Following what has been probably the most hectic and exhaustive few weeks of my life, I was excited for my monthly meeting with Therapist last weekend. I hadn’t spoken with him since I started my new job and with a couple of other personal matters exploding in my life, an unbiased and well-trained ear to listen was just what I needed. We spoke about all the transition occurring in my life and how I was feeling a lot of negative emotions-unsettled, sad, defeated, lonely. And then he presented a concept that had somehow never occurred to me: your thoughts control your emotions, not the other way around.
It’s always seemed to me at face value that the emotions I’m feeling are driving the thoughts in my brain. If I’m feeling down in the dumps, it drives my brain to focus on negativity and sad ideas. On the flip side of the coin, if I am feeling jubilant or excited, my thoughts are empowered, happy and positive. It never crossed my mind that the root of these feelings were stemming from the thoughts in my head, which seems like a simple enough concept when written out on paper, but when you’re struggling through a bout of depression or anxiety, it’s hard to realize you are manifesting it with your brain, because all you feel is the stress of the emotion.
Gaining this knowledge can be one of the most powerful tools in life. The ability to control internal dialogue can change lives, but it is far easier said than done. I personally am someone who is never at peace. For that reason, meditation has proven to be incredibly difficult for me, due to the fact that I am unable to silence the conversations in my brain, and it’s also the source of my anxiety issues. Mastering this skill takes time and practice, just like learning to play an instrument or a sport. Eventually with enough work, you’re able to perform these acts without any effort at all, as they’ve just become second nature. For example, imagine a person who has never played basketball in their life. They’ve just been handed a ball and asked to run from one end of the court to the other while dribbling. That person is going to be clumsy, looking down at their feet and hands, fumbling to control the direction of the bounce and extremely slow. Now imagine LeBron James or any other NBA player performing the same task. You hardly notice the dribble as they rush up and down the court. That is because these athletes have practiced this movement for thousands of hours over their lifetime and it has now become second nature. Dribbling the ball is the last thing on their mind as they’re playing the game. With enough work, the human mind can be trained to immediately flip a negative thought into one of positivity and gratitude with hardly any effort at all.
The key to this is to stay present. I read a quote once that has stuck with me through a lot of hard stuff in my life and I really want to emphasize it so it can maybe help someone else. You cannot suffer the past or future because they do not exist. What you are suffering is your memory and imagination. Time is not a tangible concept, so the only thing that is real and able to be controlled, is the present. So often, actually 99.9% of the time, the things that cloud our brain are memories of something that has already occurred and we cannot revisit or our dreams of what “could have been,” of which we will never know because those events never transpired and no one can predict the future. If we just brought ourselves into focus on what is going on at this very moment and that is all, how much stress would there be? Currently, I am sitting in front of my computer in a very nice apartment that I am paying for with a job I love. I have parents who are alive and healthy and love me and 3 little dogs who are sleeping peacefully. The weather is not unbearably hot yet and I feel a little hungry, which I can easily fix with food in my refrigerator. That’s it. That is all that is real and when I think about it that way, I feel relieved and calm. That mindset of gratitude for what I currently have is going to drive me to work harder to keep these things I love and need, so in that respect, I do not need to worry about the money I a bringing in and if it will be enough to cover my bills in August. That is the future and is a problem that does not even exist yet. This line of thinking can also be so helpful during times of actual crisis as well, to help keep you calm and focused and able to better help the situation than fall apart at the seams.
I have been feeling very hurt, dejected and saddened lately over a situation where I am suffering the memories of what turned out to be a relationship built on lies from the start, and the dreams of what life could have been IF this or that had actually happened. When I bring myself into focus on the current state of those circumstances, it is far easier to let go. This person, at present, is a proven liar who has hurt and betrayed me repeatedly. They are not the memory of who I thought they were, nor will they become that person in the future no matter how much I stress over it. That realization brings me a lot of peace and has immediately flipped my brain, at least momentarily from a negative space to a positive one and my emotions have went from anxious to relaxed. Control your thoughts and you can control your emotions.
For anyone else going through a tumultuous time, I hope you join me in practicing this mindset to better your life all the way around. Take stock of situations as they stand right now. Are you staying in a relationship or friendship simply because of how it used to be or what it was supposed to be like in the future, but in the reality of here and now it only causes grief and stress? Think about that and adjust it accordingly. We can only control ourselves in life, which I’ve said before and is also something I struggle with. Next time you have angry or sad thoughts, ask yourself if they are stemming from something happening right now, actively try to take inventory of all the good things in your life in the moment and replace those negative views with ones of gratitude. I promise it will change everything.