Friday, June 20, 2008

No use crying over spilled milk

I lost my glasses yesterday. It was an inconvenience, but I got a new pair. It had been too long since I had a new, so it was no great loss. But it was a good opportunity to reflect on patterns of thought.

The last time I got new glasses, I worried about everything. I went to different stores. I dithered and vacillated about frames and costs. It took me an entire day to make a decision and who knows--perhaps I saved some money.

Yesterday I just went to the store that said they could give me glasses the same day. I probably spent more money, but I didn't fret. I enjoyed the day. I didn't fret about making the right decision and I didn't fret over the mistake that had put me in the position of needing new glasses right away. And that gave me the emotional energy to work and to focus on things much more productive than worrying about my glasses.

Some things are beyond our control. Once the milk has spilled, there's no putting it back into the bottle.

The question, then, is what we do once the milk has spilled. Or once the glasses have been lost. Or the draft rejected.

Working yourself into a tizzy over the bad outcome doesn't help. One might argue that we don't have control over our emotions. And there is no question that in the moment emotions can be overwhelming. But in the long run we can control our emotions. We all do--it is necessary to our socialization. And there are theories--like cognitive behavioral therapy--that argue that in the long run we can even change the emotional patterns that we may not be able to control in the moment.

I have been reading Dale Carnegie's "How to Start Worrying and Start Living." I know that it's basically no more than a pop-psychology self-help book--except, perhaps, that it doesn't really even use psychology--or at least not any psychological theory. But, as far as I can tell, the basic message of the book is that worrying is a matter of where you are focused, and if you train yourself to focus your attention on things that you can change, then you won't have time to worry about things (and vice versa--the more you stop paying attention to worry or regret, the more you can focus on taking action).

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