Have you ever noticed how easy it is to spend time with people who validate your own decisions and way of thinking? It’s a core principle of human behaviour that we prefer to hang out with those who share and reinforce our ideas and emotions. That carries over into the things we say to ourselves, and the ideas and emotions we nurture in ourselves – it’s much harder to change the track of our our thoughts, than it is to reinforce our current way of thinking.

As a result, angry people become more angry as they spend more time with their angry thoughts, and other angry people, depressed people become more depressed, and happy people become happier. The more we make excuses for our behaviour, the more it controls us.  So you hear people say, “I’m having a bad day, I knew it would be a bad day the moment I woke up because …” The truth is we can’t change our circumstances in a moment, but we can change the way we respond to them, and take control of our lives.

Why is This a Problem?

About ten years ago, I was suffering from depression and I’d been in therapy for about 10 months, seeing the therapist every week. I’d come back from the therapist’s office and sit at my window and stare out.

Every week he’d ask me, “How do you feel about your life?” and I’d say “I feel lousy, just help me do something to change it.”

And after I’d finished seeing him and telling him about how crap my life was and everything that was wrong and all the things that I’d failed at and how terrible I was and all of that, I’d go back and sit at this window, sitting, staring out.  And I’d hear the little voice in my head going “You’re such a failure. You’re so stupid, why did you think you could actually do it?  Did you really believe it?  Did you really believe that you could do something? Why would you even think that?  What makes you think that you could have succeeded?  You’re so stupid.  You’d be better off gone.  Why do you even want to be here?” and I would go over that again and again in my mind deepening the track of despair until my thoughts were hostages to my thinking patterns.

Louis The Painter

One particular day I was sitting at home, staring out of this window, having a boxing match with myself on the unconscious level, and we had some painters in the house doing some renovations and touching some things up.  They’d been there for about a week and one of the painters had spent the last couple of days looking at me while I was crying and I was furious because every time I looked over he was looking at me. 

This day he decided that to come over and talk to me, and all of a sudden he’s asking me all these questions and I’m thinking, “Would you just go away? Who are you? I don’t want to talk to you, I just want to be alone in this space.”

Anyway, he persisted. I started telling Louis about all the things I had accomplished, and the hours I’d worked, and how none of it meant anything.  He just listened as I told him all of this stuff, and how I’d come to be there and what a failure I was and how every night I went to bed praying that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.  

And he didn’t argue with me, he just said to me, “Well, what is it that you wanted to do?” like he really seemed to understand. You know how sometimes you just get those encounters with strangers? And he just seemed to get it, you know, unlike all my family and friends who were always telling me how wonderful I was, but I couldn’t believe it.

But Louis the painter was different. Because he was actually listening and he didn’t just go “Oh, here’s this blubbering idiot.”  He seemed to really get it, like he’d been there or something. So he started asking me all these questions and he kept asking, “Well what was it, exactly, that you wanted to do? Why can’t you do it?”

Finally I said, “Well, I wanted to be a motivational speaker. I really enjoy talking in groups.”  And he responded, “What’s so stupid about that?”

“Who’s going to listen to a 20-something year old who’s got depression? What could I possibly say that anyone would enjoy listening to?  And what’s more, even if I get through this I’ll carry that label all my life.”

He said, “Well you go and you learn some things and you’ll do some stuff that’s different and you’ll figure it out. You can still make that happen.”

So he called over to my Mum and said, “Teresa, can you get me a piece of paper?” and Mum comes over with a piece of paper and he says, “Here Chandell, I want you to write down something for me in a minute.  I don’t want you to tell me what it is, I just want you to imagine that in five years’ time you’ve just finished doing a presentation and there’s this young girl in the audience and she’s just a mess and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do and she’s just totally lost. I want you to write down what it is that you’re going to tell her – the one piece of information that’s going to give her a chance.”

And I wrote it down. I was angry, but I wrote it down and gave him the piece of paper, and he didn’t even look at it – just folded it up and put it in his pocket and walked away. But I’ve never forgotten Louis, somehow his response started me back on the road to health. Maybe it was even his refusal to argue with me – it didn’t matter how angry I was, all my excuses just bounced off his determination to get me to project forward and think what I’d say to that girl.

Talking to Louis like that didn’t transform my life overnight – it wasn’t until a few weeks later when I went to an Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Training that that happened – but for just a few minutes it did force me to look outside my misery and create a picture of a different way of thinking and living.

Moving Forward

There is definitely a place for rehearsing and resolving what has happened in your past, but it fascinates me to observe how this practice always focuses on the negative experiences and emotions, rather than the positive ones.  It’s as though therapy and the news are in a dangerous conspiracy to bring us down, and stop us moving forward.

Hostage to Negative Experiences

Based on my own experience I often ask the question, “What do I get out of this destructive, negative thinking?” There’s usually some kind of secondary gain – like sympathy, the comfort of familiarity, or even just habit … but this leads on to the next question, “For what purpose?” Am I really better off as a result?

What we think about grows like a fungus, and takes over our lives. It’s not easy to change the thinking habits of a lifetime but it is possible … and it can have an amazing impact on your relationships, your attitudes, your business life, and even your wealth and prosperity.

My challenge to my clients – and to my readers – is to become conscious of your self-talk.  Really pay attention to the things you say about yourself to yourself and to others.  Pay close attention to the thoughts that slide through your mind: are they positive or negative, grateful or complaining. Pay attention, and then redirect the thoughts that will drag you down. You’ll be amazed at the practical and energetic transformation that comes when you change your thinking.

So, let me ask you a question: “Are you hostage to your feelings, emotions, and circumstances, or are you ready to step up and start changing them?”

Meta Description:  Every day we have a choice to make – Am I going to live like a hostage or free person? The decision we make at this point will determine the outcomes we get.

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