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We Live Life in Our Heads

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Those amazing computers we call our brains constantly interpret data, and the data interpreted is nothing more than the events of our lives. What happens to us during the days of our lives -- expired parking meters, missed telephone calls, beautiful sunsets, and unexpected kindnesses from friends -- are data from which we derive meaning.

From that data we write love songs and tragic plays and movies over which we weep. From that data we derive meanings that guide our life decisions and motivate us to excel to amazing heights or give up in despair.

We create in our minds the meanings we give the events of our lives. We are in charge of what we make of situations.

Take for example a simple greeting. I say hello to a coworker. The coworker does not respond and, in fact, walks right past me. That ignored greeting is an event, which enters my brain as data. What I do with that data is up to me because, like it or not, I am in charge of my thoughts. I can choose to interpret that event as, "Wow! My colleague must be really preoccupied. I will repeat my greeting later when he (she) is not so busy." Or I can interpret that event as, "Wow! What an unfriendly person. Going forward I won't speak to him (her), either."

My emotional reaction and even my behavior will depend on which data interpretation I choose. It's up to me.

For reasons I have yet to grasp, we are far more comfortable interpreting the data of our lives negatively. It is easier to assume that someone has been unkind to us than to assume their actions were motivated by decency, even though those negative interpretations leave us feeling bereft or angry.

And yet we choose our interpretations. We choose to feel sad or happy or angry or blessed.

We can also choose to change our "knee-jerk" interpretations of the data of our lives. Before we can do that, though, we must develop an awareness of those "knee-jerk" reactions and how they impact our moods and our behaviors. If I decide that my coworker has deliberately ignored me, I will doubtless feel some level of resentment and I might even behave in a manner I will later regret. I might give him (her) the proverbial "piece of my mind," which historically and generally involves foul language and raised voices. Forcing myself to decide that the same coworker was merely preoccupied or busy will guide my mood and behavior in a completely different direction.

All of this cognitive restructuring requires that I take a close look at my thoughts to see if they are accurate or distorted. This type of restructuring also requires my willingness to change those distorted thoughts and the acknowledgment that I can make those changes.

Life happens. How we react to those life happenings is up to us. How we interpret the events of our lives is in our control even if the events themselves seem and in fact are all too often completely out of our control.

Realizing that we choose the way in which we interpret the day-to-day data of our lives is an amazingly powerful method of regaining our sense of control over all that befalls us. I can't possibly control what happens to me. I can, however, control the manner in which I react to those events and with that awareness I may even claim a certain modicum of inner peace. It's worth a try, at least.

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