I recently shared how Gracie resisted the inevitable of turning 18 years old. While she was learning to accept this undesirable (to her) new fact of life, she responded by becoming incredibly negative—in her thinking, in the words she used, in her interactions with other people.
Gracie was making herself miserable with her negativity. She was making other people around her miserable. She was pushing away the few friends she had, friends she desperately yearned for. They wanted to be friends with her, too, but couldn’t tolerate her constant moroseness.
Shortly before she came to see me on a much-anticipated home visit, Gracie’s therapist gave her a new life skill to work on: Identify Positives. What a great life skill for anybody to have!
My assignment? To help Gracie become more positive
When a child is in residential treatment, parents and children always have therapeutic tasks to work on during home visits. I considered multiple ways to go about helping with this one. One professional suggested an overt hand signal to cut Gracie off whenever she started to complain. However, we had tried hand signals when Gracie was younger, and neither of us wanted to feel like we were returning to those days.
Another person suggested I be verbally forceful with Gracie when she started to complain, emphatically telling her, “Gracie, cut the bullsh**t!” But that just isn’t my style, plus I couldn’t foresee an abrasive approach being effective long-term.
I decided to use the image of the glass half full and glass half empty.
The experiment begins
Upon entering the kitchen, Gracie first checked out the tea cupboard because she enjoys drinking tea when home. This is what she saw: more options than a coffee house.
“There’s no apple cinnamon!” she cried. “I like apple cinnamon the most and there isn’t any! Why didn’t you get apple cinnamon?!”
“Glass half empty,” I said.
“What?!” she replied.
I explained the concept
It’s pretty simple. Focusing on the 20 available tea choices is a glass half full approach. Focusing on the one flavor she wanted that wasn’t available was definitely glass half empty.
During her 5-day visit, whenever Gracie launched into complaints or other negativity, I would simply say, “Glass half full”. By Day 4, she told me, “Wow, I didn’t realize how much I talked about glass half empty!”
Awareness is always the first step to positive change.
Gracie changed her thinking habits
During dinner on the last day of her visit, Gracie started in with, “When I go back, the food is so much worse than it is here…”
Then I could see her face registering the thought of, “Glass half full.”
After a short pause, she added “… but at least I get to eat this food while I’m here.” And she smiled.
Yay for learning to identify positives!
It’s important to be real and authentic
And sometimes it’s necessary to mention negative things. But when Gracie skewed the balance too far toward the negative, she inadvertently made her own life worse.
Being too negative makes us more worried and anxious, and does the same for those around us. It pushes people away, even those we want to hold close. Plus, and most importantly, being overly negative does not allow as much room for Spirit to operate in our life in those amazing little ways.
When we seek to identify positives, we notice the good things more and begin to override a negative approach. It doesn’t mean that the negatives go away; they are just put into perspective. And, our own happiness level will increase.
Being positive is tightly intertwined with gratitude, one of the foremost principles in all religious traditions.
Changes in attitude
When Gracie returned to her treatment center after that visit, her therapist and staff noticed incredible improvement. Like many of us, Gracie finds staying positive to be an ongoing challenge, but now she has a tool to bring herself back when she ventures too deeply into the realm of negativity.
How about you? Can you become more aware of what you think and what you say to others? Can you shift your perspectives from glass half empty to glass half full?
Play with it a little. Your quality of life is certain to improve!