I was recently asked in a media interview, “Dr. Mantell, so what don’t you miss over all of these many weeks of COVID-19…traffic, travel, the gym?” I thought for a moment and said that I didn’t miss anything. I could see the interviewer was unexpectedly stymied for a moment and I then explained, “I’ve been steadfastly focused on what I have, what’s in my life now, not what is no longer in my life.” Yes, a different way of thinking.
As so many have said in one way or another, to create our lives, we’d be wise to control our minds. For me, I know I was created to create. My focus is not on my purpose, but on my creation. James Allen in his As a Man Thinketh, observed, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” In other words, stop with the “change your outlook,” and start with your “inlook.”
Last week I wrote about how many are spending time in “re-ing” from readjusting to reopening. My experience tells me the rear-view mirror is for what’s happened. It’s time to stop “re-ing” and “pro-ing.” Let’s be proactive, not reactive.
When I say, “bomp bidy bomp bomp…” you will inevitably react instantly with, “bomp bomp.” But when you step into the moment between the stimulus and response, and control your mind, you may not react with the reaction (there’s that “re” again), “bomp bomp.” You may instead be curious about what I’m doing, my intent, what other responses might be appropriate, what other tunes come to your mind. Buddha said in The Dhammapada, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.” Are you created to simply become a reacting “bomp bomper”?
One of my favorite medical writers, Herbert Benson, MD, noted his The Relaxation Revolution (there are two more of those “re’s”!), “Just as an antibiotic drug may stop an infection or surgery may eliminate a malignancy, so the mind—your mind—has the capacity to treat or even cure many of your serious physical and emotional complaints.” In fact, according to Will Bowen in his A Complaint Free World, “Doctors estimate that 67 percent of illnesses are a result of ‘thinking sick.’ Our thoughts create our world and our words indicate our thoughts. Complaining about an illness will neither shorten its duration nor lessen its severity.”
Pretty powerful tool, that mind of ours. Imagine letting any fine engine simply run on and on and on without properly caring for it. Yet, so many do just that with their minds. The recordings play on and on without any thought to pulling the weeds and planting healthier seeds, healthier, more flexible, less rigid, less demanding thoughts. We aren’t simply talking about a little “bomp bomp,” ditty. No, this is about your health, your wellbeing, your life, your longevity.
In a wonderful book, Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, the authors, Robert W. Firestone, Lisa Firestone, and Joyce Catlett, begin by saying, “It’s time to expose and challenge destructive ways of thinking that seriously impair your sense of self, your spirit, and your ability to achieve the things in life that matter most to you.” As someone who has spent 45 years helping people disturb themselves less and live happier, I’ve long recognized that one’s outlook is not the issue. It is, rather, one’s “inlook.”
My teacher, mentor, guide, Albert Ellis, Ph.D., in his essential read, A Guide to Rational Living noted, aimed at helping readers live life based in realistic, non-distorted thinking, “The mechanism of…emotional disturbance is not difficult to grasp. It looks, at first blush, as though it’s just a matter of “stimulus” and “response”—as if something unfortunate happens to people (the stimulus), and that, by itself, causes them to get upset (the response). But it looks that way only because, when something unfortunate happens, the key element of emotional arousal—their irrational thinking—leaps into action almost instantaneously and, of course, largely out of sight.
The actual mechanism of an emotional disturbance is a stimulus-belief-response, or as we say in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT): “Action-Belief-Consequence.” These are the terms behind REBT’s well-known ABC model of emotional arousal. Bottom line: it’s not our life events (Actions) that, themselves, directly disturb us (produce unpleasant emotional Consequences). It’s our irrational demandingness, our shoulds, oughts, and musts (Beliefs), that largely do the job.”
There are many ways to eliminate these erroneous, life upending, misery causing beliefs. Here are five, of many, steps that can help. These are ready to do ways to begin disturbing yourself less, and live happier and healthier:
- Catch and challenge your negative, rigid, inaccurate, demanding and extreme thoughts as early in your misery creating cycle as you can
- Talk to a close friend who appears to have a more optimistic view of life, while recognizing what you think and how you feel when you spend time with those who turn rainbows gray in life
- Find ways to talk yourself into participating in activities that you find pleasurable
- Spend some time thinking about what you were created for, and identify your mental “inlook” that’s kept you from living that life, and can help you live your best life
- See yourself as a contributor, a difference maker, even if you aren’t certain what contribution you can make right now. There is always a way. This mindset will surely help you transform any negativity to a more positive, healthier, experience.
Opinion, pride, inflated sense of self-importance, awfulizing, lack of trust, and extreme thinking – O.P.I.A.T.E.- are killers of joy and happiness. Avoid them, as if they were indeed opiates.
Finally, the preeminent psychologist, Arnold Lazarus, Ph.D. and Allen Fay, M.D., in their book 1975 book, I Can If I Want To describe the most widespread myths about personal change.
“Myth #1: If you have knowledge and understanding—in other words, if you know why are the way you are, or why you do the things you do, or why you feel the way you feel—then you will change.
Myth #2: If you don’t know the reasons behind your behavior, you won’t change.
Myth #3: It takes a long time to change. After all, you have had problems for a long time.
Myth #4: If you change fairly quickly, it is superficial and won’t last.
Myth #5: It is frequently impossible to change. ‘This is the way I am, and this is the way I’ll always be.’
Myth #6: If you are middle-aged or older, it is too late to change. “
THESE COMMON BELIEFS ARE ABSOLUTELY FALSE AND LEAD MANY PEOPLE TO DOUBT THEIR CAPACITY TO CHANGE.”
Want to live better, disturb yourself less and enjoy greater happiness? Begin by unleashing your “inlook,” unhook from the myths you’ve been held back by believing, and finally experience the freedom of emotional wellbeing.