HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR THOUGHTS WHEN LIFE GETS TOUGH
“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” – Henry Ward Beecher
We often see cards, plaques and decorations boasting words such as “grateful” or “give thanks.” Don’t we all wish for more sentiments of gratitude and appreciation these days? Yeah, me too!
Rising quickly in my professional journey, this driven, energetic and successful young professional was on her way to a life of comfort and contentment. But what happens when the plans you’ve made, the life you’ve built, comes to a screeching halt? Can you be grateful? Can you find the good?
How do you find and maintain gratitude and joy when you get a cancer diagnosis? When you lose a family member suddenly? When you walk alongside an addict who’s trying to get sober? When you can’t get up every day and do the job you love?
Well, I learned how because that was my life in 2017. My husband and I had purchased a 17-acre farm in Bedford County and were on our way to open the vision God had given us—the Sanctuary Farm and Retreat Center, a place for people to come for rest, peace, dreaming and praying in solitude.
Our full-time jobs were going great. Our families were happy. And just like that, everything changed. Within one year, I was on hiatus from work after having a double mastectomy due to breast cancer, my father-in-law died of pancreatic cancer, we were caregiving for loved ones as a result of a family member’s addiction—all within the same year. We learned how to fight for the very thing we were building, for “Sanctuary,” and we were learning how to live a life of gratitude, despite all that was happening in our lives.
With a background in psychology and as a life transformation coach, I had studied the brain. But knowing how the brain works and leaning into the research are two different things. Research has proven that thoughts create actions, and actions create habits, and habits create life patterns. Meaning, what you think about matters.
People tend to filter events and circumstances in one of two ways: with a positive lens or negative lens. You know the old adage, “Is your glass half full or half empty?” Turns out, science has proven that if you’re a glass-half-empty thinker, it leads to more mental and physical stress and has been known to increase the prevalence of certain health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, immune function, and panic attacks, just to name a few.
But, there’s hope! By shifting the way you look at things on a regular basis, numerous studies show you can transform your thinking patterns and, ultimately, transform your life. I learned how to do this through my own hard circumstances and you can too.
Here are four ways to find your own Sanctuary and live “in gratitude.”
1. Think about what you’re thinking about. By bringing your default negative thoughts to the forefront and questioning them, you actually stop the subconscious negativity from having free reign.
2. Eliminate extremes. “I’ll never be able to.” “Things can’t change.” “That won’t work.” All of these statements limit or rule out possibilities. Instead of these statements, open your mind up to possibilities. Here are some questions to help get you out of extreme thinking:
• What’s possible here?
• What could I do differently?
• What’s one step I can take?
• What am I in control of?
3. Reframe. When negative things happen or you find yourself defaulting to glass-half-empty thinking, learn to reframe. When I received my breast cancer diagnosis, fear, worry and dread for what was to come were consuming me. I had to learn to reframe thoughts and feelings away from the negative. Here are some questions to help you reframe:
• What are my options?
• How can I best prepare for the journey ahead?
• What can I learn through this about myself and my strength?
• What are the opportunities in the midst of the “hard”?
• What can I still do despite this challenge?
4. Celebrate what’s good. When life isn’t going as planned or you have a season of hardship, it’s important to find and celebrate the good. Some ways to do this include:
• Slow down and savor the first sip of your morning coffee.
• Play your favorite music and linger in your comfy chair for a few minutes.
• Journal the positives in your life.
• Do something healthy for yourself daily.
• Subscribe to positive podcasts or TED talks, and get in the habit of making these part of your daily or weekly routine.
• Be a “noticer” of the beauty in a day.