Today, I learned a powerful lesson at the grocery store. I was in a bit of a rush so I made my way quickly through the aisles, grabbed my four items, and headed to check out. The person in front of me had way more things than I did so I opted for self-checkout.
As I sat my items down to begin scanning, I remembered the machine I chose was the one that malfunctioned last time. It wasn’t just a simple—the cashier comes over, punches in a few numbers, swipes their badge, and you’re on your way—kind of moment. It was a complicated—the cashier comes by, can’t enter a code because the screen is frozen, holds the button down for 30 seconds to reboot the system, we wait for several minutes for it to get back online, only for it not to work, so they do it AGAIN, and it still won’t work, so I get escorted to customer service where they “re-ring” each item—kind of moment. So I looked at that machine and thought, “Oh no, not today,” gathered my items and chose another machine.
The associate working self-checkout gave me a puzzled look, so I told them, “Oh. I had problems with that one last time,” and began to scan my items on the blessed machine. And, of course, it immediately froze.
Luckily, the cashier was bagging someone’s groceries so they didn’t witness my scurry of shame back to the original devil machine. I had a hunch in that moment that it was probably just my negative expectations screwing with me. So I took a deep breath, laughed at myself, and began to scan my items. Oh course, not one issue. I was done in seconds!
Right then, I knew for sure it was just my negative expectation proving me right. I could’ve avoided having an issue at all, if I just left that one inconvenient experience in the past. Instead I brought it with me and recreated it.
I learned in that moment that often the uncomfortable cycles that repeat in our lives could possibly be avoided with positive expectations. Our thoughts are powerful and creative. It’s important that we train ourselves to focus more on what we desire than on what we fear. As we learn to leave our negative expectations behind, and set new empowering ones, we set ourselves up to win.
If you, like me, tend to worry about what can go wrong, I challenge you to start paying attention to that tendency. Envisioning the worst doesn’t serve us as much as we think. Sometimes it is the thing that draws the negative possibility. Let’s learn from my experience, and begin to envision the possibility that things will work out. Despite what we’ve experienced in the past, we can set positive expectations for the future. Let’s not cancel today’s wins expecting yesterday’s losses.
I don’t know about you, but my mind can be a very annoying, continual list of shoulds. Even right now, as I write, I hear the suggestion, “Shouldn’t it be ‘sometimes annoying’?” This is the problem.
I know a young lady who has a gift for snappy comebacks. When she receives unsolicited advice/information, her immediate response is, “But, did I ask?” (When you’re not on the receiving end, it’s actually pretty funny.)
Anywho, I was doing some deep cleaning, today—like behind the refrigerator and bookshelves level, “Ewww, what is that?” type cleaning, and the whole time my thoughts were serving me the shoulds list. “You should mop the hall first, then change the water.” “Maybe you should clean that out before donating it.” “You should….” blah blah blah. And this time, rather than get frazzled from the constant interrupting thoughts, I was just like, “But did I ask?”
I am so grateful for my awesome coach, who has been helping me pay more attention to my thoughts. Daily, I am realizing how torturous they have been and didn’t even realize it was happening.
Depending on your experience of life, your thoughts can be primarily supportive and friendly, while others (like me) endure a continual soundtrack of critiques, pessimistic what ifs, and the unending list of shoulds.
Have you ever been at home, work, or even out with friends and heard a car alarm go off, and the owner of the car seems to not know what’s going on so it just keeps honking? When a car alarm, that you can’t control is going off incessantly, you just try to keep enjoying your show, doing your work, or continue your conversation with friends. It’s super annoying but you just try to block it out and keep going with it honking in the background.
Imagine if that alarm stayed on for days…. years… or even decades. That’s what life has been like for me probably since childhood. My alarm, though, has been anxious thoughts. Until recently, I was primarily unaware of the soundtrack. And, I had no idea that those thoughts were constantly shifting my emotions. (When I focused on sad thoughts, I became sad. When I focused on worried thoughts, I became anxious, and so on.) However, now that I am paying attention to the sound, I realize how freaking annoying it is.
