Blog Short #161: How to Train Your Mind to See Silver Linings
Photo by Leonsbox, Courtesy of iStock Photo
We’re approaching Thanksgiving, so I thought I would focus on something more fitting this week. The idea of “silver linings” popped up in my mind because I’ve been thinking about some of mine lately and being grateful for them.
I won’t go into those, but I have some ideas for you about the value of silver linings, how to train your mind to notice them, and how best to access them.
Let’s dive in.
Where Silver Linings Live
I’ll start with an idea I’ve always resisted yet admitted to be true because of the evidence, both personally and otherwise. It’s this:
People seem to learn more, gain more insight, and feel more compelled to change when they suffer.
That’s an awful thought, isn’t it? You might argue that’s not always the case, and it isn’t, but it is more often than not. Friction, interruptions, obstacles, loss, and disappointments bring things to your attention that might not otherwise surface. They force you to look at things differently and then work to resolve the issues that arise from them.
Sometimes, the outcome is very positive and lifts you to a better level or place, and sometimes, you’re left with regrets or sadness, and sometimes the longer-term effects of trauma.
Even so, you might eventually find silver linings – some small (or large) insight that provides more meaning, opens up opportunities, or gives you peace.
Better yet, you can tune your mind toward noticing silver linings when they’re there. Here are some strategies to help you do this.
Habits that Help You Notice Silver Linings
1. Cultivate gratitude.
Gratitude isn’t just something you feel when you appreciate an experience or someone’s kindness toward you. It’s a mindset, and you can cultivate it. By doing so, you notice all kinds of things going on around you that you’re grateful for and appreciate but usually fly under your radar.
We’re so busy and distracted that we often don’t notice small graces and gifts or take the time to appreciate them. By making a conscious, concerted effort to take notice, you can greatly increase your sense of gratitude, allowing you to see the world in a more balanced way.
Humans operate with a negativity bias, so we naturally throw our attention that way, which colors our perceptions. Practicing gratitude helps counteract that.
Keeping a gratitude journal is the best practice for creating an appreciative mindset. It doesn’t have to be anything time-consuming or elaborate. Simply write – digitally or by hand – at least three things you’re grateful for daily.
If possible, I’d suggest doing this first thing in the morning because it sets your outlook before diving into the day. I’ve done this daily for more than eleven years now. I write ten things every morning with coffee before I get going. I’m always amazed at how such a small thing can shift my mood. It works.
Making it a habit also attunes you to noticing positive happenings in your environment and primes your mind toward recognizing silver linings when they occur.
2. Watch the stories you tell yourself.
We’re storytellers and, as such, create an ongoing narrative of our experiences – past, present, and future. These narratives tell the stories of our lives but are biased because we formulate them through the lens of our emotions, thoughts, values, beliefs, and reactions. They’re based on our interpretations of our experiences and embellished to fit in with our personal views of reality.
Our stories have power! They affect how we see and perceive every aspect of our lives.
You might miss those silver linings if your interpretations consistently lean toward the negative. We tend to hang on to what’s familiar, even if it’s not good for us. Silver linings usually challenge that kind of familiarity.
To change that, you need to carefully watch those narratives and do your best to interpret them more equitably.
That doesn’t mean being a Pollyanna, but giving equal time to the positive aspects of things as much as you do the negative. It makes life much easier.
3. Be aware of your information consumption.
You must be aware of your consumption of negativity from the media, toxic people, and toxic situations. We’ve just been talking about stories you tell yourself, but these are the stories other people are telling that you take in.
Just as our personal stories get skewed by our biases, stories from other sources often contain faulty information yet impact how you see the world and yourself in it.
This is particularly true with the prominent place social media has taken in our daily lives and its focus on sensationalism. Between email, social media, and the news, we get an ear and eye full that can clog us up emotionally and leave us feeling dazed and helpless.
Then there’s the ongoing chatter and influence from toxic interactions and relationships.
All of this will obliterate your view of silver linings, gratitude, and any sense of peace. Make sure you choose who and what you listen to to avoid teetering on the edge of doom.
Five More Things
Here’s a quick list of five more things you can do:
- Cultivate mindful optimism.
- Practice compassion for yourself and others.
- Watch out for catastrophizing and what-ifs.
- Do small things that bring you joy.
- See obstacles as challenges and embrace working on them rather than resisting them.
How should you access silver linings?
That may seem like a strange question– you access them when they come to you, right? Not always.
When you’re struggling with something or reacting negatively to an experience, there are usually people around you who, in the name of helping, try to distract you from your suffering. They say things like “Look on the bright side,” or “At least you didn’t get fired,” or “You’ll feel better in no time.”
These kinds of comments are usually intended to help and soothe you, but more often than not, they invalidate your natural reactions to adverse events.
Silver linings are not meant to blot out your natural responses to hurtful experiences that cause you to suffer.
You must go through those emotions until you can digest them and decide what to do. Don’t rush them. Allowing yourself to feel something all the way through helps you find those silver linings when you’re ready.
If you incur a physical injury, you can’t hurry up the healing process. You might do some things that help, like physical therapy or medication, but you still have to go through the healing process. And as you do that, you might learn something that leads to a lifestyle change to help prevent the same injury again.
I’m not saying you can’t tell yourself to look on the bright side or notice the “at leasts.” Just make sure you’re not suppressing your emotions because that’ll come back to bite you.
Learning to be patient with overcoming obstacles is more important than getting over them. That patience is the open door to the silver linings and your insights about them.
You can prime yourself to see them using the exercises we went over, but don’t rush them by trying to suppress your natural reactions to things that cause you to suffer.
A Quick Summary
Here’s our three takeaways:
- Cultivate regular practices that balance out your positivity and negativity so that you’re open to silver linings.
- Be patient with experiences that cause upheaval, suffering, or create obstacles. Allow yourself to work through your thoughts and feelings about them over time.
- Let silver linings come to you naturally as you work through adverse situations. Don’t rush them.
That’s all for today.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
All my best,