The funeral would start in about an hour. We need to leave the house in 10 minutes. Dad, moving toward the garage in his walker, announces that the toilet in his bathroom is overflowing. I sprint into action.
Ten towels are needed to sop up the water sloshed onto the floor before I reach behind the tank and shut off the valve. Water spreads like syrup on pancakes, and my knees are wet from kneeling to turn off the flow.
As torrential rain falls outside, the family makes its way to the cars in the garage and driveway. The stress in Dad’s voice has reached a panic level as he struggles to navigate the laundry room. The knot in my stomach expands at an alarming rate, and my niece, who answered the phone in the kitchen seconds ago, announces that the funeral director is on the line and needs to speak urgently.
At this chaotic moment, my mind flashed to a line from a book I was rereading for the third time. On the topic of mental fitness, the book describes the ability to “cultivate positive emotions and use them to make better decisions….”
Knees wet, towels at my feet, stress rising in my chest, and the family leaning into a schedule so as not to be late for Mom’s funeral, I decide my next move.
I wish I could say my life was a long line of similar elevated decisions, but that would be a lie. Usually, I default to fear, anger, and frustration.
But on that rainy Tuesday morning, after months of immersion in Positive Intelligence and mental fitness, my newly exercised mental muscle flexed.
What came next surprised me completely.
Compassion flooded my mind.
Compassion for my father, family, and myself.
On the previous Sunday evening, Dad lost to Alzheimer’s the woman he loved and lived with for 62 years.
My family lost the anchor around which our lives had spun, and I’d lost the woman who pushed me into existence and who, in good times and bad, never stopped loving me.
It is incredible how a flash of compassion can alter a choice.
Where I could have exploded in rage and frustration, I chose to act as if I might have, had a small child toppled a glass of orange juice.
With the mess contained (the towels could be dealt with after the funeral) and a quick phone conversation with the nervous-sounding funeral director done, I took an intense breath. With my priorities clear (my family’s emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing), I caught up with my father in the laundry room. I gave him a quick hug, looked him right in the eye, told him everything was under control, and, with a smile, helped get him loaded in the car.
As my sister drove to the church for the service, I smiled.
Small decisions make a difference. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The book I mentioned, Positive Intelligence, by Shirzad Chamine, defines mental fitness as the ability to direct your thoughts and actions toward what is positive and beneficial in any situation. It is the ability to cultivate positive emotions and use them to make better decisions, increase productivity, and improve relationships.
It turns out it works too.
Positive intelligence does not come naturally to most people. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me, so it’s good to know it can develop through practice.
Here are a few strategies for increasing positive intelligence in your life:
Mindfulness: By practicing mindfulness, you train your brain to focus on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. This can help identify and cultivate positive emotions and recognize and challenge negative thoughts.
Gratitude: Fostering an attitude of gratitude can help shift focus from what’s lacking to what’s present in your life. This might include keeping a gratitude journal (I love mine), sharing appreciation with others (that laundry room hug with my father), or simply taking a moment to reflect on the things you are grateful for.
Exercise: Regular physical activity improves mood, reduces stress, and increases overall well-being. I walk. I try to walk every day, though that doesn’t always happen. I still try. By making exercise a routine, you nurture positive emotions and improve your positive intelligence.
Social connections: Strong social relationships are essential for our well-being and help us cultivate positive emotions. Spend time with loved ones (don’t wait for a wedding or funeral), reach out to old friends, and build new relationships with others in your community.
Positive affirmations: Repeating positive affirmations to yourself can help you reframe negative thoughts and focus on the good things in your life. I wish I could say some positive affirmation came to me as my knees hit that water…not true. But I still enjoy the “lift” affirmations bring in my daily routine.
Actively seek out positive experiences: Whether trying new activities, taking on new challenges or simply exposing yourself to new ideas, actively seeking out positive experiences can help you increase your positive intelligence. I’ve signed up for art classes and am committed to writing daily. So far (second week of the year), both have brought positive energy to my life.
Practice kindness: Engaging in acts of kindness, big or small, can help you cultivate positive emotions and improve your relationships with others. Kindness, kindness, and more kindness. It does create change in our lives and those around us.
Developing positive intelligence and greater mental fitness takes time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it.
Just ask my family.
To learn more about mental fitness and Positive Intelligence, click this link.