There we were, gathering a few weeks before Christmas for our inaugural caroling on horse-drawn carriages around Central Park, or, because my husband has a penchant for naming things, “CP Carriage Caroling.” We stood in a small circle drinking homemade mulled wine from paper cups generously donated by a Starbucks barista whilst marveling at the unseasonably warm weather and our need to keep it festive by overdressing in winter apparel.
I was almost 100% happy, but a tiny something gnawed at me, refusing to fully let go. A few hours earlier, I had inserted myself into Dennis’s mulled wine preparation, because I just can't help myself. I couldn’t stop replaying it in my mind.
“That looks like a lot of wine...I really don’t think we need that much.”
As soon as I said it, I knew that I had done it again.
“For once, could you just stop being so controlling?!”
No. Apparently I couldn’t. Why couldn’t I just relax, for crying out loud?! WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?!
Here we were, festive as all get-out, and I was festering. I needed a flip switch – something to snap me back into my joyous holiday elf self.
It came in an unexpected form.
“Excuse me…” said a small voice.
We turned to see a young boy around the age of eight holding a small cardboard box of single-serving Oreos, raising money for his school basketball team. We listened attentively and smiled. I pulled out a few dollars and chose a package of Oreos. As we waited for him to walk away, we heard another voice. A tall man stepped forward. Unbeknownst to us, he had been observing the entire transaction.
“Thank you so much,” he said with a beaming grin of pride and gratitude.
He told us that he was trying to get a scholarship to play college basketball, and that he was helping kids like his buddy here in the meantime. He encouraged the young lad to say, “Thank you” again. He said, “It’s amazing how many different languages you hear on a daily basis on these streets. He’s heard ‘You’re welcome’ in so many languages! I’m trying to teach him how to say thank you in every one of them.” He laughed and shared a few more snippets before the funny pair finally walked off along Central Park South.
My switch was flipped.
The passing of emotions never ceases to amaze me. One minute, waves of intense fear, anxiety, sadness, or anger threaten to swallow you whole. Sometimes you’re not even sure what you’re feeling, because it doesn’t feel much like anything. You just have a case of “Meh.” However it manifests, something is uncomfortably off-kilter. Then, five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes, or an hour later, it miraculously passes. Equilibrium returns.
Now, when you’re burned out on chronic stress, the waves might come more easily, more often. The fuse is shorter, and it takes longer to recover. Forget about riding the waves: the waves knock you out over and over again as you swim against the current. That’s always a sign to me that I’m out of whack and something has to change.
Yet, somehow, those waves eventually subside. Life continues – you do stuff, you talk to people, you go about your day – and they’re gone.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice to instantaneously snap out of it immediately all the time? Like Mary Poppins snapping her fingers, suddenly the job is a game: every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake, and every unpleasant emotion evaporates in a magical poof.
I’ve experienced many moments of stuckness – physically, creatively, professionally, interpersonally, you name it. From relationships to jobs to apartments to a temporarily broken body, I’m unsure where to go or how to get there, and every attempted move is like trying to go up a down escalator. It’s the worst.
After enough time passes, I eventually come to terms with the fact that, if I want to move again, it’s up to me to shift. So, I make a decision, and I take action – no matter how small – and, at some point, I find myself moving again. I’m not always exactly sure where I’m headed, but at least going slowly toward somewhere, even if I’m just along for the ride until I find my own groove.
I’ve read boatloads of books on the power of changing your mindset. I’ve learned how choosing optimism, leading with empowerment, and setting SMART goals, among a myriad of other tips and tricks, all contribute to a “bad ass” of a life. But, you know, sometimes you just have to flip a switch. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
I've never been a huge fan of affirmations. I get it, and I know there's a lot of research on it. But, for one reason or another, they induce automatic eye-rolling. Something about it never feels especially empowering. They're more of a "That's nice, but what now?" kind of situation for me. Flip switches feel more powerful, because they fuel action. They're not quite as forced, and you adjust them until they empower you to change course in a positive way.
The ability to flip switch is a gift, but it requires gumption, foresight, and creativity. It also requires some kind of ongoing maintenance plan. After years of personal flip-switching, I’ve pieced together four valuable elements:
As someone who stutters, I think about language a lot, and I’m finally – after a great deal of soul-searching and fighting against myself – aware of when the words I’m using keep me stuck in negative patterns. Language matters. As a refresh, choosing conscious language means using words to create the reality you want for yourself. Whether directed inward or outward, the words you use create your reality. With each small tweak in word choice and sentence structure, you move yourself toward new patterns that help you thrive.
There are many ways to think about mindset, but here are two of my Top Hits:
#1: Get grateful. Yes, sometimes it’s hard. When you’re in a “Meh” mood, everything can feel a little blah. You might say the words even though you don't really connect with what's going well. That’s okay. Just saying the words helps to imprint it in your brain. If loving words can change the structure of water molecules, then it can change how your brain is firing – even if that change is subtle.
#2: Channel your person. When I feel like I’m selling myself short by letting myself be stuck in negativity, or when my anxiety inspires me to lash out and demand that Dennis pick up his pants right now or something equally less-than-nice, I think about my person. We all have a person – someone who we try to emulate when we can’t quite find the inner strength to put our best foot forward. My person is Audrey Hepburn. She wasn’t perfect, of course. No one is. But she embodied many of the qualities that matter most to me, including selflessness and generosity and grace and humility and wit and...the list goes on. When I’m filled with self-doubt or self-judgment or disappointment in myself, I think, “What would Audrey do?” (Fun fact: On several separate occasions, clients and friends told me that they often thought, “What would Jamie do?” We’re all that person for others, too, which is a lovely reminder that we’re doing okay overall.)
There’s something about writing it down that engraves it in your body. So, when you’re in a rough mental headspace, go ahead and word vomit on paper. Then review it, take a beat, and reframe it. Challenge yourself to shift to curiosity, acceptance, kindness, and empowerment. Massage and mold the initial thoughts into something that you can work with. Then (if you remember), re-read that flip switch of a sentence throughout the day. With every read, it will feel more true. With every read, you’ll carve a deeper brain groove, which improves your odds of accessing that thought when you need it in the future.
Flip switching might be simple, but it’s not easy. Like any habit, you have to keep at it. It
takes patience and persistence. You’ll forget to do it, it won’t always work when you do remember to do it, and you’ll often end up frustrated as you fumble over yourself time and time again. It’s up to you to try again.
There you have it: language, mindset, writing, and habit. Four valuable elements that I’ve used to flip switch to a more helpful headspace.
Flip switch, affirmation...whatever your route, think about the kind of person you want to be. The kind of person you are underneath the waves and "meh." It’s not always easy, but it’s possible. Be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to move through your feels and toward a place of BOOYA.
In the words of Katie Byron, “The world is the mirror of your mind.”
Thanks for stopping by. And keep sharing your stories, because someone wants to hear them.