At the beginning of 2009 I decided to create a Life Improvement Plan, an idea I got from a blog Think Simple Now that I frequent quite often. Part One of the plan was summing up what I wanted to feel this year in two words. After creating a lengthy list and then paring it down, I came up with two words: Positive Present. After years of being the "Eeyore," living under a dark cloud of woe-is-me, I decided this will be the year I focus on the positive. This will be the year I live in the present, turning all of my attention toward making my life, and the lives of those around me, more positively aware. Now, this isn't any small feat when you've been living under a rain cloud for twenty-five years. I will need some help -- from the friends and family in my life, from my therapist, from the books and blogs I read on a daily basis -- but I am determined to live this year as positive and as present as I possibly can.
You may be asking yourself, "What does it mean to be positive and present?" To me, this means living in the moment and searching for the positive in every situation. While I know this screams of a Pollyanna-like attitude (something that the old me would have despised), I also know that I have spent years (twenty-five of them, to be exact) living unhappily in two places -- the past and the future -- and that has caused me nothing but sorrow and stress. I'm no expert on happiness (check out The Happiness Project blog for someone who is), but I do know that I've spent a quarter of a century living in a sad, dark place where happiness constantly alluded me. Over the past six months I've been striving to live in the moment and do it positively and I've noticed that happiness is not as hard to come by as I once thought.
Let's get back to the concept of living in the present because, to me, this is hard. Every single day I try to focus on this, but my mind is a tricky fellow who enjoys long walks in the past and hours and hours of daydreaming about the future. Remembering the past and planning for the future are, of course, important, but they should not be more important than living in the now. Two very important things I have to remind myself on a daily basis are:
The past is over and gone. You're not going to get it back. Ever.
This is a particularly hard one for me (and many other people) to master. I find myself playing and replaying things that have happened over and over and over again. Whether it's a conversation I had with someone that didn't go well or a situation that caused months and months of heartache, recalling this incident over and over again does absolutely nothing to change it. I am a firm believer in learning from our mistakes (and even, if you can, learning from the mistakes of others), but there is a line that must be drawn between the analysis needed to learn from a mistake and the obsessive tape-loop of replaying a moment over and over again. I tend to drown out my positive thoughts with negative statements such as, "If only I hadn't said that!" or "If I'd only done that instead!" However, this does nothing good for me -- or the situation that is over and done with. The only thing to do here is take what I can from the past and move on.
The future may never come. There is no point in worrying about what might be.
This one is also hard to overcome at times. On a daily (or is it hourly?) basis, I find myself worrying about both small and big things -- many of which never actually happen. I worry, worry, worry. Like so many creative types, I think of situations in my head that will never actually happen. I used to think these kinds of mind games had a point -- they were preparing me for situations so I would always be ready -- but now I realize that, more often than not, things I worry about never actually happen. The only thing that definitely happens when I worry about the future is stress, and that is not a positive feeling. Of course there are certain things in the future I must think about and plan for, but I must constantly remind myself not to stress about it because, as scary as it might seem at times, the future is unknown.
Now that I've written a bit about the "present," let's focus for awhile on the "positive," shall we? Positivity is probably the most unnatural attitude for me to embody. I have survived for twenty-five years on sadness, sassiness, and sarcasm. Being positive does not come easily for me, but I've realized that it's very, very important. When I'm thinking positively -- or even when I'm pretending to think positively -- my whole world changes. Trust me; I know how cliche and ridiculous this might sound, but it is 100% true. I have noticed no change more profound in my short lifetime than when I choose to think about something (myself, the world, my life, others) positively. Certainly I am not the first one to notice this as I've read dozens and dozens of quotes on how thinking positively can change one's life, but it is such an amazing assertion of my own ability to cause change in my world. I am irritatingly impatient (and somewhat of a control freak) so for me to realize that all I have to do to change my situation is to change the way I think about it is a huge relief.
Of course, it's not always that easy (okay, it's never easy) for me to be positive. But you know what's easier than I thought it would be? Faking it. Yes, there are many situations where faking is not the answer (such as, say, when you're in the bedroom), but when it comes to being positive, I am all about putting on that fake smile and oh-so-cheery voice and mumbling to myself through those clenched pearly whites, "Fake it 'til you make it." Countless times I've read that just looking at yourself in a mirror and smiling can make you happier and, you know what? It's true. And the same thing goes with faking it. The more you act like you feel positive, that you're happy, that the world around you is a wonderful, perfect, joyful place, the more it actually becomes true. Okay, I know, it sounds cheesy and outdated and hopelessly unexciting, but try it. Trust me, it works.