In yoga and in counseling, I teach people skills almost daily to help them deal with stress and to live happier lives. These skills might be breathing techniques, body postures, tapping/EFT, thought changing and thought stopping skills, mindfulness skills, nun-chuck skills, bow hunting skills… Sorry, forget the last 2, that’s a different story line altogether.
Anyway, after teaching and practicing these skills with them, one of the things that I stress most importantly is that they continue to practice, even when things are good. That way, the skills become habits and in the time of crisis, whether emotional or physical, they are able to rely on said skills coming naturally and to avoid the “my mind went blank and I forgot everything you taught me” feeling.
Don’t get me wrong, it usually takes a time or two of not practicing the skills and also not handling the crisis in the healthiest of manners before people start to get the idea of practicing even when things are good.
I am not only referring to skills to avoid panic attacks or trauma responses. I am also referring to skills to increase happiness. In her research and writing about happiness, Sonya Lyubomirsky refers to a happiness set-point that we are each born with. We cannot change our happiness set-point and it makes up for 50% of our overall happiness levels. On top of the set-point, 10% of our happiness levels is determined by life experiences and circumstances. You know, you get a new job, you lose your job, you move away, you win the lottery, you go on vacation, etc. These things can only effect your happiness levels by 10%. The remaining 40% is the best part. This is the part that we have absolute control over by practicing skills and doing things that increase our overall happiness. Yes, I said practicing.
To be at least somewhat good at something at the time of need, most people must practice. In case you weren’t sure, here is the definition of practice as referred to in this context:
1.perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
This does not mean that when the moment of importance arrives, then we practice. This means that when things are fine and good and non-emergent, we practice so that when we really need the skills, they kick in for us in our time of need. We practice the skills even when things are good so that when a panic attack hits or we wake up feeling super depressed or something doesn’t go our way, we aren’t flailing and grasping at straws- or socks- to find something to help.
Have a seat. Let me tell you a story. Several years ago, I worked in sales and we would have monthly sales meetings in a city outside of my home dwelling. On this particular evening of this particular month, I had gone to said city and was over at a friend and co-worker’s condo for a cocktail. The weather was turning ominous and we were watching the weather man on TV warn people of tornadoes in the area. Now, I mentioned the cocktail(s) and I am sure this was a factor in my ability to remain calm in this particular situation, but I was feeling rather relaxed. We had been watching football, hanging out, and laughing about random things. My friend became a little more concerned as the weather turned darker and when the TV turned to snow, I am guessing that he was instantly transported into the world of the movie Twister because he clearly went on high alert. As I mentioned, I had already had a cocktail or two and nature called, so I answered and stepped into the downstairs bathroom. (a. I thought this was appropriate to do since I am civilized and a toilet was nearby. b. I didn’t think I should chance using the upstairs bathroom in light of current events.) Midway through my convo with nature, my friend flings the door open and is standing there with his cocktail in one hand and a pair of socks in the other. “What are you doing?! I am using the bathroom!” I inform him if he were still not sure. He replied, “I thought you were taking cover. I was coming in with you!” I have to say it was convenient I was already on the toilet because I may have peed myself from laughing at him. When I did emerge from the ladies’, I inquired about the socks. He told me that he had panicked; that he saw the socks and just grabbed them. I told him that I was hoping that in a panic he would have grabbed a snack or even the bottle if he were expecting to take cover and be in there for a while.
Why did I tell you that story? 1. Because I think it’s funny. 2. Because when I remembered it the other day, it made me think about how it goes when people aren’t ready… The grabbing for anything, hoping it will help, and then having to deal with the fact that it usually doesn’t go quite as smoothly as it could have if they had been a little more prepared.
Are there times that grabbing an extra pair of socks would be a really good idea? Absolutely! But, I would hope that you would be grabbing them because that is what you had practiced in order to most effectively deal with whatever is going on.
So, this week, let’s practice some skills that will help us to live happier lives. Stop and take 3 slow, deep breaths anytime you think of it throughout the day. And every evening before bed, think of 3 good things from the day, however big or small, and take a moment to savor what is going right for you. There are always things going right for you, sometimes you just have to practice looking for them.
Don’t worry, I am practicing with you. We will increase our happiness levels together. Talk again soon.