My great Aunt El used to wake up every morning, heave herself to the side of the bed, gaze at the ceiling and say; “God, please let me be nice to my sister Gertrude today.” It never worked. Gertrude was…well…on a dimmer light-switch setting, and Aunt El, like most of us, struggled to maintain emotional composure in the face of extreme annoyance.
What about you? Maybe your day goes something like this:
You wake up in the morning and vow to yourself that the tornado that is now your living room is not going to bother you. Let the little demons try to distract you, they won’t be able to.
You’ll be kind to your mother when she wants a detailed list of your disinfectants (or alternatively, when she tells you she’s been galivanting around town as though her eighty-year old ass is immune to COVID).
When no one does their own dishes and they’re piling up by lunch, you’ll cheerfully load the dishwasher and get back to work.
When that one client calls and is snippy with you, it’s going to roll off you like water off a duck, and when your spouse is irritated with the room your new home office is taken up, you’ll smile sweetly and lovingly embrace them.
You’re bullet proof today. After all, you know the benefits of thinking positively.
Sadly, good intentions alone don’t work even in the best of times, let alone now. Well, maybe for those naturally positive people. You know them – their car breaks down, they lose a big account, they break a foot and their still happy – the one’s you want to smother in their sleep? Don’t worry, they’re faking it.
The fact is, your thoughts are tied to often unconscious, and very strong emotions. These emotions don’t back down without a fight, because they are in effect, very real chemicals inside your body, having a party at your expense.
It’s common to beat yourself up when you can’t tame your mind to do what you fully intended to do that morning. Be honest, I’m guessing if you had a day like the one I described, you’re not patting yourself on the back at the end of it for your efforts.
Instead, the voice in your head is saying something like “Why can’t you do this? My mother is just concerned! The kids are kids for heavens sakes, why are you getting all worked up about a mess? And who cares about that client anyway, he’s not even that big of an account. Why did you get grumpy and make everyone in the house miserable, again?”
Stop beating yourself up if you fail to be as positive as you’d hoped. That line of thinking is the same line of thinking that makes you feel negative to begin with. No one learns from nasty criticism so why would you?
The good news is that you can retrain your brain and body to live by a different set of emotions on a more regular basis, even now. Thanks to developments in neuroscience we now know that the old way of thinking: “This is just who I am, and I can’t change,” is a load of malarkey. The study of Neuroplasticity tells us that not only can we change our brain, but our brain is changing with every new thought we have on any given day.
Every thought you have signals a neuron to fire. The less you think the thoughts that don’t serve you, the sooner your body un-memorizes the stored emotions attached to those thoughts, and before you know it, YOU are that annoying person who more often sees the bright side.
Here’s the rub: If it’s a load of malarkey that you have no control over your emotional state, then while you definitely want to stay away from beating yourself up, you don’t get a free ride either.
I’m not saying it’s easy to stop an emotional train on its tracks, but from a biological, neurochemical standpoint, you can. And, if you keep yourself in that upset state, you WILL biologically and neurochemically condition your body to head in the direction of disease (as well as piss off everyone around you and have less of what you desire in life).
Here’s a couple of ideas:
Sit yourself down every day for ten minutes, close your eyes and empty your mind. When it fills up again (which it will), just notice what’s going on in there. Do it again later in the day and maybe at night if you can. Don’t give up when your mind won’t shut up. Quieting your mind is a skill like anything else. Did you decide you were no good at tennis the first time you ever picked up a racket?
Swap the beat down for a nightly journal practice. Take a moment at the end of your day and review. Where did you succeed? Where did you do a great job in the face of something difficult? Give yourself some credit. Then, ask yourself where did I go wrong, what threw me off? Next time, how could I handle it differently? (Remember here, we don’t have control of others so your answer can’t be “well it’d all be fine and good if so and so didn’t do such and such”).
If you want to change your emotional state in a real and lasting way (which will decrease your stress, increase your health and better your relationships), cast aside the wing and prayer, and apply science. It’s possible to gain mastery over your thoughts and emotions, allowing you to choose how you want to respond to invariable upsets in your daily life.
**Disclaimer: I just lost my mind on my kids after spending an hour and a half on with Apple Support trying to get an old computer to work for them, so I could use this one to get this blog off two hours ago. I am not going to beat myself up.