Gosh, darn it! Once again, I’m a schmuck. Queen of the Schmucks, sitting right here!

open mouthSo, I did it again. Open mouth, insert foot.

I didn’t mean it that way, but I’m sure I came off tacky.

Petty.

Selfish.

Down-right bitchy.

Gosh, I hate it when I do that!

And, as if screwing up isn’t bad enough, I must then think about it.

Over and over.

Replaying the scene, the dialogue, the moment–on endless loop.

Gosh. I really was a schmuck.

Ouch, there it is again, playing in my head, here it comes, here it comes . . . and that’s where I say it, “No! Don’t say it this time . . . !”

Damn. Said it. Again.

Well, not really, but in my head. Re-living it, in all its cringeworthiness.

hiding under the blanketIt’s like a movie that’s stuck replaying that one scene, the “pull the blanket over your head” moment. You know the moment I’m talking about. You know it’s going to happen–the girl is going to run up the stairs and get hacked to pieces by whatever ghoul is lying in wait–but there is not one thing you can do to stop it. You see it coming, but you sit there helpless to change. one. single. thing.

Yep, that’s my brain. And I get to see it over and over again. Lovely.

Oh, the endless ways I can be a fool, on repeat . . . until a new idiot moment replaces this one, and I get to watch that one on endless loop instead. :S

If only I could not think about it, no, let’s be honest, obsess about it!

stupid meI was stupid here, an idiot there. I made this mistake and that mistake. I wonder what he thinks of me . . . what she thinks of me . . . what they think of me . . . (what’s really crazy about this is the self absorption that is evident in the very stream of these thoughts! After all, why would they be spending their time thinking about me at all?!)

I know I’m not alone in this. Come on, admit it. You do it too. We all do, though maybe not all to the pathological extremes of my overly analytic mind.

Don’t get me wrong, reflection is good. Normal. Healthy even. It’s a life skill our young people are sadly lacking in, which is a soap box for another day.

Obsessing is not.

Similarly, when bad things happen, we tend to obsess about the whys.

negative-self-talk1We spend our mental energy asking ourselves over and over again. “Why did it happen? Why me? Could I have prevented this? Is it my fault? Do I deserve it? What is wrong with me?!”

The questions repeat on endless loop.

So often, as with so many of the difficulties of life, the events are random, inexplicable, unavoidable. So, no matter how many times we ask ourselves the questions, we will never get any answers.

So, what do we gain for our mental efforts? We obsess to our own destruction.

Even when there is something that could have been done differently, we can’t go back and change what actually happened. Reflecting on it, to avoid the same error in the future is healthy.

Beating ourselves up for what happened, that serves no purpose except to flagellate ourselves, to punish ourselves for being, well–for being,in fact, human.

There is a psychologist named Tim Wilson from the University of Virginia who talks about this human tendency, to replay what went wrong–our failures, our fears, tragic life events–over and over again. When the cycle becomes obsessive, self-defeating, he encourages individuals to use a technique called “story-editing.” What this basically means is that, as your story begins to replay once again in your mind, you change it. You re-write the ending. Instead of saying the wrong thing, when it starts to play again, this time, you say the right thing. Instead of re-living how you failed, create the scenario in which you succeed, and play that in your head instead. Instead of the tragedy happening, you avert the tragedy. You get the idea. Through this process, your brain gains a sense of closure. It lets go of the endless loop. You learn from the experience and, hopefully, go on to do better next time.

I love this idea. I practice this idea. And I combine it with an idea that is probably as old as time itself. I replace the negative obsession by consciously putting a positive one in its place.

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are admirable–if there be any virtue, if there be any praise–think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

In modern times, the psychological community calls it “self-talk” or “inner dialogue.” They like to look at this as a new idea, one that is newly discovered, but it’s not. People have understood this concept for thousands of years, but, as is so common in the western world, until we have the data, the science to back it up, it doesn’t really count. Now that we have the data to support the concept–even if we don’t understand why it’s so, we recognize that it is so–so we can fully embrace what it means (Why is it we can never admit that our forbears knew a whole lot, even if they didn’t know much about science??).

The Mayo clinic, one of the most respected medical communities in the world acknowledges these ideas on their website. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950 The following is an excerpt from this site:

The health benefits of positive thinking

Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

It’s unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It’s also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

postiveOur thoughts have a huge impact on our physical and mental bodies. What we think about matters. When we beat ourselves up mentally, we are beating ourselves up physically also.

I might not be able to go back and unsay the truly stupid thing I said. I can’t go back and fix what I screwed up. What I can do is reflect on the mistakes I made, reflect on how I might do better next time, ask forgiveness from anyone I might have offended, and forgive myself for my humanity.

I can let it go.

I can think of the way I wish I had handled the situation.

And I can let it go.

I can think of all the times I said the right thing, and not torture myself for that one time I said the wrong thing.

And I can let it go.

I can dwell on the things I do right.

And not beat myself up for being nothing more than human.

I can let it go.

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4 thoughts on “Gosh, darn it! Once again, I’m a schmuck. Queen of the Schmucks, sitting right here!

  1. This blog pertains to many principals we’ve learned in class, including personality. Depending on ones personality, our perception of that “oh my god why did I do that” moment can be dramatically different. Take a Type A person for example. They’re very critical of themselves and others around them. Everything must be perfect at all times. They must do the right thing and say the right thing or they feel they have failed. This leads many Type A personalities to depression, eating disorders, etc. But a Type B personality is probably not going to obsess and over analyze situations, ultimately making them a more hpositive person. I try to fall in the middle of both A and B but more often than not i find myself with Type A traits when I do something stupid of fail.
    -Jasmine Homer CO3

  2. About a third of the way through this blog post I recognized that you were talking about ruminating. It did not take me long at all to realize this, because it is something I struggle with currently (and have used the term multiple times already since I learned it in your class). I have found that being able to recognize it for what it is, as it is happening, helps me to better control and overcome the ruminating. Also, thank you for mentioning “story editing” in this article. It is a technique I have tried myself, but had no clue that there was a psychological term for it. Now that I know that it is a healthy way to put the self criticism and rumination to rest, I will definitely be using the technique more often.

    Jessica Bell • class C04

  3. Reading the first few sentences of this blog post was like my internal monologue whenever I do something really cringe worthy. Some people are able to accept what they had done, however the moment will stay with me for months. Whenever this happens, I also immediately begin my negative self-talk. This ties with when you mentioned positive vs negative self talk, and how much of an impact they make on our well-being. I also think of our flight or fight response whenever we act too quickly without really thinking, resulting in something we wish we wouldn’t have done.

    -Melissa Prieto, class C04

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