What Was I Thinking?

"I've tried to manage my irrational thoughts but needed a hobby that wasn't so hard."

“I’ve tried to manage my irrational thoughts but needed a hobby that wasn’t so hard.”

 

I recently watched two movies about Hitler’s confiscation and destruction of the world’s great art, The Monuments Men and The Rape of Europa. My sadness, anger, and hatred for Nazis grew until I realized I was crying over paintings and not the horrendous evil of gas chambers. What was I thinking valuing paintings over people?

 

This reminded me of my childhood love of sci-fi movies and how I’d cheer when Godzilla leveled Tokyo but cried like a baby when Old Yeller died. What was I thinking valuing dogs over people?

 

This reminded me of other ways my mind plays tricks on me.

 

Last year I bought a tablet without batting an eye. I paid dearly for it. A short while later I donated some clutter to a local second hand store and received a coupon, “$3.00 off if you spend $10.00.” Sweet! I went inside and found $9.00 worth of stuff to buy but couldn’t find that last one dollar item to earn the $3.00 savings. I agonized over this, passing by two dollar items because I only needed a one dollar item. I must have spent a half an hour sweating over ways to spend one dollar in order to earn a $3.00 savings all the while forgetting I spent one hundred times that for the tablet. What was I thinking?

 

Hand me a revolver that holds a million bullets saying, “Spin the chamber and play Russian roulette,” and I’ll say, “Forget it! I might lose!” Hand me a lottery ticket with the odds of one in a million and I’ll say, “Thanks! I might win!” What am I thinking?

 

I often write in my journal, “I’ve got too much paper! I’ve got to get rid of this clutter!” and then file that stupid note with millions of other pieces of paper on which I’ve written, “I’ve got too much paper!” What am I thinking?

 

Decades ago I took a kid (not my own) fishing and we didn’t catch anything for hours. But just when that kid adjusted his baseball hat he caught a fish! He said, “I’m going to adjust my hat again and see if I get another one!” Wouldn’t you know it, he adjusted his hat and caught another fish. We spent the rest of the afternoon stupidly adjusting our hats convinced there was a relationship with hat adjusting and fish catching. This is how superstitions are born! What were we thinking?

 

It’s embarrassing to admit how many times on-line I’ve clicked, “I have read and agree to these Terms and Conditions” without reading a word of it. I sometimes leave the house with the radio and porch light on to create the deceptive illusion that I am home. For a guy who values the truth I sure lie a lot. What am I thinking?

 

I grouse when I pay extra for organic fruits and veggies, whine when I pay $5.00 for one measly teabag and a squirt of vanilla at a coffee shop, and complain when gas prices go up ten cents. These are all tangible products I use and enjoy. At the same time I shell out way more money for intangible products I don’t enjoy and will likely never use: car insurance, health insurance, life insurance, home insurance, professional liability insurance, cell phone insurance, and insurance on my office rental. Isn’t this called, “Straining at gnats and swallowing camels?” What am I thinking?

 

Against all evidence to the contrary, I entertain the fantasy that someday my collection of hand made paper round charts (volvelles), clipped New Yorker cartoons, and mixed metaphors will be worth money. The hope that springs eternal isn’t always rational. What am I thinking?

 

My consolation: at least I know I am irrational. It’d be really sad if my brain was on the blink and I didn’t know it.

 

How about you? What are you thinking?

 

If You Were A Coach For The Worry Olympics

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If You Were a Coach at the Worry Olympics

Most people trying to overcome the worry habit invest a ton of energy avoiding, fighting, and ignoring their worries. And those strategies work for many. But counselors know that some worries are so stubborn, so nettlesome, and so vexing that a different approach is needed.

Here’s a new way to overcome the worry habit: pretend you’re a worry coach and you’re getting your team ready for the Worry Olympics. How would you train calm and cheerful people to become first class worriers?

  1. List the Benefits of Worrying (motivate each team member to embrace the goal of worry)
  • Worry motivates me.
  • Worry helps me solve my problems.
  • Worry keeps me from being surprised.
  • Worrying is a great way to spend my time.
  • Worrying makes me a responsible and valuable human.

