The Choice is Yours

I have been thinking about the concept of freedom since Independence Day.  I don’t mean freedom in the sense of civil liberties protected by the Constitution (though I believe those are important); I’m talking about freedom in the way we choose to think.

Have you ever noticed what you’re thinking about and doing when you’re in a good mood?  For example, let’s say you just received a job offer and you’re elated.  This job is a big step up in your career, includes a hefty pay increase, and better hours.  You feel happy and confident, knowing that your talents, skills, and abilities made you the best candidate.  You walk around with a giant smile and give a bigger-than-usual tip to the Starbucks barista.

Now, let’s say you didn’t get the job.  You berate yourself for your performance during the interview.  Oh, how you stumbled over key questions!  You ruminate on the negative impression you must have made and you think to yourself, “If only I had done such-and-such differently!  What an idiot!  I’m such a loser!”  Round and round you go in your head.

Now you might be saying to yourself that this is a ridiculous example.  It sounds like you’re saying that feelings are based on external circumstances.  But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

Ultimately, we may never know why an opportunity did not turn out how we had hoped.  It may be hard, but after getting over the initial shock and disappointment of bad news, we can choose to think more positively and take actions that are healthy for us.  For example, rather than berating yourself, you can view the rejection as an opportunity to seek coaching for your interviewing skills.

I invite you to try a personal experiment.  Take a moment to reflect on a situation in your life in which you feel stuck, or on a relationship in which you feel unfulfilled.  Ask yourself: How has my thinking contributed to the problem?  Seeing how faulty thinking keeps us stuck or unfulfilled is not easy, so you might consider talking about it with someone you trust.  Then write down all of your options for handling the situation differently (no matter how farfetched they may seem).  Weigh the consequences, positive and negative.  Challenge yourself to implement one of the choices on your list, be it a new way of thinking or a new action.  Evaluate how your choice has affected your situation and mood, and modify as needed.  And remember, not choosing is also a choice.

If you have questions about this topic or other mental health issues I would love to hear from you.  Please call me at (310) 383-1505.  Until then, be well!