By Cathy Patterson-Sterling, MA, RCC
Now that we are, officially, in fall, we say good-bye to the long, hot evenings outside by the barbecue and and say hello to the short, rainy days of fall. One of our greatest challenges is to remain positive to change whether it’s the seasons or to circumstances. For some of you, this may include dealing with a loved one who is struggling in recovery and then, of course, there are our own day-to-day challenges. The following is a five-step program designed to help you focus on staying energized and positive.
Tip One- Noticing Your “Drains” and “Rejuvenators”
In order to remain energized, we will first need to be aware of our “energy drains” and “energy rejuvenators.” We can start by noticing our energy levels. Pay attention to when you are tired, negative, pessimistic, exhausted, irritable, or even apathetic, etc. What was occurring just before you started to feel drained of energy and when are the moments when you are revitalized and filled with positivity?
Now create a list of “drains” and “rejuvenators” which includes all the people, places, things, and thoughts that either exhaust or revitalize your state of mind. Now that you have your list here are some tips on decreasing energy drains and enhancing energy rejuvenators.
Decreasing Energy Drains:
• Distract yourself from negative thoughts and fears
• Make a list of what you can change. Put your energy into what you can change and let go of what you cannot.
• Realize that fear is only useful in imminent danger. Stop creating negative scenarios that may not occur.
• Stay away from people who drain your energy.
• Learn to say “No” and stop “people-pleasing.” Instead, start to use words like “No, I am sorry that will not work for me… I need…”
• Watch out for times when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Use self-care.
Enhancing Energy Rejuvenators:
• Eat properly and remember to exercise
• Notice people who inspire you and spend more time with them
• Practice an attitude of gratitude
• Stop living the “I will be happy when…” formula for life. Allow yourself to be grateful for what you have now.
• Be patient with fulfilling your goals. Rome was not built in a day.
• Give back to others, rather than always obsessing about your own life.
• Build in time to play and have fun in life!
• Engage in positive activities in which you lose track of time ie.) art, writing, or other creative expressions.
Tip Two- Staying Focused
One of the reasons that we become drained of positive energy is because we are overwhelmed and filled with fear. You may feel like a “hamster on a wheel while going nowhere.” Do you have the sensation of “spinning your wheels” while not getting any closer to your goals?
The problem that occurs when people become overwhelmed is that they are starting to lose perspective. In fact, the list of what needs to be done seems larger than the time allotted in a day. Often individuals can feel like they are “trying to catch up to life.”
If you frequently feel overwhelmed, you may, unknowingly, be in In reaction mode. If this is the case, you may feel constantly drained because you are not organized. An important technique is to just sit down with a tea/coffee, a notepad, and a pen. Write down all that needs to be completed. Instead of worrying about everything, prioritize and place a star beside what errands/duties/details need to be completed first. The most annoying and least satisfying duties can be spread out throughout a week.
There are plenty of other ways to stay organized. The following includes some tips so that people can remain positive as they contend with all their responsibilities rather than feeling overwhelmed or filled with fear.
Tips For Staying Focused
• Be kind to yourself. You may be your own worst enemy with your expectations.
• Prioritize what you need to do rather than getting upset about all the details.
• Stop with the thoughts of self-pity and how you are “hard done by”. Get others to help you and set boundaries with them if they do not do their fair share of responsibilities.
• Stop being a martyr and ask for help.
• Reward yourself in positive ways by building in incentives for completing your “to do” list.
• Shut off your fears, and just follow your list for a while. Stop over-examining everything.
• Take the time to eat properly and rest. Sometimes errands seem more overwhelming just by the mere fact that you are hungry and have no physical energy.
• Remember that you have no control over other people’s actions. Focus on yourself and stop trying to control others.
• Break down tasks into chunks and “complete each chunk at a time.”
Tip Three- Being Careful with Your Thoughts
One of the greatest words of advice I have ever heard is: “What you pay attention to grows!” Therefore if you spend much of your energies focusing on fears, then naturally fear will grow in your life. If you pay attention to all the positive characteristics in your partner, then you love and admiration for that person will grow exponentially.
If we want to enhance our energy and remain positive, then we will have to train ourselves to pay attention to all the positive features in life. Below is a list of ways that we can enhance positive energy in our lives.
How To Remain Positive:
• Notice all the positives.
• Turn negatives into positives. Ie.) view the half filled cup as half full and not half empty. Turn mistakes or problems into learning opportunities.
