All of us have days we struggle. Most of us have days when we just don’t feel as happy as we would like to feel. We get anxious or stressed or discouraged some days. There is a treatment method that Psychiatrists use to help people who are struggling with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a myriad of other issues called Cognitive Therapy. The basic premise of Cognitive Therapy is that in order to change the way a patient FEELS you have to first get the patient to change the way they THINK about things, because it is their thoughts that drive their feelings.
I am lucky enough to have one of my brothers who is a Psychiatrist. He often talks to me about some of the methods that he uses in his job to help treat patients who are struggling in their lives. He shared an analogy with me that I thought many of you might find helpful, especially if any of you are feeling down about your life, or feeling down about yourself.
Imagine for a moment that you walk into a completely dark room, and the only light that exists in the room is coming from a flashlight you hold in your hand. You point the flashlight to the corner of the room and it lights up a very large, hairy spider sitting on the floor. How do you feel at that moment? Scared? Disgusted? Like you want to run out of the room? Now you take the flashlight and you point it into the opposite corner of the room and in that corner you see a huge pile of money with a sign on the cash that has your name written on the sign, letting you know its for you. Now how do you feel in that moment? Happy? Excited? Like you want to run over to the money and start grabbing it? Notice how you are still standing in the very same place, in the very same room, yet your feelings about standing in that room have completely changed? Why is that? After all, the room itself is exactly the same as it was when you first walked in. Yet instead of wanting to run out of the room, you can’t wait to stay in it. So what changed? The only thing that changed in this example was the item you focused on within the room. Everything stayed exactly as it was. The spider was always in one corner and the cash was always in the other corner, and you stood in the same place within that room. Ultimately, nothing in the room had changed at all. But because the item you chose to focus on changed, suddenly the room became a place that you very much wanted to stay in, and you were excited to be there.
That analogy explains how to use Cognitive Therapy to help yourself to feel differently in your life – it illustrates how you need to really examine the other possible ways you can think about your situation. What else about your situation can you focus on that might change the way you feel about it? Can you shift your flashlight in the room to shine on the pile of cash rather than flashing it on the spider? Analyze the current things in your life and really focus your attention on what is good and positive. For the things that are difficult in your life, maybe you can’t change certain circumstances you are facing, but see if you can’t find another way to view the situation to see what possible good might result from that difficulty. Keep in mind that everything difficult you might go through in your life can help you become smarter, and stronger, more humble, tender hearted, forgiving, and empathetic to others. That is the positive that results from overcoming difficult situations. Also, sometimes it is a result of the worst times in our lives that lead us to the most amazing blessings in life. We are taken down roads we never would have walked, but because of tragedy or heartbreak, we end up walking a path that is better and brighter than we ever imagined. So you see that by changing the way you are thinking about things, you can actually control the way you will feel. You can change the negative feelings to positive ones. You can change the desire to run out of the room to the desire to stay in the room and be excited to do so.
I love learning about Cognitive Therapy because it really helps us to see that we can control the way we are thinking about things by choosing focusing on the positive. I am grateful for the analogy because as we completed yet another day of moving into our new home and I found myself feeling totally stressed and overwhelmed by the piles to go through I realized that I could focus on the piles I needed to go through or I could focus on how amazing my new home was going to be. I had to kick my own behind into changing my thinking to focus on the positive, and I feel tons better already!
Have a great day and focus on finding the positive of your circumstances and situations…it will help you smile!