Can you tell me 3 things?
My teenage daughter knows exactly what this means. Sometimes she’ll reject the challenge, rolling her eyes and saying, “I don’t want to be coached right now.” But most times, she’ll engage, starting slowly and then allowing the momentum to build as she gains steam and ends with a flourish.
It started with a trend that I noticed. Daily, as she entered my car from school, she would regale me with everything that went wrong at school that day. If a positive anecdote slipped in accidently, upon realization she would make sure to add the “but…” and tell me how it was actually a false positive.
This negativity was an instant energy shifter for me. The excitement I had been feeling in anticipation of seeing her and hearing about her day, was doused with ice cold water; I felt trapped in her negativity, unable to escape. This way of thinking about one’s day is completely contrary to my comfort level, and I searched for a way to stop this litany of woes. After all, my kids don’t call me a radical optimist for nothing.
So one afternoon, I tried something new. As usual, as soon as she entered my car she relayed her experiences, telling me everything that went wrong. I allowed her to get through her entire day and acknowledged that I understood why she would be in such a bad mood. I then wondered if there was one thing that went right today. She thought and she came up with one. Okay, good, I seemed to get a little buy in. We were onto something.
I then asked if she would humor me and wondered if we could play a sort of game. Could she start again from the time she woke up, tell me all about her day, but only tell me good things that happened? Even if that meant that she only mentioned a few things. She loves games more than anything and she had already completely vented, so she was feeling generous and played along. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go but I’ll tell you now that even I was surprised at how her mood completely shifted as she kept finding more and more good things to say as she went through her day. By the time she had reached the end of her recap, she felt like she had had a fabulous day. And that mood carried over for the rest of the afternoon and night!
Until the next morning. There I was, psyching myself up as I did every morning to slap on a smile and enter her room happily, singing good morning, asking about her sleep, fully prepared with my meteorological report so she’d know how to dress. I was so proud of her energy shift the day before that I was unprepared for the stream of overwhelming thoughts that came pouring out of her as she opened her eyes.
Upon awakening, she clearly felt this compulsion to list the reasons she knew that the day that had not yet even begun, was going to be difficult. As her list grew longer, she grew more anxious, until she had pretty much guaranteed that this day was going to be a failure for her. Thinking about the success from the day before, I tried another exercise.
First, I shared with her that each morning I list to myself a bunch of things that I am grateful for and I started sharing some: an indoor temperature-controlled waterfall of my own that works with the push of a button (aka a shower) , electricity, my soft purple striped bath mat, a kitchen filled with food, clothes in my closet, the luxury to douse myself with soaps, lotions and perfume, music at my fingertips, a few quiet moments to choose my mindset, and the fact that when the cup spilled it was filled with water instead of tomato juice. I think about what people in crises around the world are experiencing, and I am grateful that we are safe and that my biggest problems are luxurious ones compared to so many.
I then wondered if she could tell me one thing that she was grateful for. She did. I asked if she could come up with 2 more things. She did. And then on her own she added another and another until I could hear her listing them throughout her shower. She actually listed more positive things about her own character and abilities than about the things she has, which added another item to my own gratitude list. By the time she was out of the shower, her mood had completely changed and she was eager to face the day.
She told me later that since she came to school filled with the positive energy, she attracted more of the experiences she was hoping for. She now realized that had she not shifted her mood, but instead had gone to school with a cloud around her, the opposite would likely have happened. People like to be around positivity, and by shifting her own mindset, she was able to choose her experience.
We’ve spent the bulk of this school year practicing this shift in perspective. There are definite pros and cons of living with a Mom as she becomes a life coach. It still doesn’t always come naturally for her, and there are certainly times that she’d rather remain in the terrible mood then put the effort into thinking positively, but it’s a skill she has and can use now on her own.
Before a trip recently, she wondered how she would get out of her own way when she was feeling badly, since I wouldn’t be there. I told her to ask herself what I would say. She told me later that when she asked herself what 3 things were going well, she was able to find the perspective she needed.
Today, 3 days before she turns 16, my wish for her is that she is always able to appreciate at least 3 things that she is grateful for, no matter what else is going on. Sometimes all we need is a reminder that, as Anais Nin so aptly wrote, “We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.”
How are you seeing the world? Can you tell me 3 things that are good in your life right now?