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In the Upcoming Months, the “3 P’s” Can Change Your Life For the Better

Summary: Maybe this sounds too good to be true. At first I thought so, too. Then I put this powerful mindset tool to work and it helped me change my life for the better. Read on to learn how the "3 P's" can help you manage negative thoughts and feel hopeful about the future during tough times.

In the Upcoming Months, the “3 P’s” Can Change Your Life For the Better

At first, I was skeptical. It sounded too good to be true. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized its value. In fact, this mindset strategy has changed my life for the better during these hard times.

I’m talking about the “3 P’s”.

The “3 Ps” is a framework developed by psychologist Martin Seligman. He posed that our resilience during hard times is largely based on our ability to manage our thoughts around three key concepts:

  • Personalization: taking responsibility for a problem we didn’t cause
  • Permanence: thinking a problem will last forever
  • Pervasiveness: thinking a problem affects all aspects of our lives

Personalization: Owning What Isn’t Yours to Own 

Maybe, like me, you sometimes find yourself taking on responsibility for something that you’re not responsible for. You try to fix something even though you know you can’t. We do this because it’s actually easier than accepting that some things are simply out of our control. Sometimes, bad things just happen. 

While it’s unlikely that you feel personally responsible for the pandemic or the current political mess, you might be personalizing aspects of it. For example, maybe you feel it’s your constant job to ease your kid’s boredom. Perhaps you feel excessive guilt that your retired home-bound parent is lonely because you can’t visit. Maybe you’re avoiding a friend who just lost their job because you feel terrible that you’re still gainfully employed. 

Right now, I’m agonizing to make the best medical decision for my dog, Truman, who has cancer. Sometimes I find myself getting stuck in a downward spiral, obsessing over our medical options and trying to make the “perfect” choice for his care when no such option exists.

My way out of this mindset is to remember that it’s not personal. I no more gave my dog cancer than you started the pandemic. My husband and I can only make the best decision with the information we have.

Rather than trying to take responsibility for fixing what you can’t, you can strive to change life for the better for you and others in smaller, more realistic ways. 

In Truman’s case, I focus on the quality of the time we have together regardless of the treatment plan we choose. He’ll get lots of love and treats regardless of how the rest works out.

Perhaps you’ll schedule some fun time with your child, but also help them find ways to entertain themselves. Or skype with your parent when possible without taking full responsibility for their emotional well-being. You can offer support to your friend while remembering that you being out of a job does nothing to help them. 

Permanence: Yes, Virginia, there is a non-COVID future.

If I asked you if you thought COVID would last forever, you’d likely say no, of course not. The rational part of your brain understands that the pandemic will eventually end. The emotional part of your brain, however, doesn’t buy it. It feels like it’s been going on forever, and therefore it feels like it always will. 

Father helps daughter paint cardboard house

It turns out that we’re pretty bad at remembering that hard times have their limits.

In their book, Option B: Build Resilience in the Face of Adversity, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant point out, “When we’re suffering, we tend to project it out indefinitely. Studies of ‘affective forecasting’ – our predictions of how we’ll feel in the future – reveal that we tend to overestimate how long negative events will affect us.”

Changing your life for the better means avoiding the mindset that the hardship is permanent. These strategies can help you do so:

Remember a difficult time from your past and how you eventually got through it. When I’m going through a tough time, I make a point to remember when I was going through a difficult divorce many years ago. At the time I couldn’t imagine a future when the loneliness and sadness I felt would be behind me. One year later, I was dating the man of my dreams and in a much happier place.  Things did get better, and much more quickly than I anticipated.

Do things that encourage an optimistic vision for the future. Part of forcing your emotional self to catch up to the rational self is doing things that make you think about a positive future. Here are some examples of activities you can do right now that will bear fruit in the future:

Child smelling flowers
  • Put your gardening gloves on. Plant bulbs now that will come up in the spring. As you anticipate their arrival over the coming months, they’ll help you remember that winter will eventually yield to spring. 
  • Plan a future trip. Our trip to France this past May got cancelled, of course (boo, sad face). But Paris isn’t going anywhere, and we definitely plan to get there eventually. When I’m up for it, I dream about the wonderful trip we’ll take some day which helps me remember that good times will be had in the future. 
  • Take up a cause. Getting involved in a cause that interests you and helps others can inspire you to think about the future in a positive way. Maybe your niche is helping the elderly, bringing about social justice, or tutoring kids who need the extra support right now. Even dedicating a small amount of time each week can change your life for the better and help you reframe a dreary mindset. 

Take a historical perspective. It helps to remember that society has come through troubling times before. And despite the hardship, some good things always came out of it. World War II provided much-needed employment and greater income equality. The Great Depression ushered in Social Security. It helps to remember that good things – sometimes even those long overdue – can come out of something bad. 

Pervasiveness: All COVID. All. The. Time.

If you feel like you have a COVID or political doomsday channel playing in your head 24/7, you’re not alone. When things are uncertain, we seek information to prepare ourselves for future trouble we may encounter and look for signs that things are improving. 

Living in a culture of information saturation during a pandemic gives us the false impression that this bad thing is pervasive and negatively affects every aspect of our lives.

The truth is, it doesn’t. Here are strategies to remind yourself that the hardship is not pervasive.

Make a list of all the good things in your life that are relatively untouched by the current situation. These might include:

  • The love and support of your family and friends
  • Your favorite TV shows, books, or movies
  • Activities that bring you joy, like hiking, reading or knitting
  • A home that is safe and comfortable

Make a second list of things that have actually improved during this time. 

  • Did you spend unused vacation money to fix the roof or make car repairs that were worrying you?
  • Do you spend more quality family time together now?
  • Have you found a more fulfilling use for your previous commute time?

Cultivate joy. Joy improves our mental and physical health, rejuvenates us, and makes hard things easier. Joy is also an act of resistance, a refusal to give in to negativity and despair.  “If we relinquish our joy, we not only lose a profound source of unity, strength, and resilience, we also lose the point of it all,” says joy expert Ingrid Fetell Lee

Family laughs around a kitchen table

Here are ways to cultivate daily joy:

  • Plan small doses of joy a few times each day. Here are some ideas to get you started.
  • Put together a playlist of favorite songs that you can turn to when you need to jolt yourself out of a negative mindset. 
  • Order a customized puzzle of family photos or pictures of a favorite trip. Puzzling is calming, and one with favorite photos will remind you of all the good things in life untouched by present hardship. 

Keeping the “3 P’s” in mind as you navigate the months ahead will help you change your life for the better. You might even find some hidden joy along the way.

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