Your Feelings Will Change Quickly
If you think, “I’m helpless to do anything about it,” and you really look at that assumption and find you have very little evidence to justify such a sweeping allegation, your negative feeling evaporates. As soon as you recognize you have been mistaken, your demoralization vanishes, literally within minutes.
Your feelings are influenced by your thoughts, but only the thoughts you truly believe. If you don’t believe it, a thought will have zero impact on your feelings. That’s why positive thinking sometimes doesn’t work. But it’s also why as soon as you find something wrong with a pessimistic thought — the moment you realize you were mistaken and you stop believing it — your feelings change.
It’s not what you say to yourself that makes a difference. It’s what you believe. And not what you can “get yourself” to believe, but what you really and truly think is true.
When you think, “Jerry is a jerk,” and you feel angry because of it, as soon as you recognize it’s merely a label and therefore it’s an overstatement, your feeling of anger diminishes. Immediately. You now don’t believe Jerry is a jerk. Maybe you think he doesn’t speak very nicely to you sometimes for reasons you don’t know. That’s more in line with reality and not as angering.
Your new, more reasonable explanation reminds you that you don’t speak nicely sometimes and sometimes other people don’t know why. We’re all just human. That doesn’t mean you have to love Jerry, or even like him. Remember, this is not trying to do anything positive. Just take the negative nonsense out of your explanations.
If you find one of your demoralizing explanations is true, okay. Leave it alone. Don’t try to gloss it over with niceness just because it makes you feel bad. Sometimes you will feel bad, because sometimes reality sucks. But more times than not, the explanations making you sad or angry or worried are wrong. They contain mistakes.
Often something that was a big problem fizzles away into nothing under the glaring scrutiny of your earnest search for thought-mistakes. You find some mistakes, you see through the illusion, and poof — the problem disappears. Not always, but it happens.
trigger the explanation-check
So the good news is that your feelings change quickly. The bad news is that even though you know this, and even though you don’t like feeling bad, you will still forget to use it. At the time you’re feeling bad, it probably won’t occur to you to do anything about it. Bad feelings have a kind of mesmerizing, hypnotic effect. Bad feelings capture your attention.
So you need to make setbacks trigger an explanation-check. Associate setbacks, and the feeling of demoralization that follows, with an explanation-check. Associate it so many times, it becomes an automatic habit with you to check every time your setback happens. When you feel bad, you want it to occur to you that you can do something about it.
You’re reading this chapter and thinking this sounds like a great idea, and you can’t wait to feel bad so you can try it. A week from now you’ll realize you haven’t caught yourself once. Setbacks have happened, you explained them to yourself, and you went right on feeling bad but never reflecting on the fact that you had any choice in the matter. Then later you’ll look back and think, “Oh yeah, I was supposed to check my explanations.”
But if you keep trying, you can do it. Do you believe me? If you don’t, or if you try and fail, then check that explanation for this setback!
Keep trying. Make this something you focus on for the next few months. Have a necklace made for yourself that says, “Check explanations every setback” and wear it around your neck. Write it on a card and carry it in your pocket. Put it on the screensaver of your computer.
I don’t mean do one of these things. I mean do all of these things and anything else you can think of. This is serious business. The way you explain setbacks determines to a large extent how your life will turn out!
Make a sign that says, “Check explanations every setback” and post it on your bathroom mirror, on the dashboard of your car, on the refrigerator door. Put it in your closet where you’ll see it every morning. Tell your son to remind you of it every morning and you’ll give him a dollar for reminding you. And try try try. You will fail a lot. Each time you realize you’ve gone the whole day and didn’t once catch yourself explaining a setback, that itself is a setback, so check right then how you’re explaining it!
Every time you feel bad, write down what you’re thinking and argue with it. That’s how you form the habit.
A sluggish computer probably makes you think, “It’s time to run a virus scan (clean your computer of viruses and malware).” In the same way, a negative emotion should automatically make you think it’s time to clean your mind of mistaken thoughts.
What is the first thing to do when you feel a negative emotion? (I’m quizzing you now.) Answer: Clean your mind of mistaken explanations of setbacks. Do a virus scan of your brain.
You don’t really need to know anything more about the antivirus for the mind. With what you’ve learned so far, you can very effectively change your feelings and accomplish your goals with more certainty. But a few more pieces of information can make it easier.
Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.