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Edition Eighteen

Remarkable Resiliency Skills for Uncertain Times


This article is the third in a series of articles, written for Mind, Body, Spirit Magazine, and directed at showing you how to master the stresses in your life---permanently!

Recall from the last article that events in your life do not directly cause stress, or any other emotion, attitude or mood, for that matter.

The emotion or attitude that results from an event is strictly caused by what you say to yourself about that event--your internal dialogue.

It seems odd to think that the events of September 11, 2001 did not, in and of themselves, cause stress, anxiety, fear, etc. We were all riveted to our TV's and those haunting images of the planes plummeting into the towers, the Pentagon and into the Pennsylvania countryside will remain imprinted in our memories. But, our emotional reactions to those horrific events and those that followed (i.e., airport security issues, the War, the anthrax and smallpox fears, etc.) are all caused by our internal dialogue regarding those events.

In the last segment, I pointed out that many of us have been "programmed" by years of negative thinking (and by listening to negative people), to immediately assume that the "sky is falling" as soon as frightening events take place. Certainly the events of 9/11 triggered these unfortunate thinking habits in many of us. These are the people who are having particular difficulty going about their lives in a "normal fashion." These are the folks who will not fly, are particularly vigilant regarding their mail and people who "look like" Arabs or Moslems.

Again, the events of 9/11 did not cause this anxiety and fear. It is the internal dialogue which one engages that causes the stress reaction. Saying to yourself, "If I take that vacation and fly to the East Coast, I'm sure there will be a hijacker on the plane," obviously leads to fear and the best way to deal with that fear is to avoid the situation.

Whether it is a hijacker we fear or the unrealistic expectations of a CEO or client, the culprit here is always that negative, internal dialogue that we allow to control our lives. So, how do we overcome years of others planting "weeds" in the "garden" of our subconscious thoughts? And how do we stop watering and fertilizing those weeds ourselves? Step 1. Become aware of your thinking patterns

Whenever you catch yourself feeling badly (i.e., depressed, irritable, worried, etc.), you need to immediately jot down several thoughts that went through your mind just prior to recognizing those feelings. For example, if you are irritable, you may have just said to yourself, "These clients must think that I have no other clients and all of my time is reserved for them."

Below are five of the most common distorted thinking patterns that we use on a regular basis, but are not aware of unless we pay attention to them:

All or nothing thinking. We look at what is happening around us in "black or white" categories, and tend to look at ourselves as perfect or as failures. We fail to see the vast "gray area" in which most of life takes place. For example, you come to the office at 6 AM and don't leave until 8 PM, because you tell yourself, "I'd better finish all of my work each day or I'll feel like I'm failing."

Mind reading. This common distortion involves assuming what other people are thinking, and normally these assumptions are negative. For example, the thought, "My spouse does not appreciate the difficulties of my job," may be an accurate thought. However, more often than not, this thought is not based on any real evidence we have, but instead, our internal critic is taking over. As you can imagine, if you continue to operate with such a belief, you invite yourself to feel angry and irritable.

Catastrophizing or Fortune Telling. In this frequently used distortion, we develop an entire scenario in our minds, based on what we believe will happen and the end result is negative. A clue to this distortion is beginning a thought with "What if..." For example, if you are asked by a client to give a formal presentation to their planning committee, you might say to yourself, "What if I get really nervous speaking in front of these demanding people?" These thoughts will guarantee that you will be constantly on edge and anxious leading up to the event and during the presentation. Such negative self-fulfilling prophecies are very common, but we cause this prophecy by catastrophic thinking.

Overgeneralization. This is the case in which your internal critic uses words, such as "always," "never," and "every." For example, "I will never be able to lose weight." You can see how such a thought will lead to the self-fulfilling prophecy to make sure that you will not be able to accomplish the task.

Should Statements. How many times do you tell yourself what you should have done, what you must do, or what you should know? You act as if (other than your religious beliefs and the laws of the Country) there is a magic list of behaviors that we should or must do or shouldn't do. You punish yourself mercilessly because you made a mistake or you put extreme demands on yourself, with what you must do. Can you see how such distorted thinking can lead to stress, lowered self-esteem and guilt feelings?

The events of 9/11 will be etched on our memories forever. But the way we continue to think about those events will determine how we feel, emotionally and even physically. Once you are aware of the particular thinking distortion patterns that you use habitually, you are then in the powerful position to do something about that thinking...and thus, modify your moods and feelings substantially!

Watch for the final installment, where Dr. Singer will describe the final steps for changing your thinking patterns and seven powerful tips for avoiding any stressor that may come your way. These proven methods will improve your health, reduce your stress levels, and dramatically enhance your quality of life!

By Jack N. Singer