How to reduce stress by setting a daily focus

If you’ve read Barbara Fredrickson’s book titled Positivity, you’ll remember it promptly starts with two versions of her “start to the day”. She refers to these two versions as Take 1 and Take 2.

Take 1

In Take 1 she describes how she wakes from a fitful night’s sleep and then quickly discovers her alarm hasn’t sounded. Disappointment hits her as she realises she’s already broken her promise of waking up early to have time with her young children before the morning gets into full frenzy. Planned exercise is skipped and replaced with a bit of extra time in bed and a quick few words in her journal. Her journal entry is a full-on personal attack, berating herself once again for not taking charge of her life.

A quick check of her emails finds a request for input to a proposal from a co-worker … by the afternoon. “That screws up my morning” she thinks. Feeling more than angry at the imposition, the next email has a request for some final revisions on her latest project proposal. “How on earth can I do this in the next 48 hours!” she says out loud.

At this point, her 4 year old daughter’s voice can be heard calling out “mummy”! It’s 6:42am. The 7:00am rule has been broken (again) and her frustration is growing. Another series of thoughts enter her mind, all negative, and all escalating her stress. She snaps at her daughter immediately feeling the guilt of an emotional outburst.

The whole morning is a grim race and everyone is losing.

Her 7 year old son has misplaced his favourite shoes and finding/wearing a different pair isn’t an option in his mind. With kids dropped off at school (late), she arrives at work (late), and the first encounter at work is with Joe with his broad smile. He’s got great news to share about the latest project proposal being approved, but all she can manage is a sour face and the comment “yeah but have you seen the final revisions we need to do first? And within 48 hours! Who are they kidding?” Joe’s smile fades as he tries to figure out how to respond to her negativity.

Take 2

In Take 2 she describes how she wakes feeling rested. She notices the alarm didn’t sound. Feeling disappointed because the plan was to wake up early to spend more time with her children, she instead thinks “oh well, at least it looks like it’s a gorgeous day outside today”. She skips her planned exercise due to the later than planned start and chooses instead to write in her journal. Her journal entry includes a plan to walk at lunchtime to make up for the skipped exercise this morning. She also writes how her journal writing has allowed her to reflect on what’s working well (the positives) and what she has to be grateful for.

She hears her 4 year old daughter calling out and even though she’s meant to wait until 7:00am (it’s 6:42am) you decide to snuggle next to her and chat until 7:00am.

Morning routines are always tight so when her 7 year old can’t find his favourite shoes, she decides to create a quick family game to hunt them down with the finder being rewarded!

After school drop-off, she arrives at work and Joe is her first encounter and he’s got a grin from ear-to-ear. He can’t wait to tell her that their project proposal has been approved! She slaps him a high-five and makes a comment about what a great team they make. He says there are some revisions to be done so you suggest a lunchtime walk to discuss them.

How’s your start to the day?

I often hear my clients say, as they go through The Thrive Programme, that they don’t even realise until midday that they’ve spent the whole morning thinking negatively. My response is “Why wait to find out that your thinking hasn’t been helpful today?” Instead I suggest they set a daily focus. It’s a bit like a goal for how you want to manage your thinking for the day. In other words, do you want to have a crappy day that focused on negativity, sadness, annoyances, that bald patch you’ve noticed, the couple of extra kilos you’re carrying, and the fact that you’ve not exercised this week? Or do you want to have a day that’s the opposite? Ask yourself “What sort of day do I want to have today?”

Your daily focus can be a combination of a goal, a focus, a self-suggestion, a visualisation exercise, or a statement of intention.

You could even think about it the night before …

Michelle Carlyle is a coach, mentor, speaker, and Licensed Thrive Programme Consultant. “Everyone has the capacity to thrive in every aspect of their lives.”

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