What actually makes up a good day?
The truth is that it’s so individualized and unique to each and every one of us. When I ask my husband, “How was your day” - and he says “good,” the picture I form in my mind of what good is is likely drastically different than what actually happens during his day.
We all want to have wonderful days because our days make up our lives!
That’s why there are so many programs, blog posts, and books out there promising to teach us the exact steps to take to make our days better.
Some say it’s meditation.
Others say exercise.
Ditch social media.
Journal in the morning.
Some of these things might help some of us have a better day. But, unfortunately, there’s no pill we can all take or action we can all do that will magically guarantee us a day filled with ease, sunshine, and rainbows.
The ONLY way to have a better day, a good day, or a GREAT day is by thinking thoughts that make you feel good and great.
How is Our Experience Shaped?
Our experience is not shaped by the things that happen to us during our day, it’s shaped by the thoughts we have about what we experience during the day. The experiences are neutral; they simply are. They’re not good or bad or frightening or funny, until we attach meaning to them. Which, as humans, we were born to do! We can’t help creating stories and narratives around the events in our day.
We experience an interaction, let’s say, at a meeting at work. We notice that our boss seems a little “off” today. Our brain takes in that information, analyzes it, and gives us thoughts about it based on so many different factors. And we attach meaning to this specific moment with thoughts like:
“I wonder why she’s in a bad mood, maybe she’s mad at me,” or “I bet she just got bad news about our budget for next year,” or “I can tell she doesn’t like the strategy Jim is presenting right now.”
These thoughts flood your brain within milliseconds of you experiencing your boss being “off.”
Now multiply that with all the interactions you have every single day! Your brain is flooding your consciousness with thoughts at lightning speed and all of these thoughts are the reason you interpret your day as good or bad.
What’s Going on in Our Brains?
Studies tell us that our brains give us roughly 50,000 thoughts every day. And of these 50,000 thoughts, 80% of them are negative and 95% are the same thoughts we had yesterday. (Whaaaat?)
👉There’s no way I can make this happen.
👉No one wants my idea/product/perspective.
👉My dreams and goals are way too big; I better think more realistically.
👉She must be mad at me; I can tell by the look on her face.
👉I’m really worried about my future.
We ALLOW those thoughts to rattle around in our brains, making us feel stressed, defeated, and full of self-doubt. And when you string enough of these thoughts together, they produce the feelings that make up a pretty bad day.
So, is there any hope at all? I mean, how are we supposed to manage 50,000 thoughts every single day? It sounds exhausting, I know! Let’s talk a little bit about WHY your brain does this, because awareness is key in starting to make any kind of change.
Here are some other factors at work in your brain that imprint meaning onto people, places, and experiences during your day.
Your Brain is a Pessimist by Design
Our brains are actually wired to think negatively! It’s called “negativity bias.” As humans evolved, the brain’s main function was to keep us out of danger and avoid pain. (Think saber-tooth tiger!) Your brain is always on the “lookout” for things that might be dangerous, constantly scanning your physical environment, interpreting the people around you all in efforts to jump at a moment’s notice and fight or take flight.
We even remember “bad” things more than we remember good things. Evolution is at play here again – reminding our ancestors not to eat that particular berry because Joe died last week when he ate it. Your brain stores up all the negative things that happen and it keeps them at the ready, eager to offer them up in an effort to keep you from harm.
And think about it, we can’t remember all the good conversations we had yesterday, but we sure remember when Jim said that our presentation was lame.
Your Brain Loves to be Right
Now couple that negativity bias with the fact that our brains are the ultimate sore losers! Our brain will look for, and find supporting evidence to confirm the thoughts it’s giving you, over and over. Think about people you know who have really strong political beliefs, one way or the other. They tend to read articles and watch news programs that support their point of view, right? This is because the brain wants to reinforce its own thoughts and give itself more proof that it’s right.
When we think a thought over and over it becomes a belief, hard wired in our neural pathways. Imagine that – some of your beliefs are based on a random thought your brain gave you way back in 1992 that you just kept thinking!
Your Brain is Lazy
Your brain does not like change. (Hence why we think 95% of the same thoughts we thought yesterday!) That’s why change is HARD. We’re hard-wired to keep the status quo. Our brains don’t want to have to do any heavy lifting because the neural pathways are already laid for most of the thoughts we have, and it wants to keep it that way! To think a new thought, the brain has to lay new pipes and pay attention to what it’s doing. (Kinda like when we have to take a detour on our drive to work – we need to switch off auto-pilot and pay attention.) So, it lulls us into complacency and convinces us that thinking a new thought is a waste of time.
