“Don’t believe everything you think.” I have two of these, and I need both. Two reminders — one in my office, another in my house. If I don’t check my thinking, don’t remind myself that my interpretation of something might be wrong, I can create unhealthy narratives about things.
Here’s a simple example: I live in a very small town with a local country store. Recently, I was pulling into the small parking area right in front of the store that has a single gas pump. There are no parking spots. There are no lines. People either pull up to the pump or they park where they can find space in the small open area. If everyone is positioned well, you could fit four cars there. I was pulling in when this woman was coming into the space from the opposite direction. There was one spot that could easily fit a car. I was clearly pulling into that area, and she cut me off. I repositioned my car and found a way to fit in, but I was grumpy. When I got out of my car the woman yelled to me, “I am so sorry! I thought you were trying to get to the pump, so I pulled in here to stay out of your way!”
Had she not said that I would have walked away thinking she’d been trying to steal my parking space. That really was the only possible explanation in my mind at the time. I was sure of it. This is a benign example, but what happens when the situation matters? What happens when your boss says something that you are sure is meant as criticism? What happens when your partner makes a plan to do something on a Saturday, and you’re sure that they don’t care about your ideas? This kind of thinking, if unchecked, can have a negative impact on our wellness and our overall quality of life.
It’s often even easier to create beliefs about ourselves. Let’s say you’re rushing off to a stressful meeting and just after you shut your house door, you realize your keys are inside. Annoyed, you reach for the doorknob. It’s locked. You’re standing there in the cold, late for your meeting, with no keys. Luckily, your neighbor has your spare key, so you’re able to let yourself back in. You get to your meeting — late, but you get there. We all have days like this and do things like this. What we tell ourselves in these moments can have a huge impact. Do you think to yourself over and over, “Wow, I’m so stupid”? The next time you find yourself in this kind of situation, try to catch yourself and remember that just because you think it doesn’t make it true!
We often create stories in our heads about what is going on, what people think of us, how people feel about us — especially when emotions run high. So what can we do differently? Breathe, ask questions, listen to the other person carefully, and remind ourselves, “Don’t believe everything you think!”