Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The Importance of Thinking and of Letting Go
Our thinking, based on our beliefs about the world and ourselves, forms the foundation of our views, our choices, and our feelings and thereby of the results we create. This is the fundamental belief of cognitive psychologists, and this belief forms one of the foundations of my life and my career as a coach, trainer, and speaker. Epictetus worded it long ago: “We are not disturbed by people or events, but by the view which we take of them”. Isn’t this great – it provides us with the potential of a great deal of control over ourselves and our lives.
We spend a lot of time thinking. We can think about and form fond memories of the past. About travels, people, encounters, accomplishments, books, conversations, and many small things that are often bigger than we think at the time. We also spend a great deal of time thinking about the future. About what’s to come, about what we plan to do and carry out. We think about our future health, our career, our children and grandchildren, or about retirement and many other important aspects of life. This thinking can contain happy anticipation of great times with loved ones or of all the things we want to do when we retire. But more often than not, much of our thinking about the past and about the future contains elements of regret, sadness, worry, fear, and other emotions typically viewed and experienced as negative. As long as our thinking helps us make sense of the past, the present, and the future, and when it aids in healthy functioning in the here-and-now, I consider it healthy thinking. When our thinking about the past and the future gets stuck in ‘would-and-could-have-beens’, in what-ifs, when it makes us go round in circles and results in severe or prolonged feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, despair, and worry, I consider it to be unhealthy thinking.
Letting go of what has been and what cannot be changed, while making use of it by learning from it, is the best you can do with that part of the past which you would have liked to see differently. Looking back you can attempt to see the meaning in events that were too close and involving to be understood clearly when they were transpiring. Equally, letting go of worries about what is still to come while influencing that very ‘future’ by healthy thinking and choices is the most you can do about the future. And in the meantime, thinking, feeling, being in the here-and-now with awareness for what’s going on in your environment and inside of you, can help you refocus and rejuvenate.
Of course, we will always think of our past and our future, it’s one of the beautiful capabilities of the human race. Our thinking can result in happy conclusions, wonderful memories, innovative ideas, and creative solutions. But let’s keep it at that and let’s limit the negative thinking cycle which is also so very characteristic of the human race.
It is a fact of life that you can never fully protect yourself against setbacks, misfortunes, and other sad situations in life – many believe they even serve a purpose. Either way, at some point we all have to deal with difficult and possibly traumatizing situations like the loss of loved ones or of jobs, for some of us natural disasters, and for way too many people in this world with poverty, hunger, repression, and war. In many of these cases it is perfectly normal and ‘healthy’ to feel emotions like despair, anger, and sadness. These emotions serve a purpose, like helping release frustration, communicating messages to others, they serve as warning signs, they organize and motivate action, and they help influence others. But if they don’t, or in the wrong way, then you should examine your thinking and what it creates.
So while you can never (and maybe shouldn’t want to) fully protect yourself against challenging events, you sure can protect yourself against your own destructive thinking. Although it might sound rather extreme, absolutely nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so. And our attitude towards people and situations determines our state of health. I love to quote Austrian psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl who stated that the last freedom that no one can ever take away from us is the freedom of attitude, whatever the situation we are facing.
It is my conviction that power, wisdom, and health come from within and that they find their origin in healthy thoughts and attitudes, and in knowing when to let go and accept what is or has been. With everything else: whatever you decide, commit to it, go for it, and have fun.
As Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” tells us, the Art of Life is all about giving up your attachment to clear-cut realities and embracing paradox and ambiguity. This in particular, asks for healthy thinking and attitudes. There are many good books, trainings, and workshops that can assist you in moving towards healthy thinking, like the books on the R.E.T.(Rational EmotiveTherapy) by Albert Ellis, one of which is called “How to keep people from pushing my buttons”.
I wish you a rewarding “healthy thinking” journey.