Dr. Kristin Schaefer-Schiumo| Manhasset NY

Choices Matter - What choices are you REALLY making?

I have been extremely busy these last few months....working full time both teaching and in my private practice and being the best wife, mom, daughter, friend and colleague I can possibly be. None of this is new but, in itself, is enough to keep most keep quite active! Now add being primary caregiver for a family member with significant medical needs and the load gets even heavier. During these months, some people have asked, " did so and so call, or is so and so helping you?" With a scowl on their faces, or a tone in their voices, it seems to me that people are poking around hoping to stir up some negativity. Now believe me, I could choose to fan that fire, pointing out who has not done what, where people "failed me." But what would I really gain from those choices?

  • Choices Have Consequences
  • Substantial research has now examined the impact of negative versus positive emotions on our actions. Negative emotions narrow our focus to a specific action. That's why negative emotions may lead you to make passive aggressive remarks to those who hurt you, send off that impulsive email, or give someone the finger. Negative emotions also are much harder to recover from. They stick around, charge up our nervous system and make us even more hyper focused on real or perceived offenses. This is obviously very difficult and uncomfortable, both for us and those close to us. It seems then that there is really no "winning" as a result of choosing negativity. Positive emotions, on the other hand, broaden and build. They open us up to the possibilities, to meaningful collaboration, engagement and creativity. They quiet our limbic system, making us feel physically calmer and more at peace. They also allow our frontal lobe to come "online," helping us to make more metered, rational choices. So, choosing to focus on acts of kindness instead of obsessively looking for evidence of lack helps me to start each day looking for the good in my life and in others. I'm more likely to say hi to neighbors or community members, to give a deserved compliment or act of assistance to a colleague or friend. In whatever ways this specifically happens, the overall point is that I am facing outward, looking beyond myself, and, I hope, expanding the circle of positive emotion. So, while many people want to believe they do not have a choice in how they react, research clearly shows otherwise. Further, learning to develop a meaningful mindfulness practice has actually been linked to being able to pause....to take that moment before deciding how to respond to what's going on around us. So, in any given moment on any given day we can make a choice that will enhance and expand our day versus diminish it. So, what choices am I really making? I'm grateful for the phone calls, visits, texts and offers of assistance that do come. I choose not to focus on the rainstorm, which I understand comes at times in life, but to keep looking for that rainbow.