Finding the light in dark times – Lifting your mood

‘The Swamp and the pond’ is one of my favourite exercises to explore during times of emotional challenges or low mood.

In times of darkness and emotional challenges, it doesn’t always seem possible to see the light.

A positive psychology practice

Positive psychology research shows us that simple, daily practices of noticing moments of joy or taking tiny positive actions start to prime the mind for more joy.

Once of my favourite positive psychology expert’s is Maria Sirois who has a brilliant metaphor for this. She calls it the ‘Swamp and the Pond’ and I’d like to invite you to explore it too.

What we focus on amplifies in our experience

This focuses on a core idea of ‘what we focus on most becomes what we experience most’. The more we focus on certain actions or beliefs the more our innate cognitive bias looks for more evidence or examples to reinforce the underlying beliefs.

Finding the ‘AND’ even in the hardest times

The other most useful part of this process is the power of ‘AND’. Learning that you can be both:

In pain AND be okay

Be deep in grief AND have good moments in the day

Struggling with self-doubt AND be loved, have hope and connection

Feel broken AND be whole, enough and loveable

 

“The Swamp and The Pond” as a practical tool

Acknowledge ‘the Swamp’

The Swamp represents the space where you are experiencing all the challenges, worries, fears, sad thoughts or anxieties we might be feeling in a typical day. From minor stresses to major anxiety loops, the daily chores to the challenges in relationships. We can categorise these type of feelings and thoughts as ‘swampy’. You might imagine what it’s like – dark, sticky, think, murky and even sometimes stinky!

It’s easy to get caught spending lots of our day in the Swamp. We might start to get very used to hanging out there. We might even start to mistakenly think this is life now or this is all there is. We might also start to think that it’s either/or. I’m either totally in this ‘swamp’ or I’m happy.

 

Recognise ‘the Pond’ is always present

Until we remember the Pond is always available to us and is always also there even when you feel like you are in the swamp.

The Pond is where all our positive, happiest experiences are, all the things we love, the things which bring us joy or make us laugh, the things that reconnect us to who we really are. Even the tiniest, most micro-moments of calm, joy or love are part of the Pond. The connection to others and receiving love from others is part of this Pond too. The list of possibilities and connections for us is endless within this space.

A few moments a day to remember

Just a few moments each day of focusing on spending time in the Pond is enough to change your body chemistry and prime the mind to be more open to more positive moments and connections.

This also helps us remember the ‘AND’. We can both feel terrible AND have moments of joy. Feel grief and have a joyful moment.

This type of practice also reminds us that we have the power to change, to heal and to choose what we focus on. What we focus on most becomes our experience, so this is a gently way of shifting daily focus onto a healthier, broader and more joyful habits.

 

How to practice:

  1. Begin with two pieces of paper and draw a large shape representing the swamp on one and the pond on the other. Draw any shape you choose.
  2. In your swamp shape, write down everything that feels swampy right now. A disagreement, a challenging moment, a particular feeling, the long to do list etc
  3. Next, write down all the contents of your pond today. This can be anything you are grateful for today, anything which you know you love even if you’ve not done it for ages, anyone you love or you know loves you, any little moment where something or someone made you smile or you experienced kindness
  4. Take a few moments to observe any interesting things. Be curious about what links there are between the Swamp and Pond for you, notice how you can have both the swampy things and the Pond things on the same day, notice what you’d like to do more of in the Pond
  5. Make a choice about spending some more time in the Pond today even if it’s a tiny moment.

A short daily practice 

Write down or talk through with someone, all the different options you have today to spend at least a little bit more time or a lot more time within the Pond space. Then reflect on which one feels easiest and choose one thing to commit to today.

 

Examples:

Today, I can choose to focus more on ___________ which means I might be able to____________ 

Today, I am focusing on__________ and this helps me feel__________________

 

Today, I can choose to focus more on being outside in nature which means I might be able to feel calmer and enjoy a walk

Today, I am focusing on meeting my friends, and this helps me feel connected and remember how loved I am.

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