Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor E. Frankl
If you haven’t heard of Viktor Frankl, he was a survivor of Auschwitz, a psychiatrist and a neurologist, who went on to write Man’s Search For Meaning. I start with his quote here, because I can’t think of a better human being to ground today’s coaching session in.
Today I want to talk about how you have the ability to choose your frame of mind.
Have you ever met people who are constantly miserable, who seem to have perpetual bad luck or who seem to be magnets for negativity? We all have, right? Hopefully these people aren’t major forces in your life, but if they are, today might be especially meaningful for you.
I truly believe that those people are in a negative state, not only because of what is happening to them, but because of how they are choosing to respond.
Pause. Is how we respond to any given situation a choice?
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Sure is. Unless we’re talking about a physiological response, how you respond emotionally, intellectually, verbally… these are all choices. It just takes some awareness and a little training to remind yourself that they’re choices.
Let’s rewind for a second.
In 2016, the company that I worked for underwent major changes and at least a third of the staff were laid off. I remember the day of the layoffs vividly. Some people responded loud and emotionally, hurling their anger at the poor HR people and management that had to deliver the message. Others sobbed silently, in denial that this had happened to them. Others yet were in shock.
Some of these reactions are physiological. There isn’t much you can do if your body is going into shock, and the idea of losing your income, your livelihood and how you provide for your family is definitely the kind of thing that can push people over the edge.
Now, fast forward two/three weeks from the day of layoffs. When talking to people I saw two pretty diverse reactions. There were the people who were in a heavy state of bitterness, who were feeling hard done by, and angry beyond belief. Then there were the people who were hitting the pavement, who had taken some time to think through what had happened to them, and who were choosing to make the most out of their situation and find some meaning in it.
Were the second group of people just kinder, gentler souls? Nope. Not in my experience. What the second group of people were is purposeful in making the choice not to fall into despair. They recognized that they may have had no control out of being laid off, but they did have control over how they faced the challenge ahead of them.
Strategies To Switch Up Your Frame of Mind
- Move Your Body
Ever been in a bad mood and then you hear your favourite, toe-tapping song? You can’t help but swivel a little in your chair or bounce your shoulders. Physical movement can change up your body chemistry, so if you’re in a negative mental space, MOVE YOUR BODY. Go for a run, if that’s your thing, or do a five-minute workout, a yoga move or even just shake your butt to your favourite song on your phone. They key is to switch up whatever state your body is in.
It is impossible to be grateful and negative at the same time. Go ahead, try it, I dare you. Practicing gratitude might feel corny if you’ve never done it before, but try to take a few minutes to slow down, switch gears, and make a very specific list of that which you are grateful for right in this moment. Maybe it’s your health, or maybe it’s the cuddle you had with your cat this morning. For me, my daily coffee usually falls into my gratitude bucket, because man do I ever love and appreciate my coffee. It doesn’t have to be huge or significant, but we have far more to be grateful for than we take the time to appreciate.
- Focus on Your Why
Ask any entrepreneur, nonprofit worker, etc., the path to achieving their mission or success can be long and arduous. How do you get through those tough times? You focus on why you began this journey in the first place. Is your toddler throwing the mother of all meltdowns? Remember your why as a parent. When my kid freaks out, I try to remember that these moments are short-lived, and in the long run I’m striving to raise thoughtful, impactful, empathic citizens.
- Assume the Best
Often our reaction is based on our assumptions. If I come into a conversation with someone and I have a preconceived notion of how it’s going to go, that will affect my responses. If you assume the worst, you’ll automatically be on the defence. However, if you assume that people have the best of intentions (whether they do or don’t), you’ll approach situations with more calm and empathy. If nothing else, it’s good for your mental health.
If in doubt – reframe! One of the most common things that I hear from people is that they don’t have time for self care. I’m too busy, they say. I’ve got too much on my plate. I’m not saying that they don’t. Heck, my to-do list is a mile long, but if we reframe self care as an investment in ourselves so that we can better serve others, that automatically puts it into a different, less guilt-ridden category. Another great reframe that I heard in a recent podcast interview I recorded is that “I’ve done enough for today.” How incredibly freeing is that? Yes, there is always more we could pile on to our lives, especially women, but to be kind enough to yourself to say that you’ve done enough, then to step back. Just thinking that already makes me feel lighter.
- Find the Opportunity
The economy sucks. That’s just the way it is. There is global discord and scary things happening. Truth. We can’t change those things, but we can look for the opportunities to do good, be better, make an impact. For example, the biggest lesson that I learned from the layoffs at a previous employer is that regardless of how hard you work, how good you are at your job, you can always be let go. And, even though I chose to leave, going forward I have had it in my mind that there is opportunity for me to always have a side business or skill set so that I have more control over my income. The opportunity is that I now refuse to rely on someone else solely for my income, and instead am training and teaching myself how to be more independent and in control.
- Take a Physical Break
This is especially helpful when you’re in the midst of heated or challenging scenarios that involve other people. Physically removing yourself from a situation allows you breathing room and time to get a little perspective. Let’s be honest, I’ve totally had arguments with my husband before. I remember one rough one in particular (looking back, I think we were having a major blowout about household chores, believe it or not), where we both chose to leave the home and go for our own separate walks. Two hours later when were both home, we had gotten the necessary space to think through what had been said and to come up with a plan of action to remedy the scenario. Physical distance from a chaotic situation can make a huge difference.
- Fresh Air
We all know that being in nature and fresh air is good for us. I don’t have to dive too deep on this one. The example that I will share is that when my son was going through a near six months of colic, it nearly tore me apart. He’d cry for hours at a time and I wanted to run away – literally. Instead, I chose to strap him into the stroller, plug in a podcast and walk outside in the fresh air. I couldn’t change the fact that he was crying (trust me, I tried everything), but I could give myself the fresh air and movement that I needed to keep myself from the pit of despair. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
Especially for those who work from home, you NEED to find better transitions between work and home if you want to get in the right mind frame for parenting, partnering, working or just being chill with yourself. One of my favourite ways to do this is to have a musical cue. I had a client do this and it worked wonders for putting a close to her work (from home!) day and moving her into evening mode.
So there you have it. Choosing your frame of mind can be difficult, but it can be done. It’s a muscle that you need to work and the more you do, the easier it will get. I promise.
Let me know how you’re switching up your frame of mind by tagging me @girltrieslife on social.