Choosing Your Thoughts

Arrived at Baltimore airport for my flight to L.A. this morning, only to discover that it wasn’t a nonstop.  I was briefly annoyed and then, realizing there was nothing I could do about it, dropped the annoyance and started writing this entry.  As it turns out, the stop was in Nashville, and I was reminded that my old college fraternity brother & his girlfriend (now wife) live there.  During the one hour layover I called them and we reconnected after not having spoken for 5 years.  I hung up feeling wonderful.

I could have made other choices upon learning of the unplanned stop: I could have beaten myself up for not being more careful when I booked,  or I could have lamented that I would now be stuck on the plane for 2 hours longer than I’d planned.

I encountered a more challenging situation a few years ago when one evening, during the time my house was being remodeled. I inadvertently locked myself - naked - in the small guest bathroom.  After 15 minutes of trying everything I could think of to escape I resigned myself to spending the night there.  Although it was fereezing cold (it was summertime and there was an air conditioning vent in the 7 x 5 foot room) and I was famished, I reminded myself that I could make of the experience exactly what I chose to, dwelling on my stupidity and carelessness OR making a different choice, using the situation as an opportunity for emotional growth   I decided to do the latter.

What choices will you make when confronted by an annoying or adverse situation?  Ask yourself if you have any control over it.  Examples: Stuck in traffic?  Late for work?  In bed with the flu? Football game you had tickets for rained out?  When you’re in a situation you can’t influence, stewing about it is like banging your head against the wall.  Choose to focus on something else.  Many of my clients initially claim that they "can't control" their thoughts.  This may be true in "fight or flight" situations where the "reptilian brain" response is so fast that our cognitive powers are essentially useless.  But in the vast majority of situations, what you think about is entirely up to you.

To start exercising your mental focusing "muscles", try this exercise: next time you are on a long, slow-moving line (for example in a supermarket, or waiting to clear security at an airport), make the choice to focus on a thought unrelated to the situation you find yourself in at that moment, a thought that's peaceful and soothing.  You might, for example, envision yourself waiting in line to board a cruise ship that will take you to an exotic destination.

A more intensive focusing "workout" is a form of meditation in which you focus on your breathing and notice the thoughts that pop into your head seemingly from nowhere.  Acknowledge them and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing.  Doing this for 5 or 10 minutes a day will help train your mind to go where you want it to go, rather than having it be captured by a thought that's negative and unnecessary.


Shedding One's Identity

Returned from L.A. this evening, where I used to have a practice, and where I lived for 17 years. Leaving behind a well-established life was difficult, but a step worth taking in the service of further growth and transformation. In L.A. I was strictly a psychotherapist - - divorcing myself completely from the almost twenty years of experience I had as an advertising executive.  DC has enabled me to see the link in my two career worlds, and I am now a life consultant (a psychotherapist, a career counselor, and a life coach rolled into one). The lesson here -  an evolution in who you are virtually REQUIRES an ultimate shedding of an earlier identity and many of its components: geographic, social, behavioral, perhaps spiritual.  The evolution is painful in that it involves huge losses, but like evolution moves you to a higher plane of existence with many attendant rewards.


Gratitude for the Present

In my capacity as a life consultant and psychotherapist, a client was referred to me yesterday by his Washington, D.C. doctor.  His partner of 15 years caught what at first appeared to be a cold but then turned into a virulent bacterial infection that caused a four week coma and, ultimately, death.  Also yesterday I was asked to lead a grief group to process feelings about the suicide of a young man in his 30s.  These two deaths serve as powerful reminders of the fleeting nature of life, and underline the importance of living each moment to its fullest. 


Coaching "Systems"

I noticed on Google this afternoon that many of the life coaching sites are designed to encourage potential customers to sign up for a "system" of life coaching.  This is one of the biggest problems I see with many life coaches: they have been taught a "one size fits all" approach to client issues rather than customizing solutions to the particular problem being presented.  Whether career counseling, relationship counseling, or other significant issues (health, self-esteem, procrastination, etc.) my experience has been that widely different approaches are appropriate for the large range of personalities and problem-solving abilities presented to me by my clients here in Washington, D.C.

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