Using Positive Psychology in Times of Chaos – A Winning Strategy!
Most people today feel a sense of chaos in their worlds, which is creating a great sense of anxiety. With the worldwide pandemic, economic crisis and climate change we often do not know what is up or down anymore. This can create a great sense of anxiety, but I am here to tell you that if you change the way you view your circumstances you can actually master the chaos and come out on top. This is the time to embrace change, find the hidden opportunities and reinvent yourself.
First you must understand the basic concepts of biology of the brain and how it works. Krishnagopal Dharani (2014) refers to this as “The Biology of Thought”, which is in essence the way in which your thoughts create neurological changes in your brain. Advances in neuroscience have shown us that every thought you have produces a chemical reaction in your brain and wires it accordingly. Therefore, if you have prevailing negative thoughts your brain will respond in kind. It is only by harnessing this power to wire our brains through thought that we can change our brains to work with us and not against us. This is not a new concept – spiritualists and meditation masters have known this for centuries. However, it has been through the advances in science that we can actually see and pinpoint how this occurs.
Your state of mind is a real thing and is the “psychological state” of your cognitive processes at a certain time; the condition or character of your thoughts or feelings. It is also a function of what you focus on, what you allow into your thoughts and how you choose to focus your mental energies. It is your choice what you choose to focus on, and the outcomes produced by your area of focus is what will direct your path – in particular your behaviors. Behaviors always start with a thought, which leads to an emotion and then the corresponding behavior. By paying close attention to your thoughts and the feelings they produce you can actually behave your way to reaching your goals and objectives.
This is how you can move past your current situation of chaos and actually see the opportunities that are presented to you. By simply changing your state of mind about your circumstances from a negative to a positive, you can find the silver lining and opportunity for growth in everything! This is how you can reinvent yourself and embrace opportunity. This can require great strength and will power depending on your temperament and personality type, but anyone can do it if “you put your mind to it”.
Easier said than done I am sure you are saying, but there are some simple steps you can take to practice this. This practice is itself at the root of what the field of Positive Psychology. Courtney E. Ackerman describes it well…”Positive thinking actually means approaching life’s challenges with a positive outlook. It does not necessarily mean avoiding or ignoring the bad things; instead, it involves making the most of the potentially bad situations, trying to see the best in other people, and viewing yourself and your abilities in a positive light.” This is the key – and it is in your capability to do!
Ackerman actually breaks down what she considers to be 6 key characteristics and traits of having a positive mind set. These traits are; 1) Optimism: a willingness to make an effort and take a chance instead of assuming your efforts won’t pay off; 2) Acceptance: acknowledging that things don’t always turn out how you want them to, but learning from your mistakes; 3) Resilience: bouncing back from adversity, disappointment, and failure instead of giving up, 4) Gratitude: actively, continuously appreciating the good things in your life; 5) Consciousness/Mindfulness: dedicating the mind to conscious awareness and enhancing the ability to focus and 6) Integrity: the trait of being honorable, righteous, and straightforward, instead of deceitful and self-serving. She further states that “not only are these characteristics of a positive mindset, but they may also work in the other direction—actively adopting optimism, acceptance, resilience, gratitude, mindfulness, and integrity in your life will help you develop and maintain a positive mindset”.
One of the hardest aspects of this is staying out of a place of fear. When we live in fear, we actually sabotage ourselves because we live in a constant state of fight or flight. The human psyche and the human body are not designed to live in constant fear, and the results can be devastating if we do not find new ways of coping. Charmaine Carraway says it best…” When we live in a state of panic there is no peace. And where there is no peace, there is no faith, thus removing our state of freedom”. We can actually become prisoners of our minds if we are not diligent in taking control over it. More important is that fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death.
When we have a positive mindset and are able to see the opportunities before us, we are moving in a positive direction, but the steps you take are also important. The best way I have found to accomplish goals when I embrace an opportunity is to set my goal and then pay attention to the steps, not the entire road before me. This “eating an elephant one bit at a time” approach allows you to process each step, stay in the present and not too far into the future, maintain a healthy emotional state around it and get to your goals much easier. This requires practice and diligence, but it is key to your success in achieving your personal goals. I am not saying this is easy, but it is a critical skill needed to maintain your equilibrium when chaos besets your world. This is a practice, and something you will forever work on, but it is doable, and you will see the results throughout your life if you apply the principles.
In regards to embracing chaos as an opportunity – perception is reality no matter how you slice it. People who view everything from a “how can I make this work for me” perspective will always come out on top. People who view the world with shock and emotional distress when problems arise never get over the hump and are too busy fretting to see the open doors before them. Opportunities have an expiration date, and if we don’t strike while the iron is hot, we miss our chance. This practice leads to regret and disappointment, and of course, more negative circumstances… a vicious cycle.
A good rule of thumb while you are reinventing yourself and moving into a positive mind set is to 1) stay away from negative people who can drain your positive energy and cause you to doubt yourself; 2) stay out of denial and face the situation for what it is, which lessens the sting and puts in you a place of making powerful, good decisions; 3) work on a meditation or practice each day that allows you to train your mind and keep it in a positive place; 4) practice gratitude by acknowledging at least 5 things a day that you are grateful for. This alone will create positive neurological changes in your brain and 5) get plenty of rest and exercise, which increases dopamine and other brain chemicals needed for concentration and optimal performance.
This practice does not happen overnight, but it does happen if you apply yourself to it. One size does not fit all, so finding what works for you is key. Whatever you decide to do, and however you choose to do it, it a personal journey that you will embark on to change your life. I can assure you that when you do you will see your life and circumstances in a whole new way. One of my favorite quotes is by Dr. Wayne Dyer who said, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. This is your opportunity to change the way you look at your life, your circumstances and embrace the chaos in a positive and effective way. Chaos is the motivator for change – embrace it, use it and learn from it. It is in your grasp, so grab it!