Hello, Dear Readers. As I write this, it is a beautiful Tuesday morning outside. A bit gray, but I’ve always liked a little bit of variety. I think that the gray days make the blue ones that much more vibrant. Whether this is a reasonable position or not, I do not know, but an overcast day stills me, gives me pause. It feels like a deep breath in between the sunshine, and I like that.
Today I want to write about something I have been thinking about quite a bit. Last week’s post having been possibly the most surrealist piece I have ever written (perhaps that I ever will write), today’s musing is going to be much more tangible and grounded.
I have heard it said that the only thing we can always control is our own attitudes. An earthquake may come and shake our work into ruin, a robber might come and steal our belongings, a smarter man may foil our plans, and a tyrant may come and take our freedom from us, but no matter what happens upon this earth, we retain our ability to choose how we will feel.
“Now, wait,” you say. “You can’t choose how you feel. That’s the whole point of emotions! I’m going to go watch cat videos on YouTube.”
Not so fast- consider with me for a moment.
If I think back to a really sad time, the day that my grandfather was buried, for example, I’m going to start feeling sad. My breaths will begin coming in slower as I think over the details, remember the pain and the sorrow. Though previously I may have felt happy-go-lucky, now I’m feeling sad. My emotions have changed. How did they change? Based on what I set my mind on, what I chose to think about. Who controls my thoughts? Skynet. (Just kidding.) I control my own thoughts, of course. As long as I am able to direct my thoughts, I am able to direct my emotions and my attitude.
We are recalcitrant to admit this simple truth for many reasons. We hear trite aphorisms in songs, films, and television shows that say things along the lines of, “I can’t change how I feel,” and, “I have to follow my heart.” God may have given me a heart, and for this I am thankful, but He also gave me a brain. Life is such that I am behooved to use it. I can change how I feel. If my heart is telling me to do something stupid, I have veto power. Do you know anyone who actually lives by the trite television method? People who believe that they can’t choose how to feel and that they have to follow their heart all of the time? I do. They are a gentle breeze one moment and a hurricane the next. A life ruled by emotions is unstable and prone to the slightest change of circumstance. I also know individuals who are grounded. They are presented with extreme situations, but they stop and consider how they ought to respond, and then they do. I admire these people. The first group, frankly, I avoid.
What this means for me, practically, covers a great many things, most of which we haven’t the time to discuss in this post. One of the more pertinent applications, however, I will expostulate upon.
When I err in some fashion, it is extraordinarily easy to feel a sense of inevitability towards failure. The line of thought says, “Well, I’m already slipping, so I may as well slide down the rest of the way. Sigh…” This is a terrible and sadly pervasive line of thinking. Those of you who read my blog regularly have likely gathered that I am quite an enthusiastic lover of wrestling. I love the sport, I watch the sport, and I even help coach at USC (my alma mater) in my spare time. In watching wrestling matches, I often see this line of poisonous thinking. An athlete will approach the line and shake his opponent’s hand full of confidence, coming out strong. If he gets taken down, however, or he falls behind in points, you can see the toxic thoughts on his face sometimes. “Here we go again… just like that match in the fourth round of nationals. Another two minutes in the match until I lose.” When a wrestler starts thinking this way, he does continue his slide downward. He moves about in an obligatory fashion to finish the match, but his spirit is broken, and he is going to lose.
But not everyone wrestles like that.
If you watch the greats, their attitude when pressed is not, “Might as well stop trying;” it’s, “How can I do the best from this situation, from this position?” These athletes are the ones who become champions, who come back from a five point deficit in the last thirty seconds. This is the kind of person that I want to be. When I mess up, I want to choose an attitude that continues striving for the best.
Someone very wise once said, “What you think causes how you feel, causes how you act.”
The question, then, is how am I going to think? What attitude will I adopt? It’s hard to change the way you feel about something, certainly, but it is so incredibly possible. Be encouraged, friends. Hold onto that which no one can ever take away from you. Wield your volition well.