Power of Thoughts
by Dr. Beverly Potter
Your mind is a biocomputer and the words that you think are the programs. When you change the program, you change the way the computer "acts." If you put a word processing program into your computer, it acts one way; put in a datebase program and the computer will act another way. The same is true of your mind. When you change the words you put into your mind, you change how you feel and act. The words in your mind define your "reality."
Words Are Always in Our Minds
We think almost continuously when we're awake and most of the time when we sleep. The way in which we think exerts a tremendous influence on how we feel and act. Try the following exercise.
The Quiet-Mind ExperimentFocusing
Instructions: Take a deep breath. Stop all thoughts. Simply allow your mind to be quiet. Do this for two minutes.Few people are able to quiet the mind for more than a couple of seconds.
The important point is that there are thoughts in your mind at all times, even when asleep. Sometimes you're aware of them but more often you're not.
The mystics call it "the chatter." What you think about and how you think about it has a tremendous impact on how you feel about yourself, about your work, and how you act.
The following exercise illustrates how the words in your mind influence how you feel.
Instructions: Bring to mind a minor "bummer," a somewhat unpleasant situation or encounter from the past. Imagine being in the situation and relive it. Make it as vivid as possible. Continue to think about the bummer for about sixty seconds. Notice what you experience physically and emotionally.
Before reading on, take a couple of deep breaths and relax. Put the bummer aside. Enjoy the warm pleasant feeling of relaxation.
What did you experienced when reliving the bummer? How did you feel?Most people who try this experiment experience changes like quickening breath, increase in heart rate, tightness in the stomach, and other signs of activation. In other words, thinking about the bummer triggered the stress response.Interestingly, people report that the sensations experienced when thinking about the bummer are similar to those experienced in the real situation.This illustrates our paradoxical nature. On the one hand, the mind is more complex than the most sophisticated computer ever developed, yet the body is easily deceived.
We respond to thoughts in the mind as if what we are thinking about is actually happening. That is, the body responds to thinking about the bummer in the same way as when actually experiencing it. You probably noticed the response in a mere thirty to sixty seconds.
A Delicious Strawberry
A monk traveling through a remote area encountered a hungry tiger. The tiger chased him to a precipice where the monk climbed down a vine
hanging down the side of the cliff. Halfway down he noticed that below him were two more hungry tigers, licking their chops in anticipation. Then the
monk looked up to see two mice chewing at the vine upon which his destiny hung. Turning his attention to the cliff beside him the monk saw a strawberry
plant with one luscious, perfectly ripe strawberry hanging out of a crag. He picked the berry, popped it into his mouth, and said, "Ah, delicious!"
The monk seems a helpless victim of doom, yet, he enjoys the moment and in so doing increases his personal power. He surrenders to the moment and accepts what is. This path to personal power is foreign and often frightening to the Western man or woman. The monk's fate is certain. Soon the tigers will
eat him. A terrifying thought to say the least. But there is no escape, and fighting will only hasten his demise. So he enjoys the strawberry, instead. What he pays attention to and how he thinks about it is the secret to the man's ability to function in this dreadful situation. The words he puts into his biocomputer rule his body.
By focusing his thoughts solely on the strawberry and how delicious it tastes, the monk tricks his body into remaining calm and even experiencing pleasure.Herein lies a KEY TO PERSONAL POWER, especially if you feel trapped in impossible or unpleasant situations. You do not have to be a victim of the situation. By managing your thoughts and directing your attention, you can control how you feel and how you respond.
It's through the constant chatter of words that you carry frustrations from work home with you.
Two monks who were meditating as they walked along a muddy road came across a beautiful young woman trying to cross the road without
getting her shoes muddy. Without saying a word, the first monk picked up the woman, carried her across the road and set her down. The monks resumed
walking without talking. When they reached their destination the second monk said, "Why did you pick up that woman this morning? You know women
are dangerous." The first monk replied, "l left her on the side of the road. Are you still carrying her?"
Words Trigger ResponsesIllusions
Words trigger emotional and physiological responses, both positive and negative. When you simply think about the bummer, each word in that thought triggers the feelings you experienced in the original situation. When you worry, anxious words in your mind keep you in a state of stress. Most people
have very poor thought habits and indulge in negative, helpless thinking that keeps them in a state of constant turmoil and stress.
Have you ever had this experience? You are sitting by a fire, feeling good, and reading a book. Suddenly you notice something out of the corner of your eye and instantly fly out of the chair. In mid-flight you realize that it is not the large hairy spider descending from the ceiling on a web, but merely the
movement of the curtain behind you. Virtually everyone has had this kind of experience. What it demonstrates is that even when you are safe and secure in your home and relaxed, there is a part of you that is alert and on guard looking for threats. If a threat is detected you can mobilize and flee faster than your conscious mind can think.
The workings of this guardian mechanism are subtle, fast, and complicated. All kinds of things, including words, can come to indicate a threat. In fact, negative thinking and worrying can register as threats and result in chronic stress.
We respond to what we tell ourselves is out there rather than to reality itself.
We live in an illusion, mistaking the words and categories to which we have assigned the sensory data for the actual events. This goes on so rapidly that it is usually unnoticed. Accepting your thought about an event becomes synonymous with the event itself.
You may think such things as "You made me angry!" or "He hurt me." But when you slow down the workings of your mind you'll see that you respond to the appraisal of the event rather than the actual event itself.For example, "You said I was bad (event). That is a cruel and hurtful thing to do (appraisal of what you said). I'm hurt (response)." Stated another way, your mind gathers the data from its senses, and appraises it by asking "Is there a threat? Yes or no?" It then responds to the appraisal of the event, not the actual event.