So, How Do You Think Better Thoughts to Have a Better Day?
The key is awareness. By slowing down and becoming aware of the thoughts you are having. Then, realize that just because your brain has a thought - does NOT mean that it’s true!
Now you might be thinking, “Well, of course my thoughts are TRUE, my brain wouldn’t give me a false thought, right?” (Your brain also gave you this thought!)
I love Byron Katie’s “The Work” for testing the thoughts we have to not only see if they’re true, but to explore what it might be like to not have the thought at all. The Work is only four questions:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
Let’s work two thoughts through these questions:
The first one isn’t easy – you see a blue vase on the table and your brain tells you “That’s a blue vase.”
- Is it true? Yes.
- Can I absolutely know it’s true? YES.
- How do I react, what happens when I believe this thought? I appreciate the blue vase.
- Who would I be without this thought? A person who did not see a blue vase.
Okay, you see where I’m going with this – that was a simple example because it was a true (with a capital T) thought!
Now let’s try something a little more interesting! You just got an email from a coworker about the project you’re working on. In it, he explains that he can’t meet the deadline for your project and not only that, he sent the email in all CAPS!
You have a flood of thoughts and physical reactions to this email:
“Mike ALWAYS does this to me!”
“He finds a way to screw up every project we work on together.”
“He never does this to Cathy or Bill – it’s only ME!”
“Why does he have such a problem with me, I never did anything to him.”
“I think he’s out to get me, to sabotage my work!”
Bingo – there’s your thought: “Mike is out to sabotage me.”
And it feels very true and real at this moment! Let’s pull it through the four questions.
- Is it true? “Yes, it feels very true! I mean, he always does this to me and I’m sick of it!”
- Can I absolutely know that it’s true? “Well, I THINK it’s true. All the signs are there. Why would he keep doing this if it wasn’t true? What other reason could there be? I guess there could be another reason. So no, I can’t know that it’s ‘absolutely’ true.”
- How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought? “I get really angry! My face flushes and my neck gets red and my hands shake. It’s hard to concentrate on anything. It makes me question my relationship with my other coworkers, too. And I wind up obsessing about it and I have a really bad day.”
- Who would I be without this thought? “Wow, okay...this is kinda weird. If I never had this thought, I wouldn’t react that way. I would read the email and probably just call Mike to find out what was up, make sure he was okay. Then I would try to find someone else to help me out with the project.”
There’s a big difference in the kind of day you would have if you asked yourself more of those kinds of questions about some of the thoughts that your brain gives you. Our ability to have a good or bad day is not in what happens to us, it’s in the meaning we make of our thoughts.
Can You Tell Your Brain What to Think?
YES! Another way to help our brains think thought that serve us and create better days is to spoon feed them! Deciding to think a thought is a powerful choice and takes discipline and consistency.
Here are nine of my favorite thoughts to think to have a better day!
- I am figuring all this out. Because you actually ARE figuring it all out. All the time. Minute by minute, we’re figuring it all out.
- Things are working out for me. Think about all the things that have worked out for you in the past and are working out for you right now! So. Many. Things.
- No one has my unique gifts and perspective – that’s what makes me so valuable! Stop comparing and despairing! You are whole, valuable and enough.
- Someone WANTS what I have to offer today! 100 people want what I have to offer today!
- When I show up authentically every day, I am helping so many people! There are people you are reaching and helping that you will never know about.
- The universe is rooting for me! It wants me to succeed!
- It’s totally OK not to have all the answers today.
- Success does NOT have to feel hard. Hard work. Perseverance. Blood, sweat, and tears. We’ve been told all our lives that unless we sacrifice (everything!) and work really, really hard we can’t deem ourselves or our project a “success.” That it has to FEEL hard or difficult in order to actually happen. This is simply not true.
- When I have FUN, things become easier. (See above 😀) So, what does this all mean? Well, first, it means that you need to understand that your brain can be a big ole meany sometimes, telling you thoughts that simply aren’t true, and now you have one tool to identify and uncover what IS true. Second, it means you can start telling your brain what to think – not the other way around!
If you test out any of these thoughts, I’d love to hear about it! Connect with me on LinkedIn and drop me a note.