Sitting in a the back of a dimly lit room I swallowed hard as I feverishly scribbled notes into my repurposed three ring binder. I looked around to see if the words I was hearing were having the same monumental impact upon the rest of the people in the room. As I glanced around I noticed that many of my fellow classmates were thoroughly engaged…by text messages! I was incredulous. Here we were, receiving what I thought was the greatest piece of information in the history of self esteem studies and no one seemed to be listening! My professor uttered one line that was so deceptively simple but so indiscernibly complex.
He sat in front of us with one hand on his knee and with the other he tugged at his double collared button down shirts so that they perfectly realigned with his sweater vest. He breathed deeply and repeated himself loudly as if he could sense most of the class was not paying attention, “What you think, is how you feel, your thoughts are more powerful than you ever imagined.” This moment was huge. It was as big as when an academic hero of mine, Carl Rogers, decided to himself that “Hey, these patients? They are people and not just subjects to be studied.”
The basic idea was that we, as human beings, can control our feelings and retrain our thoughts. We can’t necessarily stop ourselves from experiencing the first flashes of emotion that creep into our being almost involuntarily, but we can control the emotions and moods that hang over us like rain clouds or consume us like an inferno. Our thoughts can be tools of our own mastery or weapons that our mind uses against us. To gain control of ones emotions, we must first gain control of our thoughts.
How many of us have given in to the twisted voice of defeat and doubt? It creeps up and curls its tendrils around our hope, faith, self worth, and most of all our logic. Sometimes it whispers in silence and other times it screams aloud. No matter how it presents itself, it always speaks the same messages, “You can’t.” “You aren’t good enough.” “You are unlovable.” “You are worthless.” These are themes or tapes that play over and over in our heads that stop us from living the lives we want to be living.
It is possible however to defeat the beast of fear and doubt but it will take the courage that I know every human being has within them, a few skills, and time to see their defeating thoughts to be false. Many of us have chosen to ignore our courage because to stand up to the negative voice in our head would be going against the story we have crafted for ourselves, “that we cannot”. To say, “No more will I allow this script, this tape, this character inside to tell me I cannot achieve what I wish to achieve.” “No longer will I allow this false thinking to stop me from loving who I want to love and be loved by those who love me.”
This type of behavior is called reframing. It involves changing your thinking when you may not be able to change your situation or surroundings.
Yes, things happen to us in our lives that we do not always control. Yes, sometimes these things may be saddening or even terrible. That does not mean that we have to feel terrible because of them. I am not suggesting that we should block out emotions that are displeasing. It is important to experience all of our emotions because that is part of the human growth process. However, it does not mean that our emotions need to hold us as hostages, afraid to break free of our captor. If you can change how you think about a negative, saddening, angering, terrible experience then you can change how it is making you feel.
There is rarely a day that goes by that I do not think about those words that my professor said and how I can use them as a mantra to bring more joy into my life, even when things seem terrible or that voice of fear and doubt tries to stop me in my tracks.