YOUR ACTIONS CAN INFLUENCE YOUR THOUGHTS

Readers of this blog know that the first step in effective coping is understanding that there are only two things you can control: Your thoughts and your actions. You can get into all sorts of coping difficulties when you venture out of that personal control circle, such as trying to control other people.

Time and again we have seen students whose preparation strategy for an upcoming test is to try and influence the professor. “Can you ask mostly multiple-choice? The material seems best for that.” “Can you give me extra time? I’m really swamped with other courses.” These students head down a futile blind alley trying to control what they cannot………..the professor’s behavior! If they focused on what they can control, their preparation for the test, they would be in a lot better shape.

You might be nervous about a job interview because you have no idea what questions the interviewer will ask you. Of course you don’t! That’s something out of your circle of control, so forget about it. Focus on how to prepare, which is in your control circle, for all sorts of questions. That preparation might require you to do research on the company, and to think creatively about your strengths and how they would fit the characteristics of this organization.

One thing you should not do is rely exclusively (the key word in this sentence) on positive thinking for your preparation. “There’s really no need to sweat it. I can handle myself.” Trust us, folks, the power of positive thinking is not all it’s cracked up to be, UNLESS that thinking is based on results from positive actions.

It’s great to be optimistic about life, but there’s a danger in being unrealistic in your optimism. We know a famous psychologist who said that growing up he truly believed he could be a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. “Sometime in college I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Contrary to what my folks always told me, I came to the realization that living in America did not mean that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. No dream was too big, they always said. Well, playing for the Cubbies was too big.”

The power of positive thinking is limited. The power of positive actions, however, is unlimited. One of the secrets to effective coping is to engage in positive actions. By positive we mean actions that bring both you and others satisfaction and comfort. Seeing yourself perform these positive actions will give you a sense of empowerment, and will also invest you with optimistic thinking that is based on reality, not on a pipe-dream.

How often do you get caught up in irrational thinking? Examples would be: “I must succeed in everything I do or I’m a failure.” “I must be admired and respected by everyone or I’m worthless.” “That mistake I made at work today is going to cost me my job. I’m better off quitting.” “I struck out three times in our game today. That does it. I’m batting .268 but it’s clear I’m a burden to the team and I’m quitting.” “The boss gave the project to my colleague. She obviously thinks I’m incompetent.”

Such thoughts are demoralizing and make you vulnerable to depression. Telling yourself, “I’ve got to stop thinking this way” is futile. Instead, focus on actions you can take. “I need to talk to my supervisor about how I can guard against making a mistake like that in the future.” “That pitcher really fooled me with his curve ball. I need to study the tapes plus take more batting practice against that kind of pitch.” “I need to let my colleague know I’m available to help should she need it. I also need to share with the boss some ideas I have for other projects.”

There’s never any guarantee you will succeed. But by focusing on positive actions you can take, at least you’re teaching yourself to persevere even when frustrated; you’re showing yourself that you are self-sufficient enough to engage in some proactive actions; and you’re doing things that give you a chance to feel good about yourself. Such positive possibilities certainly outweigh marching in your personal pity parade.

 

6 thoughts on “”

  1. One of the things I try to remind myself as well as others who struggle with the same issue of thinking negatively is “Don’t stress on the things you cannot control.” I think this post closely relates to that. People forget that there are aspects in our lives that we just can’t control. No matter how much you worry or stress it won’t change anything. Therefore, it’s more efficient if we use that energy on positive actions. Adler believed that psychologically healthy individuals were people who strive for success (social interest) and not for superiority. If that’s the case, perhaps it could work visa versa. By engaging in positive actions, you can develop a healthy psyche.

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  2. I really appreciate this article. I think that healthy people are the ones that know what is in their control and what they are capable of. Although these ideas sound simple, when one does not have either of these understandings, they can fall into feelings of worthlessness and depression. When people try too hard to change things that are out of their control, especially other people’s thoughts or feelings, they end up feeling more out of control and powerless. to control their destiny. Similarly, people who are rigid and set unrealistically high goals for themselves are also setting themselves up to feel worthless and depressed when they do not achieve what they want, or they do not perform perfectly. The resulting feelings of worthlessness only drive these people to set higher goals for themselves, thereby perpetuating this deleterious cycle continues. According to Alfred Adler people who have this personality are those who “strive for superiority”. These people are hyper-focused on attaining an unrealistically high goal, often at the expense of caring for others. It would behoove such individuals to instead set more realistic goals, and possibly ones that benefit others as well. When one is aware of what is in their control, and is realistic with their abilities, it makes it easier to be positive and proactive.

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  3. I thought this was a great article and I very much agree. Although I do think our beliefs influence our actions, I also agree that our actions could very much influence our thoughts. Studying in advance will not only help a student gain more knowledge about a topic, but it will give the student a sense of certainty that they will in fact do well in his/her test. Therefore, the action of studying on time can influence a student’s thoughts of exceeding in an exam. This article reminds me a bit of Bandura’s Observational Learning Theory which explains that people learn from one another through observation, imitation, and modeling. I wonder if people learn from other’s positive actions, if that will in turn help them think more positively. In other words, if a student sees her friends study for her exams on time, rather than last minute, if that will then influence that student to have positive thoughts about her doing well in an exam that she may have been apprehensive about.

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  4. I thought this was a great article and I very much agree. Although I do think our beliefs influence our actions, I also agree that our actions could very much influence our thoughts. Studying in advance will not only help a student gain more knowledge about a topic, but it will give the student a sense of certainty that they will in fact do well in his/her test. Therefore, the action of studying on time can influence a student’s thoughts of exceeding in an exam. This article reminds me a bit of Bandura’s Observational Learning Theory which explains that people learn from one another through observation, imitation, and modeling. I wonder if people learn from other’s positive actions, if that will in turn help them think more positively. In other words, if a student sees her friends study for her exams on time, rather than last minute, if that will then influence that student to have positive thoughts about her doing well in an exam that she may have been apprehensive about.

    Like

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