In moments of acute distress, we are flooded with negative emotions–fear, frustration, discouragement, disillusionment, hopelessness, rage. Sometimes we add to this distress by focusing on all that is wrong in the present, all the unfortunate things that have happened, and imagining life as a continuation of more of the same on into the future. Like a computer virus spreading across your screen, it eats up the “good” files that are stored there.
Clinical psychologist David Wexler developed a technique to access or re-connect with the good in life called the “Four Finger Technique.” It is thus: Place your thumb to your first finger (of your dominant hand) and imagine a time when you were completely exhausted (e.g., after jogging, playing tennis, moving furniture, etc.) and sank down onto a sofa or bed. Touch your thumb to your middle finger and recall the nicest compliment you ever received. Savor it. Touch your thumb to your ring finger and recall the most loving experience you ever had. Touch your thumb to your little finger and recall the most beautiful place you have ever been. After you practice this a few times in a quiet place, enhancing the scenes and memories with as many sensory details as you can, it becomes easier to access them quickly. Then you can do the technique at any time without attracting notice–after an argument, sitting in a meeting, or sitting in your car stuck in traffic.
Let’s add on to this technique. Use your non-dominant hand this time to access four other sources of positive experiences. Place the thumb to the first finger and recall the accomplishment you’re most proud of (i.e., it may not mean that much to others, but it means a great deal to you. It may be your having lost 20 pounds, or quit smoking, finally breaking up with an abusive boyfriend, or finishing your degree after eight years of night school). Touch your thumb to your middle finger and recall a place, a group of people where you feel you really fit in. You were a kindred spirit. You were among like-minded people. Touch your thumb to your ring finger and imagine yourself doing that activity at which you really excel. It is your moment to shine. Again, it may not mean much to some other individual, but it means something to you. It may be cooking, dancing, carrying on conversations with strangers, taking care of children, or chairing meetings. Touch your thumb to your little finger and visualize something which you experience as really beautiful. It could be your favorite photograph or painting, your favorite piece of heirloom furniture, the inside of a pomegranate, a ruby-throated hummingbird, a stained glass window in a great cathedral, etc.
If these are too many fingers, narrow it down to four. Add one of your own if it is not listed here but it is very helpful to you. You may want to make calming statements to yourself as you do it. Examples: “Be calm. Shift your focus. This bad moment, this bad experience will pass. It is not everything. Overlook the bad. Seek the good in the world.” _
Wexler, D. 1991. The Adolescent Self: Strategies for self-management, self-soothing, and self-esteem for adolescents. New York: Norton.