Swap the Thought / by Michelle Cowan

Advice. There are few things I react more strongly to than the advice of others. I never want to take it! I instantly think I know better and assume the person could not see things from my complex point of view. It’s especially insulting when the advice-giving party offers suggestions I’ve already considered myself. Does s/he not think I’m smart enough to figure this out on my own?

Of course, this completely backfires when I find myself in situations I am not at all smart enough to figure out. Countless times, I find, to my dismay, that I am not strong or knowledgeable enough to accomplish a task set before me. Questions confuse me. I am physically unable to move an object or get to a certain place. I may simply lack knowledge of a location or subject. All of these circumstances require that I ask for help. My tendency to put off asking for help until the last, most dire moment, has made for more than one stressful evening.

Can I let my armor down? Can I trust the goodness of people? This is the challenge. I can no longer look simply at my instantaneous, almost unconscious rejection of help when it is offered. I can no longer sit and puzzle over why I would beg for help in my prayers and in my home alone and then deny the need for it when with other people. I must examine my mistrust of human beings in general.

In the past, people let me down fairly regularly. Indeed, I have dealt with many individuals who were not as smart, responsible, or creative as I am. Unfortunately, those interactions made more of an impression on me than the times I received extraordinary help or met people whose intelligence, strength, awareness, and artistry exceeded mine. I want to recall more of the satisfying, uplifting interpersonal encounters in my life.

This is the new project: Meditate on the best social interactions I’ve had in my life. Examine what made them so great. A large portion of those memories involve me receiving help. Oftentimes, I’m simultaneously giving help without even knowing it, but I want to concentrate on the gifts I’ve received rather than what I give. By filling my thoughts with and directing my focus toward the positive traits of others, I’m more likely to tap into the positive qualities of the people I know today. If I can more easily recall times when people have come through for me, the instinct to reject others lessens.

At least, this is the theory. I base it on the fact that I know a vast number of wise, creative, street smart, genuinely helpful people. None of them think I’m stupid, but all of them would assist me if I needed it and they were available. Seeing the truth of the goodness and capableness of people in this world makes my belief that people aren’t to be trusted seem ridiculous. Sure, there are a lot of nincompoops out there, but even they have something to offer and will offer it when the need arises. It’s just true. Even if a person can’t offer one thing, they may be able to offer another.

I want to put my preconceived notions about people to the side so that I can smile and accept it when someone comes along beside me and offers to help with a project. Right now, a wall immediately comes up, and I put off an “I am perfectly capable—I certainly don’t need you” vibe. I can’t stop that from happening simply through willpower. I have to start filling my head with thoughts that will counter the negative beliefs I have about human beings in general.

This approach has worked in other areas. Time and time again, telling myself to not binge or not be anxious or not freak out about the cleanliness of my apartment has no effect. Only by replacing those thoughts with others—such as images of eating grand meals that ended with me feeling happy and full, memories of times when troublesome situations worked out without me doing a thing, and recollections of all the times I have not been ill or suffered any negative consequences after forgetting to clean the bathroom—can I develop new patterns of behavior.

Now, I am replacing the memories of people’s unreliability and stupidity with reflections on certain individuals’ conscientiousness and brilliance. Soon, those images will outnumber the negative ones, and my instinctive rejection of help will hopefully diminish. I want to be open and honest with people, but how will I get the chance if everyone is afraid to approach me in the first place?

We’ll see if this thought-replacement exercise works as well now as it has in the past. I encourage you to test it for yourself. It’s not a quick fix, but I have high hopes.