Sometimes when we’re in a job we hate, a relationship that’s going south, or simply unhappy with one aspect of life, it taints our perspective on the entirety of our lives.
Life in general seems less than stellar because we are so focused on the one bad thing.
Pretty soon, other parts of our lives do start to tank because our foul mood and general unhappiness impact our work, relationships, and motivation to enjoy anything. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts. Life feels bad, life becomes bad.
Unfortunately, we are predisposed at birth to view things through our “life sucks” glasses because of something called the “negativity bias.”
The negativity bias, as defined by Wikipedia, “refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things.”
Lovely. Even when we want to be happy, our brains are wired to see the glass half empty.
It’s an evolutionary thing that allowed us to stay alert to potential dangers back in the day when danger wore a fur coat and had sharp, pointy fangs.
Modern day triggers for the negativity bias aren’t aren’t as life-threatening, but our reactions are just the same.
These days, the bias crops up over just about anything. Losing our internet connection, being stuck in traffic, or getting the stink eye from our spouse are enough to ruin an entire day and make us feel life is terrible.
But the negativity bias is just that — a bias. Knowing you have this predisposition, you can begin to push back against it. Sure you might still find yourself looking at the worst case scenario when faced with a disappointment or challenge, but you can pull yourself out of the bias by choosing to redirect your mental focus.
Before you sink into a black hole of despair, try tuning in more closely to ALL aspects of your life to find nuggets of happiness and reasons for gratitude — even if you are facing uncertainty and unhappiness in one part of your life.
As you become aware of the times when you feel happy and fulfilled, you might also uncover clues to something even more profound — your life passion.
Here are some tips on how to journal and find your passion.
Most of us plod through our days unconsciously, falling victim to the negativity bias when things don’t go as planned. Then we get caught up in that black cloud that taints everything.
Even when there aren’t any bumps in the road, we fail to acknowledge the hours or moments when things feel pretty good. We rarely count these moments when we’re tallying up the happiness score for our lives.
The bad things tend to stick with us, but we quickly forget the times when our experience of life actually lives up to our dreams.
Looking at photographs can jog your memory and rekindle good feelings, and we certainly document more of our lives than ever with our smart phones. But have you noticed how photographing every joyful event pulls you away from really experiencing the moment?
A better way to reinforce your memories of feel good moments is to write about them.
You don’t have to start chronicling an event the moment it occurs (as you do with photography), so you can live the moment and fully enjoy it.
When you do document the event, the act of writing in longhand allows you to re-live the moment and imprint it on your brain.
It also rewires your brain for a new, positive habit that supersedes the negativity bias. Rather than focusing on a negative, you are writing and focusing on the positives.
I’d like to suggest that for a few weeks you experiment with mindfulness journaling.
This type of journaling involves paying close attention to how your life is unfolding from hour to hour, and then writing down what you notice.
Here’s what you need to do:
Get yourself a small notebook or journal that can easily fit into your purse, pocket, coat, or briefcase. I got these journals for my son for Christmas, and he loves them.
Keep the journal with you at all times. If you absolutely can’t carry a small journal, then use your smart phone to jot things down.
Begin paying attention to daily experiences or situations that lead to feelings of :
- well-being or fulfillment;
- a sense of purpose, significance, or alignment with your values;
- being in the flow where time stands still;
- enthusiasm and joy;
- admiration or deep interest in someone or something.
These experiences or situations can arise during your work day, in interactions with loved ones, or during your non-working hours when you are engaged in a hobby or task.
You can also explore these feelings when watching a movie or TV program, reading something in a book or on the Internet, or simply being outside in nature.
The key is to pay attention.
Be aware of what you are doing and how it makes you feel.
If it makes the cut of the feelings listed above, then write about your experience in your journal shortly after you experience it.
You don’t need to write a saga for each experience. Just briefly mention the experience and write down what you did and how it made you feel as soon as you can after the event.
Here are a couple of examples from my own life:
I talked with my friend about the frustration she was having with her significant other. She openly shared her feelings with me and asked for my input. I summarized what I saw as the main issue, and she acknowledged that I nailed it and that no one else had seen the problem as clearly. That made me feel valued and significant. It supported my core value of serving others.
Here’s another example:
I cleaned up my office, clearing off my desk entirely, throwing away a bunch of papers, and prioritizing my work for the next few weeks. This made me feel productive and happy. While I was doing it, I was in that flow experience as I was concentrating on the decisions and activities involved.
Focus on Awareness
The difficult part of this exercise is awareness — paying attention to your feelings, identifying them, and associating them with the activity or experience you are having. But this is the most important aspect of this process.
These experiences are clues to your authentic happiness and even your life calling.
The moments in time when you are feeling joy, flow, engagement, significance, purpose, admiration, and alignment with your values are snapshots of how you will feel when you are living your life passion.
In fact, some of these very experiences may ultimately be part of an inner calling.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to fully examine how they might be:
- Do any of the experiences you listed in your journal fit with one or more of your strong interests?
- Do you see correlations or obvious combinations between two or more of these experiences?
- Do any of these experiences relate to how you envision a passionate career?
- Which experiences do you find yourself intentionally repeating?
- Which experiences created the most profound, memorable feelings?
Even if these moments are just random times of feeling good, with no connection to your passion, they can make you more aware of the true nature of your life. In most cases, you have many more happy, fulfilling moments than you give yourself credit for.
When you have a moment to sit and think about these questions, make notes about your thoughts in your journal. Go back and review your journal entries regularly to look for patterns and repeat experiences.
These are the experiences that you want more of in your life in order to maximize your positive feelings and inner callings.
Work on your journal for several weeks — allowing yourself enough time to have a variety of experiences and situations to review.
At the end of 3-4 weeks, take an hour or so with your journal and your notes to create a master list of experiences and the corresponding feelings associated with them.
You will need to label the experiences with a word or short descriptive phrase, like “being creative,” “serving,” or “leading groups.” Then next to the word or phrase write down the feelings the experience evoked.
And finally, write down a score from 1-5 related to how important the experience and feelings are to you (with 5 being most important).
So for my examples above, I would write the following . . .
Description: coaching and connecting
Feelings: valued, significant, useful
Description: simplifying and organizing
Feelings: productive, uncluttered, happy
Once you have this master list compiled, you will begin to pay more and more attention to situations in your life that fit in with this list and merit a high score.
You may even begin to realize that your life right now has more good experiences happening than you initially thought. Focusing on the positive in life is a great exercise in shifting your attitude and building self-esteem.
But of course, you may still want to create a life that pulls all of these values and good feelings into one passionate pursuit.
This is the point where you need to implement research, prioritizing, and some creative thinking to visualize a way to build a career or a side-interest around your inner calling and joyful experiences.
One additional thing to remember as you consider all that you are learning about yourself through this exercise: pay particular attention to experiences that evoke feelings of purpose and meaning.
A life that is grounded in purpose is the most satisfying kind of life to have. Doing something you love that also serves the world will provide a level of joy and fulfillment you never dreamed possible.
The more data you gather about your daily experience of life, the more you’ll be able to recreate experiences that help you bypass the negativity bias.
Without this bias impeding your vision, you can see the potential you already have to find and live your passion.