Where you look determines how you feel

walkers-croppedIt was a crazily bright Winter morning. The sky was intensely blue and the sun shining, though the air was admittedly cool. Not far into my walk a guy strode towards me wearing a coat and beanie. He was under a canopy of big trees, therefore in the shade. As he passed he nodded and muttered, “Mighty chilly day!”

His words caught me off guard. Though I managed to smile back, I was struck by the fact that I’d just been presented with a truth about life.

You see, I’d been walking into the sun, loving the sky and the warmth on my face. He was coming from the opposite direction and had a completely different perspective.

The way we look at our circumstances has a big impact on how we interpret them. Which then determines how we feel. If you get up on a sunny Winter’s day noticing the cold, dressing for the cold and seeing only the shadows, you’re going to see and feel cold. If on the same day you’re seeing the blue sky and feeling the sun (even if it’s not strong) you’re more likely to think and feel positively. It’s where you look that makes the difference.

The reality was the same for both walkers in my story. The sun was shining – but the temp was cold. There were shadows – though to have shadows you need sun. The wind was blowing into my front whilst the sun was warming my back. I was just noticing one group of factors whilst our gentleman was noticing another.

Why should you care? Because the way you make one interpretation in your day sets you up for the next. If you see the first thing badly you’re now predisposed to see the next activity the same way. Hold to your bad feelings and the event after that is even more likely to be seen from a negative light. We can easily get trapped in a negative spiral if we don’t watch out. And who wants to  ruin their day?

The opposite’s also true to a limited extent – though research says we all tend to pay more attention to the bad than the good in our lives. However, choosing to see the positive certainly makes it more likely you’ll be optimistic about the next thing that happens to you. And once you feel good you’ll notice more of the positives around you. You’re caught in an updraft rather than a downwards spiral.

If your day (or life’s) currently more negative than you like, Here’s three things to change that. Firstly, adjust your body posture. If standing tall can help you do better in an interview, it will help you now too. Make a point to straighten your spine and pull your shoulders back. Secondly, look up. Staring at the sky is good for giving us perspective. Looking up positively readjusts the way we’re thinking about our day – I know, another weird scientific fact! And finally, use the observing part of yourself (the bit that quietly watches what you do) and pay attention to the interpretations you’re making about what’s happening. Once you’ve caught a thought, you have the power to decide whether to keep it or change it. So if it’s negative, find a happier alternative instead.

This isn’t to say that reality’s going to be different. And sometimes things are bad or sad and you shouldn’t just avoid those. But often we take the ordinary and neutral things of life and make ourselves miserable with the interpretation and meaning we apply to them. So this post closes with a question: Which way are you looking right now? I hope it’s up.