Thirty five years ago, I received a note from a girl (we were girls then) who I had known when we were both attending a small women’s college in Philadelphia. It was on a sheet of lined paper torn from a small spiral bound tablet. She had drawn a picture of a young woman with a dialogue box that read, “I think no more. I think no less. I think better.”
I still have that note and have recalled it many times over the past 35 years. I do not remember the actual crisis that caused her to send me the note nor do I recall which of us was having the crisis at the time, but I have always remembered that note and how I have interpreted its meaning over the years.
Every December for the past 15 years, this column has been about resolutions for a better new year. I have discussed what we should do to improve our personal and professional lives. While I still believe in the value of self-improvement, I am not making resolutions this year. Instead, I am going to take steps to “think better.”
1. “You become what you think about.” (Earl Nightingale). In cognitive-behavioral therapy, there is an idea that our thoughts cause our behaviors and our feelings, not external things, like people, situations and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better, even if the situation does not change. In essence, we have the ability to get the life that we want, or as my husband says, “Everything is as it should be.”
2. Expressions to banish from our conversations:
a. “We have always done it that way” or “That’ll never work.” It is important to look at a situation from a different perspective or see it through a different set of eyes. Simply because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it has to continue. Even if there is no problem, doing a task differently might actually improve on it. Nothing is ever accomplished by people who do not try a new way.
b. “When I was your (or their) age ….” I want to use this expression because, like most generations, I think my generation was much smarter, harder working, more polite, cuter, more respectful – yada, yada, yada – than the ones that have come after me. But even if it is true, all generations have the right to make their mark on history as they choose.
c. “I am too old.” We may be too slow. We may be too weary. We may be too jaded. We may be too out of shape. We may be too busy. But we are never too old to try something new.
d. “I can’t.” Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right. “People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success.” – Norman Vincent Peale
3. “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Learn something new. Try something at which you may never excel. Do not be afraid to not be the best at an activity or task. Too often people do not expand their activities because they are comfortable in what they know they can do. As John Wooden, the great basketball coach of UCLA, said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
4. How you look at life determines what you see. You can either complain that rose bushes have thorns or that thorn bushes have roses. I am not suggesting that everyone become “wide-eyed optimists”, but a pile of manure could mean that there is a pony in there somewhere.
5. “Activity and sadness are incompatible.” (Christian Bovee). No matter how bad you feel, mentally or physically, keep moving. Take a walk. Go hiking. Play golf. Do anything. Just move. The pain may not disappear, but it will take your mind off it for a short time. Whatever you do, do not whine.
6. “Make plans for 100 years, but you must be ready to die at any moment.” (From an interview with one of the two survivors of the 1975 plane crash in the Andes detailed in the book Alive). Always be prepared for the worst, but never let the fear of the worst that can happen prevent you from taking new risks, trying new activities or exploring new trails.
7. Worrying never helps. I am a worrier. I have worried about everything since I was a little girl. I even worry about worrying. One lesson I have learned is that it never solves any problem. Never. Not once. Not ever.
What does work? Look at the situation and decide what, if anything, went wrong and what, if anything, you can do to fix the situation or prevent it from happening again.
8. “There is a power under your control that is greater than poverty, greater than the lack of education, greater than all your fears and superstitions combined. It is the power to take possession of your own mind and direct it to whatever ends you may desire.” (Andrew Carnegie). For 2009, I wish you clear and better thinking. Use your mind and brain to get the life that you want. We all have the power to make decisions that will give us everything we need.