It's not what happens, it's what you pay attention to and the way you interpret what happens that dictates whether you respond happily or unhappily. Nothing you experience has any meaning until you filter it through your background, your memories, and your immediate needs.
Billy, four, and Sarah, six, are elated about making cookies with Daddy as a surprise treat for Mommy, when she gets home from shopping. A key turns in the door lock; they wait, with cute, icing-smudged smiles, eagerly anticipating Mommy's delight at their happy surprise. Dana, upset after getting stuck in traffic enroute, rushes in, greeted by the cookies and the kids' and Daddy's glowing faces. Then she sees the sticky hands, the messy mixing bowls, and the cluttered kitchen counter. ''Oh no!''she exclaims irritably.''What a disaster! Who made this mess?'' In a fury she starts cleaning up immediately.
Dana's reaction is understandable, but it costs her what could have been a very special moment. This is a situation she'll probably laugh about in a week, but she won't let herself experience the fun of the moment. Her hurry and irritability act as filters that darken her attitude instead brightening it so she can laugh and smile, hug her family and grab her opportunity to feel great. Opportunities to clean the house come far more often than chances to immerse yourself in joyful, gleeful family moments. Try to make the filters that color your experiences bright, optimistic and flexible.
When your filters get locked into negative attitude, you develop a rigid approach which cannot successfully respond to changes. Dana was stuck with a stagnant chunk of memory about her miserable ride home which became a negative filter. If she could have made a a slightly faster, more flexible filter change, Dana would have enjoyed a heartwarming moment and warm cookies with her loving family. Instead, she emotionally locked herself into an irritating hassle that pushed her loved ones away, reinforcing and perpetuating her negative attitude.
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Past experience can set your filters up to see in either a positive, optimistic or negative, pessimistic light. Filters are necessary, but maladaptive filters can make you miserable. Positive, automatic filter patterns can make you happier and help you to see the best in life.
Your world is what your mind says it is. Your autobiographical memory helps define who you are and determines how you perceive the world. We know our "autobiographical memories" can be changed by viewing them through the light of later events. This can help you take control of your attitude If you load up your filters with positive memories (even ones that used to be negative, but you reviewed and re-framed them with a new, more mature perspective.), and pay more attention to recent positive experiences in your life, you’ll see more of the positives in it.
Rob Kall, M.Ed., is a counselor, Biofeedback trainer and personal coach, and
Rhonda Greenberg Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and personal coach at
The Center for Optimal Living
211 No. Sycamore Street, Newtown, PA 18940