Science wasn’t my favorite subject in school, but it’s been on my mind lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the idea that no two physical objects can occupy the same space at the same time. We all discovered this playing board games as kids–you can’t put two game pieces on the exact same space at the exact same time (without an overwhelming compulsion to knock your opponent’s piece down).

I like the idea that two toys require two separate spaces. I especially like the idea that two thoughts or attitudes require separate spaces. That knowledge can give us a feeling of greater control over feelings that seem out of our control.

In a recent health workshop, I learned that certain deep breathing exercises activate a part of our brains that cannot be activated at the same time as the part of our brains that signals stress. Basically, it is impossible to feel relaxed and stressed at the same time. (Duh!) So when we feel stressed, it makes us feel out of control. But deliberately triggering the part of our brain that says “I am relaxed” is a way to defeat the stress and push it out–if only for a few minutes.

My clients often ask me something that I consider to be a true million-dollar question: “How can I feel different?” What I love about this question is that it’s universal. We’ve all asked it of ourselves at one time or another, and while the core of the question is always the same, it can be asked in a lot of different ways, like these:

  • How can I stop being insecure/afraid/self-critical?
  • How can I get over this hurt/loss/betrayal?
  • How can I act less bossy/messy/impatient?
  • How can I stop feeling lonely/short-tempered/unattractive?

Forgive me if this is an oversimplification (our feelings are complex, and they matter, and we are entitled to every one of them). But it occurs to me that one of the easiest ways to stop feeling or acting one way is to put a lot of effort into feeling or acting the other way! If you want be less insecure, ACT confident. If you want to stop obsessing over a betrayal, focus on a positive relationship. You might have to fake it ’til you make it, but eventually it will pay off.

When we try to stop thinking about something sad, unproductive, or destructive, it’s like telling ourselves over and over to stop thinking about pink elephants. The best way to rid your mind of pink elephants is to actively think about something else! Likewise, the best way to eliminate bad thoughts and behaviors is to displace them and replace them with better thoughts and behaviors.

When we are deliberate in our thoughts and actions, we have control over them…which gives us more control over our feelings. It’s pretty hard to be bossy and cooperative at the same time, or depressed and enthusiastic, or lonely and connected. If we are purposeful in our thoughts and actions, choosing to think and do as we WISH we thought and did-well, we will condition ourselves to think and do and BE the way we always wanted to be.

An oversimplification? Perhaps. But worth trying? Definitely.

Your homework is to pick one bad thought pattern, habit, or behavior you want to eliminate, and instead of trying to get rid of it, choose a competing positive thought, habit or behavior to displace it. It may not be as much fun as knocking your brother’s Candyland game piece across the room, but the payoff can still be pretty dang satisfying.

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