II.  List things to worry about (the longer the list the less your team will relax)

  • We’ll worry when bad things happen. This would give the team only a few things to worry about since the best worriers worry only about things that haven’t happened yet.
  • We’ll worry when bad things are about to happen. This would give the team even fewer things to worry about since we never know when something bad is going to happen.
  • We’ll worry about bad things we imagine might happen. Now you’ve given the team an infinite number of things to worry about.

III.  Find evidence for impending doom (turn the team’s molehills into mountains)

  • If I think it, it must be true.
  • My thoughts create reality.
  • My elevated heart rate proves my worrisome thoughts are accurate.
  • Statistics, studies, and odds in my favor are all bogus.
  • Things are not merely correlated, they’re causal! 

IV.  Eliminate distractions to worry (help your team stay focused)

  • Avoid faith, hope, love, and prayer
  • Avoid friends, hobbies, and work
  • Avoid family, romance, and sleep
  • Avoid everything that gets our minds off of worry

V.  Create worry-prone neural pathways in the brain (develop the team’s worry habit)

  • Remind the team of all the bad things that could happen.
  • Repeat this mantra over and over, “What if…what if…what if…?”
  • Imagine all worst case scenarios.
  • Tell yourself that if it’s possible it’s probable.
  • Reinforce worry by engaging in superstitious rituals (checking, washing, ruminating).

VI.  Remove all uncertainty from the team (demand 100% certainty about everything)

  • Obsess over “why?” questions.
  • Avoid reading books on probability, randomness, and the law of large numbers.
  • Make the team prove they’ll never get laid off, sick, broke, old, die, or rejected by others.
  • Treat everything like an emergency…solve all problems right now!
  • Reject anyone who reassures them things aren’t as bleak as they imagine.

VII.  Reinforce worries with Google (feed the team’s adrenaline addiction by finding sites run by…)

  • Conspiracy theorists
  • Fear mongers
  • Hand wringers
  • Snake oil salesmen
  • Pessimists

Do you want to get over the worry habit? Do the opposite of this list.

Magical Thinking

"Who's there?"

Belief in magic didn’t end in the middle ages. While it’s unlikely we’ll find folks today ringing church bells to ward off evil spirits or sprinkling holy water on cows to increase their fertility, we see traces of superstition all around us.

  • A lucky rabbit’s foot, four leaf clover, and horoscope make life go better.
  • We alter reality by stepping on a crack, wishing on birthday candles, or pushing a bowling ball with body movements as it travels down the lane.
  • Baseball pitchers adjust their hat, shrug their shoulders, and gyrate prior to throwing balls; batters kick the dirt, extend their bat, and adjust their helmet before swinging.
  • If I blow on my dice I’ll roll a lucky seven.

Beyond these obvious examples, when it comes to relationships, many of us are prone to magical thinking. Have you or someone you know had these thoughts?

  • If I force my partner to love me I’ll feel loved.
  • If I act superior I will overcome my inner sense of shame.
  • If I play the victim card long enough I’ll have power.
  • If I avoid conflicts they’ll go away.
  • If I blame and shame you I’ll get what I want.
  • If I indulge my children I’ll be the perfect parent.
  • If I threaten you I’ll motivate you.
  • If I control others I’ll avoid all risk, danger, and threat.
  • I can’t unlearn the distorted thinking I learned as a kid.
  • If I engage in repetitive rituals I’ll increase my safety.
  • If I just act nicer, sexier, and more cooperative my abuser will stop abusing.
  • My sense of value depends on how others value me.
  • That person offended me on purpose!
  • He/she looked at me funny. What’s their problem?
  • If I make a mistake I am ALL BAD!
  • If I do something nice I am ALL GOOD!
  • I am impervious to consequences; others might get caught but not me.
  • If I wish for something to happen hard enough it’ll happen.
  • If I think of something bad it’ll jinx me and something bad WILL happen.
  • If I live right bad things won’t happen to me.
  • If others suffer it’s because they did something bad.

These examples, and many more, can be adjusted when discussed in a safe, accepting, and “reality testing” environment (counseling).

Think of these distorted thoughts like the Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”