Paying attention to my thoughts, is like the car owner handing me the keys over and over again to turn off the alarm—better yet, it’s me realizing that it’s been my car alarm going off all along and grabbing my own keys to stop the sound. At any given moment, I get to recognize and temporarily silence the annoying sound of my unhelpful thoughts. And, today, it started with the simple question, “But, did I ask?”
I don’t know if you struggle with anxiety, or anger, or the constant replaying of a memory that was devastating. I just know for me that each time I’ve struggled with any of those, it started with a thought. And when it came to mind, I didn’t have a plan of what to do with it. Out of habit, I reacted to it the same way that felt right/reasonable at the time. I thought of my grandma who passed, and was instantly sad. I thought of my former boss cussing me out in front of customers, and I was instantly angry. Thought about my ex…. and… don’t even ask.
We are on loop with our reactions to certain thoughts. And our mind serves them up like a barista at our favorite coffee shop. (“You gonna have your usual?”) And without thought we say, “Thanks,” pay, and drink it down. However, when we begin to recognize the soundtrack (loop) of thoughts, we can choose to pause first, then react differently. (“No thanks. I’m gonna check out the menu a while.”)
A first step, is to begin to notice the thoughts that shift our moods. When we begin to pay attention to the changes in our emotions, we get better at catching our thoughts. When we suddenly feel down, we can pause and ask, “What was I just thinking?” With intentional shifts in our awareness, we begin to take control of our soundtrack. And doing that alone is so powerful, and life-shifting.
Another tool, that I am currently employing is to find a more empowering way to view the things that tend to knock me off my square. This is not always easy. Depending on the situation it can be really challenging, but it is possible.
I used to be on automatic with my reactions, but now I am getting better at pausing to think. When things don’t go as planned, I catch myself getting angry and think, “What if this is actually a good thing?” When I find myself worrying, I now think, “What if everything works out?” And I do similar things with uncomfortable memories….
I think the work here is to change the meaning of what we remember. We can make shifts from “You left me,” to “you freed me,” or from “I just wasted ten years of my life,” to “Well, now I have a decades worth of lessons to share.” I hold a strong belief that we are interconnected and that sometimes what I go through is for someone else. Meaning that the lessons I learn from my experiences can be used to support someone else. I developed that belief when I was at my lowest state. I chose to hold on to something my pastor once said, “God loves you too much to let you go through for no reason.” It really impacted me. And now, on the other side of that chapter, I get to see how my experiences back then have helped me to empower so many others…. even right now.
I said these words to a friend a few days ago…. “Whether it was a friendship (that I saw from jump was wack and I stayed a decade only for them to snake me), or a situation with an ex, I am learning to look at what I learned, what I gained, how much I’ve grown since then, etc., and it shifts the meaning of those memories.”
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you do it the way I do it. I just want you to know that you can interrupt the soundtrack playing in your mind, if it’s not serving you. Whether you choose to yell, “Shut up!” (like Les Brown once suggested ), or mumble to yourself, “But did I ask?,” you get to regain control of the sound.
Although I try to be understanding, when it comes to certain topics, I can be a bit petty. I will completely write a person off over a first impression, which is a bit unfair.
Today, I was contemplating a scenario where someone got a wrong impression of me, recently, and decided to write me off. I was so offended because their actions, as a result of their assumptions, impacted more than just me.
As a way of getting beyond the moment, I decided to write a letter—as a journaling exercise to get it off my mind, because I have no intentions of sending the letter to the individual. What I realized as I was writing, is that I was calling her completely irrational for not communicating with me before making a judgment about me. That’s when I realized I had done the same to someone else, under fairly similar circumstances.
It’s a hard thing to realize that we aren’t perfect. And it’s even harder to see the depravity of another in our own actions. As much as I wish things happened differently, I must admit that I am grateful for this opportunity to heal that tendency. I am choosing to release my negative impression of the person I prejudged. And I choose to forgive this individual and trust that all things work together for good.
Watched the movie Finding Forrester again after over a decade, and had so many flashbacks. This movie is very special to me. For a season, it was the glue that held me together.
