Doing Problems and Thinking Problems

There are two major problems related to human psychological functioning. One is the realm of ideas; the other is the realm of action.

The realm of ideas refers to thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and core premises. Some of these ideas are rational, and some are not. Some are capable of being put into practice, and others are not.

Action refers to putting ideas — good or bad ones — into practice. Sometimes people make the following error: They assume their ideas are flawed or mistaken, when in fact they simply haven’t put them into practice. “I’m not getting anything done,” someone will think. “Or I’m not getting enough done.” They conclude (in error), “I must have faulty thinking.”

Lack of action does not make an idea false. Let’s say you have a great business idea. Or a great idea for a novel you want to write. Or an invention you want to test. Instead of putting hours into that idea every single day, you put little or no effort into that idea. You develop a sense of regret, remorse and hopelessness over this fact. Then you read an article on how negative thinking impairs a person. You conclude, “Oh, that’s it. It’s my negative thinking that’s undercutting me.” Well, your ideas of hopelessness or despair are not helpful. They’re also not consistent with an objectively observable, rational attitude that human beings are capable of many things — sometimes incredible things — when they put their minds to it. But in this particular case, the hopelessness and despair are the symptom, not the underlying cause.

Big mistake! Looking at these feelings of hopelessness and despair as causes, rather than symptoms, would be like mistaking the symptoms of a heart attack for the more fundamental failure of the cardiac system causing the heart attack. Don’t do this.

Just because you’re thinking negative, distorted thoughts doesn’t prove that your thoughts are creating the problem. Sometimes this is true, but it’s not always true. What’s more often true, quite frankly, is that your good ideas are not put into practice — by YOU — and therefore, as a result, you feel down and low and … dare I use the overused word? … depressed.

A lot of people feel badly about themselves because they don’t trust themselves. Why not? “Because I never follow through on what I say I’m going to do.” OK, that makes sense. If someone you know rarely if ever does what he says he’s going to do, then you lose trust, good will and respect for him. Of course the same applies to yourself.

The problem is this: You can lose respect for somebody else, and it’s of little consequence. Unless you’re married to or otherwise closely associated with this person you lost respect for, then you can simply stop associating with or thinking about this person. Even if it’s someone close, you can divorce, separate from or otherwise break ties with him or her. It might not be easy, but you can do it.

You have no such option with yourself.

If you don’t trust yourself, then you have no choice. If you’re to go on living and functioning — if you’re to “get rid of your depression” as people like to phrase it today — then you’re going to have to start trusting yourself. You’re going to have to say, “I haven’t earned my trust yet. But I can and will earn my trust in the future, starting right this minute.” You do that by stopping the self-destructive, self-defeating or otherwise irrational behavior, and starting to do the opposite. You start doing the rational and self-affirming, objectively life-loving and productive things, and you KEEP doing them. When you start to feel doubt about the person you once were, you tell yourself, “That was then — this is now.”

I never bought the idea that we must forgive others, including those who harm us and are not even sorry for what they did. That’s worse than nonsense. You don’t owe others your trust. But you must earn it in yourself. Why? You’re all you’ve got!