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In October 1929, the U.S. Stock Market crashed.
Investors lost billions of dollars; were drained of their sense of invincibility; and confronted with the limits of industrialization and human power.
This unprecedented event set in motion the Great Depression—a deep and sustained economic downturn that held the world in its grip for nearly a decade.
The suffering that ensued was real, acute, and penetrating.
The lessons to be learned from this dizzying event are still being taught.
This was a deafening moment of anxiety for Americans and others around the globe.
The world and the confidence they knew was shattered.
Few people expected these circumstances, but everyone had to deal with them in their own way.
Some people allowed their emotions to get the best of them, which often ended with devastating consequences to include suicide, alcoholism, and criminality.
Others put on their “thinking caps” and discovered creative and healthy ways to cope with their trouble, which resulted in new and thriving lives and enterprises.
When faced with unexpected changes and transitions, we too have the choice to “feel” or “think” our way through the malaise.
And this choice makes all the difference in the world.
Practically, this means that people who get lost in their emotions in times of stress and anxiety fair far less than people who use their thinking to manage and move beyond moments of stress and anxiety.
The latter simply creates more options for themselves in responding to their circumstances.
Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFTS) teaches that the ability to differentiate (separate) between feelings and thoughts is a mark of maturity and leads to better decision making.
The various responses to pressures and anxieties of the Great Depression illuminates the power of our capacity to exercise thinking over feeling.
Take for example, in the throes of financial chaos, Charles Clinton Spaulding built the nation’s largest black-owned insurance company, North Carolina Mutual.
Instead of getting caught in the intense social anxiety of the moment, he thought his way to a future that still stands today in Durham, North Carolina at the company’s headquarters.
Perhaps, you are facing a crash in life that you never expected to be in.
Maybe you are paralyzed by your emotions and unable to move forward.
All is not lost.
Thinking your way forward opens a new frontier of opportunities.
A restart is always at hand.
Here, we must think of life in its totality and not simply get emotionally stuck in a moment of crisis.
In making a thoughtful restart after a crash along life’s journey, heed the words of Bernice Johnson Reagon, “If, in moving through your life, you find yourself lost, go back to the last place where you knew who you were, and what you were doing, and start again from there.”
We are always more than our circumstances.
Life truly begins and ends in our thoughts.
So, as you consider your next move, be thoughtful in these ways:
Think, where do I want to restart?
No condition is permanent.
Every condition can be modified in one way or another.
And oftentimes, restarting is about changing our attitudes about our circumstances and making thoughtful decisions about where we want to take our lives next.
Thinking helps to alter limiting attitudes and paves the way to a restart.
Where would you like to restart your life today?
Think, what are my guiding principles?
A life led by guiding principles is more productive than a life led by emotional reactivity.
We must be clear about what we stand for and be able to apply these principles when stress, anxiety, and uncertainty are at their peak.
Simply, what guiding principles do you turn to when your back is up against the wall?
Think, what resources do I possess?
No one lives in the world with empty hands.
There is always something to draw from, particularly inwardly.
Keep in mind, for everything that we lose we gain something.
Thinking helps to identify what we have gained in our losses and what resources we possess to move us forward.
Otherwise, we can get caught up in the emotions of our losses and lose sight of our resources.
What resources are you overlooking in this moment that can help move you forward?
The change you seek is within your reach. It is fueled by your thoughts.
In closing, never forget the words of William James, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.”
Thinking is our greatest asset.
Let us use it to pace ourselves firmly forward!
Dr. Michael Lee Cook, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and pastoral counselor in private practice at Micah Counseling Services, a parish-based counseling center at St. Andrew’s in the Pines Episcopal Church. In this ministry, he engages in the therapeutic practice of helping individuals, couples, families, and groups deal with and find effective solutions to the transitions and complexities of life that impact their mental and spiritual well-being and overall functioning. Michael has extensive clinical training in psychodynamic psychotherapy, family systems theory, and the use of spiritual resources in counseling. He holds an optimistic view of human nature and resists the urge to pathologize clients by supporting the idea that problems are not in people, but rather people struggle against problems.