Have you noticed that when it’s sunny and beautiful, we’re drawn to the scenery, taking in a ton of details about what’s in front of us? We don’t even always notice the sun – instead we notice the green of trees, the blue of the sky and great summer dresses. (The last part might just be me).
I’m looking outside my Starbucks window at an assortment of yucky weather. Snow, ice, steady rain, grey skies. Light brown snow banks that probably weigh 30 pounds per cubic inch. If mid November and mid March had a weather love child, it would be the past three days in Toronto. It’s hard to look past all of this to the trees, sky or the people walking by. It’s hard to see anything except for potential hazards.
I see differently when it’s sunny out. I feel energized and excited. I feel inspired and surrounded by beauty. Seeing differently inevitably leads to feeling differently.
So, am I left to only feeling good when it’s sunny out?
My puppy, Lily, teaches me otherwise. She bounded outside yesterday to race happily around as little ice pellets fell from the sky. Her mind was on other things – in this case, birds, squirrels and whatever captivating treasures lie along our fence line.
Lily knows the way to the mental high ground and it leads her to find joy regularly – even through the storms.
I think Lily’s life is simpler than mine. I definitely took a more complicated route to discovering the formula to the mental high ground. First, I needed the find a physical high ground.
Despite the messy, icy streets, I decided to walk to my neighborhood Starbucks this morning. There are no school buses today, so the kids happily took the opportunity to be cozy at home. That was tempting to me too, but work was more tempting – so out I went, with my eldest daughter vigilantly confirming that I made it down our steps without mishap.
I spent the first half of my walk assessing the sidewalks, in an effort to determine if enthusiastic 50lb+ Lily will pull me off my feet when I take her for a walk later this afternoon. (Okay, I’m obsessed with the puppy.) Those thoughts occupied me until I reached an intersection that needed more of my attention. The snow plow had just gone by, redistributing the snow and ice into a very fast moving slushy water barrier. It reminded me a little of McTavish and Doctor Penfield after a storm. This weather always evokes Montreal for me.
I gingerly made my way across the slippery road, negotiating the quick moving slush. When I triumphantly reached the middle of the street, I smiled at a man standing in front of his driveway and happily said, “You just gotta find the high ground.” He looked around frowning and replied, “That’s just the problem, isn’t it? No high ground to be found.” I looked down, incredulous. There was only asphalt underneath my feet, no water, snow or ice. What was this, if not a high ground?
I realized that I saw a high ground while he did not, which led me to the question:
“How often am I missing the high ground when it’s right in front of me?”
I contemplated this for the rest of my walk to Starbucks.
Like any budding scientist, first I needed to define the high ground. That felt easy. I was always the kid with my hand up in class for these sort of questions. The high ground = out of danger. A place of safety.
This led me to reframe the question from:
How often is finding the high ground a matter of perspective?
How often do I think I’m in danger when I’m actually safe?
I did some quick brainstorming on that when I got to Starbucks:
Here’s what I came up with:
I am most likely to misread danger when…
I am tired.
I am hungry.
I feel rushed.
It wasn’t hard to make the leap from this list to some concrete examples of when I am misreading danger. For example, when I’m tired, rushed and hungry (or really, any combination) and my husband asks me if I need help, I’m pretty likely to snap at him. Sometimes, I angelically exercise self-restraint and only silently resent his ‘interference’. In these situations, he doesn’t look like he might bring me close to safety, instead, he looks like danger.
Why does this feel like danger? Well. First of all, even the effort of having to respond to him feels like a burden, an expenditure of energy, that I just might not be able to afford. Second, he’s is reminding me and anyone who is listening that I don’t have this under control. Third, by asking, he is telling me that he knows that I don’t have it under control.
The whole interaction can feel energy draining and devastating to my self-esteem.
None of this feels like a matter of perspective – it feels like truth.
Except for these truths:
- It’s unlikely that responding yes or no to help is actually going to be a costly physical expenditure.
- There is no time when I have EVERYTHING under control. Who does?
- His offer of help is usually anchored in his desire to be helpful versus his assessment of my helplessness. He likes to be helpful – it feels good for him.
I can see all these additional truths when I have the benefit of the high ground. But, when I don’t, I can’t see the high ground even when it’s right in front of me.
So, how can I be like Lily and find sunlight in the storm?
I think the solution lies in my brainstorming session.
Before I started brainstorming, I imagined the cues would be relationship-related. Instead, generated a list of states. I believe the key to recognizing safety more often and seeing danger less also begins with my state.
I brainstormed a list of when I am likely to feel safe or quickly recognize that the danger I see isn’t real. Here’s what I came up with:
When I am well-rested.
When I am productive
After a yoga class.
When I eat in healthy ways.
Even though I already knew these as my building blocks to thrive, this exercise brought them front and centre for me. Monday is my week planning day, so seeing this list in black and white led me to think about how to make time for each in my schedule. I want to be on the high ground as much as possible – it’s the best feeling!
Here’s a 5 minute exercise to help lead you to your high ground this week:
- Set a timer for 2 minutes. Close your eyes and imagine feeling safe, excited and hopeful. When do you feel that most? Brainstorm a list.
- Set a timer for 2 minutes. What can you do to feel this way more often? Brainstorm a list.
- Set a timer for 1 minute. Identify one action you can do today that helps you feel safe, excited and hopeful.
Let’s all spend more time on our high grounds this week! Let me know how it works out.
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