Do you find yourself pondering on your essential approach to life? Probably it’s not a daily recurrence (or I hope not). But this thought could be helpful if you’re engaged in trying to change some deeply rooted patterns.
In her column, A Richer Life By Seeing the Glass Half Full , Jane Brody, The New York Times health columnist, refers to the work of Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom (Breaking Murphy’s Law: How Optimists Get What They Want From Life and Pessimists Can, Too)
Now, my first instinct is to bristle when I read titles like these because they seem to distill complex human dynamics into simplistic terms. But I found one idea that resonated strongly in Brody’s column: it’s easier to change your thoughts rather than trying to change your feelings, reactions or your mood. I’ve seen the truth in this in my years of coaching hundreds of people. And I’ve witnessed it in my own life.
I was often unhappy when I was an adolescent. I typically felt frustrated by what didn’t happen for me and couldn’t break out of that cycle.
But when I became seriously ill with multiple sclerosis in my late 20’s, my priorities shifted. Over time, so did my behavior. It wasn’t a conscious choice but looking back I can see that I grew to recognize two things:
- I didn’t like people to feel sorry for me and they’d be more likely to do that if I acted sorry for myself.
- I would be much more attractive to others if I kept my spirits around my health hopeful and upbeat.
I developed my ‘game face’ with the world and sometimes, even with those closest to me. I found a well full of optimism that said life would somehow work out. Once I tuned into this part of me, it was far easier than I would have imagined. Over time, in fact, I became much more happy and satisfied with my life. (I wrote about this in more detail in my book, Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend!)
I’m not saying that this approach would work with clinical depression or psychiatric disorders. I’m no expert there. In fact, when I was very ill and taking high doses of prednisone, my mood would bounce dramatically and was often very low . I understood what it feels like to have a chemical imbalance. No, in my humble and not at all scientific opinion, this idea is best applied to the situational “bummed out.”
Do you think there’s nothing you can do about how hard your life feels? How’s that working for you? What do you think about changing your thoughts?