I called my 88-year-old grandmother after her back surgery a few weeks ago and said, “Hi Grammy! How are you?” She said, “Honey, if I were any better, I’d be twins. At this point, Heaven would be a lateral move!” I said, “Seriously? Do you really feel that good and happy?” She replied, “Hell no, honey. But what’s the alternative. I feel like I think.”
I may be biased, but I think my Grammy is a genius. The woman still works in her garden, walks every day, and volunteers as a candy striper at her local hospital. What is the only difference between her and the other old people on her block? You guessed it. The difference is what she tells herself.
For the last couple of weeks, we have discussed identifying thoughts or attitudes that are getting you stuck. We have completed Step 1 (Ignorance) and are aware that certain thoughts produce not so desirable results.
Last week, we looked at Step 2 (retrospective Awareness). I suggested finding an “accountability buddy” to help you catch yourself. For those of you who have done this, please don’t hit me. Trust me, I know it’s not fun to be told what you’re doing wrong. However, if you want to change it, it’s the best place to start. This week, we’re on to Step 3 (Recognition) and Step 4 (Prevention and Creation).
Step 3: Recognition
Now that you’ve had some practice recognizing the unproductive thought after the fact, it’s time to catch yourself in the act. This step is really critical because it requires commitment and patience. Start paying attention to these thoughts while they are happening. For example, if you are a chronic “interrupter“, next time you are in a conversation, literally stop in mid-sentence and apologize for interrupting. This won’t come naturally for quite a while, so give yourself a break. I have learned to catch my “self pity party”, but it has taken a long time, and it still slips by me now and then. Practice, practice, practice. I keep a mini Buddah in my car and purse to remind myself to have faith. (I’m Jewish, but it seemed creepy to have a mini Rabbi in my car or purse). I digress. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. You have to find a mental or physical image to remind yourself.
Step 4: Prevention and Creation
Once you have gotten Steps 1-3 down, you’re so close to dramatically changing your life. This is the trickiest part, for me at least. You can’t just stop having your thoughts unless you have a thought to replace it with. It’s like the diet example. If I want to diet, I can’t just not eat (although it’s a popular yet ineffective method). I have to replace the junk food with healthy food. The same is true for our thoughts. You can’t just erase them unless you have an alternate thought to replace it. I wouldn’t suggest you try for a complete makeover at first. You won’t believe yourself if you go from “woe is me” to “I’m the luckiest person alive!”. It won’t work, and you’ll be frustrated and exhausted. Instead, find a phrase or thought that you can live with. My catch phrase: “IT IS WHAT IT IS”. I keep it simple. When I’m bummed, upset, negative, or catch myself saying or thinking something I wish I hadn’t, I say, “IT IS WHAT IT IS”. Does it fix everything? Of course not, but it gets me out of my pity party and forces me to focus on solutions, rather than problems.
On a side note…
My mother got me a door mat that says “It is what it is” for Christmas. The first day I had it, my son came running through the house and wiped mud ALL over it. My gut reaction was to be upset, after all, I had just gotten it. Right then, I caught myself…(It helps when your catch phrase is directly written on the item you’re upset about). I took a deep breath and said, “It is what it is. After all, it’s a doormat!”.
While it is certainly not always this easy, Step 4 requires you to prevent yourself from having the thought by creating and replacing it with a new one. “It Is What It Is” is literally written all over the place in my house. You might say, “Ok, Stewart Smally, do you also say ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darrnit, people like me!'” Of course not! I have a bowl on my desk that says it for me! When people say, “Seriously Anne, you want me to write messages to myself?” I simply ask, “How badly do you want change?”
So, as you are out and about this week, begin to catch yourself while you are having the thought you don’t want. Then, work on coming up with a catch phrase or thought to replace it. If your goal is to be perfect at this right away, you can go ahead and forget it. This takes time and requires work. If it didn’t, everyone would be doing it!
Leave a comment and let me know your catch phrase!