The mind can only hold one thought or emotion at a time. With the noisy daily news of right vs. left, black versus white, Muslim versus Muslim, Democrat versus Republican, and so on, it is easy to slip into a pattern of negative thinking and low expectations.
Polarities in the world exist, of course, and it is worthwhile to pay attention to them.
However, we often can get pulled into reacting out of conditioned patterns of thought and emotion thus perpetuating the clamor and rancor rather than bringing politeness, perspicacity, and peace to situations around us.
Stress is in many cases self-induced and is always experienced personally. Choosing how to react in an healthy fashion often requires a few mindful steps — like pause, presence and proceed.
This is about getting out of our clutter and conditioned responses, entering into the present moment, and proceeding mindfully, thoughtfully to a healthy choice.
Make a decision not to act or react immediately to stressful circumstances. Take time to be mindful, to accept what is before you thoughtfully, and without judgment.
As my colleague and teacher Jon Kabat Zinn says: “Mindfulness means paying attention, in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of the present moment reality.”
Another wise person said: “Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. You don’t have to be swept away by your feeling. You can respond with feeling. You can respond with wisdom and kindness rather than habit and reactivity.”
So if we can hold only one thought, one emotion at a time, how about holding one of gratitude? Gratitude is absolutely the way to bring more life into your life.
For our recent anniversary, I gifted my wife with a necklace and she gave me an even more valuable thing, a present of Robert Emmons’ book “Gratitude Works! A 21-day program for creating emotional prosperity.”
Dr. Emmons is a psychology professor at University of California-Davis and one of the founders of positive psychology. His research for many years has documented the benefits of having people write down and journal their appreciation and gratitude for things, people, experiences, surprises in their lives and even the bad things that didn’t happen.
To make gratitude a regular process in replacing the negativity that often imposes itself from our world, Professor Emmons suggests a regular journaling practice. By writing down on a daily or every other day basis the things we are grateful for, our mind become increasingly focused on the positive elements of our lives.
This creates not only relief from stress but actually has the benefit of helping us notice and attract more of the kinds of things we want and less of the things we don’t want. Put some detail and description of what you are grateful for.
Commit to spending 5 to 10 minutes daily or every other day, morning or evening, it doesn’t matter as long as you do it. Your attitude will definitely shift to one of health, wholeness, optimism, and well-being.
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.