• Remember that all things in life happen for a reason. Focus on the reason and not the fear.
• Consider how events in life help us to grow on deeper emotional levels. How can you use adversity in your life to become a better person?
• Practice an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful for everything around you.
• Remember that you cannot keep what you are not prepared to give away so focus on helping others.
• When people act negative, notice how they are reacting out of fear. Identify that fear and have compassion for them.
• Rather than getting angry at people, become curious so that you can gain a better understanding of where they are coming from.
• Always remember “This too shall pass.” Life is all about cycles and phases. Circumstances cannot remain this way forever.
Rather than being a victim to someone else’s negative behaviors, this may be your time in life to set boundaries for yourself. Perhaps your self-preservation instinct needs to set in so that you learn to take care of yourself rather than letting another person drain away all your vital life energy as well as your identity and quality of life as they absorb you into the constant chaos of their problems.
Tip Four- Letting Go
Remember the Serenity Prayer? “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” These are the words of the Serenity Prayer.
A key part of this prayer is the word “serenity” because we learn how to be serene or filled with positive energy if we give up on what we cannot control. Yet, some people still waste a lot of energy building negative scenarios of what could occur, assuming what other people are thinking, and then bracing themselves for events that do not even come into fruition. Such an exercise is a waste of time because when we “brace” for problems, we often give into negative feelings of fear, anxiety, etc. Actually the “real” problems that occur in life usually come out of nowhere and are unplanned. This way, we respond in the moment either with a “fight” or “flight” response as we accomplish what needs to be done to contain the situation or we flee away in order to avoid more stress.
Therefore, the challenge in life is to not waste time planning for potential scenarios and to exact change where we can have an influence. This means knowing where our limitations for controlling others ends. At some point, other people need to take responsibility for their own lives and when we try to manipulate others into doing what we want then we deny them from using their own internal resources. There are times when other people may act irresponsible and we need to “take charge,” but if we stay in this phase of always planning their lives for them then we feel drained of our positive energy because we are trying to change what we, in reality, cannot change. People are responsible for the consequences of their own decisions and we cannot run their lives for them.
Tip Five- Taking Time Off to Play
An important part of remaining positive and filled with energy is to take the time to have fun in life. With so many problems as well as responsibilities to attend to, many people struggle with having the time to relax or even have fun. One of the best terms I have found for increasing the “fun factor” in life is “strategic silliness.” There are times when we just need to let go and play.
Sometimes people hesitate to “let go” because they think that once they do feel carefree then problems will start to occur. Therefore they believe that they have to be in a constant state of “bracing for” or “warding off” problems and they do not want to let their “guards down” in case they have to deal with unexpected issues.
In order to feel vital, however, we do need to take time to just live in the moment of life. The following includes some tips for how to play and have fun in life.
Tips For Increasing The Fun Factor In Life:
• Visit your community as if you are tourist and examine all the local tourist attractions and sites to see.
• Take a day to be spontaneous.
• Get in your car and just drive somewhere. Take a spontaneous road trip.
• Play in the rain and don’t let the weather dampen your plans.
• Engage in an activity outside of your “comfort zone” or talent ie.) go skating, ride a go-cart, ride a horse, go bungy-jumping etc.
• Plan a “play day” surprise for your loved ones
• Hang out with puppies and little kids
• Play bingo
• Watch a local Junior A Hockey game and cheer for your favourite team
• Raise money for a local charity
• Cook your favourite food
• Set a lobster, crab, or local fish free
• Make a clay sculpture of someone
• Draw a portrait with your opposite writing hand
• Cook a meal from a different culture and research the ingredients
• Get on a motorcycle, go to a lake, and go skinny-dipping
• Help out a Rancher during calving season
• Ride a bike or a horse cross-country
• Research the trip of your dreams and plan an itinerary with potential costs as you explore what it would cost as you pretend to book on-line
Let your imagination guide you!
About the Author
Cathy Patterson-Sterling, MA, RCC, is Director of Family Services at Sunshine Coast Health Center, a private residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation program for men. In this capacity, Cathy is able to provide families of clients the support they need from the moment of the crisis before entering addiction treatment through to their entry into family programming and beyond (family aftercare is also provided). With a strength-focused addiction family therapy approach, substance-affected families are able to transform as they begin their own healing journeys alongside clients.