The Thought Patterns Ruining My Life

We are not our thoughts. But we are the thoughts we allow to control our lives. And the thoughts we indulge are the thoughts that create ruts in our minds and eventually become thought patterns. Here are my thought patterns and the ways in which they are ruining my life:

Worrying About the Future

I constantly “borrow trouble”. I worry about what the future holds, including those things I don’t have control over. I worry about things that haven’t happened yet and even about negative outcomes that are unlikely to occur. I build them up so much in my mind that I become sure they are going to happen. If anything close to what I fear does end up happening, I see it as a sign that my worry was justified.

Grieving the Past

I go over and over the past, including mistakes I made and mistakes others made that negatively affected me. I dwell on missed and bungled opportunities. I mentally recreate dialogues from years, even decades, past. I yearn for the more positive, alternative outcomes that could have come to fruition “if only…”. I beat myself up for how I used to think, feel, and behave, even though I was younger, less worldly-wise, and hadn’t had many experiences yet. I remember and obsess over dates I find significant (for example, “In the year 2002, this happened” or “May 5, 2008 was the day that…”). I’ve never learned how to “let go”.

Assuming People’s Motivations

I often assume people have malicious motivations towards me which explain their actions. Instead of assuming they are just busy or forgetful or ditzy, I assume they dislike me, maybe even want to harm me, and that is why they do the things they do or don’t do the things they don’t do. I am the guiltiest person when it comes to black-and-white thinking, and this type of thinking does not lend itself well to being able to see context or nuance in any given situation. I have been hurt and disappointed by so many people, I now suspect everyone of malintentions. I feel enraged over the thought that others would mistreat me when I would never mistreat them. Others’ mistreatment of me evokes obsessive thoughts over the matter, which I often whitewash as righteous anger. It is easier for me to claim the moral high ground instead of admitting I mentally and emotionally hold onto these hurts to an extent that is not warranted and that is actually self-destructive.

Trying to Please Others

I constantly try to please others and “fit in”, even when I don’t immediately realize I’m doing so. For example, sometimes I respond in a politically-correct, socially-acceptable way that doesn’t covey my true feelings. This comes to me very naturally and without forethought. Only afterwards do I realize how I compromised myself. It seems although I generally dislike people, I secretly crave their acceptance. This causes me to feel weak and become irritated with myself.

Internalizing What Others Do to Me

I take what others do to me as a measure of my own worth. Instead of thinking of them less, I think of myself less. Even if I get upset with them, it pales in comparison to the way their actions make me feel about myself. In reality, the way someone treats another person reveals more about themselves than the other person. And when a person treats others poorly it’s often a sign they think of themselves poorly.

Trying to Control Things

I try to control my feelings, circumstances, and environment. These are things that are impossible to control. Feelings arise uninvited, but they are generally based on the thoughts I allow to take up space in my mind. Environment can only be controlled to a certain extent, and circumstances often occur unbidden, unplanned, and unwanted. I know that the most peaceful people are those who can “roll with the punches”, let things “roll off their backs”, and successfully adapt instead of trying to mould situations to fit their desires.

Dreaming of the Future

On the face of it, dreaming of the future doesn’t sound like a negative thought pattern. What could be unhealthful about having goals, being excited for what’s to come, and allowing it to lift my mood? While these things aren’t inherently problematic, spending my time dreaming of what “could be” instead of taking the necessary actions to make it a reality only traps me in a sad, unfulfilling present with a false sense of achievement.

Striving for Perfection

Fear leads me to always strive for perfection. I can’t stand making mistakes. I can barely bring myself to read my past blog posts for fear I realize how awful they all are and delete them. I often don’t start something I really should for fear of not doing it perfectly. Past failures, even from very long ago, continue to haunt me. However, the logical side of me knows that progress can be made alongside failures and that those who don’t try, don’t succeed.

Being Overly Sensitive to Injustice

This is another thought pattern that might not sound unhealthful. However, my sense of justice often clouds my better judgment. I end up struggling too long towards a goal I don’t even want due to feeling I deserve it. Realistically, I know that’s my ego sabotaging my peace and contentment as well as my refusal to move past negativity and to accept myself in whatever situation I find myself.

Have you noticed any thought patterns that steal your happiness away? Have you been working on changing which thoughts you focus on in order to change those patterns and find lasting peace?

Positively Influencing Others Without Formal Authority

Have you ever wondered how to influence and inspire those around you even without being in a position of power? It’s easy to influence others from a position of power, because coercion is often inherent in that dynamic. Formal positions of authority naturally entice others to acquiesce due to the prestige of the position and implied superiority of the person sitting in it. Others will follow that person due to fear of reprisal in the form of job loss, arrest, public shame, etc. But what entices people to follow someone without that authority, title, or eminence?

It’s first necessary to have knowledge. People will only listen to you if they think you know what you’re talking about. This means you need to exude confidence. And you should know what steps are necessary to achieve your goal and clearly communicate those steps to others.

Know what motivates other people. Know what they fear and what they want. Allay their fears and motivate them using what they want, whether that be money, power, flexibility, etc.

It’s also necessary to be likable. This includes being friendly, empathetic, proving you’re trustworthy, and listening more than you speak. It doesn’t matter what hard skills or qualifications you have backing your position if people don’t like you. People tend to listen to others who they like, not necessarily those with the best qualifications.

Practice what you preach. Set a good example and people will be inspired to follow you. Let them see your way is realistic and that you are willing to follow it, yourself.

Whether in a work, school, or personal setting, it’s possible to influence and inspire even those over whom you do not wield official power. When people follow you of their own volition instead of by force, positive change comes easier, is longer-lasting, and is more stable.

