Do you struggle with focusing on the negative things in your life instead of the positive things? Do you want to have a more positive outlook? I want to share something that changed my life forever, and it can change your life too.
A number of years ago I was taking an art class for people with chronic pain. I was in the back of the room looking for a refill on my coffee. Full confession, I was also getting a cookie. Anyone in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania region will know what I mean when I say there were Eat’n Park smiley cookies and one had a purple smile! (For you all wondering what on earth I mean, a local restaurant chain makes iconic smiley cookies. They’re round sugar cookies decorated with white royal icing and a smiley face. There’s just something magical about them that makes you feel like a kid again. Just thinking of them, I can almost smell the sweet cookie.) Anyhow, while took a bite of my cookie, all of a sudden I hear a woman yell “You want to see someone who’s a positive person? Right there! She’s always so positive!” Everyone turned to see who she was pointing at, including myself. Then I slowly realized I was staring at the wall while everyone else was looking at me. The room previously filled with chatter was so silent I think everyone heard me crunch my cookie.
Until that day I never realized I was a positive person. I like to call myself a realist who always looks for the best. If you ask me if a glass is half empty or half full, my answer is “It’s half a glass.” (It’s how I think, and bonus, it drives people nuts when I come up with an answer that was not an option!) I use many things to help me shift my focus, but one technique I learned when I was a patient at a psychiatric hospital in 2004 It’s called:
Yes, but Yes Thinking
This was a hard lesson for me because I had to acknowledge the truth of some very painful things that happened to me. My counselor, Jeff, gently walked me through this, and I still use it today.
This is the example that started the conversation that day. He eased me into it before we got to the really painful things. The previous night a nurse who was overworked, tired, and had to stay after her shift lashed out at me because I asked a question about my medication that took up more of her time. Not only did she not answer it, she yelled at me for taking up her time. I went to bed in tears. The next morning, the nurse on that shift told me not to worry, and she would make certain I would be taken care of. When I had my morning counseling session with Jeff, all I could think about while sitting in that tiny office filled with papers, books and Chicago Cubs memorabilia was how terrified and hurt I was. I was extremely scared of that nurse who I knew would be back for the evening shift.
Jeff made me go back to my journal entry from that night where I wrote how she made me feel and write “yes but yes.” Then, he made me write “yes” next to my where I wrote about what happened and underline it. Then at the bottom the page I had to write, “but yes” and include what happened with the nurse in the morning who would make sure I was okay.
At first that doesn’t seem so profound, but let me break it down. Yes, someone made me feel horrible and scared, but yes, someone else stepped in and made sure I was going to be fine. Instead of only seeing the hurt and pain of the negative situation, now I could focus on the positive outcome.
This verse sums it up perfectly. Read it very carefully:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 NET
“Whatever is true.”
That phrase is the key to everything. So often we skip that part and try to focus on the happy parts. Never do that. Start with the truth. There were two truths that happened in that situation. First, it was true that someone hurt me. Second, it was true that someone helped me. Before I could move to the positive, I had to deal with those hurt feelings. Do you ever try to ignore your pain and move on to “think happy thoughts?” If you do, you know that doesn’t work very well. Acknowledge the truth of what happened to you. Nothing is too big or too small. I encourage you to journal out your feelings so you can see the transformation as you go through the process. Don’t hold back. It may hurt, but it’s good to get those hurts out. It’s freeing. Even if you can’t do it in the moment, try journaling later so you can celebrate your progress.
Now is where the switch comes. There was a second truth in that situation. The nurse in the morning validated my fears, she answered what questions she could, and let me know I was in a safe place. Because I had all of those negative feelings out, I had room for the positive ones.
So, yes someone hurt me and made me afraid, but someone else stepped in and took care of me. Both of those are true.
Now, it’s time to move to the rest of the verse.
“whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.”
I had a choice. What was I going to dwell on? When those feelings of fear and pain came back, would I focus on them, or intentionally remember the good that happened? Focusing on the good is what brings healing and a positive outlook. It takes time. It wasn’t some magical thinking of rainbows and unicorns to change my perspective. It was choosing to see the good in every situation. I call the good in a situation A Jesus Moment. It’s a moment where we see Jesus moving in our lives. Making that a habit took time, but it was worth it.
They might not be grammatically correct, but here are some examples from my own life. Some are painful situations and others may seem trivial. Even the trivial things are everyday situations that can ruin my day if I let them:
- Yes, Starbucks was out of chocolate scones, but yes, I enjoyed my Café Mocha with raspberry
- Yes, my doctor was running two hours late, but yes, he took plenty of time with me, he and his staff apologized, there were free snacks, and I got to read while I waited.
- Yes, I had an anaphylactic reaction two weeks ago, but yes, I had lifesaving epinephrine at home, and the emergency department staff took care of me and made sure I would be ok.
- Yes, I suddenly developed an allergy to my hair conditioner that caused the anaphylaxis, but yes thanks to a friend, I found products that made my hair look even better.
- Yes, I got very little sleep last night, but yes, because I was awake early, I was able to enjoy things I otherwise would’ve missed.
- Yes, my friend and I had an argument, but yes, we worked it out and are closer than before.
- Yes, my 18 lb cat got fur all over my clothes, but yes, her purr made me smile, and I always have a lint brush.
What about your life. Do any of these situations feel familiar? Can you fill in the “but yes” part?
- Yes, my someone close to me hurt me, but yes…
- Yes, I’m scared about going back to school, but yes…
- Yes, I’m not working the job I want to, but yes…
- Yes, it’s raining, and my outdoor plans are ruined, but yes…
- Yes, I have a chronic illness, but yes…
- Yes, I’m worried about my future, but yes…
- Yes, the ice cream fell out of my cone and onto my shirt, but yes…
Can you think of any other examples? I promise it will be worth it to write them down and work through them. Change won’t happen overnight, but I can tell you it feels so freeing once face the pain. When you do that, your heart and mind can be filled with good things.
You cannot have room for positive things if your heart is full of negative things.
There is more to that original story. That day when it turned 3 O’clock, I was terrified because the “nice nurse” was leaving. My protection was gone. I knew the nurse who hurt me was coming back. I may have written things out, but living it out was different. When I saw her, I instantly went to my room to avoid her, but she came looking for me. I thought she was going to yell at me again, instead she apologized. She asked if I was hurt and how I felt. She wanted me to know she knew she made a mistake and felt bad. She wanted to try to make it better. She also gave me a much needed hug. During the next two weeks, she became someone I could confide, in and I felt safe with her. She changed my life. If I hadn’t faced the pain so I could heal and looked for the good, I would’ve missed out on all of that healing.
You never know what will happen in a situation when you make the choice to face your hurt, look for the good, and focus on the good. I am positive it will change your outlook on life.
Is there a situation you can see a “yes but yes” in your life? Would you please leave a comment, and let me know what it is? Let’s encourage each other!
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