We respond to our own thoughts about the situation rather than to the situation itself.
Appraisals Cloud Vision
The appraisal is not random but is based on past experience.The appraisal is a statement of what we expect. The more we encounter certain data, the less we pay attention to it. We give it brief notice, recognizing similarity to previous events, and then make a prediction. This is the appraisal. Then we respond to the appraisal and not to the event.
The Appraisal Process and Burnout
Our prime objective is survival, so our senses are always scanning the world and bringing in data that we subject to the appraisal: "Is there a threat?"
Without realizing it, we constantly monitor the events in our world. Remember, threat appraisals activate the basic operating system and trigger the stress response.
The process does not stop here, however. There is a second appraisal: "Am I powerful? Do I have the power to stop the threat?"
We respond based upon these two appraisals. The basic operating system flips into fight/flight in response to threat potential. Mood and behavior are a direct response to the appraisal of having (or not having) personal power.
At the heart of the appraisal is an expectation, an outcome prediction based on past experience.
Expectations are easy to recognize by the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." "He should be able to set a clear goal." "She should be more reasonable." "He shouldn't talk to me that way." "The company should be fair."Let Go of Attachments
Statements containing "should" or "shouldn't" are demands.They demand that the world conform to your expectations. Krishnamurti, a great Eastern philosopher, would say that you are attached to a "should" and such attachments lead to suffering.Suffering
When you engage in thinking based on expectations and "shoulds" - and we all do it - you are setting yourself up for suffering.Attachment is at the root of all suffering.Always implicit in an attachment is POTENTIAL LOSS. If the expectation is not fulfilled - if your "shoulds" are not met - you suffer a loss.
Even when things are going well, exactly as you desire, if you become attached and demand that it continue going well, the threat of loss is present. Remember, a loss or a potential loss is always a threat.The stress response kicks in when faced with a threat.
"Should" thinking is the way most of us think.
But it's not the only way to appraise events. You can change your responses (the way you feel and act) by altering the way in which you appraise events. The key is to reinterprete the data.
Think in terms of preferences, instead of expectations.
Suppose, for example, a friend is late. If we think, "She is late again and she shouldn't make me wait!" we will probably respond emotionally. Instead we could think, "She is late. I prefer that she be on time but she is not because she is a poor time manager."
In the first instance, we "expect" the friend to be on time and appraised the lateness as a violation of social etiquette. Then we respond with hurt and anger to being treated improperly. In the second instance, we appraise the situation as not having a preference met, and not as an example of mistreatment. Here we respond more directly to the event, the friend's lateness. Without the emotions interfering, we can concentrate on the best course of action.
Is That So?
A concerned brother demanded that his pregnant sister tell him the father's name. "It was the Old Man on the hill," she lied.
Furious, the brother stomped up the hill to the Old Man's house. "Look what you've done to my sister you evil Old Man!" he yelled.
"Is that so?" the Old Man replied.
Time went by.
After the birth the brother stomped up the hill with the baby. "This baby is your doing. You must take it!"
"Is that so?" the Old Man replied. The Old Man fed and cared for the baby. As it grew he came to love the child who brought much joy into his lonely life.
But the girl grew remorseful and confessed her lie to her brother. Shamefaced he climbed the hill again. "Old Man," he said, "I am sorry that I wrongly accused you. Now I'm taking the baby back to its mother where it belongs."
And the Old Man replied, "Is that so?"
Most of us would probably respond differently if we were wrongly accused.We'd probably say things like, "No, I am wrongly accused. I shouldn't be wrongly accused and it is terrible that I am!" Chances are we'd get very upset. When the Old Man says, "Is that so?" he is neither agreeing with the brother's rendition of events nor is he saying that he likes the situation. Asking "Is that so? Are those the facts? Is that what she said?" doesn't tend to trigger an emotional response. Without the negative emotions, the Old Man suffers less and is more clearheaded. There is nothing to stop him from getting his lawyer to fight the situation.The next time you are given bad news, try asking "Is that so?" instead of insisting "This is terrible!" or "He shouldn't do that to me!" It's a powerful response. Try it.
Use Potent Language
Another way to change appraisal is to use potent language, language that emphasizes personal power.
The key is to look for ways in which you can control the situation, ways in which you have a choice or can assume responsibility. If things don't turn out as you desire, for example, instead of saying to yourself, "This is a disaster and I'm helpless," it's more helpful to say to yourself, "This is a challenge and I will find a way to overcome it."
Rather than "I'm ruined," think, "This is a new beginning, rebirth."
The more difficult the situation, the more crucial the appraisal.For example, prisoners of war who survived often viewed the brutal guards they had to endure as their teachers. When adversity is seen as an opportunity to learn you feel more in control. "This is a lesson, a test. I am not helpless. I can do something - I can develop my skills to deal with this difficulty."
If this tactic can help prisoners endure years of isolation and demeaning treatment, it can help you handle problems in your work situation.You'll be surprised at how effective it is to change your view of the problem. Think back to the man on the vine. He did not succumb to helpless thinking; rather, he focused on what he could control - enjoying the strawberry.
Copyright 1993, 1998: Beverly A. Potter. From Overcoming
Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work, Second Edition. Ronin
Publishing. This file may be downloaded for individual use. Any other transmission or reprinting requires permission of the author or publisher. All Rights Reserved.