The older I get, the more I value simplicity.
Simple, fresh food and drink.
Timeless and well-made clothing.
And easy days spent relaxing with my family (because we know that “the dust of everyday life” isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
But in addition to simplifying the things I consume, I’ve been trying to simplify my actions and beliefs.
On Living “The Cognitive Triangle”
I’ve been working really hard this year to develop more reliable and helpful coping mechanisms for my anxiety.
I see already that my son shares many of the personality traits that I was “blessed” with, so whenever he throws a tantrum over seemingly trivial things, I simultaneously laugh and think, “oh god, help this poor kid (and his parents)!”
Joking aside, I have noticed that I am doing a better job at handling anxious thoughts that arise in many areas of my life (deadlines and perceived criticisms at work, for a couple), but it’s also evident that I haven’t fully relinquished a few negative behaviors and attitudes.
Something that’s really helped me lately with this—thanks to a discussion at my most recent therapy session—is the cognitive triangle.
The idea is simple: the points on the triangle represent our feelings, our thoughts, and our actions.
Each of these affects and influences the others, but ultimately, we can truly control only one of those: our actions/behaviors.
For the longest time, I blamed myself for any negative feelings or thoughts I had.
If I was depressed, I needed to buck up and “get over it” because my life was so full of privilege and lacking in hardship that I had no right to feel sad or unworthy.
If I was stressed out or anxious, it was because of a deep character flaw within me—I was the person who over-reacted to everything and hurt others because lashing out was how I coped with those overwhelming emotions.
I gave (and still give, at times) far too much credence to my thoughts. If I thought I was unworthy, damaged, and incapable of something, then it logically followed those were truths, and I had no choice but to act in accordance with those truths.Do not give too much credence to your thoughts; let your actions speak for themselves Click To Tweet
You can see how unsustainable that type of living is!
It’s taken some difficult conversations, some thought-provoking reading, and a whole lot of self-reflection to realize this:
It’s completely normal to have negative thoughts. And it’s completely normal to feel sad, scared, anxious, hurt, misunderstood, lonely, jealous, etc.
We cannot control those things. And, when we attempt to control them, we risk losing ourselves.
We become closed off. Filled with repressed anger and hurt. Bitter and afraid of vulnerability.
The only way to respond is with our actions.
While I was cleaning this past weekend, Iggy would not stop barking. After yelling a few times and getting frustrated, I stopped, said to myself “you cannot control his barking, but you can control your (re)actions” and continued vacuuming.
Today, when I vote in one of the most consequential state elections of my life, I cannot control the outcome. If my community disappoints me by refusing to value integrity, then I must accept those feelings of hurt, anger, humiliation, despair, and hope and then live my values through my daily actions.
When I struggle with anxious thoughts in the mornings before work, I cannot push them away entirely. But I can choose to be kind to myself, acknowledge those feelings, and respond through my actions.
And eventually those actions will lead to more positive feelings and thoughts.
So, yes, it’s a simple concept. We can only control our actions. But it takes a lot of commitment and courage to embrace our vulnerability and realize that we are human.It’s a simple concept: we can only control our actions Click To Tweet
[linking up with Amanda for thinking out loud]
So tell me…
- How do you deal with negative thoughts/feelings about yourself?
- Have you ever chosen to respond in a certain way even if you felt like doing the opposite? How did you feel in the end?
- What is your favorite mantra or tool to get through the day?