I have come to believe that if I am having a negative experience, it’s because of my thoughts. I don’t always realize this during the experience, but sometimes I do. In that moment, I have a choice: I can continue down the path I’m going, blaming someone else for my bad experience, or I can take responsibility for myself and my thoughts and change the experience for myself.

Last night, for example, my son was getting ready for bed. He’d brushed his teeth and I was ready to start reading to him, but he started kicking a ball and said something about a game. Normally, I would say it was time to start to wind down and read before sleep, and I’d be thinking, He needs to go to bed—he should be asleep by now. This thought would lead to frustration because he wasn’t in bed and he wasn’t asleep.

Luckily, I stepped back from this thought long enough to realize we’d spent a good part of the day in the car traveling home from Maine, so my son probably had a lot of pent up energy he needed to release.

“What’s the game?” I asked. He explained the rules (basically a soccer game, with my bedroom doorway as one goal and my office doorway on the other side of the house as the other.)

“Okay,” I said, “we’ll play until someone gets three goals, then it’s into bed. Deal?”

“Deal,” he said.

We played and laughed and ran back and forth until the score was 3-2. (He won.)

Then I read to him as I usually do and we finished our normal bedtime routine.

Even though he wasn’t physically in his bed at the exact time he “should” be, I feel sure playing that game helped him get ready to relax and go to sleep. It also made the whole experience more fun—for me as well as him.

Sometimes I realize after the fact that my thoughts caused my negative experience. That’s useful, too, thought not in the moment.

I recently had an argument with a friend. I could say we had a heated discussion, but really, it was an argument. At the time, I was upset and just kept repeating my position. This did not help as she did not agree with my position and was, in fact, critical of me for taking the position I took.

Later, I reflected on the argument and realized my thoughts led to the argument. If I’d been thinking something like, she’s allowed to think whatever she wants about me, I would have been calm and I wouldn’t have kept trying to convince her to change her opinion and, therefore, her opinion of me. I’d have let her keep her opinion (which she did anyway) and I’d have let her think whatever she wanted about me (which she did anyway) without believing it meant something about me.

When I’m aware of my thoughts on a conscious level, I can change them. This usually leads to a better day than when I’m unaware of my thoughts. I don’t mind having negative emotions but I do mind having negative emotions caused by negative thoughts that aren’t even true.

How about you?