It’s NOT What You Think. It’s What You THINK About What You Think.

Awhile back I had an experience that I shared that got me a lot of feedback – more specifically – many people wanted to know HOW I was able to stand my ground and not allow myself to be ostracized by those who were unaware Erik and Ricky were affected by autism. It can be hard when it seems like everyone is judging you without knowing what you’re dealing with.

Here’s the story:

As you can tell from the story, I’ve created a character I like to call “Spite Man.” I know it’s not right – and I know I should turn the other cheek – but I’m still a fighter by nature and am working toward a more tolerant, patient and understanding reaction when I FEEL attacked.

But all the requests got me thinking about something. How is it that different people can experience the exact same event and interpret it many different ways? How can I hear something and attach one meaning to it and you hear the exact same thing and attach another – sometimes completely different – meaning to it? How does that work?

Please understand I realize that we all have past experiences and thoughts and preconceptions that help us shape meaning. But what if those past experiences and thoughts and preconceptions result in a false meaning? What if the meaning I attached was… gulp… WRONG? It made me realize that I – most likely – had attached false meaning to events in my life that were holding me back. I… Me… Kyle is the one that decides what meaning is attached to events – and if I can change the meaning of events I can change how I feel about what has happened to me in the past and learn and grow moving forward.

Shortly after I came to this conclusion I was talking to my good buddy Russell about this subject when he told me he had found a tool that had helped him do exactly what I had been thinking about – Change The Meaning of Events In My Life. Here’s how it works:

On a piece of paper draw three columns. Think about an event in your life that was not pleasant or that bothers you or adversely affects the way you think. Start with something simple and write it in the first column and label it “EVENT.” Name the second column “THINK” and write in there what happened and what you took from it – maybe anger or hurt or that you weren’t good enough or you were dumb or whatever. Then name the third column “OPPOSITE” and write in there the opposite meaning.

Let me give you simple example. When I hop in the car with just my wife – no kids in the car – I like to focus on her. It’s some of the only time we have together and I like to ask questions and listen. I love her. So, sometimes – well, most of the time – I forget to put on my seatbelt because I’m thinking about what we can talk about. Then she REMINDS me to put on my seatbelt.

In my past I interpreted this as “NAG.” I know that sounds bad – and I never told her – but I would internally get a little miffed. C’mon guys… admit it. You do it too. So I applied the process I mentioned above to this event. In the “EVENT” column I wrote: Shelly is always hassling me to put my seatbelt on. Really, that’s what I wrote.

Then in the “THINK” column I wrote: She thinks she has to tell me what to do. I KNOW what to do. I don’t need to be nagged, I just forgot because I was focusing on her because I love her and want her to know that. Here I am trying to show her I love her and this is what I get – a NAG!

I know, I know, it sounds harsh. But THAT’S the way I FELT deep down. I’m just being honest here. Women, don’t underestimate the ability for men to be JACKED UP in what we think you mean.

Then in the “OPPOSITE” column I simply wrote: Shelly wants me to put my seatbelt on because she loves me and wants me to be safe. When she says, “Put your seatbelt on she is saying I LOVE YOU, KYLE.”

The next time I got in the car and she said, “Put your seatbelt on” guess what I heard. That’s right. “I LOVE YOU KYLE.” Imagine the smile that spreads across my face NOW when we get in the car together. Sometimes now I leave it off on purpose so I can hear her say, “I love you” because she ALWAYS says it.

Now I know that was seemingly too easy, but I’ve also done this with business associates and failures, my relationships with family members and friends, my teenage sons, and as you can imagine – I am an expert at doing it with Erik and Ricky. If the “EVENT” is that they bring on embarrassment and the “THINK” is that others will look at me as if I am an unfit parent or my kids have no discipline – as you can probably imagine, the “OPPOSITE” is that I am a great parent and my kids are loved beyond belief and I am happy that they feel free to express themselves in unusual ways. They’re not hurting anyone – they are just being themselves. I don’t get upset when I am forced to be in seemingly embarrassing situations – I get to feel like the best father in the world. Cool, huh?

By the way, I am not delusional – I realize there is plenty of work to do. But I enjoy the work because I enjoy the kids and their zaniness.

Listen, I know this may sound harsh and I don’t want to be preachy, but it sure seems to me that THE WORLD YOU INHABIT IS THE WORLD YOU CREATE. If you are bitter – you have CHOSEN to allow the events in your life to make you bitter. If you are sad or depressed – you have CHOSEN to allow the events in your life to make you sad or depressed. If you are angry or hateful or paranoid… OR optimistic or happy or hopeful or faithful you have chosen how you will interpret events in your life and YOU have attached meaning to them.  You choose.

So, here’s the question. Can YOU change what you interpret from painful events? The answer is yes. A piece of paper and a pen, three columns and some honesty about your feelings can free you and allow you to change your past, your present and your future. YOU decide how you interpret events. It does not matter WHAT happens in your world. You can attach whatever meaning you want – AND NOW YOU KNOW HOW.

And if you see a parent with two crazy kids smiling as the kids cause a ruckus – introduce yourself – I’d love to meet you. But if you decide you’re offended or upset by what you see – KISS OFF! I’m a work in process and I’ll have forgotten about you and be laughing about it before you know it.

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