Q: I have areas of my life that I now know are influenced by Pavlovian Triggers. A phrase used innocently by someone that my bullying ex-partner also used to dig at me has set me off and upset me. I hate feeling like a prisoner of my past. I cannot seem to escape. Can Mind Fitness help?
Many of us have goals that have fallen by the wayside, and most of the time that’s OK. As a youngster I (BW) set out to be an ice-skater, training for 6-8 hours a day. But at 17 I stopped and went to college. It was a choice, made because I knew I was not good enough to move up to the next level and there were other things that I was interested in. Choice is the key.
Unfortunately all too often we make decisions, even life-changing ones, in times of stress and real difficulty. This means that we don’t acknowledge the decisions we are making and the paths that we are taking and rejecting, let alone accepting the reasons that these choices are being made.
It is common now for people to change career during their lifetime, often more than once. Some people I know have taken a new career path through choice, others have felt that this change was forced upon them. When this happens, when we take a path without choosing it or acknowledging that we have done so, we start to live with two realities. After college I went to drama school to train as a theatre director. I have several friends who over the years have given up acting and moved into other careers where they have achieved brilliant things. Despite having extremely successful lives – families, career, interests, they still see themselves as failed actors rather than successful writers, presenters or parents.
If you have two divergent paths running parallel in this way then one of them will almost certainly be holding you back and making you feel less satisfied with what you have. Remember, nothing that you have ever done is wasted. Your collective experience is what makes you the person that you are. Accept that you have taken one of the paths; in one short life we cannot do everything.
The Awfulising Exercise isn’t relevant if you have suffered a real crisis. In these circumstances believing the situation should score high is right thinking, not distorted thinking. What you need is a safe place where you can sit with the negative emotions, however hard that may be, but do not allow the ANTS take you away from the emotion and lead you down the downward spiral of self-criticism and remorse.
If you are not sure if it is distorted thinking ask yourself:
How permanent is this?
How pervasive is this
How much is it my fault
There is a fundamental difference between condemning something and not allowing it to disturb you. In no part of this book will you be asked to set aside opinions or ideas that are key to your identity. Not do you want to lose what makes you vital and passionate. The aim is that you feel more alive, not less.
In the book we looked at the difference between aggression and assertion, the former making you more likely to suffer chronic stress and less likely to win an argument.
If you vehemently disagree with a government policy of course demonstrate, and definitely work for change. You care. You want sincerely to be part of a process of improvement. What could be more in keeping with ‘acting with love or compassion’ than that?
It is the same if what you want to protest about is a personal issue. We had someone tell us in a course ‘I’m so angry at my husband’s behaviour I could tear myself into shreds. If I lose the anger aren’t I condoning what he has done?’ Absolutely not. You will be putting yourself back in control, into a place where you can decide properly whether to go forward with the relationship. To live inside that anger is to tear yourself into shreds. It isn’t a state, in a political or personal situation, from which you can make meaningful change.
In our celebrity culture this certainly seems to be the case, although there are, of course, plenty of successful people living contented lives out of the public view.
There are a combination of reasons. The first is that being in the public eye is an almost inconceivable pressure. We all of us find it hard to keep enough of us for ‘us;’ how much harder must this be if you feel yourself to be public property and an object of intense scrutiny.
The second and most important reason is that success, in terms of fame and celebrity status, is not a major ingredient of happiness. As we have seen our beliefs and our Meaning are key, and perhaps it’s harder to be self-aware and authentic if you see yourself reflected back from magazines and social media, each a slightly different version of. You.