Wednesday, January 13, 2021

On the Positive Side

We just closed out 2020, which many have semi-jokingly compared to a dumpster fire, and who can blame them?  We turn on the news and hear stories about increasing death tolls, positivity rates, people that can't hug their grandparents, election turmoil, looming eviction crisis, and the list goes on. It's hard not to be impacted by the flurry of negative information being pumped into our minds through our televisions, smartphones, computers, and even conversations with other people.  How can this not grate on the collective psyche?  Moreover, how does this not filter down to the individual on a micro-level?  These large doses of macro-level negative information could easily program our minds to look for more negative information.  The easiest place to turn is within our own life situations.

Where our attention goes, our energy flows.

I watch a bit of news in the morning because I like to know what's happening in the world; it helps me to be better informed in a variety of aspects of my life.  I want to be an informed consumer, voter, educator, writer, friend, and overall human being.  Now, the truth is that I only need to watch a little bit of the news in order to be satisfied that I've achieved this state.  Very quickly the news starts to loop, and the same stories get recycled.  At this point, I have a choice:  I can either remain on this train or get off.  I choose to exit.  I might change the channel to something that feels uplifting or inspirational, or maybe I'll indulge myself in an episode of Murder She Wrote or the Golden Girls (Hey, you have your pleasure, I'll have mine, right?).  I might exit the train to go meditate, walk, or read.  It all depends on my mood and need in the moment.  Regardless of which choice I make in that given moment, I recognize and honor the existence of the status quo, and then I reach for something that feels better.

This key mindset shift could serve to benefit us in many aspects of our lives, particularly where our finances are concerned.  As I scroll through social media, I see countless tales of individuals that are having some really negative experiences in their work-life.  I remember reading an Eckhart Tolle passage, where he describes the idea that at times, we don't need to change what we're doing, but rather how we are doing it.  This really resonates with me because it speaks to the power of positivity.  I understand that there are many work experiences that range in negative feelings anywhere from unsatisfied to toxic, and that might not change overnight. But what I ask is this:  Is it necessary to give it that much of our mental and emotional energy?  Clearly, we pride ourselves on performing our job functions to the best of our ability because we are people with integrity and pride.  But do we need to get tangled up in a mental and emotional, negative downward spiral?  Mentally and emotionally, can we turn toward something that feels really good to start a transition toward something more empowering?

Not so long ago, I started an experimental side-gig.  I knew that I had knowledge and expertise in this area, and was really excited to use it (making a little extra money was a bonus).  I very quickly started to emotionally spiral downwards, as I felt underpaid, and under-supported by a manager that was rarely there.  I was also irritated by what felt to me like a lack of organization within the company.  I almost immediately noticed the negative feelings coming into my experience. I had committed to this side-gig for a set duration of time.  So, it was important to me that I see it through.  I could have let myself stew in my own misery, but misery breeds more misery.  Why would I want to sit there for the duration feeling miserable?  So, I spent the next few months, focusing my energy on the couple of coworkers that I really enjoyed, how much fun it was to learn more about the subject matter, and the delicious fresh-baked bagels on the corner.  These were my wins; these were the things that made me feel good within that situation.  I tried to avoid focusing on the less-than-desirable parts and engaging in negative conversations.  That last one is difficult, isn't it?  I know it's a matter of semantics, but our words are powerful, and those negative conversations can really make their way into our mental and emotional lives.  Now, I want to cycle back to the idea that sometimes we don't need to change what we're doing, but rather how we're doing it.  I knew that I had a lot of promise in this particular area and that I was going to see my original commitment through; however, this company wasn't a great match for me.  Focusing my thoughts a bit more on more enjoyable avenues of utilizing my skillset felt really good.  Suddenly, my world felt like it was open to a myriad of possibilities.  That feels so much better than sinking in the quicksand of misery.  What ultimately came out of it was me starting my own business.  I'm absolutely excited about my new business.  I never felt that excited about working for the other organization.  That's a mental and emotional win!  Financially speaking, the long term growth potential is astronomically higher, though that may or may not be realized in the first year.  With the company, annual increases are limited; with my business, they're limitless.

Several years ago now, had a private student loan.  It was a manageable payment but at a variable interest rate.  Dangerous, right?  When the interest rate is variable, there's no way to guarantee it won't eventually make your payment skyrocket.  I've never been a fan of that kind of uncertainty.  So, after all of my credit cards were paid off, I turned to it next.  It was by far the largest, single debt I had tackled at that point in my life, and it was easy to allow my emotions to get entangled in the magnitude of the task at hand.  Many people that favor the "debt snowball" strategy (where you pay the smallest balance first, then the next smallest, and so on) cite the psychological momentum as the primary reason for the practice.  This strategy isn't the one that has the largest impact mathematically, but the "quick win" associated with satisfying one of the accounts in full makes people see immediate progress and feel really good.  That keeps momentum going in the right direction.  Now the truth is that I'm not necessarily on "team debt snowball" because I've personally combined strategies and had success.  What I do want to reinforce is the mindset shift.  When we shift our thinking away from the magnitude of debt and all of the negative emotions that go with it, we will absolutely start to build our own momentum.  When I was tackling this private student loan, I prided myself in the fact that I always did a really good job keeping up with my payments and making them on time.  I would also round my payments up to the nearest $5 or $10 mark.  I was really proud that I consistently did that.  I celebrated the small wins and positive habits.  Those small wins are what help build positive momentum in reaching goals.    When I started throwing larger sums of money at the loan to pay it off quickly, instead of lamenting about the balance that remained, I reframed it.  "I have paid this $1000 for the last time.  I am done with this $1000 forever.  How amazing is that?!"  And you know what?  It's true!  Every $1000 that is paid down on the principal of a loan is a thousand dollars that is gone forever!  Doesn't that feel amazing?!  We can reach goals and feel good in the process.

When you ask people what they really want in life, you get a lot of really fascinating responses. The funny thing is that they pretty much always boil down to "I want to be happy."  You see, I'm not sure that happiness is a destination.  Happiness is the journey.  So, perhaps one of our biggest goals going forward should involved training our minds to look at the glass and see it half full of something worth celebrating.  As I work on this in my own life, I notice that it keeps coming more easily all the time, and I'm happy. So, what is it in your life that has you constantly circling back to the negative place? Consider whether or not you can change the how if you either can't or don't care to change the what. Look for small wins or little moments that make you feel good.  Choose your words carefully.  Is there a way you might feed your mind hope?  Is there something that feels good that deserves more of your attention than the thing that doesn't feel so good?  Remember, it's okay to reach our goals and feel good in the process.

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