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Unlearning Useless Lessons

“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” -William James


Most people would probably agree that if all they needed to remember about giving and receiving love, they learned in kindergarten, they might also add the caveat that most of what they need to forget is what they learned in high school. I have noticed in my dealings with the many teenagers that I find myself around lately, through the Positivity Club I helped launch in our local high school, as well as the strained relating with my own teens, that there are a few consistent behaviors that disrupt relationships and impede emotional development that are worth forgetting. In the Valentine’s Day spirit of opening up to all the love that surrounds us, here is a short list of useless habits of the heart that will only enhance your feelings of being loveable by letting them go.

1.  Anxiety over what other people think of you. This is perhaps the biggest single dysfunctional thought process that plagues most of us for way too long in life. It is detrimental to our well being because once we are captive of this way of thinking we are never free of its variations. The repetitive nature of this worry about other’s thinking prevents us from giving our attention to the only thoughts that we actually can control: our own. The less time and attention we spend on our own thoughts, the less we know who we are and what we think. The saddest part of this plague in our thinking is how it prevents us from pursuing what we love to do or worse still, not even showing up for fear of what others would say. Giving up our own thoughts, desires and passions for fear of what others would say is like tying our own hands behind our back and wondering why we can’t get anything done. It is a sacrifice that many do not even witness themselves making.

2.  The belief that it’s all about you.Equally detrimental is the incapacity to see yourself in the context of others. Part defense mechanism and part immaturity, we come to every situation as if what we feel, what we want and what we think is the whole of the matter. Compassion, altruism and empathy are all seeds that live in each of us, but without the intention to cultivate this kind of attention to others, it won’t grow. Ironically, it is often people with the lowest self esteem that are always fixated on themselves. Growing out of our own self importance is a natural outcome of finding what and who we love and trusting ourselves to the world. Our deepest satisfaction always arrives through relating to others. The very thing we want most is only available as we look beyond what we think we want most.

3. Letting small things get in the way. This is one of the most damaging yet relentless thinking habits that destroys not only tons of teenage friendships, but continues to wreak havoc in many early marriages and work relationships as well. Many of us attribute big meanings to small acts of unkindness. We build stories around unnecessary exclusions and offhanded sarcasm that become power struggles and standoffs, which often ruin the foundations of our relationships. It takes years of attention to learn the consequences of what you say or how you say it. Yet, I know many teenagers who walk away from warm friendships over a single comment or bounce back and forth in a lesson that mostly teaches us how to not trust. Getting a jump on letting go of small things and choosing to communicate after we are hurt instead of withdrawing saves years of anguish and will bring you aged wisdom early in life. It isn’t all small, but most of it is. As William James reminds us, “The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.”

4. Giving your attention to distractions. Many of us don’t realize how much is lost when we give away the control of our attention. What we experience in our lives is what we give our attention. Living a distracted life takes no effort in our over-wired world, living a life full of intimacy and relatedness happens now only through deliberate choice. Choose carefully what to spend your attention on, because once spent, it is gone.

The beauty of this list is that you don’t have to quit all of these useless thinking patterns at once. Choosing to work with just one will open your life to so much love around you that the others will come along for the ride.