Positive Thoughts in the Time of Corona

Tonight I visited the drive-thru of Taco Bell. When the woman at the drive-thru gave me the total, I handed her my card. Well, I tried to hand her my card. Instead of taking it, she stretched the card reader out of the window and held it there in front of me.

I paused for a moment to look up to her, and then I realized that I was supposed to stick the card into the machine myself. I fumbled around with it for a few seconds before I finally got it to go in the slot (that’s what she said).

Then the woman looked at me and said: “Sorry about that. I hate this. I can’t wait until all of this is over.”

She looked tired. She looked stressed. She looked beat down by life. I just looked at her and said, “It’s okay. Better safe than sorry, I guess.” Then I drove off with my delicious tacos and had dinner.

Begin noticing and being careful about keeping your imagination free of thoughts that you do not wish to materialize. Instead, initiate a practice of filling your creative thoughts to overflow with ideas and wishes that you fully intend to manifest. Honor your imaginings regardless of others seeing them as crazy or impossible.

–Wayne Dyer

It’s the last part of what she said that stuck with me. “I can’t wait until all of this is over.” It’s something I’ve said in my life many times. How often to do we face hard times in our lives and just concede that the time is better off behind us than experienced fully in the present?

When we are going through hardships, we tend to write off the entire experience as hardship without realizing that we can have good experiences in those times as well. We also do this when times are good. We look back on an experience as all good, even though we may have had some bad moments during the experience.

There are no fully bad or fully good experiences.

Do you remember the last time you did something really fun? Maybe you went to an amusement park or on vacation to the beach. Maybe you went to Disney World. In retrospect, we look back on those moments as overall good experiences. But what we don’t remember is how we were stuck in traffic for an hour trying to get into the park. Or how we had to wait for two hours before riding that amazing roller coaster.

We paint the experience with the feeling that we most associate with the moment. We view things like vacations and amusement parks as overall good experiences, so we filter out all of the bad moments when we remember them.

For the past couple of months we have been holed up in our houses waiting for this virus to peak and for this experience to pass. If you look on social media, everyone is crying out in misery or making bad jokes about how awful all of this is. Being stuck in our houses is not something we associate with having fun.

You can experience joy in an overall bad time just as you can experience sadness in a good time. The truth is…

Your feelings are determined by your thoughts from moment to moment and not from any one experience.

The next time you feel bad, pay attention to your thoughts. I think you will discover that your experience in that moment is completely dependent on what you are thinking. When you have a bad experience, your thoughts will replay like a tape in your head. You’ll find yourself telling yourself how to feel about the moment.

If you’ve ever read or listened to anything by Tony Robbins, you’ll find that he beats this concept like a dead horse. Robbins would tell you that the best way to change how you feel is to change your physiology. It may be one of the most important things to understand if you are trying to make a change in your life. It’s simple and trite: your thoughts determine your reality.

Pay attention to what you are thinking. If you want to change the way you feel in a moment, shift your focus onto things that make you happy. Do anything but wish your life away. It’s not the passage of time that will make you feel better. It’s how the passage of time changes your thoughts.

If you want to have better experiences, train your mind to gravitate towards good thoughts.

There’s no such thing as a “one and done” personal growth experience. There is no grassy knoll just over yonder hilltop. There’s only you and your brain and how you’ve trained your brain to think. If you haven’t consciously taught yourself how to think, then you’ve allowed yourself to live at effect to the experiences you’ve had.

Think of your mind as an airplane. An airplane has all sorts of gauges and gadgets to keep it on course. You don’t just put a plane in the air and point it toward your destination once. You make many minor adjustments during the trip. The plane has got to be constantly steered back on course.

Your mind is the same way. If you want to be happy, you have to keep steering your mind towards happy thoughts. This will not be easy at first, especially if you’ve been living in depression and anxiety. If you spend all of your time worrying about what is going to happen or thinking about how much of a failure you are, it won’t be easy to change course.

Your negative thoughts will pass more quickly as you learn to experience them fully.

I’m not advocating that you ignore the negative stuff. Being stuck in your house all of the time with no real social outlets sucks. It’s a big bag of suckitude on sucky street in suck town. You don’t have to pretend that your bad experiences don’t exist in order to move past them.

Consider the difference between resisting your feelings and experiencing them. If you’re in a fight against a bigger opponent, you’ll have more success if you work with their motion rather than against it. If you try to tackle them like a football player, you’re liable to run up against them like a brick wall. But if you were to use their motion against them, you’ll find that you will have a better chance at beating them.

The suffering we face is a measure of how much we resist the truth of a situation. Instead of sitting around wishing and hoping for this time to pass, acknowledge that this situation sucks and let yourself experience those negative feelings fully. Hoping for a better time is a position of anxiety. Acknowledging that this is a shitty situation is a position of acceptance.

When you accept your current circumstance, you’re free to put your focus on more positive things.

At the end of your acceptance is the freedom to choose your next thought. This is an iterative process. Your mind will keep gravitating back to negative thoughts and experiences, and you will have to keep directing your thoughts to more positive things. The more you do this, the more comfortable you will get with the direction your thoughts take.

At the end of the day, you are the one in the driver’s seat. You have to decide what destination you want your mind to have. If you want to have more positive experiences, look for more opportunities to be grateful for what you have. Look for the beauty that surrounds you on a daily basis.

