Throughout my life until my early 40s, three pervasive ideas defined how I approached my career, social situations, my marriage, my family, my friendships, my politics, and more. I wasn’t conscious that I was thinking any of these thoughts. Yet, there they were, clear as day. Perhaps you can relate:
- I must perform well to be approved of by any significant others in my life.
- I must be treated fairly and if not then I get upset (disappointed, confused, angry).
- Conditions must go my way, especially if I work hard, and if they don’t then I will be distressed (confused, sad, dismayed, frustrated, indignant, etc.).
I became aware of these three little beliefs when I began to take an interest in self-defeating thinking. My research on the subject led me to the work of Dr. Wayne Dyer, who dedicated a substantial part of his life’s work to showing how these exact neurotic ideas run our lives and create a host of deeply unhappy people who are extremely hopeful yet constantly disappointed.
If you really think about it, not one of those ideas is true or possible. Approval-seeking by “doing well” is not what builds connection (vulnerability does that), other people most certainly do not have to treat us fairly (and at times they won’t, which is when our own skills in communication, boundary-setting, resilience, and self-honoring choices are mastered), and conditions in the world aren’t subject to one person’s will (mine, yours, or any of the other 7 billion individuals on this planet), but rather are impacted through collective interdependence.
Each one of these irrational beliefs breeds discontent, and it turns out a majority of the population (including me for most of my life) lives with this orientation to life. When someone cuts you off on the road, do you get angry? Do you feel they should be better drivers? Do you find yourself blaming them for not seeing you? Annoyed they aren’t considering you, a perfect stranger, in their daily commute? If so, that reaction alone tells you your ego (a.k.a. inner personality) is running #2 above or a version of it. The good news is irrational thinking can be changed by making a small shift. It begins by just being aware of your own thoughts around these statements and considering whether or not you are contributing to your own chronic dissatisfaction.
For example, a more balanced take on the three beliefs could be:
- Whether or not someone else thinks I’ve done a good job is not my motivation. I want to do well because I enjoy it. How I feel about me is what propels me to do thing things I love.
- I am clear about how I want to be treated by the people in my life. I am fully empowered to evaluate any situation and whether or not it works for me. I take appropriate action accordingly.
- I accept the world as it is at any given time. I might not like it, and I may choose to take positive action, but I’m willing to see things as they are.
Within each one of us is an innate ability to remove the barriers that are holding us back. Our thinking is often at the root of our blocks. Choosing new thoughts to replace the old ones can have a big impact on our brains, our bodies, and our quality of life. In the case of the annoyed commuter, for instance, new thinking might be:
“I acknowledge the fact that there are people with a wide range of driving skills and experience behind the wheel every day. I choose to drive with that understanding, using caution and kindness on the road as my approach. I can only control me and allow others the same dignity.”
What pivots could you make in your thinking that would benefit you in your life?
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