What’s a Me-Movie?
We all know that movies are a sequential series of images and sounds that engage the viewers’ imagination to tell a story or create a perceived experience. Every life is a story. Let’s turn our attention to the perceived experiences of our lives that I will call your ME-MOVIE.
According to the latest scientific evidence, your ME-MOVIE started production one week after conception. Although you rarely, actually view yourself in action, you are the main character in your ME-MOVIE. As you move through time, you record through your senses and your memory every experience you have.
There are a lot of supporting actors and actresses. Your parents or primary caregivers play a major role in your movie, as well as, siblings and extended family. The relationships and interactions among these leading characters greatly affect the script in your ME-MOVIE.
A recent survey conducted by Hart Research for ZERO TO THREE revealed that most parents are not aware of how deeply babies and toddlers are affected by their early experiences and the events going on around them.
Even though babies don’t understand what is happening, they are like sponges absorbing the emotions of their parents or caregivers. Even before birth, they sense conflict, arguments, sadness, anger, stress, as well as, love, warmth, security, and excitement. All of these experiences are recorded in the child’s ME-MOVIE, in your ME-MOVIE.
Your experiences create your core beliefs or mindset which creates your automatic thoughts, which are continually playing in the background of your mind. They direct how you evaluate new events and situations, continuously shaping who you are and what you are capable of.
Even the simplest beliefs have emotional memory at their core and control how you feel, what you say to yourself and others, and dictate how you will behave, consequently, creating new scenes in your ME-MOVIE and forming the qualities of the main character for better or for worse.
The script of your ME-MOVIE is self-controlled, self-directed, and self-programmed, whether it’s positive or negative. It can program you to fail or to succeed. What you say to yourself can program you to have a happy, productive life or one of failure and unhappiness.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”
The Bible tells us to destroy thought distortions, such as worries, fears, self-condemning, critical, or negative thoughts. We are told to test or analyze our thoughts and replace the distortions with thoughts that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. This sounds rather idealistic and, perhaps, impossible. The fact is it can be done. We can retrain our brains.
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB) states that “We are destroying speculations (worries, fears, Distorted Thoughts) … and taking every thought captive (Thought Restructuring)”
Romans 12:2 (NASB) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV) “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy— meditate on these things.”
This illuminates the process of Rewriting the Script of Your ME- MOVIE.
Fred’s Begins His Journey
We will be looking in on a character we will call Fred as he takes the journey of becoming more aware of his negative, automatic thoughts and core beliefs, and how he starts the process of change.
Fred, a engineering draftsman for a mid-sized manufacturing plant in a small mid-western town, is told he MAY BE laid-off his job by the end of the week. His automatic thought was “I’m being fired.” He became very anxious, replaying his automatic thoughts over and over in his mind.
With each cycle he became more anxious, adding more thoughts making a “mountain out of a mole-hill.” During the week his job performance began to lag. He took more breaks.
He became moody and irritable. He said to a co-worker, “Why should I work, Friday’s my last day? I’m being fired.”
When he acted on his thoughts and feelings, his behavior generated new, more intense emotions, thus, beginning another cycle. By Friday Fred felt physically ill, very fearful, and angry.
He went to work, packed up his desk, and started to leave the building without a word to or from his supervisor. He had totally convinced himself that Friday was his last day. He was being fired!
Thoughts and Emotions
We discussed emotions in the post How To Regulate Your Emotions So They Don’t Regulate You.
To get a thorough understanding of emotions you have to see how they relate to your thoughts. The relationship between thoughts and emotions is complicated. They can be experienced together or separately and one will trigger the other. Both thoughts and emotions can be triggered by an external event or by memories or core beliefs.
Thoughts, though, are your mental ideas, opinions, and core beliefs about yourself and the world around you.
“It’s only in recent decades that we’ve recognized and validated that emotions are a powerful attention directing system—an amplification device—in our brain. They are responsible for creating the visceral responses regarded as feelings, that in turn are transformed into thoughts and the formation of beliefs to help us make sense of what we experience at the moment and to use for future reference.” Mary C. Lamia Ph.D.
Are you where you want to be in life?
Is there a difference between where you are and where you want to be?
Your life is determined by your emotions and thoughts, which then are reflected in how you feel and how you act. In other words, your life is exactly how you have designed it to be by what you think, feel, and do.
Constructive thoughts usually lead to constructive behaviors. Destructive thoughts usually lead to destructive behaviors.
