Be Careful What You Tell Yourself

Think but, think the right thoughts. Change a thought and you change an emotion.

It’s dull and gray with a misty rain today.  It’s also Saturday so, I had the luxury of pulling the covers back up and resting in the idea that there was nothing urgent to be done.  I had the ability to stay in bed another hour or two, which I did.

I found myself thinking firstly, about the rain and the dullness…how “gloomy” it was.  Yes, I told myself it was depressing simply by using the word that I did.  Instead of simply telling myself that it was raining, I leaped directly to the word that connotated, depressing and actually felt somewhat depressed at that moment.

How could I have gone from a simple fact to feeling depressed?

My big mistake was in using a descriptive word that brought on that emotion.

If we allow ourselves to stand back far enough and simply become observers of our own thought processes, it’s amazing just how we can jade ourselves into a bad mood by what we are thinking.

David M. Burns, writes in his book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”   that we cannot have an emotion, without having a thought.  He demonstrates that point with several different analogies.

One analogy for instance, involves two men, sitting in a car that is stuck on railway tracks.  One of the men notice a train, heading straight for them.   He is panicked and trying to get both himself and the other man, out of the car and to safety.  The other man, is blissfully unaware of the train heading for them so, he feels no panic, no worry, no fear (bringing new meaning to the phrase “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”).  Yet, both men are facing the same fate.  The difference is that one man’s thoughts are acknowledging the danger fully, while the other man is not even aware of it.  He is going on with his pleasant thoughts and thus, the difference in the two men’s emotions.

My personal favorite is where a husband and wife are both about to sit down to a lovely dinner together.  The husband looks at the very same table that his wife is looking upon.  The dishes are beautiful, the food looks and smells wonderful, they have each other’s company to enjoy.  Yet, both have very different feelings or emotions about the meal and the time together.  One is enjoying it, while the other is ready to leave, feeling their stomach in a knot.  What makes the difference?

It’s easy to figure out should we be able to listen to their thoughts.

The husband is having thoughts like,

“What a wonderful looking dinner.  I’m starving and this all smells so fabulous.  My wife is looking especially beautiful tonight and I can’t wait to taste that roasted beef.  It’s the perfect end to a long day.”

The wife, on the other hand, has thoughts like this,

“That roast looks dry and we’re going to pay so much for it.  Wonder how many calories there are in this meal?  I’m going to have to make sure to get to the gym tomorrow to work some of these calories off.  We have a party coming up in two weeks and I’ll never fit into my dress as it is.  Oh…wait….I can’t get to the gym tomorrow.  I have a late meeting at work.  Which reminds me, I’ve got to ask someone to pick up the kids and I’ll meet them at the soccer field.  How will I do all of that?  Oh, I can’t eat and enjoy this dinner now.”

How many times do we do to ourselves what the wife in this situation has done to herself?

I was in the grocery store the other day.  The line-ups were long as they only had two cashiers on.  I fretted and fumed.  I found myself clenching my teeth, angry with how a large chain grocery store could have only two cashiers on at one of the busiest times of the day.  Didn’t they know that people have other things to do with their lives?  How was I going to get dinner made, cleaned up and get out in time to meet a friend for coffee?  I found myself, wondering whether I really needed the things I was picking up but, realizing that I did and I was stuck, right there, having no choice but to wait.  I could feel the muscles in my neck tense with every moment.

Just ahead of me in line was a younger woman, two young children beside her buggy, who by all means, should have looked been much more stressed with the wait than I.  The children were antsy, bugging her to buy them gum, open up the chips, asking questions and generally, annoying me when I wasn’t the one who had to contend with them both.

I took a moment to watch this woman, much to my surprise, only to see that she didn’t at all seem stressed by the wait nor, her children’s incessant naggings, restlessness or fidgeting.  Instead, she reached into her cart and opened a box of cookies, giving both children one each and proceeded to pick up a magazine, reading it, while waiting.  The hurricane that could have ensued, was thereby, halted in its tracks and the woman was calmly and seemingly enjoying her wait time.

I couldn’t help but wonder what made the difference between her level of peace and the inner tornado that was ripping through my entire body at that moment.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that it was the difference in how we were thinking and handling the situation internally.

At that moment, I realized that all of the teeth grinding, fuming, fretting and toe-tapping in the world wasn’t going to make that line move anymore quickly.  It was my thoughts that were making this situation totally unacceptable to me and creating the levels of stress that were doing no one any good, least of all, me.

I reached into a refridgerated display case beside me, grabbed a Diet Pepsi and a magazine from another stand and stood there, enjoying both while I waited with everyone else.  Much to my chagrin at that point, I was next and having to put my groceries on the belt, feeling much more relaxed and actually, somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get to finish the article I had been reading.

What a difference a change in thinking can make in how we’re feeling.

Today it’s raining outside.  There’s water coming from the skies.  It’s giving the dry ground a much needed and long overdue drink so that the grass can become a lovely lucious shade of green and my rockery garden can bloom with its brilliant colors soon.

It’s actually a beautiful day and I have an umbrella.

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