Do you often feel like you have spent your whole day chipping away at your to-do list without accomplishing any of the things that are most important to you? You are not alone.
As a CEO, mom, wife, volunteer, friend, daughter and overachiever, I know how that feels. It’s like we’re on a hamster wheel, never making any progress. We go through our week looking forward to Friday. Then we spend the weekend catching up on all the stuff we didn’t get done during the week. Monday comes, and the vicious cycle starts again.
While you can’t control the chaos, you can control how you respond to it. So although there is no simple solution to the frenetic pace of life, there are things we can do to continually bring us back to what matters most in our lives. I call these tools “mind over moment,” and they are all about making sure you are living life on purpose, rather than slipping into autopilot.
Mind over moment means practicing paying attention in each moment to decisions you would otherwise make unwittingly. It’s about stopping to ask, Is the way I am thinking and behaving going to get me the result I want?
So how can you keep your grip, even when the demands of life feel like fast-rising floodwaters, trying to pull you off balance and sweep you downstream? There are some proven tools for building resilience, happiness and success—but they work only when practiced. Let’s take a look at them:
How are you interpreting the situations that happen to you? Our beliefs about ourselves, and the stories we tell ourselves as a result of those beliefs, have a profound effect on our happiness and relationships.
Many of us have what Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset, believing that we are unable to grow or change, and are endlessly trying to prove ourselves as a result. Dweck contrasts that with the growth mindset—the belief that we can change and grow to meet the challenges we face. Cultivating a growth mindset frees you from believing that your happiness is based on your performance, and allows you to measure your progress on your ability to grow. When you do that, you can begin to view failure as a sign that you need to get better at a particular task rather than as a crushing defeat. What stories have you been telling yourself about yourself? If they are not moving you toward your goals, it’s time to choose a new story based on your ability to grow.
Scientific research has verified that when we look at life through a lens of positivity, we are more likely to enjoy better mental and physical health. It’s also a key component when it comes to business success. Entrepreneurs who are able to maintain a positive outlook are better positioned to attain goals such as profitability, business growth and innovation, according to a meta-analysis of 17 studies. Optimism isn’t about wearing rose-colored glasses. It’s about choosing how you interpret the events in your life. Crappy things happen to good people every day. How we choose to learn from those experiences is a large factor in determining our resilience.
Closely connected with optimism, gratitude for the good in our lives helps to keep us focused on the positive. The simple act of looking for things to be grateful for attunes our brains to the good. Gratitude is closely linked to our sense of well-being, and has the potential to make us more resilient in the face of adversity. Among its myriad benefits, expressing gratitude increases happiness and enriches relationships, according to studies. We find what we look for, so make sure you are looking for the right things.
Like optimism and gratitude, the happiness boost you get from connection with others is crucial to your health and well-being, and is a key element to building resilience. Having friendships and a sense of belonging is considered a core psychological need and has a big impact on our physical health.
According to the CDC’s summary of findings from the book Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System, “Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.” On the flip side, people who are more connected to friends and family are “happier, healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected,” says Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, in an analysis of eight decades of research. They also enjoy better brain health as they age.
Finding ways to laugh at challenges, stressful situations and even personal tragedy is one way resilient people cope and grow through misfortune. It broadens our focus of attention and helps us face our fears while “fostering exploration, creativity and flexibility in thinking,” according to Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney, co-authors of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. Being able to laugh at challenges “provides distance and perspective, but does so without denying pain or fear,” they write. “It manages to present the positive and negative wrapped into one package.”
6. Acts of service
There’s growing evidence that helping others benefits the giver as much as those on the receiving end. A 2019 study looked at how New Zealanders helped survivors of the Christchurch terror attacks that killed 51 people, including providing home-cooked meals, sending flowers and other small acts of kindness. The researchers found these actions strengthened the resilience of those who performed them. Stanford University psychologist and lecturer Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of The Science of Compassion, calls this the “tend-and-befriend response.”
“Caring for others triggers the biology of courage and creates hope,” she says.
Most of us are a lot better at prioritizing our schedules than scheduling our priorities.
If I tracked your time for a week, would it be representative of what you say is most important to you? Do your actions match your intentions?
Start by writing down what is most important to you. Then track how much of your time each day you are actually devoting to these priorities. If the answer is little or none, that’s a clear indication you need to carve out time in your day, week and month to focus on them.
The only way to get off the hamster wheel is for you to be in control of your life, rather than it controlling you. Mind over moment is about being deliberate about where we invest the limited time and energy that we have, so we can make the most of each day.
This article was published in September 2019 and has been updated. Photo courtesy of Anne Grady