Words are important. Not just the ones we tell the people around us.
Even the ones we say to ourselves. Do we choose them the right way?
According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, the period between childhood and old age consists in a long process of emancipation from a state of powerlessness to one of personal control.
Personal control is given by the ability to change situations by intentional action.
What can we control?
Stephen Covey has amply illustrated what he calls “the circle of influence,” or what we can change or influence.
What do we have the power to change and what is beyond our control?
I tried to list a few.
Things we can’t control or change:
- What others think
- The mistakes of the past
Things we can check or change:
- People to hang out with in our free time;
- How to react and how to behave
- How to spend your free time (browse the social network or go for a walk, read a book, spend time with your loved one, play sports, play music …?)
- What to say
- What to think
Covey adds that one of the most important things we can control is choosing what to say and distinguishing people into proactive or reactive.
“One of the most important things you choose is what you say. Your language is a good indicator of how you see yourself. A proactive person uses proactive language — I can, I will, I prefer, etc. A reactive person uses reactive language–I can’t, I have to, if only.”
Our thinking can change the course of events
In this we can also include what we say to ourselves, so what we think.
According to Seligman, the way we think can weaken or enhance the control we have over our lives. In this sense, our thoughts are not just a reaction to events, but even change the course of events themselves.
Seligman then compares the mindset of optimistic people with pessimistic ones.
The crucial point for Seligman is not so much “positive thinking” or repeated positive affirmations, but the explanatory style, that is the explanation we give to ourselves in difficult situations. The explanatory style can make us powerless or give us strength.
When we encounter a difficulty or experience a difficult moment, we inevitably and unconsciously give an explanation.
Se diciamo a noi stessi che “sarà così per sempre”, oppure “a me capita sempre così” molto probabilmente ci arrenderemo e nei casi più gravi ci dispereremo.
If we say to ourselves that “it will be like this forever”, or “it always happens to me like this” we will most likely give up and in the most serious cases we will despair. If we say to ourselves “this time it went like this” and circumscribe the critical event at a particular time and we do not make it permanent and ineluctable, we will be more inclined to find a solution, not to break us down and to approach the situation with a more attitude optimistic.
This is why it is important to tell ourselves and the thoughts we choose.
Often we do not notice this mechanism because year after year, from childhood to adulthood, we establish a habit of thinking.
Our mind activates the autopilot and if it has been accustomed to a pessimistic explanatory style for a long time, it will become the only known modality.
Meditation is a valid training that helps us to become aware of our thoughts, to look at them and consider them as such and not as absolute realities. As simple thoughts they can be observed and changed.
We can exercise control over our thoughts. We can choose what to think and what we think can change events. The explanation we give to events changes our perspective and our actions and therefore we can modify events based on our reaction.
Quoting Robert Fripp:
The quality of our perceptions determines how we see the world;
how we see the world determines our judgment;
our judgment determines how we interact with the world;
how we interact with the world changes the world.
So, the quality of our perceptions changes the world.
versione in italiano: “Le sette regole per avere successo” – Stephen Covey
versione in italiano: “Imparare l’ottimismo. Come cambiare la vita cambiando il pensiero” – Martin Seligman