Last week we discussed how our cultural orientation can lead us to accept our own situation as unchangeable and therefore prevent us from making positive change in our lives. We ended with a promise to look more closely at how to spot such fatalistic thinking in our own lives and cull what does not connect to our deepest values.
Culture is a Good Thing!
First, we must realize that we will never be fully removed from the water we swim in, and we shouldn’t be! A common culture allows us to connect with people and function in daily life efficiently and effectively. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We want to build on what aligns with our values and eliminate what doesn’t.
Since we want to examine our culture thoughtfully, not reject it, we can take our time and start with simpler problems. Just as with exercising, building the habit is more important than any one act, but the habit is built out of many little acts. The more we do, the better we get.
Each time we spot a fatalistic thought and choose to move toward more productive thinking, we strengthen our ability to notice and alter our unproductive thoughts and change our situation for the better. With time, we can take on more difficult problems, but for now, start simply – or simply start!
Pay Attention To Your Excuses
It is easy for us to imagine we would have strength if we were in a different situation, yet we give ourselves plenty of excuses for staying where we are. We tell ourselves “I have no choice” and “my hands are tied” and “that’s just the way it is” and thus block ourselves from the possibility of change.
Perhaps even more dangerous is saying “I can’t now, but I will . . .” because we think we are taking a stand when we’ve only postponed being strong to the future.
Here are some examples of lies I’ve told myself in the past. Do any sound familiar?
- I’m a pregnant mother of 3 kids under 5, I can’t get up early, I need every bit of sleep I can get.
- I’m the foreigner in this church, I can’t say “in America we . . .”, so I need to just accept everything that happens.
- I think so differently and have made so many different choices that I can’t expect people to understand my life or when I need help, so I have to live life alone, without asking for help.
- I can’t do anything else during breakfast, so I might as well read comics and check email.
- I’m so tired when I come home from school that I need to relax on the computer first, I can always put my bag of books and homework away later.
- I just had a baby so I can’t go running and do sit-ups, so I’ll plan a regimented exercise routine to start in 8 weeks. For now, I’ll slouch and say I don’t have time for 10-minute post-baby exercises.
Ask A Friend, If You’re Brave
Perhaps the fastest way of discovering lies we live by is to ask a trusted friend where we might not be the wisest with our time. This could be dangerous, though. Make sure you pick a gentle and honest friend and go in willing to listen rather than defend yourself. It’s not so easy!
In my experience this is the hardest step. Once I’ve identified a fatalistic thought it is much easier to stop whining and think of creative solutions.
Have an Honest Conversation With Yourself
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves that can help us shift from downward spiral fatalistic thinking to productive problem solving.
- Is it true?
- Is it only part true?
- What exactly is the problem? Put it into words.
- What is my need? Be as specific as possible.
- Whom could I ask for help?
- If a friend said the same thing to me, how would I advise her?
- What simple change could I implement NOW that would have a positive impact on the situation? (Don’t waste your time on grand schemes for your future self to implement, but do think long-term. A little change repeated over time will have a huge impact.)
I never said change was easy, but the key is to start. Start simple. Start anywhere.
Do you have other ideas for stopping fatalistic thinking? Please share!