“You’ve had the power all along, my dear.” That’s a quote from The Wizard of Oz when Glenda the good witch tells Dorothy she had the power to go home the entire time. It was in her ruby slippers and she didn’t even know it.
Do you believe that you are ruled by your feelings? Do you feel that your emotions come upon you after someone says something to you or about you? Perhaps there was a circumstance that occurred, and now you are reeling with strong feelings because of it. You can turn any bad emotion around yourself and not feel the pain of it anymore. It requires nobody else apologizing, no anxiety medication, no therapy sessions or anybody else doing anything. You’ve got the “ruby slippers”! It’s all within your power.
Most people are convinced that our feelings are a result of a circumstance outside of our control. You might be surprised to learn that there is an important step missing if you believe that. The missing step is the THOUGHT (or the story) you tell yourself about the circumstance that just occurred. Your feeling is actually a result of the thought you had about that circumstance. And if that thought is negative in some way, your feeling will likely be negative as well. Changing your thought (which you are in control of) can change your resulting feeling.
Let’s break it down in an example so you can better understand what I mean:
- Something happens that typically makes you angry. Let’s say you are cut off in traffic by a woman who seems to be on the phone and probably would have hit your car if you didn’t swerve out of the way just in time.
- You immediately know she is wrong to be on the phone. She’s driving recklessly and caused you a serious moment of anxiety. You know it’s rude, thoughtless, illegal and arrogant for her to be on the phone. She put you and others in peril by her own selfish actions.
- You become angry at her actions so you react in a dangerous or aggressive way towards her, honking, yelling or flipping her a particular hand gesture. Or maybe you just stew about it and carry the anger with you all morning long. Then perhaps you act angrily toward others because the world is full of jerks, and now you are somehow satisfied to spread the jerk-dom around a little.
Did you notice how quickly step #2 occurred? It was automatic, wasn’t it? You went from being cut off to assuming that person is a mindless jerk out to ruin your day. Interestingly, the woman did accomplish the goal of ruining your day, if indeed you allowed it to anger your interactions with others. So essentially your power was just given away to the stranger who cut you off.
Now, let’s look at how you can control your thoughts and have a positive outcome from that same circumstance.
- A car cuts you off in traffic. The woman looks like she was on the phone and probably would have hit your car if you didn’t swerve out of the way just in time.
- You are practicing assuming innocence, and you tell your brain what to think. You decide to give her the benefit of the doubt. You tell yourself that she probably just learned about a tragic thing that happened with her small child, so she now needs to get home immediately. She’s frazzled and upset, and as a single mom, she doesn’t have anyone else to help her in this situation today.
- If this story you just made up were 100% true, wouldn’t you be patient, more helpful and even wave her on, instead of waving a finger at her? 😉 You’d probably even say a silent prayer for her or feel a swell of deep gratitude that your family is safe and healthy. And maybe you realize how thankful you are to have support in your life when things blow up at home.
Can you see how the stories we tell ourselves about the circumstances that occur around us are critical to our own experience in the world? It is so important to understand that we are in control of our thoughts. This can change our lives! It frees us from hurt feelings that may not be justified. Why would we want to tell ourselves bad stories that hurt us rather than tell ourselves innocent stories that make us grateful and happy? We just never learned another way. But you can learn it now!
The average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. Moreover, 80% of them are negative thoughts and 95% of our thoughts are repetitive, meaning we play a tape of negative things in our heads…All. Day. Long. This kind of thinking doesn’t serve us well at all. To quote Albert Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
To further get us entrenched in poor thinking, we live in a world where we believe true success in life is about achievement, money, and power. We don’t necessarily measure success in terms of our level of joy, peace, humility, and love. In school, we focus primarily on math and reading to teach our children what to think to be successful. But young people rarely get taught how to think for a truly successful life of joy and stable emotional health.
But now you have the ruby slippers! You can practice a new tool that may shape your experience in the world to something far more successful and joyful than ever!
It’s certainly not easy to turn your habits around and start having innocent, positive thoughts. It takes practice. Lots of practice! But it is exactly like building any muscle. You wouldn’t go to the gym once and assume you should have a six pack or bulging arm muscles, right? Of course not! The mind needs just as much thought control as the body needs exercise. We owe it to ourselves to always be making our minds stronger, building our mental muscle. This will make our emotional life experiences so much healthier and more satisfying. When we do this we are able to contend with the difficulties of life with much more success. We are also able to serve other people better, raise happier children and make a more positive impact in the world.
If your mind is on autopilot now thinking negative and self-defeating thoughts, how can you start to exercise your mental muscle, to start turning things around?
First, realize it won’t likely change overnight. It takes time. So it is important not to get discouraged. Give yourself plenty of time. You are a work in progress. You’ll try, fail, try, fail, try, do well, try, do better, try, fail, try, do better, and on and on. But in time, if you keep practicing there will be more “do betters” than “fails”.
Next, be aware of your thoughts. When a circumstance happens (which is all day long, right?) be aware of what your thoughts are about that circumstance. That thought you tell yourself is going to immediately turn into a feeling. So try to hold off from feeling the feeling until you figure out what story in your head you are telling yourself about the circumstance that just occurred.
Or if you’re not there yet, you can start with noticing. Just notice. Notice when you have a strong negative feeling as a result of a circumstance. Then ask yourself what story you played in your head that caused that feeling. For instance, are you feeling hurt when you find out that someone in the office asked another coworker out to lunch, but didn’t include you? Perhaps you are telling yourself you are an outcast that nobody likes and this leads to hurt feelings. Perhaps you’ll even feel angry and distant toward this person later. Then, they will sense your hostility toward them and intentionally refrain from including you in future lunch plans. Do you see how this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?
It’s best to assume innocence. Instead, you could remind yourself you are every bit as talented and a great friend that should be included. But if they don’t know it, it’s their loss. Or tell yourself it was just an innocent oversight on their part. It wasn’t personal. Heck, tell yourself they are planning your birthday party. Understand, you can make up any story that makes you the awesome hero that you are! Being in charge of your own thoughts, you can tell yourself anything. So why not make it a positive thing?
It’s very difficult to make a drastic change in how you think without strong support. It’s important to surround yourself with positive and inspiring words, speeches, music, mantras, affirmations, etc. Seek out positive minded people, books, music, tapes and organizations that feed you the inspiration, wisdom and peaceful energy that you need to continually fill your mind with the right stories and thoughts you need to navigate through this world. Here are just a few of my favorite inspirational teachers:
Get away from negative people and situations whenever you can. Steer clear of gossip, as it’s just poisoning your mind. Understand that if 95% of our thoughts are automatic, and 80% are negative, you’ve got an uphill battle to be positive-minded. But in time, and with p l e n t y of practice and support, it will become more automatic to think positively, assume innocence more readily, and have happier feelings more frequently.
Finally, believe Glenda when she tells you that “You’ve had the power all along, my dear.” Don’t give up, I’m rooting for you!