Often, we blame our unhappiness on circumstances beyond our control. We let our automatic thoughts, the cognitions that occur to us naturally, to take control of our thinking and thus how we feel. You have more control than you think.

Changing your thought processes starts by paying attention to what it is that you are thinking, how you are thinking about something. It is common to fall into the trap of seeing things through a mental filter in which you may make assumptions, see things as only black or white, overgeneralize, unhelpfully label, blow things out of proportion, discount anything positive, etc. Identifying these thinking patterns in your thought processes is the first step in changing them.

Once you have recognized these patterns by paying attention to the way you’re thinking about something, you can then challenge, change, and shut them down. Choose not to assume; notice the gray; stay away from painting scenarios with a broad brush; recognize what actual realistic significance something holds; pay attention to positive as well as negative aspects of a situation. Think through a situation rather than just letting yourself get swept away by instinctive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Notice how you can change the voices in your head to be kind to yourself and others. You have control whether you take things personally, criticize or put down yourself or others.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in conjunction with this idea, writes a book titled The Four Agreements. His premise is that from the time we are little we create beliefs, agreements, habits, through which we experience the world. How we perceive things is largely affected by what we believe. He posits that if you choose to take control of your beliefs rather than letting things that happen to you or opinions of others dictate the internal agreements you have, you can find a whole new happiness and freedom.

Ruiz’s agreements are as follows:

1. Be Impeccable with your Word

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

All of these are extremely powerful, but here I’d like to zero in on numbers two and three. Taking things personally is automatic, but just as unhelpful. This agreement or belief basically points out that people live within their own world, their own perceptions. The things that somebody does or says comes from his own agreements he has within his own mind. Even if something seems very personal, even if it insults you directly, it has little to do with you. Oftentimes it’s about how something was triggered for someone or a projection of his own feelings and beliefs.

In a similar vein, not making assumptions about why someone is doing, or has done, something can very empowering. We can make ourselves sick with worry, anxiety, jealousy, hatred, sadness, and the like when we assume things. We can fall into the trap of creating a whole new reality when actually something very different is going on. Even when you might not be in a position to ask, you must accept that you really don’t know what is happening and/or why someone is doing something. We, more often times than not, won’t really know why someone acts a certain way.

When we take control of what we believe and what we tell ourselves, our lives will undeniably take a turn for the better

This post was written by Rivka Rochkind, LCPC