There’s a saying: What you practice grows stronger.
That’s fantastic if what you’re practicing is the violin or tennis or gratitude.
The human brain has a strong negativity bias, which was helpful when we were always on the lookout for danger from wild animals. Fear is an excellent tool when you’re being chased by a lion or a bear. But as a result of that bias, we now can default to negative emotions like worry or fear or anger or self-criticism.
When we think those kinds of thoughts over and over, we’re practicing thoughts that make us feel unhappy or lonely or less than. When we practice worry or fear or anger or self-criticism, those feelings grow stronger.
Choose to Notice the Good
But just because evolution gave us a negativity bias, doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it! You have a choice. You can choose to notice goodness in your life, even, or especially, when life is hard.
In fact having a habit to notice and savor joyful moments in your days can help you grow joy and happiness. How? By changing your brain.
One small positive thought followed by another small positive thought and so on actually rewires your brain.
Right now we’re in a terribly hard time. We have no idea what’s next. It’s scary and sad and confusing. We need to be strong for others and for ourselves. The good news is we can help build our strength and bolster ourselves when we make it a habit to purposefully practice joy.
Create Habits to Notice Positive Moments
When we see the world through the lens of joy, we gain resilience from feeling more positivity. Opening to joy changes you, but how do you start — especially when things around you seem bleak?
That’s where habits come in to help.
You start by taking one super achievable tiny step and then the next and the next one, over and over. For example, just 20–30 seconds of noticing and savoring the goodness in your day can change your brain and bolster your feelings of positivity.
By noticing the good, the beautiful, the wonder over and over, you build a habit AND resilience. And when you’re more resilient you’re more open to joy. The feedback loop is powerful.
You can choose whatever habits work for you, but if you aren’t sure where to start, try one of these practices:
Start each day by spending 5 minutes looking at nature.
I grew up in Manhattan so any piece of green from houseplant to a redwood tree counts. Can you stay longer than 5 minutes? Of course, but set 5 minutes as the goal to make the habit easy to keep. Just looking at the beauty and breathing in and out starts the day in a good way.
End the day by jotting down one thing you are grateful for, one person you connected with, and one thing you achieved and how each made you feel.
The things you write down can be big events or tiny moments. It’s the repeated practice that matters, and like the morning nature practice, you can do this practice in 5 minutes. Make the habit easy by keeping your list on your phone, or if having a beautiful journal makes the practice more pleasurable, use that. Ending the day noticing and savouring the good for a few minutes, even if the day was hard, helps.
Treat Yourself Like You Would a Friend
Just like all humans, I tend toward negativity. If I had a friend who was struggling, I’d treat them with compassion, and I bet you would too. But when I’m struggling, my negative habits of self-criticism, self-blame and feelings that I’m not good enough, can stop me from giving myself a break through self compassion.
In last week’s post I wrote about how you can practice in advance for when you find yourself in negativity, and how that helps you step into self-compassion more easily. I’d love to show you how in person!
Next week I’m running a two hour workshop Write into Joy with the theme of Compassion, and I’d love to share how journaling and reflecting can help you build a practice of positive mindset and habits for more joy and resilience. You can sign up here. Space is limited, so please sign up soon.
P.S. Write into Joy is a series of stand alone workshops. Each lasts 2 hours and is focused on a theme to help you explore your experience. I offer journaling prompts to help you dig deep and safe space to do this work in community with others.
Get all the details and sign up here.