Our minds are powerful.
The older I get, the more I’m in tune with the power of the mind. I’ve heard people compare a mind to fertile ground. Whatever is planted in it will flourish.
I’ve also heard the mind compared to a rubber band because of its ability to stretch and grow. That growth theme is present in the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”
No doubt about it. The mind is powerful and often works in tandem with us as we strive to achieve greatness at work, at home, in our friendships, and in our roles as parents, spouses, siblings, and children.
I also know from personal experience that the mind can attempt to work against us. Like that older sibling who teased us mercilessly in our youth, our mind can play tricks on us and make us wonder who’s really running the show.
Such was the case a few days before Christmas last year when my husband and I were shopping for a TV for his dad. We knew what size TV he wanted so I narrowed down the options to the few that fit the bill. I pointed out features on each model and began to sense I was making the task harder on my husband rather than my intention of making it easier. In this case my mind helped me know it was better for me to zone out on Facebook and patiently let him finalize his TV choice.
I leaned against a shelf near the TVs not in the running for purchase and scrolled through the familiar feed. I read a shocking post from a woman I’d worked with earlier last year and was stunned. Her company had hired me months before to provide training, coaching, and team development. With a bit more digging and clicking from post to post, I was able to determine this woman’s coworker, a woman in her early 40s, had passed away.
As my husband continued his shopping quest, I stood one aisle away feeling like I’d just been kicked in my stomach repeatedly. I’d worked with this woman for six months in a group as well as individually. She was a leader in the organization and soaked in all I shared like a sponge. She had a strong desire to take the leadership skills she already had and improve them for the betterment of herself, her team, and the organization. I knew she was married and had kids who were still in their growing years.
I learned later about the medical condition that was a surprise to everyone. It was what ultimately ended her life far too early. I did my best to manage my mind around this situation as I’ve been trained to do as a coach. I followed the mindset model I use with my clients, the one I use multiple times per day myself as well. But no matter what I did in an effort to work past this tragedy, my mind bounced back to it like a rubber band.
I tried to move through the emotions, but I was stuck.
My rubber band mind wasn’t doing what Oliver Wendell Holmes touted, though. It wasn’t expanding to the dimensions of larger ideas; it was just springing back to the thoughts that didn’t help me or anyone else.
Each morning I’d wake up, and immediately my mind would bounce back to where it was the prior day. This isn’t fair. Why her? Her kids are growing up without their mom. I can’t imagine how they’re coping. Christmas will never be the same for them again.
Day after day my mind was preoccupied with thoughts about a circumstance I couldn’t change. Every “what if” that slid into my brain was met with a “doesn’t change where we’re at now.” It was like watching a ping pong match. My thoughts bounced from one thing to the next, and none of those thoughts helped me cope with the circumstance of a woman who was no longer with us.
I thought about the fact that I’d known this woman for just six months. I didn’t see her every work day as her coworkers did. I didn’t live with her as her family did. I was just a professional contact she’d spoken to a handful of times. For some reason, though, this had hit me hard.
I tried instead to harness the power of my mind and direct it along a more helpful path.
I knew I couldn’t keep up with the rubber band bouncing act my mind was in every day. About a month after I’d learned about the tragedy, I decided it was time to make a change. I wanted the circumstance to be different but knew the only thing I had the ability to change was my thoughts. Here are some I’ve adopted:
- She added joy to my life.
- I’m blessed to have had the privilege to know her.
- She was fun and funny, and I’m going to add more of that to my life.
- I love that her coworkers are hosting a benefit for her family. What a tribute to their love for her.
I noticed the rubber band bouncing act began to subside. My new thoughts helped change my feelings of despair and sadness to those of hope and gratitude for having had the privilege to know her.
I’m trained as a coach to understand it is not our circumstances that hold us back and keep us stuck. It is our thoughts about those circumstances. Clients are used to hearing from me on a regular basis, “You know you can change your thoughts about that, right?” And yet, for this circumstance, I had great difficulty practicing what I preach.
As I dropped my donation for the benefit in the mailbox, I smiled and realized Mr. Holmes was right. I had done the work to expand my mind to larger ideas, and now that work I’d done to deal with a senseless circumstance would allow me to further expand my coaching abilities for the clients I have the privilege of serving.
Rest in peace, my friend.