And sometimes the smallest shifts can help. Sometimes adjusting our perspective can have a significant impact. Sometimes adopting a small habit can drastically improve our days. Below are eight habits and perspective-shifters to try, which might even be life-changing.
Surround yourself with positive voices. “You become the five voices you are around the most,” said Brooke Schmidt, a marriage and family therapist who owns Arrow Therapy in Eden Prairie, Minn. Which is why she stressed the importance of paying attention to the people around you, the books and blogs you’re reading, the videos you’re watching and the words you’re listening to. “Are you around a lot of negative or fear-based voices, or are you around people and things you find uplifting and energizing?”
Relinquish regrets. How many times a day do you berate yourself for a decision you made months ago? Years ago? “Many of us spend time rehashing past decisions and blaming ourselves for our choices,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and writer in Pasadena, Calif.
But how does this make sense? Because when we made the decision, we didn’t have the information we have now. At the time, you didn’t know that your partner would turn out to be a narcissist. You didn’t know that you’d lose your job or that the housing market would crash. Which is why Howes suggested giving “your former self a break and [accepting] that you had your best interests in mind, you were using all the tools you had, and you made your choice based on the best information you had at the time.”
Of course, you might want to identify if there are any lessons to be learned, such as “waiting for more data or keeping impulses in check.” But in general, it’s best to forgive yourself and move on. Howes teaches his clients to repeat this mantra: “I made the best decision with the information I had at the time.”
Re-evaluate your priorities and values. “Take 5 minutes to jot down the things that you spend the most time on (your priorities) and the activities and people in your life that are most important to you (your values),” said Elizabeth Gillette, LCSW, an attachment-focused therapist in Asheville, N.C., who specializes in working with individuals and couples as their families grow. This “can help clarify areas of your life that don’t feel in alignment.”
You might not be able to change certain activities or responsibilities—such as the length of your commute—but you can make it feel as valuable as possible, she said. For instance, if your commute involves taking the bus or train, you can read your favorite kinds of books, journal or knit. If you drive, you can listen to podcasts or audiobooks. You can take long, deep breaths at every red light.
Tackle tiny, tangible tasks. Since it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by our to-do lists, Howes recommended performing a small, simple task to gain some momentum. This might be anything from making your bed to making a call to paying a bill to taking a walk. He’s found that making progress on such tasks inspires us to scratch off other items, which might’ve paralyzed us earlier.
Take regular pauses. Gillette encourages her clients to set alarms on their phones as reminders to take 1- to 2-minute breaks throughout their day. During this time, you might take deep breaths—four counts in, and four counts out—or cross your arms over your chest and tap alternately on each shoulder, she said.
“This very short break allows all parts of our brain to integrate information and provide our nervous system a much-needed rest from external input.”
Another restorative option is to turn off your phone and put it in a drawer for at least 15 minutes, she said.
Adopt a curious perspective. “People can make a huge change in their outlook on life if they adopt a stance of curiosity instead of leaping to conclusions or reacting impulsively,” Howes said. He shared this example: You and your partner planned to go to the beach for the weekend. But your partner suddenly wants to stay home. You might want to scream, “What?! You always cancel our plans!”
Instead, you get curious. Instead, you observe what’s happening and ask a thoughtful question, without judgment or accusations: “Hmmm. I thought our plan was to go to the beach. Have you changed your mind about that? Why?” This kind of dialogue leads to a discussion (versus a fight). And “you could learn valuable information about your partner and how they approach problems.”
Refocus on your inherent worth. We tend to attach our self-worth to objects and accomplishments. And when we don’t attain them, we tend to put ourselves in a less-than position. For instance, your friend gets new furniture for their entire house, which makes you think that you can’t have anyone over because your furniture isn’t as nice, Schmidt said. Your coworker gets promoted, which makes you think that you’re not good enough to move up, she said. Remind yourself regularly that “this stuff does not define your worth or value as a person.”
Celebrate your actions. “Many people set their criteria for success impossibly high—so high that they base it on factors that are beyond their control,” Howes said. For instance, if you ask someone out and they say no, you probably consider it a failure. After all, you got rejected. But this is an action to celebrate. Because, as Howes said, you overcame the fear of asking someone out and put your best foot forward. Whether the other person is interested depends on myriad factors, all of which you have zero control over, including their relationship status, interest level or mood that day, he said.
In another example, a woman requests a raise. Even though she’s anxious, she does her research and rehearses her talk. But she’s turned down. “Has she failed?” Howes said. “No. She was victorious over the fear and anxiety as soon as she made her request, and deserves to revel in that victory.” She can’t control whether the company is going bankrupt or whether they have a strict policy on raises, he said.
We can’t measure our success based on factors we can’t control. All we can control is our ability to show up and do our homework. And those are vital things to celebrate.
Often we don’t need to overhaul our lives to see and savor meaningful benefits. The above suggestions are great examples of this.