Someone close to me once said that I have a “catastrophic imagination” because I have a strong tendency to imagine the worst. A friend doesn’t return a phone call – obviously they hate me. In a dark alley – obviously I’m about to get raped, mugged, and murdered. Start to get sick – obviously I’m about to die. Can’t do a particular yoga pose – obviously I’m a terrible yogi. You get the picture …
And (of course) it’s not just that I imagine these things once and move on, oh no. All of these stories tend to swirl around in my head over and over and over again. Thinking this way has become so habitual that I barely even register when I’m doing it anymore, and once you think something often enough, it almost seems to become true. Maybe you can relate?
But I heard this clever twist on a familiar saying the other day: the grass is greener where you water it. And it occurred to me that investing my mental and emotional energy in these sort of repetitive negative thoughts was essentially like “watering” them … and so long as I continue to water them, they will continue to flourish. Plus, our stores of mental and emotional energy are limited, and if we’re expending large quantities on thinking about what we don’t want to happen, that leaves little energy left over for the good stuff!
A different approach?
Over the past few days I have been thinking a lot about what a different approach might entail and I certainly do not have all of the answers. (Sorry to disappoint! ;)) But I do know how I would like to go about getting started with exploring (and maybe even breaking) this habit, and if you can relate to the above, maybe you’d like to start here too:
- Noticing. (Really, this is always the first step, right?) Becoming aware of the thoughts and the simple fact that they’re happening. Noticing what feelings arise before, during, and after engaging in the habitual behavior.
- Getting curious. Asking questions about what is really going on here. Examining where these thoughts are originating from and paying attention to what triggers these negative patterns of thinking.
- Returning to the facts. Imaginary catastrophes are just that – imaginary, made up, not real. They are often rooted in our fears about what might happen in the future or our reactions to things that happened in the past. But, returning to the facts brings us back to the present and back to the Truth.
Will this work? Will noticing, getting curious, and returning to the facts help me (and you) learn how to “water” the areas of our lives that we want to thrive? Stay tuned, let’s find out together …