Kill-joys, over-thinkers and Debbie Downers, listen up! Therapy is no longer venting problems, it’s solving them. While acknowledging feelings is important, those in the psycho therapy field have concluded that too much talking through problems is, well, problematic. The real therapy happens in finding viable ways out of them and imagining that success.
Our brains work in a way that when we notice and pay attention to something, the neural pathways to those thoughts are strengthened. What a person pays attention to gets reinforced. Therefore, when we play up the importance of negative emotions or thoughts, we train ourselves to think negatively in the future. When we focus on the positive, we train ourselves to think more positively in the future. Therefore, when we imagine succeeding,and we picture ourselves succeeding, we are, in turn, more likely to follow those pathways and succeed in reality, or vise-versa.
There’s a great little saying that summarizes the concept:
Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Sometimes we all have the tendency to jump to a doomsday scenario, especially when it’s something that means a lot to us. When jobs we need, people we love, and things that are significant to us are at risk, worry covers a much larger landscape and greater depth it might in lesser situations. Some tentativeness can be helpful, but it can get out of hand and hinder chances of success.
I remember once, a teammate in my freshman class, Emily, tore her ACL in our team’s first practice. She was devastated when struck with the knowledge that her first collegiate year would be spent on the sideline in a knee brace. Anyone who’s gone through a major injury knows the frustration, helplessness, and fear that can set in pretty quickly. Plenty of people don’t come back as strong from injuries. As her scholarship and future soccer career depended on her health, Emily was at great risk for a downward spiral.
Shortly after her MRI came back, our coach visited her. Coach sympathized for a minute, telling Emily that she was sorry this happened, but quickly switched into coaching mode, giving her direct orders on how to proceed. “You have three hours to be sad. Cry as much as you want, feel sorry for yourself, be mad. But after that, you focus on rehabbing and coming back for next season.” Emily followed orders remarkably well. By the time we saw her at the dorms she was smiling and laughing, but focused on having a quick recovery. She dedicated herself to her rehabilitation, and she had one of the quickest recoveries I have ever seen. After red shirting her first year, she went on to be a huge force on the team.
Whatever we’re faced with, be it a relationship with a person or a task at hand, we have more control than we think. Our approach is critical. Placing ceilings on negativity and focusing on affirmative, productive steps and outcomes are two ingenious way to remain conscious of that fact. This week, I’m implementing two new habits to drive this point home.
- Down Time Limits: I like the fact that Emily realized she had to deal with her negative emotions right away, and then she had to move on. I think we could use time limits on our bummed out time in everyday experiences as well. 3 hours seems pretty reasonable for an ACL tear. Something smaller may require less time. Maybe allowing 30 minutes of frustration for a bad haircut before you accept it and find a way to style it, a minute or two recovery from that unanswered text before you let it go, or a 10 minutes of freaking out when you realize you’re in a relationship before you focus on having it. Then move on.
- Seeing Green Lights: This is a good one because it gives direction, which are sort of like plans, and I like those immensely. What do you want to do to succeed at your job? Define exactly what you see as success, then imagine yourself successfully taking steps in that direction and achieving that . Too many of us make a habit of looking at all the things that could potentially go wrong in relationships and effectively scaring ourselves away. Now I hope to do the opposite.
This week’s task is steering ourselves in the direction we want to go. Though we don’t have control over everything, we do have control over the way we react, how we view certain things, and what we choose to dwell on.