Destructive thoughts can come from many sources. It may be a statement made by someone that you just can’t get out of your mind or maybe an event from the past that makes you depressed, angry, impulsive, or fearful.
When you allow destructive thoughts to dominate your thinking, they negatively affect your life. But, like the oyster, you can take these thoughts, irritating grains of sand, and turn them into “pearls of great value”.
Preparation To Rewrite
The strategies presented below will provide a simple method for change that will significantly improve the quality of every aspect of your life. This is not a clinical resource and is not designed for people who are suffering with chronic depression, anxiety, panic, fear, or any other extreme emotional disorder requiring professional counseling.
However, it could be beneficial used in addition to counseling. You will learn how to use your emotional responses, as a flashing red light on the dashboard of your life, to indicate that you have a potential thought or behavioral problem.
For example, if you become intensely angry at what someone else says or does, you will feel physical changes in your body. These changes are the flashing red light that indicates there could be a problem. Once you become aware of your emotional responses you can identify and analyze your thoughts and restructure them. This will change your feelings and your behavior, thereby, improving the quality of your life.
Is this a quick fix? No. Your troublesome thoughts and behaviors didn’t appear overnight. Likewise, change is going to take time. Your thought patterns, distortions, and quirks are habits that you have been developing or reinforcing since childhood.
Statistically, it takes on the average 66 days of a consistent new behavior to develop a new habit. Brian Tracy states that “the time period can be any length from a single second to several years. The speed of new habit pattern development is largely determined by the intensity of the emotion that accompanies the decision to begin acting in a particular way.”
Steps To Change
Script Rewriting, which is Thought Restructuring in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a tool to help you create new thoughts, which will result in new feelings and new, healthier behaviors. You can begin by simply identifying and documenting your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors using a tool of your choice: smartphones, cameras, recorders, notebooks, computers, tablets, paper, pencils, pens, scrapbooks, crayons, spray paint, sock puppets, flannel graphs… whatever you have available and like to use.
Please, be honest with yourself as you answer these questions and read the examples. Use as much information as necessary to fully process your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Some thoughts or events will take more processing than others.
Choose a technique from the suggestions above or be creative and develop your own, as long as it works. Find something that fits your personality. These exercises are to assist you in making changes, not to be a drudgery or busy work. If you don’t like to write, use a recorder or video or another method that will help you rewrite your script. Remember, though, writing usually helps you process your emotions, thoughts, and feelings more effectively.
The Feedback Loop
In the basic Feedback Loop our automatic thoughts trigger emotional responses to situations or the reverse. The CHECK-SELF light, in the middle of the diagram, represents physical responses like clenched teeth, clenching of the fist, increased heart rate, narrowed or wide eyes, rapid breathing, seeing red, tears, crying, shouting, threatening, sweaty palms, tense muscles, etc.
As our thoughts or emotions become more conscious they affect our feelings and, ultimately, determine our behavior. As you can see from the diagram above, you can experience a chaotic feedback loop where your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can jump from one to another and intensify with each cycle.
At this point, the CHECK-SELF light should be flashing read indicating that your thoughts and/or emotions need attention.They are in danger of going out of control and need to be slowed, evaluated, controlled, and changed.
This is analogous to the check engine light or other alarms or indicators on the dash board of a car. They are not designed to force you to stop and address the problem. They are designed to make you aware of a potentially serious problem in the operation of your vehicle, like running out of gas, overheating the engine, or low oil pressure.
We have all experienced situations where our mind seems to run wild. Our emotional responses spike. We do and say things we wouldn’t normally do or say, creating a frenzy of emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we may later regret.
Back To Fred
With each cycle, his thoughts and feelings became more negative and distorted from reality. It has been scientifically proven that we can convince our minds that something is true by repeating it over and over until we believe it. It then becomes part of our core beliefs, true or false.
What have you convinced yourself is true, but in reality may be false? Begin writing about your thoughts, physical response that indicate an emotion, and your feelings? Is it really true or could it possibly be false?
For Fred, it began with an “automatic thought” from his core beliefs, which triggered an emotional response. His automatic thought – “The boss said there was a possibility of a lay-off. I know I’m going to get fired and I’ll never find another job. My family will leave me. I’ll end up living under a bridge, homeless.” His core belief – “I’ll never amount to anything. I’m not smart enough. I can’t do anything right. Things never work out for me.”
In reality – his supervisor was trying to explain that he was only getting a couple of days off until a new contract was approved. Administration didn’t expect it to last more than 2 or 3 days. But, his automatic thoughts and emotions kicked-in and he didn’t hear everything the supervisor said.
