We have all heard the expressions, “He is picky about what he eats”, or the variation, “Stop nitpicking!” If those are contexts in which you think of the word, “picky”, then maybe you associate a negative connotation with it. In that case, you might have read the title of this and wondered how Picky and Positive can go together.

When I worked in an adult day program, on the last day when patients discharged, the psychiatrist, Dr Bell, led a discharge class for them because he wanted to equip them with knowledge and skills that could help them succeed outside of the hospital. He shared what happens in the brain that ends up causing mental illnesses, and he taught them what habits and routines are important for creating a healthier brain that maintains better chemical balances. As humans our brains are more prone to negative thoughts than positive ones, and they are not helpful for healthy moods and functioning, therefore we need to intentionally choose what kinds of thoughts to focus on that help us feel better. He emphasized being intentional because the negative thoughts can become habit thoughts, and when trying to quit a habit, we need to deliberately replace it with a different habit. Picky Positives, he said, could become that new habit. Here are his instructions:

Choose 3-4 times every day when you will pause whatever you are doing to appreciate 3 things: something about yourself, others, and life in general (use your senses for this one).

Be picky about what you appreciate, nitpick, meaning appreciate even what you consider to be small, routine, mundane things, and what might lead you to say, “Well, of course I do that because I should.” There is no discounting or minimizing allowed in this exercise.

When you do it each time, name things you noticed since the last time you did it.

For example, if you do it at 9 a.m., maybe you appreciate that you got up after the 2nd time you pressed snooze on your alarm instead of the 4th time (yourself), you appreciate that your friend texted you good morning (others), and you appreciate the taste of your coffee (life in general).

Then at 1 p.m. you noticed that between 9 and 1, you appreciated that you took a walk, you appreciated that someone held a door open for you at the store, and you appreciated the sound of the wind. You do this again at 5 p.m. for the hours between 1 and 5 and before going to bed at 10 p.m. for the hours between 5 and 10.

What are the benefits?

  • Helps us to be present in the here and now, or be more Mindful, which is something
    we hear a lot about these days
  • Improves our relationships with others and ourselves. We become more accepting,
    appreciative, and loving. When we complain about or to someone or put ourselves
    down, that can lead to feelings of resentment, annoyance, irritation, self-loathing,
    which then leads to disconnection rather than connection
  • Having greater appreciation for what and who is around us in the moment, including
  • Feeling happier, because as science has shown us, gratitude helps create more of the
    feel-good chemicals we all want
  • Strengthening our abilities to stay away from or manage fight, flight, freeze responses

Try it for at least 90 days, because that same psychiatrist said that’s how long it takes to
stop and start a habit. He also said it’s okay to fail because that’s part of being human,
and what’s more important is that you start again once you’ve realized you missed a time
of thinking of picky positives.

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