2020 brought tremendous change, hardship, and loss for a great many of us. We were catapulted out of our comfort zones as we had to adjust to the new normal. With a new year around the corner, we have a unique opportunity to recognize how unprepared we may have been to handle an abrupt change to our daily routines, not to mention a bubbling level of sustained anxiety. Let’s discuss how we can learn from our current situation and fill our toolboxes with instruments of resilience that can guide us on a path to positivity and a stronger self.
I was fortunate to meet Donna Jacobs, a Toronto psychologist, when she brought her children to me for orthodontic treatment. She made a brief and impactful YouTube video a short time ago and the key message is about choice. We all have choices about how we view the world and react in it. We often react in the name of protecting our inner child, that scared little person who needs to be cared for and understood. It is important to be mindful of the needs of our inner child. We need to learn to not hesitate to say no to a request that we know will overwhelm us, or to remove ourselves from a situation that just does not sit right in our gut. Knowing we have a choice gives us agency over our lives and can help us feel a sense of control in an unpredictable world.
There are unlimited courses and products claiming to change your life. In the end, it is the change that comes from within that will have a lasting impact. Science shows it is our life experiences that bring joy, not material possessions. Psychologist Dr. Sean Achor’s research on the Happiness Advantage demonstrates that knowing 100% about our external world, the house we live in, our job, partner etc., will help predict, with great accuracy, only 10% of our long-term happiness!
Attributing external factors – a dream job, a new house, the perfect partner – to our happiness only ups the ante of what we think will make us happy, while never actually getting any closer to that desired state. I prefer the word content over happy, because it signifies being comfortable in our own skin and where we are in life. Being content is about first finding and cultivating positivity. It isn’t about buying things we think we need or want but rewiring our brains so we can view the world in a more positive light. From there, contentedness will follow.
The below activities can help cultivate positivity and ultimately change the lens with which you see the world.
- Practicing gratitude. Make note of the things you are grateful for in your life. It doesn’t have to be anything momentous. It can be as simple as that first morning coffee or taking the dog for a walk, or perhaps just the ability to get up out of bed. When you do this, your brain relives these pleasurable states.
- Journaling. Jot down your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. There is no pressure to write a best-seller, just let it flow with your feelings of the day. It is important to never judge yourself for the way you feel. You are entitled to your feelings and should never negate them.
- Exercise. Movement teaches your brain that your behaviour matters and it is a great way to reconnect your mind and body. If you miss a day, don’t be hard on yourself. A brisk walk outside or online Yoga class can do wonders for the spirit.
- Meditation. Why do our minds think? Hali Schwartz, my wonderful yoga instructor, gave us the answer, “that’s what minds do.” Let the thoughts come and go and notice how your body reacts. Let your breath keep your physiology calm so you become the observer of your thoughts, and not in their control. Meditation is just about having a single focus as you turn your attention away from your five senses. Try for a minute, then two and so on. I love the Calm app. It makes meditation accessible and easy.
- Random acts of kindness. Send a friendly email or text. Better yet, pick up your phone and call someone. The old AT&T commercials said, “reach out and touch someone.” It is such an easy and nice way to connect and help folks feel supported. Doing good also makes us feel good!
We all have choices about how we view the world and react in it, and nobody can take that away from you. As I say at the end of all my yoga classes, you have everything you could need or want already inside of you waiting to be accessed, cultivated and used to help you on your personal journey. I hope the tips presented here help fill your toolbox with resilience and recognize that you are stronger than you think and have the skills to face whatever life throws your way next. I wish everyone a wonderful and healthy holiday season and new year!
About the Author
Dr. Bruce Freeman is the Director of Patient Experience for dentalcorp, helping dentists across Canada achieve clinical success that results in the best experience for their patients.
Bruce is an international lecturer on clinical orthodontics, facial pain, patient experience, and virtual surgical planning. He is the co-director of the Facial Pain Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital. He further directs the Wellness Program for dental residents at Mount Sinai Hospital, emphasizing how self-care leads to the best patient care.
Bruce is an honours graduate of the University of Toronto. He completed the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program at the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester and returned to the University of Toronto to complete his diploma in orthodontics and his Master of Science degree in temporomandibular disorders and orofacial pain. He is also a certified yoga instructor with additional training in breathing techniques, meditation, and trauma informed movement. He can be reached at email@example.com.