Thinking Makes It So
As a therapist I am constantly seeking to help my clients envision a multitude of possibilities when processing troubling life events. As humans we often tend to explain situations in rigid terms of right and wrong, good or bad, or black and white. When something happens to us, we immediately begin to create a story in our minds about the event that is in keeping with our world view. For example, let’s say that you lost your favorite pair of sunglasses. After a fair amount of searching you realize that they are definitely no longer in your possession. What kind of story do you start building inside your head about the experience of losing your sunglasses?
Do you tell yourself…?
• I was a fool to spend so much money on sunglasses. It was an impulse buy. I can’t stop overspending. Now I don’t have rent money or my sunglasses. I’m a horrible person.
• I’m such a scatterbrain. I would lose my head if it wasn’t attached. I won’t be able to relax until I find them, even if I have to retrace my entire day.
• I know my roommate stole my sunglasses. I remember exactly where I put them, and now they’re gone. She said she was going to the beach today. She doesn’t care about my feelings or my belongings. Everyone takes advantage of me.
• I must find my lucky sunglasses. I bought them on my first date with Kevin. If I don’t find them, I just know something is going to go wrong with our relationship.
• It’s not fair. I worked so hard for the money to buy those sunglasses. Nobody realizes how much I struggle. Some people get everything in life, and I always get left with nothing.
• They’ll turn up. I just need to relax. I have other sunglasses. Besides, if I really did lose them, somebody who needs them will probably be very happy to find them.
Did any of those stories sound familiar? Hopefully, only the last one did. I am reminded of the scene in the movie Gandhi, where he jumps on a train just as it is leaving the station. One of his shoes falls off, so he quickly grabs the other and throws it near the first one on the tracks saying, “The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use.” This is such a remarkable story that he told himself. Had he been upset about the loss of the shoe (and created a story to fit his loss), he most likely would have kept the remaining one; rendering them both useless.
Now I know that this may sound unrealistic and perhaps a bit naive to suggest that we should consider our lost items as gifts to the universe. But my question to you is, what is the benefit of creating stories of loss and disappointment and unfairness about events that befall us all and may ultimately be of little consequence in our lives? If we can begin to reframe the stories we tell ourselves into ones of possibility and acceptance, we can start to undo the thought patterns that have kept us stuck and hurt and unsuccessful in our lives. How do we do that?
Start today. Without judgment, just try to notice the stories you create about interactions with your friends and family. As you’re driving to work, notice the stories you tell yourself about the traffic, other drivers, your car, the weather, etc. Keep noticing and listening to the narrative you develop as you experience your day. Again, without judgment, ask yourself if you’d like to continue constructing your understanding of your experiences in this way, or if maybe it’s time to make some changes. After all, as Shakespeare wrote, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Much of our worldview has been shaped by our parents and early life experiences. Sometimes our worldview results in storytelling so dark and complex that it’s necessary to seek the help of a trained professional in order to clarify and refine those stories. If you would like help with rewriting the stories, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando at 407-443-8862 and schedule your appointment today.