|Ming. Body and Spirit
What it means when life gets in the way
When asked why 40 percent of the students at his university dropped out of college, its president gave two reasons. The first was financial. The second, he said, was that “life just gets in the way.”
So what can you do when life gets in the way, you want to give up, have given up, or feel completely defeated. If we don’t address that question, the content of what I teach simply ends up stacked on your mental bookshelf gathering dust.
Let’s begin today by looking at our “system of beliefs.” Many of my students who protested did not have a system of beliefs.
They exclaimed that it was too hard to believe anything anymore because people “just can’t be trusted.”
And yet, our entire life is based…it must be based…on a system of beliefs. The fact you are sitting on a chair, or drove in a car today testifies to your believing the person who assembled that chair made it sturdy enough for you to sit on, or that car sound enough for you to drive. In fact, our entire life must be based on our belief systems. If not, you would spend the day cowering in bed. But even then, you would still have a belief system your bed had been built sturdily enough to hold you.
A wonderful aspect of living in the 20th Century is it has given us a significant advantage over our ancestors. Through the work of tens of thousands of neuroscientists and psychologists such as Albert Ellis, Michael Edelstein, David Steele, Martin Seligman, and thousands of other therapists, we now have a far better idea of how our brains and belief systems work. Let’s begin by again looking at our feelings and where they come from.
We learned last month our feelings primarily come from our beliefs, not just what happens to us. More specifically, our feelings can come from our “personal evaluations.”
For instance, a statement such as “Dr. Smith is my personal physician” is simply a fact, with no evaluations or feelings attached. However, “I am glad that Dr. Smith is my personal physician” is more than a fact; it is an evaluation, and this evaluation causes feelings. So, “I regret Dr. Smith is my personal physician” or “I love Dr. Smith being my personal physician” are all evaluations, and all of these trigger feelings.
Now, some feelings are quite strong, and others not strong at all. In fact, the strength or feebleness of your feelings can be theoretically scaled, where 0 percent means you have no feelings at all about Dr. Smith being your personal physician, to 99.9 percent where you feel “Dr. Smith must be my personal physician or you feel that you will absolutely die!”
The feelings which land around the middle of this theoretical scale are called preferences, and you could describe them as “appropriate and reasonable.’ For instance, “I like Dr. Smith being my personal physician” is certainly appropriate and reasonable.
In contrast (and this is where we can get ourselves into trouble) our preferences can become demands, which we place on ourselves. “Dr. Smith must be my personal physician?” or I must look perfect!” are close to the top of the scale. But do you know who put them there?
You did. It is your choice. You decide, even though they are no longer “appropriate and reasonable.’ When this happens, the “musts” and “shoulds” and “have-to’s” can become real problems.
Psychologists refer to musts, shoulds and have-to’s as “restrictive motivators.” They can also be called demands. Have you ever noticed when you tell yourself, “I have to do this,” you suddenly become tired or fearful? For example, one of the greatest fears of my college students was to give a presentation in front of my other students. They would often say to me (and to themselves) “I must present the perfect presentation because if I don’t, I’ll reveal how little I know about the content. And then I’ll be really embarrassed.”
All of these are demands, and we make them all the time. Other examples are:
• “I must not embarrass myself.”
• “I must look great.”
• “I must have the perfect marriage.”
Now, notice this. Most of these started as preferences and then evolved into demands. In addition, most of them have a magical ring about them because their origin is usually a mystery. So if someone asked you, “Who said you must look great, or must never embarrass yourself,” you would be hard pressed to find an answer.
But even though their origin remains unknown, the demands we place on ourselves can lead to self-defeat, anger, anxiety, and self-pity. When taken to the extreme, they can also lead to such problems as violence, addictions, gambling, and compulsive shopping.
But there is another way to think, which we’ll learn next time.
Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.anintelligentheart.com.