The Fathers and Mothers of the Church have known and taught that “our thoughts determine our lives.” In other words, the way that we think shapes how we feel and behave.
For example, if I fail a test and I say to myself, “I’m stupid!” I will probably feel depressed and ashamed, and perhaps start skipping class. Or go out and drink too much. Or just crawl into bed. And I’ll probably feel very anxious the next time a test rolls around – and perhaps do even worse.
On the other hand, I might say, “Well, that’s pretty disappointing and frustrating. But, it does not mean that I am a stupid.” Perhaps I need to study more. Or change my major. Or ask for more help. If I can think about the test grade in a more reasonable and adaptive way I probably won’t feel so bad, I’ll bounce back faster, and I’ll make better decisions.
Do I engage in mind reading? We often convince ourselves that other people are thinking about us – and of course it’s NEVER something good. We seldom stop and ask ourselves just exactly how we know that others are thinking about us. And why do we always assume it’s something bad? And, even if they are and it is – does that mean that it’s true? Of course not.
Do I waste time with “what-if worrying” and “fortune telling”? (“What if she breaks up with me?! I know she’s going to break up with me!”)
Do I engage in catastrophic thinking? (“If he does break up with me I’ll never find anyone else to love me and I’ll always be alone!”)
Really terrible things do sometimes happen in life. But, often we tell ourselves that things are horrible, horrible, HORRIBLE! – when they are really just unpleasant.
Do I label myself? I’m “BAD.” I’m “ugly.” I’m an “idiot.” I’m a “failure.” Do I engage in either-or thinking? I’m either beautiful or ugly. Smart or stupid. Good or bad. A total success or a complete failure. The reality is that the truth is usually somewhere in between. I may not stop traffic, but some people like my looks. There are others who are more intelligent than I am, but so what? – that does not mean I’m “stupid”. I’m not all good or all bad. Like other people, I sometimes do the right thing and sometimes I don’t. With God’s help, I’ll just keep working on it.
Do I make myself miserable with lots of “shoulds” and “musts”? As in: I SHOULD be able to do that. I MUST get my way. Other people MUST treat me the way I want. Life should be FAIR!
No. It would be nice if I could do that and, with practice, perhaps I can. It would be nice if the world was fair – but it’s not, it’s fallen. I will not always get my way – and that’s just life. And I’m not going to wait until I get everything my way or I’ve reached a state of perfection before I decide to be happy.
By the way, you might notice that much of this problematic thinking involves the passions of pride and despair.
Remember…our thoughts determine our lives.