If you encountered five people a day, every day for forty years, you would have been asked “How are you?” and you would have responded “I’m fine,” seventy-three thousand times.
You tell others that you’re fine, but what do you tell yourself? For every time you greet another person, you probably greet yourself a hundred times.
I don’t mean that you say the words “How are you?” in your mind throughout the day. I mean that on a semi-conscious level, you take stock of your situation, concluding that you’re either OK or your not. You do this many times a day. For all the complexity of life and for all the variety of human emotions, your mind recognizes a binary status at any given moment.
The belief that you’re OK or not OK determines how you will feel and what you will perceive in the next moment, so it’s important. If you often tell yourself you’re not OK when in fact you’re OK, then you might have the opportunity to improve your life just by changing how you assess your status.
Let’s skip over the question of what makes a person OK or not OK and say that if you’re under an immediate threat to your health or safety, you’re not OK, otherwise you’re OK.
But here are some reasons why you might be telling yourself you’re not OK: I’m late. My hair is a mess. I’m bored. I’m a little cold. I’m unprepared. I don’t know what to focus on. I just had an argument. I want chocolate. I wasted an hour on something unproductive. I don’t feel as good as I did before. I think I’ve failed at my mission in life. I just stepped on a piece of chewing gum. I don’t like what I’m looking at. I’m tired. It’s rainy and the news is bad.
My point is not to debate how severe or threatening any particular situation might be. My point is just to ask whether some percentage of the “not-OK” conclusions that you make each day could be switched to “OKs.” I’m late but I’m OK. I’m tired but I’m OK. And so on.
If you could get even a few more OKs each day, this could translate into thousands more OKs in the coming years, which could mean thousands more moments in which you allow yourself to relax, which could benefit your health.
Try to notice the conclusions you make throughout the day about being OK or not-OK.
If you can’t perceive those conclusions as they happen in your mind, consider your behavior. Are you behaving as though you’re OK or as though you’re not OK? What does your breathing and posture tell you about the conclusion you’ve made?
Consider whether some of your not-OKs could be switched to OKs. Perhaps a not-OK from before is still echoing in your mind now even though your situation has changed?
Notice how much effort you might be spending on explaining or justifying why you’re not OK. What would happen if some fraction of that effort were redirected to the opposite conclusion?
This is my second “personal development” post. It was inspired by my experiences in a stress management course I’m taking at the Benson-Henry institute at MGH in Boston, but the material is not from the course. In writing the post I had to work through a few things. First of all, I’m reluctant to tell other people what to do, and I don’t want to sound like I’m lecturing. So I thought about avoiding generalizations and framing the post as an anecdote about how I changed my own thinking on one particular occasion. Writing is best when it’s personal and concrete, right? But you could also say that writing is best when you get to the point. I concluded that the material amounts to a few assertions and a recommendation, that’s it. I took it as my job to make those things clear so the reader could quickly grasp them and accept them or reject them. There’s also a tendency for me to think I should have fully mastered whatever material I write about, and be able to report success in implementing whatever I propose. But I’ve realized that setting such a high bar can become an excuse for not writing and hence a reason that I never get to learn from whatever I might have written.