If you’re like me, and about a gazillion other people right now, you might be completely dreading winter.
For many, winter is hard enough in “normal” years. It means less outside time, short dreary days, and seasonal affective disorder. This year, though, it’s poised to be especially difficult, with the tumultuous political climate and the threat of another lockdown.
Fortunately, I have good news: no matter what’s going on in the world, you are not powerless.
Your choices, thoughts, and actions impact how you feel, and how those around you feel.
Let me reiterate that: You are never powerless.
Today, I want to introduce you to an idea known in psychology as “small self.” This is an important idea because by tapping into it, we can free ourselves from those feelings of sadness, helplessness, and anger. We can open ourselves up to feelings of wellbeing, possibility, happiness, and joy.
Even in the dead of winter, we can choose to feel alive – by choosing a small self mindset.
What is “small self” mindset?
Dr. Virginia Sturm, director of the Clinical Affective Neuroscience lab at UC San Francisco, defines “small self” as “a healthy sense of proportion between your own self and the bigger picture of the world around you.”
In other words, “small self” is about getting out of your own head.
It’s about stepping outside the whirlwind of negativity that sometimes envelopes us.
It’s about stepping into the bigger world around us, understanding our role in relation to the “big picture,” and welcoming in the feelings of peace and wholeness that come along with that.
“Small self” isn’t about making yourself smaller. It’s not about denying your needs, shrinking back, or pretending your feelings aren’t valid. It’s not saying “I don’t matter, I’m just little old me.”
Small self is the antidote to a big ego. It’s the understanding that we are one with the universe and everyone in it; that we are part of the larger fabric of life. That we do matter, and that there is good and joy and wonder in the world, and that we are a part of that – and it is a part of us.
When you step into small self, your fears and anxieties fall into perspective. You stop seeing them as all-powerful monsters who want to eat you up. Instead, you see them as challenges that you can overcome. From a “small self” angle, they look more like pebbles on your walking path, not mountainous boulders.
So how can you take on that mindset?
Let’s look at three ways to step into “small self.”
I once read an interview with Christopher Reeve, where the journalist asked, “Do you ever get down or feel helpless or sorry for yourself?”
“Yeah, sure,” he replied. “Whenever I do, I go help someone else.”
One of the quickest ways to remember that you’re part of an interconnected web is to do something kind for someone.
In fact, volunteering and service work have been heralded as one of the best ways to boost your mental and physical health. This can be a formal commitment, like joining Big Brothers Big Sisters (in whatever form that may be during a pandemic), or it can be spontaneous and informal, like checking in on an elderly neighbor. Look for ways to brighten the day of someone around you, and you will reap the emotional benefit instantly.
Countless studies have shown that getting outside and soaking in green space does wonders for your mental health. Of course, this is one of those ideas that people have known for millennia, before there were scientists to research it – because its effects are that obvious. Even if you live in a super-urban area, take the time to get to a park or outside the city. Take a walk, go biking, or even just sit and watch the birds. As with most mindset tools, every little bit counts!
You’ve heard me say it before (and you’ll hear me say it again!) – you feel what you focus on.
So instead of focusing on what’s stressful, look around for things that make you feel happy, filled up, warm, safe. (This is a form of practicing gratitude.) Notice those things, even – or especially – if you see them every day: your child’s eyes, the sky outside your window, the coworker who’s always there to help you out. Soak that beauty in!
You can do this in familiar places – at home or work – and you can also do it somewhere new. Both have immeasurable effects, because there is awe to be found everywhere. This is also a great one to pair with #2 – go out into nature and look for things that awe you. I promise, you’ll find way more than you expect.
Choose something meaningful to you, something that really speaks to your heart. This is an especially powerful step into “small self” if it’s a goal that helps you give back or make a difference in the world. What’s something you’ve always wanted to do? Something that, if you did it, would really make you feel good and fulfilled? Maybe that’s getting move involved with your kids’ school, or rallying your neighbors to participate in a composting program. If you can connect with a purpose that you care deeply about – family, education, the environment, etc – and take real steps toward that thing, you will feel lifted up.
Especially these days, when the world weighs heavily on our hearts, we need ways to step into a positive, empowered mindset. I hope you’ll give these tools a try this week, and all through the winter.
If you want to kickstart “small self” mindset for yourself, I’m offering a special on my monthly coaching package for a limited time. Get 15% off a month of weekly coaching sessions from now until October 15. Reply to this email to set up your first session and set yourself up for a strong, positive winter.
Go out, step into the bigger picture, and shine.
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