Why your cynicism is stronger than your celebration
This is the 5th post in my "Mental Strength week" series. Click here to start from the beginning.
Have you ever wondered why it is so easy to feel “bad”? Feelings of worry, doubt, guilt, inadequacy, resignation, rejection and failure are so easy and natural to summon?
Have you ever wondered why, after accomplishing a major goal, the feeling of greatness and sense of fulfilment lasts only a few moments or less? Even when you've been working towards that goal for so long and we were expecting the victory to be truly triumphant.
Have you ever wondered why is it so easy to begrudge someone and so difficult to forgive them? And it is just as difficult to forgive yourself after you have screwed up or failed.
The answer is: Because you have rehearsed these feelings of lack over and over again. They are so familiar to you. Your brain has optimised itself to make these feelings second nature. Your brain is magnificently powerful and continuously makes itself more efficient, so it prunes away the connections that you use least frequently (the "happy cheerleader" ones) and makes the ones you use most often (the "stern critic" ones) into the neurological equivalent of the German Autobahn. In essence, your inner critic gets to ride in the fast lane whilst your inner cheerleader is hitchhiking in the middle of a dessert.
Then when it comes to situations and circumstances where you have a reason to feel good, to feel grateful, to appreciate life, it feels quite challenging to be in that space. It’s a lot easier for you to revert to your habitual feelings. Maybe the weather is good. You may have had a great workout. Your boss or client appreciated your great work. You just went on an awesome date. But… it feels too good to be true, it doesn’t feel right, something isn’t genuine, it probably won’t last long, it still isn’t enough somehow. And you have no idea when it will be enough.
The simple explanation is that you are cynical because you are just not used to feeling good and your brain has been conditioned to hard-wire itself this way. You, however, go into over-analysis and presume that the cynicism is the truth - because it is what you are most familiar with - and you will find strong rationale to support this. "I’m just being realistic", "If I don’t get too excited then I won’t be disappointed in future", "I will believe it and enjoy it if it lasts". You assume these are truthful because this is your normal experience and all humans have a need for certainty and safety. The familiar is comforting.
The truth, however, is that you have been conditioned this way and your choices reinforce your conditioning. But, what if you could recondition your mind? So that the neural pathways of appreciation, joy and celebration were like high-speed rail lines in your brain as opposed to off-piste trails that you only visit in fleeting moments of bravery...
Wouldn’t life be more enjoyable? wouldn’t you be more present with the people who matter in your life? Wouldn’t you be more focused on what needs to be done and more effective?
Do you want to try this on? Then let’s train...
Practice 3-by-3 appreciation daily
I. For each of the following, write out:
3 things that you appreciate about the world or are grateful for in your life. They can be absolutely anything, big or small. Examples: my morning americano, my office has fantastic lighting, that there are good people in the world doing charity work
3 things that you appreciate about the people in your life. Examples: that my friends invite me to great festivals, that my mentor is teaching me a lot, that my partner and I can enjoy this Netflix series together
3 things that you appreciate about yourself. I think that many people find this one difficult. Be patient and allow yourself to be quiet whilst you wait for your mind to come up with things. Examples: I made my mum smile on Mother's Day, I helped my friend out of a tight situation, I F'ing nailed that workout
II. Amp it up
Read through your list of 9 things. As you do this focus on the feeling of appreciation, particularly in the heart-space in your chest.
With force, ask yourself what twice the appreciation would feel like. Imagine you are the captain of a ship and the whole crew respect your authority; they cowers at your command. Your body is your crew. Force that feeling in your chest. Re-read the list whilst keeping that feeling in your mind.
Re-double the feeling and re-read. Do this over and over for a minute or two with patience. You are training your neurology and your imagination, so don’t get hung up on whether it feels like it is working. Your subconscious mind learns by repetition - it is working and every rep counts.
III. Lock it in
Pause and notice your whole body. Where does it feel like the ‘centre’ of your body is? What do the muscles in your face feel like?
Say out loud “I am filled with appreciation for life”. You can write a phrase of your own, if you prefer. Also, if you don’t want to be heard you can say it in your head. However, saying the words with exaggerated emotion as though you’re an actor is most powerful in training your nervous system.
At the same time, make a move or gesture. I usually clench my right fist. This will be your “anchor” - a cue that you can use at will to recall this feeling. You can use this anchor whenever you want to get into this appreciative, grateful, celebratory state. Play with it over the course of your day; the more you do this daily practice and the more you use your anchor the stronger it becomes.
You’re done - take a deep breath, congratulate yourself for doing this for yourself and crack on with your day.
There is some theory behind what we’re doing here. I will be brief:
Repetition of this exercise will breed familiarity and your brain will adapt to make good feelings easy and normal - just like reps of bicep curls will build that muscle.
Starting your day off with this will mean that you are “priming” yourself to be in an appreciative state over the day. For example, this study found that Asian students performed better at Maths tests when they were asked their ethnicity beforehand; they played up to the expectations that they were “primed” with.
Feeling positive breeds positive action. Richard Wiseman has written on the psychology of luck; one of his observations is that people who see themselves as lucky are more receptive to opportunities and take more action than people who see themselves as unlucky.
So now what?
I invite you to...
Try this exercise out for a few days and then decide how you feel about it. I would love to hear about your experience of it - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the next part in this series
You have nothing to lose and lots to gain.
About the author: Sukh Kalsi helps people to replace chronic stress, anxiety and depression with peak states of being. You can find his online courses at https://www.WeFlowAcademy.com and find out how to work with him at https://SukhKalsi.com
This article was originally published on LinkedIn