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Play It Again, Sam

monkey sad / monkey glad 05.04.09 [124]
Creative Commons License photo credit: timlewisnm
What habitual reactions help you?

According to Wikipedia, habits are routines of behavior that tend to occur subconsciously and are repeated regularly.  That seems like a good description of a habit and I’m going to add to it.  I think habits are routines of behavior and thought that tend to occur subconsciously and are repeated regularly.  Subconscious thoughts are thoughts that are there but that we don’t give them our attention.  I am suggesting that we don’t pay enough attention to our thoughts and how we talk to ourselves.

The idea that we talk to ourselves isn’t a new one.  Almost 20 years ago, Shad Helmstetter wrote [amazon-product text=”What to Say When You Talk to Yourself” type=”text”]0671708821[/amazon-product].  Since the book is 20 years old, it probably has fallen off your radar but it’s a book worth reading.  We really do talk to ourselves and what we say can be the single most important determinant of our emotional well being.  This corresponds to the idea that it isn’t what happens to us but how we respond that determines our resilience during tough times.

The second most important factor that affects our mood is what is going on around us – where we are, who we are with, what is being discussed.  Our environment can influence us into a better or worse view of our world.  Again, how we feel can be a result of habit.  Sometimes, there are people or circumstances which set off habitual reactions that we’ve never noticed.

The problem with these habits is we truly aren’t conscious of them.  We may move through our day, going from feeling badly to feeling better and then back again without recognizing what triggered those feelings and transitions.  It’s a little bit like driving home from work.  Most of the time, we follow the same route and sometimes we’re so preoccupied with our thoughts or cell phone conversations we don’t even know how we got home.  The only thing that gets our attention and brings us back to consciousness is when something really good or really bad happens.  Then we sit up and take notice.

We don’t have to be so unconscious and we don’t have to let the winds of chance blow us anywhere they want.  We can choose to take charge and live more consciously.  We can choose our mood.  CHOOSE our mood?  Is that possible?  To go back 40 years this time, “You bet your bippy!”

What Kind of Day Is It Today?

I had never really thought about changing my mood until I became a trainer.  There is nothing more ineffective than a low energy, disinterested, and boring trainer.  If there was one thing I didn’t want to be, it was an ineffective anything.  Worst of all would be to be standing in front of a group of people and watching them fall asleep while I tried to teach them something. (We call this FOF – Forehead on Formica – in the trade.)  So I figured out that if I was going to be effective, I needed to be able to reliably “create my own enthusiasm” whenever I trained – not just when I felt like it.  I developed a habit of talking myself “up” before starting training.  I created a new conversation with myself about how energetic, friendly, knowledgeable and effective I was when I trained.  By the time I walked through the classroom door, I had a mile-wide smile on my face – and people responded.

If you’ve ever been in a class where the instructor was unfailingly enthusiastic, you may not have thought about the fact that this was the 10th, 20th, or 50th time that the trainer had presented the material.  Or maybe they were up all night with a small child.  They CHOSE to be energetic, interested and interesting, and developed habits that helped them.

I’m not a naturally optimistic person.  If I’m not paying attention, I can talk myself all the way down into the basement – which is NOT where you want to be in case of earthquake or other major challenges.  Since this is where I start when I wake each day, I need to have a plan for moving from the basement up into the light.

What Kind of Day Will You Create?

The plan that I use consists of two parts.  The first is what I put into my head while it is still in the doldrums.  I know that I don’t wake up happy or sociable.  But when I’m out walking the dog, I have to put on my big girl manners.  It’s not acceptable to be surly to people I pass on the street, so I smile and say hello or good morning.  What I get back are the smiles and short pleasant conversations that occur while we’re passing each other.  It’s harder to be glum when people are nice to you.

I also listen to books while I walk, which gives me an excuse to not have a long conversation and allows me to choose to use this time for learning and inspiration.  During those times when I’m feeling particularly sad, I usually listen to uplifting authors or stories.  By the time I get back home, I’m encouraged and feel better about facing the day.  These habits of managing what I put into my head allow me to repeatedly move into a place where I can feel hopeful about the day.  They also give me conversational ammunition for talking to myself throughout the day.

The second part of my plan is that as I move to a more neutral or even positive mood, I become conscious of what I’m saying to myself and dispute it if necessary.  A good example of this is that I can’t seem to get in the car to go anywhere without 2 or 3 trips back into the house for something I’ve forgotten.  Add to this that inevitably I lose something along the way.  As I grab the things I need, I usually put something down when I stop to pick up another thing I need.  It doesn’t take very long before what I’m saying to myself is not only nasty but counter-productive.  This is definitely a habitual response and left unchecked it can escalate at a terrifying pace.  The only thing that makes it worse is if someone is watching me as I go through this.  Not only am I totally disgusted with myself, but I’m mortified.

Once I start saying nasty stuff to myself, I need to calm down.  I need to dispute the voice in my head that is telling me that “I’m ALWAYS late and terribly DISORGANIZED and…”  Well, you get the idea.  I start by telling myself to stop and make a mental list of what I need and to take a deep breath and not go back out to the car until I have everything on my list.  When I finally get on the road, I turn on my radio to a station that I can sing along with and sing REALLY, REALLY, LOUD.  In this way, I move from angry (at myself) to energetic and ready for the next thing on the agenda.

These aren’t the only ways to deal with the little stuff that makes us crazy and starts those habitual conversations.  In responding to Snap Out Of It, Freddie said:

…when I’m at the point where I want to throw it out or give up, I have to laugh at myself.  …Now I will spontaneously burst out laughing at stressful things which can lead to some awkward situations but it makes me feel better and changes my frame of mind and allows me to deal with the situation at hand.

Freddie has discovered that she can be in control.  She doesn’t have to talk to herself, she laughs, and that “resets” her state so she can move forward.

What about you?  Do you have a habit that can send you off the cliff?  How could you change your habits and consciously choose to be in a better place emotionally?  If you’ve habitually been talking yourself down, you now know you can also habitually talk yourself up or you could laugh!  Try it, you just might like it.

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