Strength vs. Weakness

Something I’ve learned is that strength can appear weak and weakness can appear strong. It shows strength to hold your tongue and not react emotionally to another person who is pushing your buttons, even though it might feel like weakness at the time or be taken as weakness by others. On the other hand, it shows weakness to give in to an unnecessary squabble and allow yourself to become emotionally overwrought, even though it might feel like strength at the time or be taken as strength by others. This is something I struggle with a lot and constantly have to remind myself. Most situations aren’t worth getting involved in a dispute with someone and letting your inner peace be jeopardized. Although there are times when it’s necessary to speak up and it would even be immoral or dangerous not to do so, speaking up and giving one’s opinion usually comes from ego. And ironically, not letting other people outwardly ruffle you can show them you are strong enough to ignore the drama and encourage respect for you.

Intellectually, I know the more things I “let go”, the wiser and stronger I am. However, getting to the point where things “don’t bother you” (or at least bother you much less), takes a lot of practice, self-restraint, and taking the “high road”. Emotionally, it is not easy. Like a muscle, it must be used often to become strong and remain that way.

Here are some tips I’ve used to help me in this regard. First, realize that your own viewpoint differs from those of other people and colors the way you interpret something. You are probably looking at a situation with different experience, understanding, and knowledge than another person.

Second, understand that people don’t necessarily see you in the way you see yourself or the way you believe others see you. It is human nature to believe that other people think about you more than they really do or that they are more critical of you than they actually are. This often comes from low self-esteem and insecurity.

Third, decide not to take things personally. Because you cannot be sure of where someone else’s opinions, feelings, or attitudes come from, there’s no reason to assume they have ill intent or motives towards you. Even deciding to not take something personally that was in fact personal can help alleviate a lot of the anger, stress, and energy expenditure you’d experience by pursuing the issue.

Fourth, ignore everything that is possible to ignore (and that is most everything). By filling your life with positive people, activities, and work, it is easier to tune out negativity without feeling like you must react or “do something” about it. Also, I have personally experienced that being slighted stings less when I have other, better, more important things going on in my life. I also have less time to stew about them and for my anger to build. It’s when I am idle, perhaps unemployed, don’t really have any direction, have too much free time, that I am more likely to pursue every small perceived slight.

Fifth, feelings fluctuate constantly. You might be steaming mad over something you just found out about, especially if you were already in a down mood, even though the issue doesn’t justify extreme anger. Spend time on things you enjoy or that make you feel productive (like chores), and you might just realize your anger has reduced significantly or even disappeared.

I hope this post helped someone out there who struggles, as I do, with self-restraint and not letting emotions take control. I know I admire those who are always able to be “above it” all, and I view them as some of the strongest, most noble, and independent people I know. On the other hand, people I know who constantly require others to “walk on eggshells” around them seem small, fragile, and scared. I will continue to try to be a strong, noble, independent person instead of a small, fragile, scared person.

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

Boundary-setting is vital to a healthy, happy life. Boundary-setting can be difficult because it requires a strong, stable, confident sense of self. Otherwise, it is easy to fall into the trap of putting your own wishes and needs to the side and allowing others to walk all over you.

There are many different kinds of boundaries. There are physical boundaries, which are the most obvious kind and the type most people instinctively know to respect. For example, most people know not to touch someone or walk into their house without first getting permission or to convince someone allergic to peanuts to go ahead and eat them. And most people feel comfortable speaking up if someone violates these boundaries.

Emotional boundaries are more amorphous, less easily protected, and more liable to be violated. What are emotional boundaries? My own definition of boundaries are those issues we cannot compromise on without jeopardizing our mental, emotional, or spiritual health. So, for example, not working on a Sunday because one’s religious convictions forbid it. Mere preferences, on the other hand, should not be considered boundaries and should be up for compromise. For example, eating your second-favorite flavor of ice cream because the first is not available.

The need for emotional boundaries comes up in different areas of one’s life, including with strangers, loved ones, and at work. The level of closeness in a relationship makes it easier or harder to maintain strong boundaries, as well as what is at stake if one chooses to either maintain or violate their own boundaries. It often feels easier to maintain boundaries with strangers because of safety reasons, as well as the fact we don’t feel we owe anything to strangers. Plus, if we offend them, we never have to see them again, so we won’t experience consequences. However, it can be harder saying “no” to a family member, friend, likable coworker, or boss. These are people we want to like us and whom we might need something from in the future. However, if we betray ourselves by compromising our boundaries with those close to us, it sets a precedent. Unfortunately, the people who are close to you are also those in the best position to take advantage of you. For example, if you refuse to work a certain day of the week and made this clear when you were hired, but a coworker asks you to take their shift that day for them, saying “yes” makes it more likely you will be asked again.

If your boundaries are reasonable, it is important to keep them firm. It is also important to effectively and kindly communicate your boundaries so that you do not criticize someone for doing or saying something they were unaware is unacceptable to you. If a relationship is lost with somebody because they refuse to accept your boundaries, that is a toxic person who you are better off without. Of course, this is easier said than done if that person is a superior at work, given the employment culture of the U.S. However, I have found most people will respect your stance and won’t push it further.

Knowing yourself and understanding why you feel and think the way you do are imperative for healthy boundary-setting. Putting your needs before the desires of others, as well as having the self-esteem necessary to enforce the prioritization of your needs, is also imperative. The emotional maturity needed to endure a possible confrontation with another person is also imperative. If you second-guess your own convictions when you’re by yourself, you will have no chance of holding firm to them when they are questioned or criticized by others.

This is a major area in my life I need to work on. I tend to either waver on what my boundaries are, not communicate them effectively, or not enforce them, and then blow up when they are violated. Are there any areas of your life where you find it nearly impossible to maintain your boundaries, or where you need to begin erecting some boundaries?