“…for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2

Lost in the woods - thinking - Petors - good mental health for all

You don’t have to look too hard to find wisdom!  This is one of my favourite quotes because it reminds me of the impact our thinking has on how we feel.  And nearly everything we “think” is actually just a story we’re telling ourselves – a story of our own invention, which can, therefore, change. And that is actually very empowering!

Let me explain with a story… Three years ago, when my daughter went off to university for the first time, I joined a group of mums for dinner to commiserate (or celebrate, in my case, 19 years of single parenthood done and dusted – what’s not to celebrate?)  One of my mum friends rather sheepishly reported that she was tracking her daughter on Snapchat Maps.

Bitmoji SnapChat MapIf you’re not familiar with it, it’s a messaging app that offers you the ability, via GPS, to pinpoint a fellow Snapchat contact. Have a look at the example of me and my girls’ bitmojis, or personal cartoons, at home.

Back to the story…  On checking up on her daughter’s whereabouts it suddenly appeared as if her daughter’s bitmoji was in the middle of the River Thames. It took her mind less than a second to convince her that her daughter had drowned! A few frantic phone calls later and she established that her daughter was fine and also royally pissed her off with her mum for interrupting her evening.

Having teased my friend mercilessly, I decided to check up on my own daughter, only to discover she appeared to be in the middle of some woods in Durham… in the pouring rain…  Instantaneously, I am identifying her body in the morgue!  I can see myself howling and wailing and, consequently I can feel the raw emotion coursing through my body.  I am inventing a waking nightmare.

It transpired that my friend’s daughter was in a bar by the Thames with a friend. My daughter was walking on a road through the wood with twenty other students on a trip to the Off Licence. It would appear Snapchat Maps isn’t that accurate – a bit like our imaginations.

Telling myself “bad” things resulted in me feeling bad.  That doesn’t mean I have to counteract them with “good” messages.  It just means I need to notice what my mind is doing.

When my daughter’s bitmoji is in her student flat, or where I expect it to be, I relax.  But the reality is I have no more evidence that she is OK in her flat than I have if she is in a wood.  Whatever I tell myself, I’m inventing it, it is all just a story!

Most of my career has been spent trying to understand how the mind works, working with people to understand the power of their thinking and how to change their minds when their thinking causes them, or others, pain and suffering. To be honest, I marvel at our minds.  They are extraordinary. Understanding how to manage our minds, and how to change them when necessary, is like having a superpower. Recognising when we are telling ourselves a story is one step on that road and it’s one we can all master.

Read about Professor Jo Clarke