Your Thoughts are Theories About the World -
Open to Re-Examination and Restructuring
by Karma Kitaj, PhD
Many of us are struggling with some serious questions: Should I leave my job, change careers, start a new venture … in this down economic moment?
We might recognize that our work is not giving us the sense of purpose and meaning we are looking for at this stage in our lives. We think: isn’t this the time of life when I can give myself permission to do more for me, to balance my work obligations with time for myself? To align my work with my values and my passions?
Yet, we get swayed by seeing the news reports, by friends’ layoffs and required furloughs. We begin to find our thoughts are pessimistic. Maybe even hopeless about ever finding new work in this climate, especially if we’re over age 50.
Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology and creator of the Authentic Happiness website, wrote that those who are, by nature, optimistic, seem to be more effective in getting what they want. They draw more positive people and events to them. These people have what I’ve called “appealability.”
Spiritual writer Byron Katie is known for her 4 Questions, questions to ask ourselves about any thought or belief that we seem to engage in automatically. These are her 4 questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Automatic beliefs are often unconscious or, at best, pre-conscious. They just appear, unbidden. They can affect our body, our posture, our sleep, our appetite, our facial expression.
Try capturing these thought- beliefs. Write all the negative ones down on one side of a big sheet of paper. Draw a line down the middle. On the other side, write the answers to Katie’s questions.
Is it true? is the hardest for many who’ve become cynical, helpless, overwhelmed, scared. Those emotions make it more difficult to examine this theory. Sometimes we have to just decide to challenge it, no matter what. For example, if our automatic thought is: “No one will ever hire a person my age.” Stop that thought and change it to: “I’m learning to present myself in such a way that employers (clients, customers) will want me and what I have to offer.
Can you absolutely know it’s true? Of course not. Life is fluid, dynamic; we change and grow; we are capable of learning how to get what we want and need at any age.
How do you react when you believe that thought? Pay careful attention to this question. Notice how you take care of yourself – your drinking and eating habits, exercise, tone of voice, breathing, how you dress yourself, your reactions to others – are you taking everything personally? When we believe pessimistic thoughts and apply them to us, we are destined to convey that in our energy and demeanor.
Who and how would you be without that negative thought? Have you let the set of beliefs about yourself and the world dominate your sense of identity? Do you define yourself by “unemployed,” “laid off,” or “underemployed?” What is your true sense of who you are, what matters to you, what you value, what your place is in the world?
If you find yourself mired in negative beliefs or thoughts about yourself, practice thought stopping and turning. You might be quite successful at this with practice. If not, you might create a support group to help… or practice with a buddy. Or, engage a professional to help you challenge and keep your beliefs positive and uplifting. Your positive energy will shine through and people will come knocking at your door, rather than your having to beg them for attention.