Good News, Bad News, Good News
Here's the basic deal. We believe that the power of perception can be conceptualized like one of those good news-bad news stories, with one additional twist.
The good news is that we have good minds, capable of thinking through complex issues, solving problems, etc. We're all smart.
The bad news is that we're so smart that we can think of things -- even things which never have happened or are realistically never going to happen -- in negative ways which will result in our bodies' responding automatically as if we are in immediate danger of being harmed.
We can do this to ourselves.
The good news (our special twist -- wanted to end this in an upbeat fashion) is that if we are smart enough to think of things in ways which will trigger the stress response, then we also are smart enough to rethink the same issues in ways which can help us to cope better, to face the issues more freely and creatively and effectively.
We can do things for ourselves.
You're walking down the hall at school, and one of your teacher colleagues is walking toward you. As you approach, you say "Hello" but she quickly walks past, saying nothing and not acknowledging you. What do you make of the situation? What do you say to yourself?
Option 1: "Whoa! True colors showing. After all this supposedly supportive treatment of me since I started this year, here's what it comes down to. She's never really been there for me. She's only ever cared about herself. All that nice facade about being this good colleague and good teacher who loves the kids so much. Ha! They shouldn't have hired her for a job this important! She shouldn't be in the profession in the first place! I can hardly wait to get a chance to give her a piece of my mind . . . (for any Dennis Miller fans, feel free to embellish on this rant, Dennis Miller style)."
Option 2: "Wow, she sure seems preoccupied. Better check with her a little later to see if she's OK."
Same situation, very different reactions, the first of which doubtless had significant -- and, we would maintain, unnecessary -- stress connected with it.
A note arrives in your mail slot at school asking you to see the Principal after school today. What do you say to yourself? Without spelling things out here as we did in the previous example, our suggestion is for you to take a few moments to think about the kinds of things which you are likely to say to yourself in this situation. What are the kinds of things which you could say that would help you to go into the meeting with the Principal feeling most positive and focused? On the other hand, what kinds of things could you say which would raise your stress level even before the meeting begins? The point again is this: The arrival of the note in your mailbox is a neutral event. What you attribute to the note can determine whether you enter the meeting with the Principal feeling evenhanded or stressed out. That choice is up to you.
Recall a stressful situation at school which occurred within the past week. Got it in mind? In retrospect, what kinds of things could you have said to yourself which would have made it easier to deal with? The payoff comes when the next stressful situation comes (as, inevitably, it will), and you can take a moment to consider how to think about it, talk to yourself about it, in ways which will be of help to you. You're in charge.