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Updated: Jan 5, 2023

One of my grad school professors, Dr. Richardson, did an exercise that still guides my work 20 years later. He would ask a volunteer to come to the front of the room, look around, and notice and memorize everything in the room that was gray. He would then ask them to close their eyes and to identify everything in the room that was green. The point was that when we are focused on all of the gray, drab, unchanging things, we are missing all of the green and growing things. Dr. Richardson’s primary clinical focus was on working with challenging youth, and he talked about the power of paying attention to his clients’ strengths and building on what was going well, rather than giving all of his attention to the problems or limitations.

I was thinking about this exercise recently when I listened to an interview of the climatologist and marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson entitled “What If We Get This Right?” Dr. Johnson has used this practice of noticing what is going right and building on that as a framework for her research and activism in addressing climate change. The interviewer suggested “hope” as a label for this practice, and Dr. Johnson said she prefers the word “possibility.” In a field that is often defined by a doom and gloom narrative, Dr. Johnson asserts that that version of the future is only one of many possibilities. And she talks about the importance of imagination and creative thinking to envision many positive potential outcomes that take into account both the reality of our current situation and all that we are doing right.

In my counseling work (and in my personal life), one of my favorite mantras is “you always have choices.” Recognizing these choices can give us a sense of agency and control and prevent us from getting stuck in an unhelpful pattern of thinking or behaving.

As humans, we are so good at catastrophic thinking; we can notice all that is going wrong and construct whole narratives of future disaster. But we have the choice to also give attention to what is going right, all of the green and growing aspects of our lives and our world, and to use our powerful imaginations to envision all of the positive possibilities. What if we get this right?

-Stacey Patterson, LCPC, MT-BC

For more about this:

Listen to: Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s interview “What If We Get This Right?”:

Read: Francis Discovers Possible by Ashlee Latimer (in Alder Grove’s Downers Grove office waiting room)

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