“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” — Maya Angelou
Editor’s note: This week’s column is co-authored by Ms. Lauren Short and Dr. Daake.
We survived 2020. So many people just wanted to get through 2020 and into 2021. But the year 2021 is in no small measure a continuation of the challenges and opportunities of 2020.
While it is a new year and we gratefully celebrate coming through the trials of last year, we most certainly have a ways to go. COVID fatigue is real, and as Angelou reminds us, we need to remain strong and vigilant. We’ve weathered an intense and long season, and we all naturally tire of the stress, fear, precautions, and overall shake-up to our lives.
But, the wonder of life is that every day is a new day to carry on, and humans are resilient. We’ve learned to approach 2021 more like a marathon-focusing on what we can control, continuing to move-sometimes fast but at other times only at a slow walk.
Above all, we must remain flexible. And like any marathon athlete, we can retain one of the most critical practices of endurance-our mental disciplines. As the late Dr. Robert Schuller reminds us in his book, “Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do,” we have a choice.
There is an old adage that says you are what you eat. But we are also what we think about. The writer of Proverbs may have said it first and best “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7).
So let’s start with our information intake. It is essential to stay informed and not to be Pollyannaish while also being a discerning consumer of what we feed our mind. Bad habits or even simple complacency are sure to bombard us with negative news.
Psych Central reports that negative news in the media has doubled over the last five years, while Quora reports that 90 percent of all media news is negative. But, this isn’t all finger-pointing. We are the gatekeepers to our mind’s information intake.
According to Time Magazine, 1 in 10 adults check the news every hour. A full 49 percent of people are more likely to read something negative than positive (NCBI). How do we re-program what we assign headspace to?
Last year, I (Lauren) saw a story on social media that sums up a better alternative to our information approach.
“Talk of COVID, violence, and inequality sometimes makes me lose my way. I become convinced that this is real life, the new normal. But then I meet an 87-year-old who lived through polio, diphtheria, Vietnam, protests, and yet is still enchanted with life. He seems surprised when I say that 2020 must be especially challenging for him. “No,” he said. “I learned a long time ago not to see the world through the printed headlines. I see the world through the people that surround me. I see the world with the realization that we love big. Therefore, I just choose to write my own headlines. ‘Husband loves wife today.’ ‘Family drops everything to come to visit Grandma.’ ‘Old man makes new friend,’ he pats my hand with a big smile.
Friends, this little parable got my attention. It is revolutionary when we get mindful of our filters and learn to frame our mindsets positively. This is why we regularly hear about gratitude journals, visualization, meditation and more. What if every negative headline prompted us to write an alternative headline based on the good we’ve seen firsthand?
I’ve worked at Riverside Healthcare throughout the pandemic. When I choose to write my own headlines, they sound like this: “Housekeeper sews masks for patients’ families. Local university provides free housing to healthcare workers. Employee moves into Senior Life apartment to care for residents. Local businesses donate free meals to frontline heroes. Neighborhood children send notes and pictures to encourage caregivers. Mother and daughter host courtyard concert for shut-in seniors. Nurses create a celebration wall for COVID recoveries. COVID-19 vaccines offer hope.”
Lauren has given us so many great examples. Mental resilience is a discipline that can be taught. I hope you will stop for a few minutes after reading this article and come up with a few of your own headlines. Having written this column for almost 12 years, I’m struck by the number of self-improvement ideas I have suggested across the years (including to myself.) And yet, I’m also aware of just how easy it is to get excited about an idea. But then life happens, and I forget my latest resolution. Or I try overdue it and get fatigued.
For example, I might suggest writing down 10 headlines a day, but I’d likely stop by day four or five. How to overcome this?
Use the Ben Franklin method of practicing a simple new habit for 30 days. Starting today, if we all just write down one positive headline a day for one month, it can radically change our outlook.
Chances are people around you might even get nervous as they see you changing for the better. Let’s keep this between us for now. Making people a bit squeamish for a good cause could actually be fun. But once they ask you about your strange behavior, tell them what you’ve been up to and put them up to it as well.
But on a more practical level, we invite you to join us. Write your headline about the good you’ve seen in our community. Post on social media and tag #writeyourownheadlines to share yours with us. We can’t wait to read them.