This article first appeared on Happify.com.
There are countless daily challenges in life that drain us of energy and make us react in ways that we dislike or regret. Being caught in traffic can make us go into a rage, receiving a snide comment or being unappreciated can make us ruminate and sulk endlessly, and receiving negative feedback can sometimes throw us into a downward spiral of catastrophizing.
At the deepest level, unknown to us, we’re acting out of subconscious fears that are a part of our genetic baggage. And although these fears served us well in the open savannahs where the possibility of being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger was very real, they prevent us from showing up fully in the world today. This is because most of our fears are psychological, based around a sense of self that is largely a construct of our own minds. Yet, the mental maps we build to make sense of our world include other people. No wonder then that rejection, unacceptance and disapproval lie at the core of our fears—they literally shake our self-concept.
We react to these threats by creating walls around our ego that protect and defend ourselves. However, this only alienates us further and creates an unfortunate vicious cycle. What if, instead, we were able to reach out to others and increase our engagement with the world? We’d be able to overcome daily challenges by strengthening our mind-maps, not tearing them down.
There is no doubt that when we’re in the throes of negativity, this is no easy feat. Negative emotions hijack our mental capacities and drain us of energy. Ironically enough, even the willpower we use to refrain from behaving in ways that may lead to guilt and remorse, can leave us exhausted.
The good news is that positive psychology has provided us with scientifically proven ways to intervene effectively and rise to the occasion with grace, increasing our connection with ourselves, others and the world, and fuelling our lives with the energy to live fully and happily. Here are 5 strategies to try right now.
When angry or upset, our hearts race, our blood pumps fast and our breath becomes quick and shallow. To calm this fight-or-flight response, we need to connect to our breath and stabilize it by breathing slowly and deeply. In his fascinating new book, The Self Comes To Mind neuroscientist Antonio Damasio talks of the inner world as the lens through which we see the outer world. When our own inner world is in turmoil, our perception changes and our fears can blow out of proportion.
Think of Your Ideal Self
In each of us, there lies a yearning to live up to our highest possible version. In The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes about a moral dimension that we as humans aspire towards. When we react in ways that are contrary to this desire, we create a gulf where guilt, stress and disappointment can breed, affecting the pursuit of what we truly want in life.
Appreciate the Goodness in Others
It is easier to forgive others and let go of grudges if we believe that they have inner strengths that are valuable and worthy of appreciation. Strengths spotting is a great positive psychology exercise that enables us to do so. So does the realization that human goodness is innate, and can be harnessed in the interactions we have with others. When we help others connect to their goodness by believing in it, we also strengthen our own virtues.
The research on embodiment over the past few decades has placed the body as central to our everyday experiences. Our physical responses are in reaction to our reality – but they can also construct our reality. When we embody the grace with which we wish to rise to the experience, through our gestures, our posture, our tone and our expressions, we make it easier for ourselves to think, feel and behave in ways that are in line with our best possible selves.
Open Up to the World
Once we have calmed down the immediate urge to react, the best way to keep ourselves from mulling over the experience is by stepping out of our own little worlds. By giving to others with empathy and compassion and by belonging to something larger than the self, we satisfy a very real human need for connection.
Our fears have been an essential part of our evolutionary trajectory. They have ensured that we survive long enough to pass on our (fearful!) genes to future generations. However, somewhere along the journey, we have also acquired the need to connect with others, and to make a difference to the world. It is in answering this need that we can respond gracefully to daily challenges.