It's not always possible to be a Pollyanna, but if you want to live a more contented life, there’s no harm in incorporating what that eternal young optimist learned on her father’s knee – namely, to quit thinking yourself into a funk.
According to the 1913 Eleanor H. Porter classic, one Christmas Santa failed to deliver to Pollyanna the lovely doll she had been yearning for; instead, he sent her a pair of crutches. Pollyanna felt understandably bereft, but her missionary father instantly offered his daughter a more positive perspective. Pollyanna didn’t get the doll she wanted, it was true, but thankfully she didn’t need the crutches!
Just as Pollyanna’s papa taught her to question the way she thought about her world, the tools of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) teach us to challenge our self-defeating thoughts.
Feeling frightened? Angry? Blue? Or perhaps you’ve got into a rut of always thinking about your life in a way that doesn’t help you move forward, and prevents you from enjoying the relationships and successes you seek?
For instance, if you believe you were born shy, and that “there’s nothing I can do about it”, in all likelihood you will probably spend the rest of your life as a shrinking violet, skirting around the edges of a full and exciting life.
Alternatively, you could challenge your long-held belief system and instead acknowledge that “lots of people have overcome their shyness, and I can, too”. You could then take that mental breakthrough a step further and begin to behave like a more confident person, taking small, conscious steps to escape the limitations that your shyness has imposed upon you.
There are many reasons why all of us need to question our thoughts constantly. The main reason is that, most commonly, they are wrong. For starters, many of us have a tendency to generalise, to catastrophise, to personalise, and to magnify our problems, whatever they may be.
We also tend to negatively interpret people’s reactions to us. “Whenever I start to worry about how things went in a meeting or presentation, I have to remind myself that it’s not all about me,” laughs one CBT devotee.
Indeed. If you want to practise the art of empowered thought, grab a copy of Sarah Edelman’s Change Your Thinking (ABC, $32.99) – but for a start, when in doubt, try stepping into other people’s shoes.