Do You Appreciate the Tailwinds in Your Life?

Rather than focusing on the adversities of life “the headwinds”, learn to see and appreciate the unseen benefits that drive you to success “the tailwinds”.I enjoy bike riding and now that spring is here I’m doing it more often. As I pedal into the headwind I feel the resistance and rise to the challenge. When the tailwind arrives, I get a boost that pushes me along but often goes unnoticed.

This headwind/tailwind asymmetry is true in life, not just bike riding, so I decided to make this the topic for my latest article for the Ashland Daily Tidings – Inner Peace: Easier ways to navigate life’s headwinds.

Here are a few highlights from the article, or you can read it in full here:

I broadened my perspective on the difference between headwinds and tailwinds after learning of the research of Tom Gilovich and Shai Davidai. (Click here to listen to the podcast, Why is my life so hard?) They have an interesting analogy that appealed to me as bike rider and a therapist.

They propose that headwinds are the challenges we face and struggle to overcome, while tailwinds are what carry us along unnoticed. The reason for this is our memory naturally focuses on events that generated an intense emotional reaction. Think back on the experiences you remember most vividly, likely they are those in which you confronted difficulties.

For example, when bike riding, I usually detect any headwind right away, yet I rarely perceive a tailwind. As I struggle into the headwind, I’m acutely aware of it the entire time. However, when the wind is at my back, I get a boost that I rarely discern as it pushes me along.

Often in my memories of the ride, it is the challenges that stand out. For me, a grueling ride around Crater Lake and the level of exertion it required is a dramatic memory. I remember the obstacles vividly and how exhausted I was. However, my downhill glides are almost forgotten.

This focus on our struggles makes it tougher for us to appreciate the opportunities we have received.  We minimize the impact that advantages and good luck has had on our lives, while vividly recollecting our ordeals. Most of us tend to have a negativity bias, in which memories of our difficult times stick like Velcro, while the easy times slide away as if on Teflon.

Since focusing on the positive takes more effort, I ask my patients to bring photographs of their positive life experiences. Seeing and reviewing these positive moments provides a renewed sense of optimism and resilience.

For evolutionary reasons, our minds naturally focus on the negative. The good news is that with a little effort you can appreciate the tailwinds and start to enjoy your ride.

Your optimism challenge: 

Another technique I share with patients is adapted from Rick Hanson’s book, Hardwiring Happiness. I use the acronym H.E.A.R:

Have a positive experience.

Enrich it – notice it deeply, the sounds, smells, feelings it elicits.

Absorb it – take a minute to just be with that experience.

Remember it in difficult times.

Give it a try! This is a simple, quick method of depositing positive events into your memory bank.

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