“We are created for significance!” ~Angela Maiers
As summer ends, we get back to school and work, the stirring of new beginnings in the air. It’s a great time to say “hello” and make new connections.
Humans thrive in relationship to others. We desire friendship and love. We need to feel important and supported yet often sabotage our own needs because of our human nature. We find fault in others. We judge and blame. Just as we are wired to connect and bond, we are also evolutionarily wired to carry a negativity bias that predisposes us to notice what is wrong. Why? To survive. If we missed a threat, we could be doomed. If we missed a joyful moment, we would survive. Negative events and experiences create more neural activity in the brain than equally positive stimuli. Research shows that when shown pictures for one-tenth of a second, we more easily identify the angry faces than joyful faces. Our primitive brain uses more of its neurons to store negative experiences in memory centers than positive ones. In fact, we must purposely focus on positive happenings ten to twenty seconds for long-term memory storage. Our ancestors gave us great survival skills that don’t always translate into wellbeing.
What does this have to do with new starts? Everything. With an evolutionary tendency to focus on anxiety provoking stimuli, perceived threats, and negative happenings, we may hold ourselves back from reaching out to others and creating the bonds we need. We may avoid certain situations or people because of our negativity bias, falling into a pattern of self-protection and cautious living.
What can we do to hold space for the connections that make us thrive? I propose five practices: 1) Mindful Awareness, 2) Reframe hobgoblins of the mind, 3) Focus on what’s good, 4) Self-Compassion, 5) Action. Each one of these could be the subject of an article itself, but here are practical suggestions for daily living.
First, we need to practice mindful awareness by sitting with our thoughts. Take a minute here and there throughout the day and non-judgmentally notice what you are thinking. This opens us to change. What is your self-talk? Your other-talk? Are you critical? Do you make assumptions? Start to explore how you think and what you tell yourself throughout the day so you can become aware of counter-productive, disconnecting patterns.
Second, dispute the thoughts that don’t serve you. I call these sabotaging thoughts hobgoblins. They keep us small and lacking curiosity. We tend to overestimate the bad and underestimate the good. Change your internal language from “this is how it is” to “is this true?” and dispute the thought with evidence to the contrary. A thought like, “John is selfish” can become “John is busy” when we ask ourselves for evidence and realize John is caring for ailing parents, works, and has three young kids hence hasn’t called in a while.
Third, ask yourself all day every day, “What’s good?” Pay attention and savor the moment. Hold it in your thoughts for ten to twenty seconds. Take in everything from a person’s kindness to a beautiful sunset. When we focus and refocus our attention on the positives around us, in us, and in others, our world shifts.
Fourth, treat yourself like you would a child. Be kind. Have patience. Practicing self-compassion is not an indulgence but rather helps to develop self-efficacy by giving us a chance to grow into our new positive selves, making connections with trust not criticism.
Fifth, take action. Carry a notebook and jot down the good that you see and share it with a friend or family member. Find the “awesome” in others and take notice. Imagine that everyone you meet is wearing an invisible sign that says, “How do I matter?” and it is your purpose in life to let them know. If you know the person, be specific. If you don’t, you can still reach out. Start your own You Matter Marathon. Make up cards that say YOU MATTER and give them out at work, school, in the supermarket, the train station, or wherever you go.
Remind yourself that our need to connect is a daily one and that you and those you love matter. Then, take it to the streets and spread the word. As Seth Godin says, “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution.” YOU MATTER!
Milissa Castanza Seymour M.S., C.H. is a N.Y.S. certified teacher with over twenty-five years healing arts experience. She is a certified Positive Psychology practitioner/Inner-Soul coach and professional, practicing Numerologist whose accomplishments include multiple certifications to include: Prana Yoga, Integrative Yoga Therapy/Holistic Health Educator, Consulting Hypnotist, Reiki Master Teacher, Flourishing Center certified Positive Psychology Practitioner/Coach. www.inner-soulcoach.com