Reading the newspaper daily can be hazardous to your mental health. Reading about bad news page after page, day after day, can erode your peace of mind and optimism. This is one reason why I don’t bother following the news. I refuse to be manipulated that way. If something is that important, I’ll find out. I don’t need the additional drama festering in my mind.
But I’ve recently realized that the stories I’ve told myself – stories about the past, about my limitations, about other people’s motives are just as dangerous. I have a tendency to exaggerate the facts about a situation. Just as an example, this morning while out for a run I was recollecting how ignorant I was in my 20s when at the gym. I loved the elliptical. Maybe a little too much. I was thinking about the years that I squandered the opportunity to build a really good fitness foundation while I was still metabolically active.
And then it struck me, I had essentially created a picture of myself in the past that wasn’t really accurate. I lifted weights back then. I did yoga. This belief about myself was totally false. I started probing my mind about other “facts” about my life in the past and the present. For some reason, I’ll convince myself that something is true and that fits into a neat little box in my mind and that’ll be the story that I’ll stick to.
We do that a lot. We like good stories and the reality we live in doesn’t always make a good and easily told story. Or maybe the story isn’t over. Maybe you’re in the middle of the story, on the second book of the current trilogy you’re acting out.
One person’s work that I really like and is relevant to this is Bryon Katie. In her book “Loving What Is” she has outlined a system called “The Work” that helps develop the kind of clarity I’m talking about. When you have a thought like “I have neglected my fitness in the past” – ask yourself “Is it true?” And then ask it again. “Can you absolutely know it’s true?”. Now look at how this thought, this truth makes you feel by asking yourself “How do I react, what happens, when I believe the thought?” Then finally “Who would I be without the thought?”
So let’s use my example about my fitness level. It’s not true. Believing the false belief gave me a sense of determination to overcome my past behavior, to think of my past self as “less than” which gave me the discipline to work harder. Without that thought I would be (and now am), grateful for this body that can withstand the workouts that I enjoy doing and are good for me. I can look back at the younger Danielle with love and admiration for sticking with her fitness routine, even if it wasn’t perfect. It also makes me honour my body as it is now and not wish for anything different than I have in this moment.
It feels much better than berating myself about half truths.