While I was in school, I was dealing with a faculty member who didn’t want me there. Each time I met with them, they encouraged me to quit the program and let me know that I didn’t belong. I didn’t tell anyone (until they crossed the line) because I didn’t want to make waves, and honestly I thought they might be right about me. The program was challenging and I was dealing with a lot at the time. I honestly considered dropping out many times, but each time I remembered the vision that got me there in the first place.
In my last semester, I was having some health issues—some acute pain that made attending classes extremely challenging. Sitting for an hour was excruciating. My classes were 3 hours. Most of my professors were supportive, as I made them aware of my condition at the beginning of the semester, but one instructor took it personally. As a result, I was given an ultimatum. Despite knowing my condition, I was instructed that if I wanted to graduate, I had to be on time for every class for the remainder of the semester, to remain in class for the entire time, and not leave early. I believe the exact quote was, “I don’t care if you have to lay on the floor….”
I was devastated, but quitting wasn’t an option. I was too close to the finish line. I didn’t know how I was going to honor their request, but I knew I didn’t have a choice.
Enter Finding Forrester. After that interaction, I began watching this movie every day before class. Watching this young man keep his head despite how he was being treated, and his eventual triumph, gave me hope. I recorded 3 minutes of dialogue from the movie in my phone and would play it as I walked to class. I would listen to his victory and the subsequent applause seconds before I approached the door to the lecture hall. It kept me going.
I didn’t miss a class. I wasn’t late. And I stayed the whole time. On my graduation day, that discouraging faculty member found me (I intentionally avoided them, lol). They admitted to having misjudged me and congratulated me on my success in front of my entire family.
Their words meant nothing. That was not my triumph. Of course, it was AWESOME to watch them “eat crow.” 😆 But my triumph was each day as I pressed to get to class on time. My triumph was enduring hours of shifting in my seat without shedding a tear. My triumph was in not forfeiting numerous semesters of lost sleep, effort, and sacrifice. And my ultimate triumph was when I made it through that last excruciating minute of the class that held my graduation hostage.
Each day as I walked and listened to his professor “eat crow,” I felt his triumph. It stirred up my inner strength to get through my own storm. I’ll forever be grateful to that movie (well the writers, directors, actors, etc.) because it got me through. It gave me hope.
We never know how our gifts may support someone else down the road. How many times has a song helped you get through a tough moment? Someone had to make the choice to do the work and release that. That book that you’ve been putting off writing, that piece you’ve been considering creating, that screenplay on your laptop you’ve toyed with completing….. You have no idea what your gift may help someone through. We have no idea how our gifts will support people we may never even meet….
I am on a journey to stop hiding my gifts and hoarding my creations. I accept that it’s time to set them free. I hope you’ll join me in letting your gifts see daylight. Who knows whose lives we’re meant to touch? Think about it….
Cellphones (which according to my tween are just called “phones” ) have all these cool features, now. Some of them can be both helpful and annoying. One of those features you’re probably familiar with is predictive text. If you don’t know what that is, predictive text suggests words and phrases that you can use to reply or complete a sentence.
Today, I was at the sink and an unsettling thought came to me. It was so disturbing that I said out loud, “Why would I think that?” Instantly, I knew that I wouldn’t think that on my own. I wouldn’t voluntarily create a thought that makes me feel sad or scared.
That’s when I realized for myself that thoughts are suggestions. I have read and heard from various authors and teachers that “we are not our thoughts.” It’s another thing to have a personal experience that shows how true that really is.
As I thought more about it, I realized that thoughts are more like predictive text. We don’t originate them. They are little floating suggestions. My hunch is that our thoughts are potential matches for what we are already thinking or feeling, similar to when we start a sentence in Gmail and a few words appear that can complete the sentence. We don’t have to go with the suggestions, because we know they didn’t come from us. We get to choose.
From now on, I want to look at my thoughts this way. It’s very freeing to know that I get to choose what I think about. And it’s even more freeing to know that thoughts that feel bad, scary, etc. are just suggestions that I can choose to discard. I don’t have to ruminate on them. I don’t have to worry about them. I can just say, “No thanks,” and choose a better thought. Now, that’s empowering.
If you have a tendency to freak out over unpleasant thoughts, this may be empowering for you, too. You can begin to look at your thoughts as merely predictive text that you have the power to choose or discard.