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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2018 winners of the award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

Register for the 2019 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards at www.employeerecommended.com.

Why did you get out of bed this morning?

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Take a moment and think about it. Look beyond the automatic responses – that you have to go to work or have to get children to school.

When I ask this question, I get many different answers, most of them being the first thing that jumps into a person’s head. The reality is, many people don’t pay attention to reasons why they get up; they just do.

Slow down and ask yourself why you really got out of bed this morning. Was it because you had to or wanted to? When we feel we must do something, it often comes with negative feelings, like regret. And when we do something we want to, it often brings feelings like excitement and happiness. Consider the impact of both scenarios on your overall enthusiasm, passion, happiness – and mental health.

Positive mental health can be shaped by the thoughts we influence with intentions. Consider Sam, a character in my book The Coping Crisis. Sam got up each day because he believed he had to. When the alarm went off his first thoughts were regret that he had to go to work. He pushed himself each day to get up and get to work on time. His biggest regret each morning was he knew he would be facing a direct manager whom he knew didn’t care about him at all as a person, just how he could perform at his role at work.

This micro skill helps you find a reason to get up and start your day with positive thoughts that promote positive mental health. It can also provide the fuel needed to push through parts of the day that don’t bring much pleasure.

Awareness

Finding happiness can be influenced by paying attention to what we focus on. Each new day is pure and brings a new opportunity. To move from “I must get up” to “I want to get up” begins with paying attention to why we get up.

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Until Sam learned that this was possible he began each day with, “I must get up; I need a job to pay my bills.” People like Sam can be taught to change their why in order to change their motivation to “I want to get up.”

Accountability

We all own our mental health. But it can be hard for people to make changes, especially when they are discouraged or down and they don’t have the right information. Like Sam, it can be difficult for them to think or believe that they have control or choice over their why.

When Sam was at his lowest point where he was feeling discouraged, he still found joy in a good piece of cake. When he ate for pleasure, he didn’t feel bad about life; he enjoyed his food. This wasn’t his positive why; it was his crutch to cope with the stresses of life. The consequence of constant snacking at night to improve his mood was putting on 60 pounds. How many people out there are like Sam?

Sam took control of his life when he was able to change his focus and started to learn new coping skills. One micro skill people like Sam can choose to learn is to find their positive why they’re getting up each day and to focus on it when they wake up.

Action

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Sam believed he had to go to work and his challenge with his manager likely would not change until he became better at self-advocating. However, while he tried to improve his work situation, he could find a positive thought that motivated him to get up each day.

Sam loves animals, so he decided to volunteer at an animal shelter. Being single and having no family responsibilities, he ended up volunteering four days a week after work and on Saturdays. With that in his mind when he woke up, it helped him want to get his day started, and he looked forward to his time at the animal shelter, where he knows he’s appreciated.

It can take a bit of work, but most people can find a positive why; we just need to look for it. The possibilities are endless, from some aspect of a career, family, children, education, volunteering or hobbies. Finding one thing we’re passionate about that brings us joy is good for our mental health.

The first step to benefit from this micro skill is to find your positive why and focus on it first thing each day to create a positive mental state. Then enjoy your day.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

You can find all the stories in this series at: tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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