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Staying Positive Through the Storms of Life

April 30, 2020

How do a psychologist and avid golfer weather a hurricane? I have been golfing longer than practicing psychology. I have weathered a few hurricanes, including the “big one,” Hurricane Andrew, in 1992. My training as a psychologist and my coaching as a golfer proved positively to me that one can “shoot par” even in the worst of storms.

In life, we face many types of storms. There are some storms we will have to endure where we have little or no control over what we must face. However, we do have control over how we prepare, react-accommodate to, and reframe the circumstances of the storm. I call this “shooting PAR,” and it represents three phases of utilizing Positive Psychology: Prepare, Accommodate, and Reframe (PAR).

Prepare

Identify the storm, the stressor, or the situation that is ahead of you. Anticipate and prepare by shielding yourself with the armor of Positive Psychology. Decide before the crisis how to prepare physically and emotionally for the situation. Be mindful of your needs, but also of your goals. Prepare with a purpose, thinking about, “how do I want to come out of this situation?” Set goals for how you would like to manage situations of stress, not simply react to them. Decide before the crisis what steps you can take to prepare for and ultimately manage the negative feelings of fear, doubt, and anger. Prepare for emotional setbacks and how you can best overcome negative self-talk, as well as criticism of others coping with the stress.

Prepare with a purpose, and don’t only focus on yourself. Take the “I,” the “Me,” and the “Mine” out of the situation by focusing on goals. One crucial purpose I had was to model positive behavior in a crisis situation, as well as to teach my daughter how to prepare in practical ways for a hurricane. I believe that the modeled coping strategies and behaviors would pay off years ahead in future situations. Acknowledge and appreciate the life lesson about preparing and coping to be shared with someone younger than yourself. An effective strategy was to engage in activities that would help others prepare and to be a positive light for others. For example, our family helped evacuate some elderly friends to hotels before the storm. We also checked on the homes of neighbors who were forced to evacuate.

Accommodate

We live in a world where we are bombarded with negativity, but how we perceive our experiences and compartmentalize events can help us manage life’s stressors. Ask yourself what about the situation (in my case, the storm) you may be resisting. A wise man at Kripalu once taught me that stress is resistance to “what is.” Ask yourself what you may be resisting. Is it the stress of not making the right decision or not preparing in advance? Don’t look back or dwell on past experiences while in the midst of your storm. Instead, be in the present and don’t focus on what you could have done or should have done. Imagine yourself moving forward through the experience. Stay in the present and don’t place emotions and other life frustrations in the “storm drain.” Don’t blame those around you. Cloak yourself with a shield of positivity. Try to find bits of gratitude for each step forward you take through the storm. Try to do something positive for someone else.

Reframe

How we process a situation, even a stressful one, will ultimately shape our memory of it. This is how the previous two steps in PAR, preparation, and accommodation, will “tee you up” for positive reframing. In your mind, build a positive “frame” around the experience. Deciding to positively rethink and reframe an event will propel you forward and upward. Do not dwell on the negative. Instead, actively think about the situation in a positive way. What did you do right? What did you learn? How did you model positive behaviors for others? Think of your mind as a giant file cabinet. How you file information will later dictate how you find it. Positively reframing situations takes practice. Remember that resiliency builds upon self-efficacy. Enhance the reframing stage with some gratitude and thanks. Find a pebble of positivity in every situation and a mountain of possibilities will emerge on your horizon.

A parting golf tip for positivity: It’s not about your last shot, it’s about your NEXT shot!

Sherry Kelly, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Neuropsychologist with more than 30 years of experience in the field of child development. Dr. Kelly began her career as an educational researcher in 1977 at the University of Minnesota Center for Youth Development and Research. Dr. Kelly completed her undergraduate degree in Social Education at Boston University. Her work has been featured in segments on Good Morning America. From 2000-2007, she was a clinician in private practice, a lecturer, and a columnist. Most recently, Dr. Kelly was a founding board member of Autism After 21, a Boca Raton based non-profit program of support, education, and skills training for young adults with special needs.

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