You and Your Little Problems
Did you ever have one of those days? Of course you have—we all have. The ferry’s late, you miss your bus, you forgot your umbrella, you had words with your a) husband b) kids c) dog, or somebody just plain pissed you off. I’m not talking about big, major, huge, lifeshaking problems here, but the minor irritations people so often allow to ruin their experience day by day.
So, are you having a bad day?
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say “I’m having a bad day,” sometimes within an hour of waking up that morning. It’s entirely too easy to let something that happens color your entire day and every interaction you have with others, which—chances are—is only going to lead to more “bad day” action and reaction. So how can we stop this snowball in its tracks?
Kids! Have Fun With Your Mental Images!
While you’re thinking about that, here’s a mental exercise you might find amusing: What if the stuff that happens to us is just stuff that happens, and what makes the difference between stuff that doesn’t get us down and stuff that does is how we think about it? Bear with me and proceed with this assumption for a few moments as though it’s a fact. Okay? Okay.
One of the ways we think about things is to make pictures, so let’s see if changing those ways of thinking will change how you feel. Ideally, for having a life that’s a lot more like a party than most people’s—and why would we want any other kind? —we need to learn to associate into pictures of thoughts and memories that make us feel more resourceful (be inside the memory, seeing it through our eyes), and dissociate from the ones that don’t (pull away from the memory so that you can see yourself from outside, almost as if you were someone else).
It sounds almost too simple to be true, I know. But it is. Simple and true. The farther away you can push pictures of unpleasant things, the more you can flatten them out, tone down the color and contrast and brightness, blur the focus, stop the motion, make them smaller, etc. the less emotional impact they’ll have. Try it. It works! You can put them behind you where you can’t see them, or shove them way down below your field of vision, or send them out beyond the farthest planet, whichever works to make you take a few deep breaths and think about it differently now.
Perhaps just as importantly, the closer you can bring pictures of pleasant thoughts and memories, the more you can make them 3D, bright, colorful, high-contrast, big, moving, and close (Closer than that! Brighter! Bigger!), the more pleasant they get, and the better they make you feel, which is the idea, innit?
For instance, when people are grieving, they often see all their pictures of the lost loved one as far away and dissociated, so that even their fond memories of the loved one seem lost to them, and it’s hard to get back that feeling of what the good times were like when they were around. If they reverse this process—move back inside the pictures of the good times, and make them bigger, brighter, and more colorful—they’ll be less likely to become lost in the grieving process.
Worse and Worse? Or Better and Better?
When we’re just royally pissed off at someone, what do you suppose we do? We take the good memories of them and change the qualities around so that they’re not appealing anymore, or even put them out of sight entirely. Then we take the memories of all the times they pissed us off before and make those big and important. Then we play the resulting slideshow over and over in our heads and get pissed off all over again. It’s a lot like the strategies unhappy people use to stay unhappy, and that’s no coincidence.
Conversely, when we’re feeling good about someone, we brighten up our images of them and make them shiny and appealing. It’s a perfectly natural way we make ourselves feel good about good things. These qualities of our images are some of the most important ways our brain categorizes things and experiences. It’s a basic human learning strategy, and we can change how we see images and change the categorization—the meaning—thereby.
We use this same set of mechanics when we turn things that happen to us into things that spoil our day. Do you think you might like to know how to stop this process in its tracks? Do you think that might be useful?
The Fun Part
Okay, here’s the fun part where you get to do stuff. In the spirit of experimentation, okay? Do one or the other of the methods below on whatever problem is giving you “a bad day” right now.
Your Little Problem in Space
Your Little Problem in Time
Whatever (or whoever) you perceive as having caused you to have a problem, be pissed off, or even (horrors!) to be having a bad day, the answer lies in changing how you’re thinking about it. If that’s true (and if you did the exercise above you may agree that it is), then where do you suppose the problem was in the first place? Just a thought.
These are not only valuable and fun strategies for us, but for those of us who see clients, teaching these techniques gives them valuable tools they can use to make their lives better in all sorts of ways. It’s a wonderful thing to do to “teach a man to fish.”