Let me ask you a few questions. They may seem unrelated, but stick with me and I’ll show you how to cultivate more happy habits during this quarantine.
First, a car pulls out in front of you forcing you to slam on the brakes. Does your instant reaction have anything to do with raising one of your fingers? Is the word that pops out of your mouth one you’d say in front of your Grandma?
Or do you remind yourself of all the times you’ve done something wrong behind the wheel? Maybe it’s an elderly driver who didn’t see you coming. Or perhaps the person’s mind is so full of worries they simply aren’t thinking straight.
Next question: You come home from work and notice that even though everyone was home all day, no one bothered to unload the dishes or fold the laundry. How do you respond? Do you do all the chores as noisily as possible while stewing about how you’re the only one around here who does anything? Or do you take a moment to remind yourself you might be overtired from the day and need a moment to adjust before working with your family on a solution?
Final question: Your boss sends you a short, snippy email that feels ridiculously condescending. Do you hurry to call a co-worker who knows exactly what that feels like so the two of you can commiserate together?
Or do you think to yourself, “I know nothing about what my boss is going through, but I bet she has some pretty heavy things on her mind right now. I refuse to let her toxic juices spread by talking about this with other people in the office?”
I’ve been on both sides of every one of those scenarios. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, it just means I’m a work in progress. So are you.
The reason we need to get a realistic grip on our kindness level is because our kindness isn’t about other people, it’s about us.
We are the one common denominator in each situation we find ourselves in.
Kindness isn’t about them, it’s about us. We can change jobs and divorce our spouse and be freed from the quarantine, but we’ll still have to deal with ourselves. There is no escaping. So what’s the solution? We’ve got to take our thoughts captive. We have to tell them who’s boss and keep telling them until they begin to naturally lean in the direction of compassion all by themselves.
Is that even possible? Yep. Our brains are creating new pathways every day. We teach our minds how to react in future situations by how we react in the current ones.
Start thinking about what you’re thinking about. Take a moment throughout the day to ask yourself, “What am I thinking about right now?”
Most people have thoughts that fall into one of three categories. Hurry, worry, or jury. Our minds are busy thinking about where we need to be next, what will happen if the virus gets worse, or why our neighbor refuses to wear a face mask.
We don’t have to think every thought that pops into our brains. We have the ability to control our thoughts, but first we have to recognize what we’re thinking.
Check in with yourself in the shower, on the drive to work and while you’re making dinner. Are you in the zone of Hurry, Worry or Jury? If so, it’s time to reject and replace.
When I first started to examine my thoughts, I didn’t like what I found. I knew I was guilty of letting my mind wander around unaccompanied, and I could see the way my thoughts were playing into my actions and setting the tone for the day.
Every time I realized I was thinking something negative or unhelpful, I would say to myself, “I reject that thought.”
(Friend, let me pause and say when I started this gig I had to say, “I reject that thought” hundreds of times a day. Literally.)
I got really good at saying “I reject that thought” but then I next had to replace the negative thought with something else. For months I carried around a tiny piece of paper in my pocket. Nine words in blue ink on a white background said, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
I wanted to grow in each of those areas — but first I had to remember them. After I would say the words, “I reject that thought,” I would force my brain to recite that list of nine words. Love, joy, peace… I could get three or four words out but then inevitably forget what came next and have to pull out my little piece of paper.
Once I got them all memorized, I found something new to carry around to force my mind to continue to search for positive thoughts to replace the negative.
My words came from the Bible (Galatians 5:22-23), because that’s an important book to me. If those words don’t resonate with you, you can go online and find a quote or mantra or list of words that matter to you personally and then write them down and stick them in your pocket. The next time you catch yourself thinking thoughts that wind you up or drag you down, pull out that mantra and start memorizing.
You’ll be surprised by how quickly you can retrain your brain and how naturally you’ll cultivate more happiness in your life — quarantine or not.
Nicole’s newest book, The Negativity Remedy: Unlocking More Joy, Less Stress and Better Relationships Through Kindness will be released by Baker Books on September 1st. Pre-order now for big savings. Also, Nicole is offering a free virtual drop in to any bookclub ordering ten or more books. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.