Direct Your Mind: What CAN I change?

When you are undemoralizing yourself, you’re looking for mistakes, right? You’re trying to find assumptions you’ve made that aren’t true — assumptions like “nobody will ever love me” or “I will be miserable forever.” One of the interesting findings in the research on depression is that the most depressing assumption you can make is about permanence. If you think something bad is permanent and cannot be changed, it is one of the most — if not the most — demoralizing thought you can have.

If you are mistaken about the permanence, it is an enormous benefit to recognize your mistake. The moment of recognition can restore your morale immediately.

But sometimes you’ll realize that you were
not mistaken. You assumed something was permanent and you were right. Then what?

Then the question is, “What
can I change?”

Actually to answer that question, you must first know the answer to a pre-question: What do I want?

So for example, you’re trying to sell pet rocks, and you’re not selling very many, so you argue with your negative thoughts on paper and one of your negative thoughts is:
The fad is over. That is a permanent explanation of your setback. And let’s say you realize you are correct about this, and you realize no matter what you do, you may never be able to revive the fad. You feel demoralized by this realization. Now what?

The question is first,
What do you want? Let’s say you want to have a successful business selling something.

Then the second question is: What can I change? Of course, you can change what you sell. If you want to be successful at selling something, it doesn’t have to be pet rocks. You could change what you sell, the way you sell it, the way the rocks look, etc. What
can you change?

This is a powerful question.

When you find yourself fixated by the negative bias — when all you can see is what you
can’t change — pull this question out of your pocket and ask it and keep asking it and don’t let it go until you’ve found some good answers.


Mike said...

Great post!

I've been reading Epictetus ( lately, which has focused my attention on the fact that nearly every bad thing that comes our way contains elements we cannot control and elements we can.

I've begun to notice that some people obsess almost exclusively on the things they cannot control as a form of escapism, or as a way to give themselves permission to take no action.

The financial crisis is a perfect example. People curse the politicians, Wall Street, the bankers, et al, and focus very little on their own ability to control how they think and feel about the crisis and what they can do themselves to improve their financial situation.

The Epictetan and stoic approach is to focus on and care about and take ownership of only the things we can control, and ignore those things beyond our control.

Adam Khan said...

Well said, Mike!

The financial crisis is a great example.