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Change How You Think and Change Your Life

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Sometimes things come full circle. I hadn’t realized that this summer marked 25 years since my high school graduation until I received an email from one of my favorite high school teachers. He asked if I’d be interested in speaking at the high school honors banquet this year.

I was tickled to be able to give back a little bit to my teacher and to a school district that prepared me so well. It was only then that it dawned on me that I had graduated a quarter of a century ago! I also recalled that in May of 1988, I gave a talk similar to the speech I had been asked to give this year at the honors banquet.

The speech occurred at the high school senior athletic banquet. As the president of the athletic club, speaking at the banquet was an expectation. I had been nervous, but with my trusty notecards, I pulled through.

The notecards! A grand idea popped into my head. What if I could find those notecards from 25 years ago? Such nostalgia would be perfect fodder for my speech at the honors banquet. So I searched our basement – and searched, and searched, and searched.

Alas, the notecards were nowhere to be found. Guess how I responded? I began to scold myself with punishing self-talk. “You should have found those, Carrie. You’re obviously disorganized. What are you going to talk about now? Your speech is ruined, and it’s all your fault.”

Then I caught myself. I realized that this was the very reason the planets did not align for me to find my notecards. I was meant to talk to the students about something else – their thinking.

In a nutshell, here’s what I told them:

What we think impacts what we feel, and what we feel impacts what we do. And there are all kinds of potential pitfalls inherent in that very first step – what we think. One of these pitfalls is called the binocular trick, and we commit it when we exaggerate our faults while minimizing our own desirable qualities. If you’ve ever done this, you’re certainly not alone. But there’s a way to prevent the binocular trick – either turn those binoculars around so that your faults are minimized, or change their target so that you’re magnifying your strengths. To do this, you have to pay attention to your thinking.

I told the students that they have some incredible experiences ahead of them. Some will be filled with happiness, accomplishment, and excitement, but others may be characterized by sadness, disappointment, or discouragement. This is simply a fact of life, but that’s no reason to grow anxious or to throw in the towel. In fact, it’s an opportunity to pay attention to what we are thinking and to start thinking in better ways.

I told them that if they do this – if they pay attention to how they think and work at turning the binoculars the right way, they will feel better. And in turn, by feeling better, they will act in ways that create the life they want.

It’s a lesson that applies not only to high school seniors, but to all of us, regardless of our age or stage in life. I was grateful for the reminder.

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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