I have a little trick I used to use with my kids. When they got angry with each other and fought, they generally ended up convinced that they hated one other. To diffuse the situation and remind each of them that the other does, in fact, have redeeming qualities, I made each of them name five good things about the other person. These weren’t always mind-blowing revelations; sometimes I had to be satisfied with things like, “She doesn’t wear diapers anymore.” By the end of the exercise, however, each had grudgingly inched toward equilibrium, if not appreciation. Somehow just performing the exercise smoothed the wrinkles in the situation and reminded us that it was just one small pixel of the larger picture.

I had almost forgotten that exercise until the other day. An incident with a friend threw a dark, heavy blanket over my mood, and I walked away frustrated and hurt. Mental clouds gathered as an internal storm brewed, and the hurt I felt became almost–ALMOST–completely debilitating. That is, until I remembered this exercise.

Somehow I was able to turn my focus to the things I appreciated about my friend. I mentally catalogued one characteristic after another that made this person dear to me and in doing so, I was able to realize that this singular incident did not and should not define our relationship. I even went one step further and shared this list with my friend, partially as penance for my bad attitude and partially to offer an apology for they way our conversation ended. Mostly, I just thought my friend should know I felt that way.

By the time I finished relaying my list, I felt better. The searing pain of the slight I had felt had receded to a dull ache that eventually faded away completely. I moved out of my hyperfocus into a healthier, broader perspective.

I don’t know why I never thought of using this parenting trick on myself, but it works. Weighing the negative moments against the things I appreciate keeps the scale in balance where it might otherwise plummet. It’s a tough discipline to master when you’re marinating in hurt (or anger or disappointment or any other form of negativity), but it’s worth it.

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