We are what our thoughts have made us; so be aware of what you think.
Learning Too Drive
Growing up in a very small town in North-Eastern Wyoming was very different than it is now. Back then it was safe for us kids to go wherever we wanted any time. We’d ride our bikes to the pond at the far end of town one day and be up on the hill across from our house building a fort the next. During the summer we never went inside until about 10 pm. It was still light enough to see what we were building.
We didn’t have to worry about strangers in town or kids being kidnapped like we do today. We basically roamed the town at will. If parents wanted us they’d step outside and call. We’d hear. No traffic noise. It was quiet.
The town was two blocks wide and three blocks long. My parent’s house, nursing home, occupied one side of the last street on the upper end of town.
If you’ve ever been to Wyoming, you know that most of the state is flat, except for the little corner we lived in which was the part of the Black Hills that spilled over from South Dakota into Wyoming.
Shortly after I turned 12 my dad decided it was time for driving lessons. One day he didn’t tell me where we were going or what we were going to do, he just told me to get in the car. He started the engine and pointed car East on I90.
Now, I90 back then was a two-lane road with only occasional traffic going either way, not like today. The terrain going out of town was flat with barely any vegetation, so the road was also flat, no dips or turns, flat.
About a mile out of town we pulled off the road. He turned off the car, got out and walked around and opened my door. To that point, I still had not been told that this was my first driving lesson.
“Your turn,” he said.
I looked at him with a quizzical look, “I’m going to drive?”
He nodded, “Scoot over.”
Remember the bench seats? I scooted over.
I grabbed the steering wheel with my hands, but my feet couldn’t reach the pedals, so dad moved the seat up. I noticed that his knees, were touching the dashboard, but he didn’t seem to mind.
I started to turn the car on and heard him scream, “No, wait. I’ll tell you what to do. First press the clutch all the way to the floor, press the brake with your other foot then turn the key.”
I carefully followed the steps and the engine came to life.
I let the clutch out and the engine chugged to a stop. I tried again. This time I got it started, put it in gear and popped the clutch out and took my foot off the brake. The car lunged forward into a field of dirt and rocks. Fortunately, it was flat ground all around so there was nothing to hit or damaged.
After several attempts, I got the car back on the road and we chugged clumsily down the road. My legs were tired of trying to hold and release the clutch. I finally just stopped in the middle of the road and turned off the engine. We hadn’t seen any cars all day, so I figured it was safe to stop. I may not have even thought about it, I was done.
Dad walked around the car and took over. I had always thought driving would be so much fun, at that point I was rethinking my premise.
A few days later, we tried it again. It went better. It wasn’t long until I was driving on the open highway. He still didn’t trust me in town, even though there were only a few parked cars along the sidewalks.
It doesn’t really matter whether you are learning to drive a car, typing, riding a bike, swing a golf club or tennis racket. At first, you have to think about every movement.
I remember learning to drive. I’d get so tired, I just wanted to go home and take a nap. My arms ached. My legs ached. My head hurt. I was using new muscles that hadn’t been used in that manner before. I had to think about every action I took.
It wasn’t long until I could start the car without ending up in the field. I could work the clutch and the brake at the same time for a smooth ride instead of feeling like I was on a bucking horse. At that point, my driving thoughts had become automatic thoughts.
Knee Jerk Thoughts are also automatic thoughts where you act according to a certain ritualistic manner but without any thought. These are habits that you don’t put any conscious thought into, such as putting your elbows on the table, nail-biting, slouching, playing with your hair, chewing your cheek or tongue, etc.
Reflexive Thoughts, as defined by the dictionary, is a thought that is in response to something. The reflexive thoughts are the conclusion you have drawn from your early childhood experiences. Over time they also become automatic thoughts, but they are different because they are directly connected to experiences which led to detailed thinking.
As a child you draw conclusions from direct experiences, the media, watching other people, and listening to what others say. This means that the experiences you had in your family of origin, caregivers, society, school, and peers influenced your thoughts and beliefs about yourself.
If you have negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself it is likely that you have encountered negative experiences that have contributed to your thoughts and beliefs. The way you were treated during your early years affects the way you see yourself and who you are.
For example, if you were mistreated, punished frequently in an extreme or unpredictable manner, neglected, abandoned, or abused it is not surprising that you would feel insecure, self-doubt, pessimism, and fear. You would often have thoughts similar to “I can’t do that,” “I’m not good enough,” “I could have done better.”
These negative thoughts about yourself, your abilities, other people, and the world around you eventually become a habit. Reflexive Thoughts then can be negative thoughts about yourself and your situation repeated over and over. They are automatic and habitual.
People can become addicted to almost anything even their own thoughts.
Most of the time these reflexive thoughts originate in early childhood, but sometimes people experience negative events later in life that also chip away at their self-esteem creating negative thoughts and feelings about themselves resulting in Negative Reflexive Thoughts. For example, a person can be bullied or intimidated at work, find themselves in an abusive relationship, experience traumatic events, such as life-altering illnesses or injuries, or experience prolonged financial hardship.
Although you don’t intentionally practice Negative Reflexive Thinking, these thoughts are still rehearsed and practiced. Every time a negative experience that is somewhat similar to your childhood the Reflexive Thought pops into your mind, “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never have enough money,” “I can’t do this,” “I’ll never be a success in _______.”
As adults, I’m sure you have had experiences that are quite different from your early childhood experiences. Yet, you might still hear, your parent’s voice correcting you or yelling at you. You might also yourself repeating the negative thoughts.
We continue to have Reflexive Thoughts go through our mind, even though the current circumstances are different from those in the past.
Perhaps, your Reflexive Thoughts have had a negative impact on your ability to accomplish your goals or be successful. Take some time to read and think about the questions and scenarios below. Write down a brief description of your experiences and the resulting reflexive thoughts, good or bad.
- What early experiences did you have that might have contributed to the way you view and feel about yourself?
- Describe any recent stressful life experiences that have negatively affected how you view yourself.
- Describe any rules and/or assumptions you have developed about yourself.
Remember, the judgments you have made about yourself are only opinions. They are not facts. They are only opinions that have been developed and rehearsed.
In learning to drive a car, you have to practice, until your actions become smooth and you can drive in automatic mode, without thinking about every movement.
You also need to practice overcoming and replacing Reflexive Thoughts. When a Reflexive Thought goes through your mind and you feel the accompanying emotion, replace it with the OPPOSITE THOUGHT.
If the thought says, “I can’t do that,” replace it with “I can do that.” If it says, “I’ll never be a success,” replace it with “I can and will be successful.”
It may seem very strange and even scary to replace your negative Reflexive Thoughts because you have become identified with them. But, as you begin to replace them you will find a new identity in your Postive Reflexive Thoughts. The author in, Regurgitated Thoughts, talks about the fear he felt when during meditation he experienced a brief episode of no thoughts because our thoughts confirm us.
DO THE OPPOSITE.
The repetition and rehearsal of the positive statements will become as automatic and reflexive as the negative ones were. But, the positive Reflexive Thoughts will lead you to a more positive, happy, fulfilling life. Is it worth a try?