When he heard the words “laid-off” his automatic thought, “I’m getting fired,” flew into his mind clouding his ability to think rationally. In fact, his mind was so clouded that he couldn’t hear anything else. The automatic thought caused an emotional reaction. His heart started to race. His breathing became short and erratic. His palms became sweaty and muscles began to tense.
What do you say to yourself that might not be a true or a full statement?
Your automatic thoughts often take on a life of their own. They are familiar. You may have lived with many of these thoughts and core beliefs since childhood. As your automatic thoughts move into your conscious mind you rehearse them, which further reinforces them in your core beliefs, just like Fred did.
As a child, Fred was told that he would never amount to anything. At some point he began to believe it. Consequently, he never excelled in school. He didn’t see any point in going to college because he “just wasn’t smart enough”, until later in life. He never applied for more challenging jobs because he “couldn’t do it anyway, so why try”. These negative thoughts and feelings about himself were very deeply ingrained into his core beliefs about himself.
After his supervisor left his cubicle, Fred leaned forward in his chair and rested his head in his hands. Depression began to descend.
He recalled his father’s words from so many years ago, “You are so stupid. You’ll never amount to anything.” How many jobs have I had. I just can’t do anything right. I have really tried. I’ve taken all the extra training I could find in drafting. I thought I was doing well. I thought my supervisor liked my work, but here we go again. What am I going to tell Mary and the kids? They were all excited about going to Disney World on vacation. Now, we won’t be able to go. We can’t live on my unemployment, if I get unemployment. It’s barely enough to buy food, how are we ever going to make the mortgage payment? There aren’t any other drafting jobs in this little town. We moved here just for this job, now what are we going to do. The kids were upset about moving and now to be laid-off. They’ll never understand. Maybe I shouldn’t tell anyone until Friday.
Fred’s supervisor walked by again and saw Fred still sitting “Are you feeling okay, you don’t look so good?”
How can he ask me if I’m okay? He’s firing me. He acts as if everything is normal. Doesn’t he even care that I’m going to lose my house, my family, everything. Doesn’t he care I’ll be homeless living under a bridge? Maybe I should leave now. Why wait and torture myself for the rest of the week? But, I do need that last paycheck deposited into my account. My last check… my last check, and they seemed very happy to get me just a year ago. They even gave me a good review, now without any warning, they’re letting me go. I just can’t believe it. How dare they fire me? I’m the only one that can do what I do. The owner’s son was going to school, maybe, he’s getting my job. I just can’t believe this.
Does any of this dialogue sound familiar? If so, write it down.
Your release may not be alcohol, it maybe that piece of chocolate cake, a Snickers bar, an extra-long workout, porn, staying late at work, watching videos for hours, or keeping your nose in a book.
When I was young I would play the piano when I was upset. My mother used to say she could tell I was upset by the way I attacked the keys.
You may say, exercise or playing the piano isn’t bad. You are right it isn’t. But if you are using it as an escape, if you are talking to yourself like Fred did, things are going to get worse.
- How long did you “churn” on the thoughts going through your mind? An hour? Half-a-day? Two days?
- How did you blow it out of perspective?
You need to become aware of what is going through your mind and stop it. Plant and rehearse the opposite thought.
- Negative Thought: “I’m being fired.”
- Positive Thought: “That can’t mean I’m being fired. There must be something that I don’t understand. I’ll go ask.”
- Negative Thought: “They liked me just a year ago. Now, I’m being fired.”
- Positive Thought: “I know I have performed well and had good reviews. Everything’s going to be just fine.”
In a car, if the oil pressure light comes on you don’t put water in the radiator. The same is true with your CHECK-SELF light from the FEEDBACK LOOP above. You must IDENTIFY and INTERPRET the cause of the flashing red light.
The flashing red light may be an automatic thought that pops into you mind, or you body registers a physical change which signifies an emotions, which you then feel as a feeling. For example, somebody says something, your blush, which is caused by an emotions and registers as a feeling, embarrassment.
What is it that got your attention? Become aware. You cannot change anything you are not aware of. Becoming aware is the first step.
The point of this post is to begin the process of becoming aware of the automatic thoughts that go through your mind and create physical reactions that cause the red light to flash.
Often, the physical sensations or symptoms are experienced but not analyzed or evaluated. They are simply felt as feelings and acted on. This would be like seeing a trouble indicator on your car’s dashboard, getting angry with it, and blaming the car.
In the next post How To Rewrite Your ME-MOVIE will go into details about how to begin making changes.