Throughout my life until my early 40s, three pervasive ideas defined how I approached my career, friendships, social situations, 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 neurotic ideas play out in our lives and breed discontent.
If you really think about it, not one of those ideas is true or possible. Performative actions and approval-seeking is not what builds real connection (research proves vulnerability does that), other people do not have to treat us fairly and at times won’t (which is when our own skills in boundary-setting, communication, and self-honoring choices are mastered), and conditions can’t go according to views of only one of the 7 billion people on this planet all the time.
Consider this: 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? Are you annoyed they aren’t considering you, a perfect stranger, as they make their way through traffic? If so, that reaction indicates you might be running a version of #2 above.
The good news is irrational thinking can be changed by making a small shift.
Begin by becoming aware of your thoughts. Then, consider whether or not those thoughts are working for you. You’ll know right away by how you feel. Are your thoughts and beliefs contributing to you feeling gratitude and goodness or feeling deflated and discouraged? Are you living a happy existence or experiencing chronic dissatisfaction?
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 business. I want to do well because I enjoy it. How I feel about me is what drives me to do thing things I love.
- I am clear about how I want to be treated by the people in my life. I can evaluate any situation, determine if it’s working, and make choices if it’s not. I am always creating a life I love.
- 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 the innate ability to remove the barriers that are keeping us from a more fulfilling life. Our thinking is often at the root of our upset. 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 that people with a range of driving experience and skill are behind the wheel every day. I choose to drive with that understanding, using caution and kindness on the road as my approach, because I deserve to not feel frustrated. I can only control me and allow others the same dignity.”
What pivots could you make in your thinking that would benefit you right now?