As I hear myself speak, so I come to believe
We had some freezing rain overnight last night in this area, leaving a slick coat of ice on paved surfaces. At about 6:30 am I gingerly tiptoed across my driveway to pick up the newspaper, and was happy when I made it safely back to my front door. Of course it is February in the northeast section of the USA, and this is typical weather for mid winter here, so nobody should be surprised.
By 10 am the temperature had risen above freezing, and the roads were quite safe to drive. So I headed off to the bank to do a transaction, then it was off to the dentist for some drilling. But what got my attention was the brief conversation I had with the bank teller when I was making my deposit. She stated “what a bad day it is!” as soon as I arrived at her window. I replied “well, it’s not too bad, the sun has come out, it’s cold of course but after all it’s February.” She continued “it’s awful, and the roads are quite dangerous.” Again I replied by saying “I’m sure they were earlier, but the sun is out and they’re quite safe now to travel.” She then gave me a list of accidents she had heard about on the radio, insisted it was all terrible, and then went about the business of adding up the value of the checks I was depositing and completed the transaction.
Years ago I read a fun little book called “Illusions,” by Richard Bach. I think it’s out of print but if you can find a copy you might want to buy it, as it is quite thought provoking. The book is about a reluctant savior named Donald Shimoda, who carries with him a “Messiah’s Handbook,” which is filled with aphorisms. One of them I’ve never forgotten: “Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.” Oh, how true I have found this to be. In my work as a Pastoral Counselor I’ve met so many people who were completely convinced of their own ineptitude, lack of willpower, and complete inability to be in any way socially appealing to any other person. Most of the time these regular folks were quite intelligent, skilled, and attractive.
So this I have learned: as I hear myself speak, so I come to believe. In working with people in therapy I have realized that those who think lowly of themselves are so trapped because they attribute their perception of their limitations to be an issue of character, rather than an issue of a skill that can be learned. Just recently a person told me about being a hopeless procrastinator. This perception of self caused such a downturn in his/her emotions, it was palpable to any observer. And the more this person repeated “I’m a procrastinator” and illustrated “proof” of the idea, the more his/her emotions turned into sadness and shame. But the truth of the matter is that self-efficacy, the opposite of procrastination, is a skill that can be learned, beginning with recognizing the mental antecedents to lethargy, and applying the antidotes that arise from our capacity to reason. The more this person spoke about these mental antecedents, and considered the antidotes of reasoning, the more he/she realized that it wasn’t a matter of character, it was a matter of developing a new skill, something that actually could be done. Character is difficult to change, but new habits and practices can be acquired.
When we speak of ourselves and the world in which we are immersed, the words we use and the ideas we articulate not only express the workings of our inner world, but become a feedback loop which influences our inner world as well. Narratives repeated become narratives believed. It was recently revealed that Brian Williams, a newscaster for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in the USA, has greatly exaggerated the dangers to which he was exposed while covering combat in Iraq several years ago. I wonder if he, himself, had come to believe those stories after telling them so many times?
Be mindful of your words. Listen closely when you’re speaking of even the simplest matters, like your perception of whether it’s a good day or a bad day. I believe the bank teller I met today was simply repeating the conditioned mantra that many buy into: if it’s not a “perfect” day (i.e. clear, sunny, lightly breezy, moderate temperature) then it’s a “bad” day. And I have no doubt that she came to believe that today is a bad day, and I can’t help but wonder how that perception, becoming a “heard” truth, becomes a “felt” truth that pervades her ways of feeling and being.
Be mindful of your words. Gandhi put it more eloquently than me:
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
Be mindful of your words. Those words become your actions, habits, values, and destiny, but your words are also the royal road back to your thoughts and beliefs, when those words are chosen mindfully.