People like Chelsea George (in Part 1 of The Thriving Mindset) teach us, as research supports, that individuals can thrive despite and sometimes because of hardship.
Your best resource for spinning hardship into positive growth is The Thriving Mindset.
The Thriving Mindset is a flexible and mindful approach to attending to and perceiving the world that enables Thrivers to switch between different modes of thought, emit a sense of hope even in the face of hardship, see themselves as capable of managing adversity and achieving goals (self-efficacy), find meaning in challenge, and continually strive for personal growth. Thrivers can be pushed to their limits -- just like the rest of us -- but they have the ability to persevere in the face of challenge. They can do this because they have the Thriving Mindset, which is the most essential resource for spinning challenge, fear and risk into the ‘good life’.
The first step to building a Thriving Mindset is to be able to effectively manage your attention, or rather, to be able to focus at will – through the practice of mindfulness meditation. Though 'attention' is one of the fastest-growing areas of study in the fields of psychology and neuroscience, we’re developing new technologies at light-speed rates that are making it increasingly harder for us to actually pay attention. If you can focus for at least five minutes without being distracted by facebook, texts or incoming calls, give yourself a pat on the back. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, that is a feat -- sadly.
From one minute to the next, our attention is hijacked by phone calls, emails and text messages. On top of that, we’re chronic multitaskers, which we’re often rewarded for, yet this same ‘skill’ seems to have taken a toll on our well-being. While most people believe that multitaskers are extremely gifted, a recent study at Stanford has revealed that multitaskers are easily distracted, have poorer memory skills, and they have a harder time paying attention and switching from one task to another as compared to individuals who typically focus on one task at a time.
Noted psychologist Mihayli Csikszentmihalyi believes that the content of our lives is determined by how we allocate our attention, and that “the mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will”. Additionally, researcher Mary Rothbart and colleagues have found that adults with advanced attention skills are less sad and anxious – certainly a step closer to flourishing! Thus, how we focus our attention has large implications for our well-being.
Just imagine the possibilities that can stem from being able to flexibly choose the content of your life just by having advanced attention skills. There’s no limit to what you may be able to accomplish when you are able to command your attention at will. This is exactly why cultivating the Thriving Mindset™ begins with first learning how to focus.
The next step is what I call mastering the Clever Switch. Not only is mindfulness practice good for cultivating attention in the present moment, but because most of us spend our time in the past or future, mindfulness helps us to develop flexible attention – giving rise to masterful control of attention and psychological flexibility. Dr. Steven Hayes describes psychological flexibility as “the ability to contact the present moment more fully as a conscious human being and to change, or persist in, behavior when doing so serves valued ends”.
Advanced attention skills encompass more than just being able to focus for long periods of time; they include being able to switch attention at will. The key factor here is the word ‘switch’. Often, life events demand that we switch thoughts and actions. At times, thriving requires that we make vast changes on the fly. Flexible attention enables us to be aware and awake, to make flexible choices, and to choose from a dynamic range of attentional styles.
For instance, Harry was a Senior Marketing Manager for a large cable network. When he was laid off, due to corporate downsizing, he spiraled into a depression, focusing solely on how unfair the situation was. After all, he invested much of his life working for this company. Didn’t they owe him some sense of security? As unfair as the situation was, it didn’t help Harry to focus on the injustice of the situation. For months, Harry moped around the house, feeling sorry for himself. Finally, his wife told him that he should focus on what he’s grateful for in life. Harry agreed to heed her advice, and in a few weeks, he actually was actively searching for new jobs. A month later, Harry was in a new position with a smaller company that allowed him to play a more active role in the company. In fact, Harry loves his new job. All it took for him to go from languishing to flourishing was for him switch his attention from what’s wrong with his life to what’s right about it.
There are times when thriving requires that you look through rose-tinted lenses, especially when the going gets tough, but sometimes it requires that you see what might go wrong, or what is wrong, so you can best decide how to deal with a situation at hand. If you walk around Pollyannaish, always looking on the bright side of life, all the time, you may miss some obstacles that may come up in life. Sometimes you need to be able to switch between thoughts of the past, present and future. Sometimes it takes switching from thoughts about the self to thoughts about others. If it sounds complex, that’s because it is complex. Though many people propose mindfulness as a way of being able to focus on the present, I believe it awards something much, much richer – flexibility to cleverly switch between different and sometimes completely opposing modes of thought! That’s why I call the second part of the Thriving Mindset is the The Clever Switch™.
Here are 3 Clever Switches you can use in your daily life:
Switch 1: From what’s wrong to what’s right: Instead of looking at what’s wrong in a situation, learn to see the benefits of challenge and focus on the things in your life that you can truly be grateful for.
Switch 2: From in to out. Sometimes we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves, especially when things don’t seem to be going our way. However, switching your focus outward (i.e., to helping someone else) can be quite beneficial for your mental health.
Switch 3: From now to then. When times are tough it can help to focus on a more hopeful and brighter future to get you through a tough, present moment. This switch can be especially helpful when dealing with hardship or working towards challenging goals.
In this world of instant and constant flux, the best resource one can have is the Thriving Mindset - the mindset of mastering change, of thriving through challenge, and of taking your life into the direction you most desire. It’s a mindset of taking action to pursue one’s deepest desires and dreams, and attention is at the intersection of thought and action. Although many articles regale the importance of cultivating a specific type of mindset, instilling the notion of “thinking positively”, the Thriving Mindset is quite different. While you may not be ready to scale mountains, compete in the Masters, or become an Olympic Gold Medalist, the Thriving Mindset offers you a more authentic way to living life – and it all begins with being able to focus and switch your attention.
Angie LeVan, MAPP, is a resilience coach, speaker, trainer and writer, dedicated to helping individuals and organizations/businesses thrive!
Angie is available for presentations, workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching. For more information see: ajlevan.com.