You ALWAYS have control over what you believe, think and feel. This may seem untrue when you first read these words. But the fact is, we can — at any moment — choose to think or feel differently.
Someone I have known my whole life regularly says these words:
“I can’t help it — that’s the way I feel.”
I’m sure you know people who say or believe something similar. In my opinion, those are some of the most untrue and powerfully self-defeating words one can say. (Perhaps “I hate myself” is worse.)
“Bondage is – subjection to external influences and internal negative thoughts and attitudes.” — W. Clement Stone
Declaring that you have no power over your thoughts and feelings is a form of surrendering to a life in which you are a victim. You are then placed in a “prison” of victimhood. You life will suck and you will forever feel justified in complaining about the unfairness of life. You will then be able to blame your spouse, in-laws, children, parents, your employer, the economy, politicians, the phone company, the cable company, the car dealership, the street repair people, and of course, God for your miserable life. You’ll continually throw a pity party.
Does any of this sound familiar? Unfortunately, most people begin life with this sort of reality. I did. If you read Shirlyn’s post from yesterday, you’ll see that she did, too. We were taught that we have many limitations and all of those limitations were destined to hold us back from achieving greatness.
As children, we had great aspirations. Becoming President, creating great books, fighting injustice, defending the weak, traveling the world, helping others. And we were given not-so-subtle messages that told us we were foolish to dream such things. We were told that the world would conspire against us because of our perceived limitations.
Over time, as we think something regularly, our brain actually wires itself to support that thought pattern and make it a belief that is encoded in our brain through neural networks. When we received — no, were bombarded with — continual messages about our limitations, we thought them often enough that they became beliefs.
Once something becomes a belief, it also becomes the “auto-pilot” for your thinking system. The auto-pilot causes our “knee-jerk” mental reactions. The ones we rush to first out of habit. The same is true with feelings. If we were taught (usually through role-modeling) that the appropriate response to a given situation is anger, then given enough reinforcement, our neural nets will grow to support that automatic response. The same is true with fear, self-loathing, mistrust and more.
If however, we begin to consciously choose to interrupt our auto-response thoughts and feelings (through being present and paying attention to what we are doing), we can begin to rewire our brain to encode a new set of auto-responses. We develop new beliefs and new habits.
So, we can develop an auto response of amusement instead of anger, curiosity instead of fear, joy instead of sadness. It is not usually instant, but it is not really hard, either. Here are my steps to making the change:
Obviously, the first step is acknowledging that we can change our thoughts, beliefs and feelings. If you don’t believe you can do something, then you cannot do it.
Then you need to be present. You need to bring your attention to here and now. If your attention is in the present, you can more easily observe what you are thinking and feeling.
You also need to detach from judgment. Meditating is a good way to practice non-judgment. Just observe what you think, how you feel, how you react without judgment. It is neither good, nor bad. It just is.
Decide on your preferences. Example — you may decide that patient understanding and expecting things to work out well is a better response than explosive anger.
Interrupt your auto thought. As you realize that anger is coming up and you prefer the patient response, stop and take a few deep breaths, putting all your attention on the breath.
Choose the new response. Expect everything to work out well and as a result, be patient with the current process.
At first, it will take some effort, because your auto-respnse is still set to anger. But as you practice this more frequently, your auto-reponse will reset to patiently expecting everything to be fine.
“Regardless of who you are or what you have been, you can be what you want to be.” — W. Clement Stone
Copyright © 2009 by Victoria Young