by Louis Cinquino
In this series, CiPP4 graduate Louis Cinquino brings to life some of the core concepts of positive psychology and wholebeing happiness—putting the basics in context through his insightful observations, personal experiences, and fresh interpretations. Louis begins each installment in the series with a six-word story.
Today’s breakfast: positive emotion, more motion.
There was a time not so long ago, during my divorce, when my first waking thought of each morning was the obvious question: “What will go wrong today?” followed closely (because I am a bit of an overachiever, even while laying flat on my back) by “What am I already doing wrong?”
If you’ve gotten the gist of this positive psychology thing by now, you realize that this is probably not the most useful way to start your day.
Eventually, as my situation improved, this abject and profound doubt in myself gave way to more neutral first thoughts—more like “What are people expecting of me today?” or “Where do I need to be and when?” That seemed more reasonable and felt kind of okay, although the line of reasoning still left me with some anxiety.
Recently, I’ve started forcing myself to answer a different question first thing in the morning, and it is taking me much further: “If everything goes as well as it possibly can today, what will that look like?”
This new approach helps me visualize success in my day and neatly summarizes my to-do list and schedule.
Yet for me, the biggest impact of this question goes even deeper—into my gut.
Looking at each day for the best possible outcome has become The Little Question That Could. It’s the engine that helps kick-start me down a healthier emotional track each day as I get my caboose out of bed.
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can …
For me, “If everything goes as well as it possibly can today, what will that look like?” immediately establishes a positive emotional baseline, instead of the trepidation I felt when I’d conjure up all the challenges ahead of me to do battle with.
You see, if I’m being totally honest as I mentally run through my to-do list, I’d have to include a task that often takes up hours of my day, yet never appears in my Google calendar: Dealing with my emotions.
Seriously, emotional search and rescue takes up a lot of time for me—and regularly gets the Louis Train off schedule.
When an uncomfortable feeling hits me, it can affect everything I do (or don’t do) for hours. I remain perturbed. If I’m mad at someone, I can’t think straight. If I sense that someone is angry with me, I replay the situation, replete with imaginary conversations between us, on and off in between everything I do. Do a little work. Then stop to dwell in the crappy feelings. Try again, then procrastinate or distract myself from the emotion until the last possible minute, when the fear of missing a deadline overwhelms the angst or sadness or loneliness.
Before, when my first thoughts of the day were focused on what’s about to go wrong, my morning became like a bushel of cantaloupes covered thickly with a layer of bitter, sticky molasses. Those sticky emotions of doubt and fear would cover everything I felt and did from the moment I woke up, until I could somehow strip off that emotion. Have you ever tried to clean up molasses? It’s time consuming. And it left me with the body-numbing sensation that life was getting away from me, day after day after day. Did you ever feel like this?
Here’s how Diego Davidenko puts it in “First Thought of the Day.”
Now, I have a more useful first thought of the day, one that is leading me to a more productive day.
“If everything goes as well as it possibly can today, what will that look like?” immediately starts to stir up a different mix of emotions as I lie in bed, waiting to take charge of the day.
I see the meetings and the deadlines and the critical conversations ahead of me, but, instead of instant dread, I see how these situations could easily go well for me and turn into a day of success.
Which means that I now have a better chance to sidestep that sense of doom and gloom that shuts down any possibility of creativity or spontaneity. My brain can again be playful and imaginative.
I can still consider the deadlines of the day and the expectations of others. Yet now, my first thought is about imagining them being met, rather than resenting the obligation. That perspective frees me up from emotional turmoil without the need to scrape all that molasses off my brain.
And it keeps my trains running on time.
Louis Cinquino is a writer, editor, runner, dad, and graduate of CiPP4. His personal observations, discoveries, and training plan as he prepared for the Fifth Avenue Mile race were featured in “The Mulligan Mile,” (Runners World, September 2013). The article forms the basis of his memoir, currently awaiting publication. He also develops online advertising and has worked with Wholebeing Institute to promote its website and course enrollment. You can read more from Louis on his blog, TakingMulligans.com.