Your mind will always default toward the things you train yourself to think about. If you don’t train your thoughts, you might not like where they take you. So, choose to focus on things that make you feel good. Choose to focus on things that make you happy.

This, too, will pass. But your thoughts about this will only pass when you address them.

If you enjoyed this article, check out my latest book: The Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Memoir of Hope for the Depressed and Grieving

3 Incredible Life Lessons Learned on the Trail to Embrace During This Time of Isolation

As we settle into a new normal imposed on us by the coronavirus, the general consensus is that everybody is getting restless. Staying at home is nice, and I am incredibly grateful to have a safe place in the world to be bored while people risk their lives and die daily. My heart goes out to the families who are hurting now.

Last week, after a long day of working from home and feeling cooped up, I decided to go for a walk on a rather obscure section of The Great Allegheny Passage Trail near my house. It was such a beautiful day, and, as you can see below, you couldn’t ask for a better day to go for a walk.

Great Allegheny Passage Trailhead Near Meyersdale, PA

While I was walking, I was flooded with the memories of the last time I was on that section of trail and was instantly taken back to 2015. I was riding high on momentum built over a few years of an upward spiral in my life. During my hike, the first lesson occurred to me:

1. Happiness is often found in the last place you left it

You know that feeling when you have been sitting in the dark for a long time and then you are forced to go outside into the sunlight? That’s how I felt. When you’ve been sad and struggling, happiness can feel foreign to you in the same way that sunlight can be blinding.

As I walked through this section of the trail, memories flooded back to me of the last time I was there. The past few years have been tough, so remembering a happy time after you’ve been struggling for so long can be a very sobering feeling.

Despite feeling dazed by the light, I had a moment. A new moment. A moment where the struggles dropped away and I was in the zone. It made me realize that happiness is something you can pick back up at the places you last experienced it.

If you’ve been struggling around in the dark, wander toward the light. Do something that you know made you happy, and it’s entirely possible that you will experience that happiness again.

2. There is obscure beauty all around, you just have to look for it

We are living in the time of social distancing. I am trying to abide by the guidelines given to us by our leaders. I would not have went to this particular section of the trail if it were a popular trail destination.

I’m getting to be somewhat of an expert of leaving the house for hours at a time without stopping anywhere or interacting with anybody. For example, I pack a lunch box with bottles of water and some snacks. I make a thermos of coffee. I have a gallon jug of water and some travel soap to wash my hands. I even have some toilet paper in the trunk in case of emergency.

In this case, I was on a section of trail that’s way up in the mountains. You have to drive a decent distance from any town to get to it, so it makes it a more obscure section of the trail. People tend to grab the low-hanging fruit when it comes to trails and parks, and this section of the trail requires more planning before embarking on it.

I walked about a mile and a half in one direction (and then the same distance back to my car), and I didn’t see a single person. But I did get to walk along a peaceful stream and cross several pedestrian bridges. At the end of the mile and a half, I got to behold this beautiful farmland view:

Farmland View from the Great Allegheny Passage Trail near Meyersdale, PA

There are countless views like this all around you everyday. All you have to do is take the time to notice them. Slow down, look around, and take a breath. Life can be so fast paced that we forget the beauty that is around us. Like Ferris Bueller once said, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

3. The simplest things in life are the most fulfilling

I discovered the trail during my first summer off as a teacher. I was fortunate enough to have a few summers where I didn’t have to work to make ends meet. It’s interesting the ways you fill your day when you don’t have to work or have any obligations. Many of you may be experiencing that now.

One of the things I stumbled into was minimalism and one of my favorite blogs: Mr. Money Mustache. By the end of that summer, my funds were low, so living a minimalist life was more of a necessity than a challenge. But I spent the summer delving into things I’d never had the time to experience before.

That summer turned out to be one of the happiest times of my life. It was that happiness that I was tapping into when I remembered it last week. The reason for this was because I was focused on the simple things in life.

β€œIt had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I had fun challenging myself. I challenged myself to climb a mountain. I challenged myself to cook more food from scratch. I challenged myself to spend less than $100 a month in groceries. There’s something to be said for baking your own loaf of bread (instead of buying it) or accomplishing a goal (such as climbing a mountain) for the sake of personal growth rather than making money or advancing your career.

If there’s one thing you can do for yourself in this time of mass boredom, it will be to expose yourself to the sheer satisfaction that carving out your own life can bring. We are so used to paying people to do things for us, and I believe we lose a lot of the value that life can bring us in doing so. Anybody who has ever grown a garden can vouch that those vegetables taste so much better when you grow them yourself.

Learning to Live Life in a New Way

So, in conclusion, the trail has been it’s own form of learning for me. The trail has been my teacher, and my teacher has shown me what life is like when you strip away the bullshit and get down to the simplest aspects of life.

The trail doesn’t care about your job or your divorce or the guy who cut you off in traffic. The trail doesn’t expect you to do anything other than show up and put one foot in front of the other. And if you put in real time on the trail you’ll learn a very powerful truth: that the faith to move mountains is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend climbing them.

Keep the faith, peeps. This is all just temporary. The trail is temporary. Your struggles are temporary. So, latch up your shoes and get to steppin’.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my new memoir: The Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Memoir of Hope for the Depressed and Grieving