So tell me, what in your life makes you feel angry? An editor’s rejection? A teacher yelling at you? Your parents ridiculing the stupid stunt you pulled? What is it that pisses you off? Let’s get right to the point I want you to consider: That teacher, the editor, your parents—or your wife or neighbor or the “stupid” clerk at the store—did not, in no way, make you angry. Are you nodding “yes,” or thinking, “They sure as h—l DID tick me off.”
Settle down and let me explain. I just gave you a list of “events”—rejection, yelling, ridiculing, etc. What you added was your belief about those events. “He shouldn’t have rejected my best writing! She shouldn’t have yelled at me! They have no right to ridicule me! That clerk is stupid!
So when we add the event to your belief about the event we get your feeling of anger, frustration and embarrassment. And of course how we feel drives how we behave. And behavior gets you in more trouble—or gets you on the right to feeling better—your choice.
How much control do you have over the events that “make you mad?” Not much if any. Can you see now that if we have no control over events, and events cause our feelings—we’d be stuck. We would have no choice about how we feel. And we’d be correct in saying, “He made me feel bad … or mad.”
But that’s not the way it is—we do have a choice of how we will feel. Thus, how we will behave. So we touched cause and effect for feelings. Specifically, what we believe affects how we feel and behave. So where do those beliefs come from? When we were kids we did things that parents, teachers, and friends both liked and disliked. What would that list look like?
Cussed, lied, played hooky, got dirty, didn’t listen, daydreamed—or obeyed elders, stayed clean, got good grades, was polite, paid attention, and smiled a lot. Now that we know how we bugged or pleased our parents, teachers and friends, let’s ask another question: “What names were we called as a kid? I’ll go with the bad ones: liar, lazy, stupid, or dumb. And better: good girl, neat, proper, fun. Looking at what we did, then at what we were called, can we draw a couple of assumptions, even conclusions about ourselves?
We are what we do.
We are what others think of us.
Come on now—intellectually most of you can agree that we are not what we do, or what others think of us—but the fact is almost everyone behaves as if it were true. Here’s a tough little exercise. Write a list of things that answers, “Why do you like yourself?” Got a few … okay. I’ll bet that most of what we listed reflects the same way we were “rated” as kids. Look closer: The moment you wrote a reason for liking yourself as “I like myself because …” you began to rate yourself much like you were rated as a child. You make your self-acceptance contingent upon something.
There are only three ways we can feel about anything: good, bad, or indifferent. If you’re beginning to see that if we feel bad, or good, it is because we believe that whatever happened triggered our belief about what should have happened. Keeping it super simple, let’s look at a few of the most common beliefs people hold:
- I can never be wrong (conversely, I must always be right.)
- I can never lose (I must always win.)
- Nobody should ever hurt me ( not physically)
- Everyone should always like me.
Try this: Did your coach ever tell you, “It’s okay to lose this game … you tried.” Or did your teacher say, “It’s okay to flunk this test. After all it is hard.” Did your mother say, “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll take care of you.”
My point is that you can alter those beliefs and thus alter how you feel about them.
As a speaker I told myself, “Only about 80% of the folks in the audience are going to like my presentation.” With that self-talk I did not feel bad when 100% of the folks failed to cheer.
I know I’ve been rambling, and that there is still a lot to tie together with these thoughts. But if you’ve only begun to see how you can regain comfort and peace in your life, a stronger sense of control of your life, by giving serious though to what you believe—and making some constructive changes to those beliefs—then we’re on a positive path together.