I was in the checkout line the other day and noticed how gloomy it had become while I was shopping. I picked up my bags and braced myself for the cold and damp. As I wasn't wearing a coat or hat, I readied myself for a mad dash across the parking lot. As I stepped out the doors, however, I was surprised by warm air and blue skies. It was a nice day. What happened? Well, the windows of the store were tinted dark gray, the air conditioning was on high, and our wet Spring was still very much on my mind. It looked overcast, felt chilly, and I was accustomed to rain. I fooled myself!
Just like that tinted window, we have internal filters that may cause us to misinterpret things that happen in our lives. These are called-ahem-cognitive distortions if we want to use the ten-dollar term. District Justice Zerbe has a better way of expressing the same thing in a way anyone can understand: "stinkin' thinkin'." However we say it, it is about the way our own thoughts can trip us up.
After all, before we do anything, we think it. Our beliefs drive our emotions and actions. So if our thinking is faulty, the way we feel and behave will be too. To use my shopping trip as an example:
Belief: It's gloomy and raining.
Feelings: Anxious, worried (didn't want to get wet)
Action: A mad dash through the parking lot
After I stepped outside into the sunshine, my experience was this:
Belief: It's a nice day
Feelings: Relief, contentment
Action: Walked to car
Stinkin' Thinkin'. It made for an amusing story about my shopping trip. It is not so amusing when the stakes are higher-like on the job, in significant relationships, or in meeting goals. We'll take a look at what happens then-and what to do about it-next week in part two.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.