercise page.
I think I need to rotate when these exercises occur, since which people I see tends to be somewhat day-dependent. For today, one of my longest social connections was with a two-year-old, and I have to wonder whether that even counts. But I decided to include it anyway. The contrast between my interaction with my daughter and my viola instructor was interesting and amusing.
Most Moments Are Positive
I’m not sure who to credit with this exercise, because I’ve seen the idea pointed out multiple times. Probably one of the first places I saw it was in Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. The basic idea is that, if we only pay attention, most moments in our lives are actually positive.
We don’t notice this because the negativity bias predisposes us to react much more strongly to negative emotions. So if we get stuck in traffic, we feel a ton of frustration; but if traffic is fine, we hardly notice. We could notice a sense of connection as we talk with a coworker, the pleasure of biting into a good sandwich, or the satisfaction of cleaning up the kitchen – but many of us don’t. We’re surrounded by opportunities to feel positive emotions, but all too often we miss them.
Today my goal is to remind myself to notice these small positive emotions, bring my attention to them, and amplify their impact on my life.
Pay Attention To Kindness
This exercise is more of an all-day affair, but you could also focus on it for 10-20 minutes, perhaps writing in your journal if that works better for you. The basic idea is to pay attention to acts of kindness, no matter how small, and regardless of whether they’re directed toward you or you’re extending kindness to someone else. (Or even bits of kindness between two other people!)
For example, today after I parked in a tight, sloped spot, I was about to get something out of my car when I noticed that the man parked next to me had just arrived and was waiting for me to finish. He wasn’t in the least impatient, but I know I’d be a few minutes so I let him pull out first. Or another example: my toddler decided to share her breakfast with me this morning. “You like it? Want a bite?” she asked me, offering her toast.
These are tiny moments, but once you begin to notice them you’ll see that kindness happens all the time. And taking the time to notice and savor those bits of kindness can make your day brighter.