It has been difficult to maintain a positive attitude over the last six months. Having family far from where I happen to live has made me more than a little bit of a sour puss. Most importantly, though, I lost track of the ability to be hopeful and excited about my life and my future.
It’s easy, when life throws you only a thimble-full of challenges (because, let’s be honest, I have so much to be grateful for in my life), to get mired in a very specific train of thought. That train, as it rolls down the tracks between your synapses, goes something like this: “There’s nothing I can do to change what is happening and where I am, so I shouldn’t try.” Once that train starts running, it can be very difficult to stop it.
I’ve spent the last few weeks working on trying to get that train to stop. I’ve tried dietary changes and changes to my sleep hygiene. I’ve tried restricting topics I discuss with friends and family, so I won't trigger a negative spiral. I’ve tried everything except the one thing that, if I were to successfully change it, could change everything.
I haven’t really worked on changing my mind.
The saying goes (which has been attributed to numerous people over the years in various forms):
Watch your thoughts, for they will become your words
Watch your words, for they will become your actions.
Watch your actions, for they will become your habits.
Watch your habits, for they will become your character.
Watch your character, for that will become your destiny.
Thoughts are powerful things, and they are one of the hardest aspects of life to understand and control. No matter how much effort I put into changing my actions and habits, I will never fundamentally change to become the person capable of living the life I want to live if I do not change my thoughts.
If you can change your thoughts and hold new (and ideally better) thoughts consistently, you can change everything.
This raises the important question: how does one change their thoughts? I find meditation to be one of the only ways to really change my thought patterns, which is unfortunate for me, since I’ve fallen off of the meditation bandwagon.
(You probably noticed that meditation is an action that can become a habit. You're right; it is. You got me there, but it’s an action that is entirely rooted in observing and letting go, making room for more helpful and healthy thought patterns.)
While meditating today, I struggled to figure out why I had pulled away from the habit. If I were being honest with myself, I’d have to say that I pulled away because I thought (there’s that word), I didn’t have time to create the perfect environment. I know full well one can meditate just about anywhere, and I don’t need an app or a cushion or isolation to do it. As a beginner, all of those were great, but they were props and crutches. Ideally, I should be able to plop down and meditate anywhere.
Another path to changing everything, is to eliminate reasons. Here are a few that I’ve been wrestling with:
- "I’ll never achieve what I want to achieve because I am too old now.”
- “I’ll be transient forever and never have a real home because I lack focus.”
- “My friends will forget about me, because I live too far away.”
- “I’ll never write my book, because I’m not a great writer.”
You get the idea.
- “I’m too old.” = Bullshit
- “I lack focus” = Bullshit
- “I live too far away.” = Bullshit
- “I’m not a great writer.” = Bullshit
Ultimately, if you want to achieve what you want, you don’t let reasons get in your way. Reasons are also a byproduct of how one thinks. If you think reasons have power, then they will.
Sometimes there are very good reasons not to do something, such as when the reason is “you’ll hurt someone else” or “you’ll hurt yourself”. These are great reasons not to do something. Nearly all of the other reasons, however, if you really examine them, are all part and parcel of a stinky pile. Sometimes I try to investigate my reasons using the “5 Whys” exercise. Here’s an example:
“Why am I not a great writer?”
“Because I haven’t won any awards.”
“Why haven’t you won any awards?”
“I haven’t participated in any competitions.”
“Why haven’t you participated in any competitions?”
“Because I am afraid of being judged.”
“Why are you afraid of being judged?”
“Because I am afraid I’ll be deemed incompetent.”
“Why are you afraid you will be deemed incompetent?”
“Because I worry about what other people think of me.”
I usually stop there. If you go much further than five, it can get pretty existential and messy. But I went from a reason that was pretty abstract and difficult to something far more profound. If I can change how I feel about what other people think of me, then I can eliminate my reason and get to the thing I want to do that will set me on the life path I want to be on.
So, to recap, if you can change your thoughts, you can change everything in and around your life. The tools I’ve been using -- meditation and breaking down reasons with the 5 whys (thanks, Bernie) -- are helping me, and I hope they help you too.