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Thinking prepares you for doing.
Sports psychologists teach athletes to visualize making a winning basketball free throw or an effective tennis serve before doing the action. That's because thinking, verbally or in images, is what psychologists call behavioral rehearsal. When you think about something in advance of doing it, the odds zoom upwards that you will implement what you pictured.
That reality suggests that it's worth being careful what you think about.
Thinking about an exam you need to take tomorrow? Focus on what the exam is likely to include and how therefore you best can prepare. That's the kind of thinking that can upgrade your performance.
By contrast, avoid thinking about how anxious you may become during the exam if you find questions whose answers elude you. That's practice for becoming anxious during the test. Bad idea.
Thinking about buying a car? Running through a list of what factors will be important to consider can prepare you to make a good decision on which car to buy. By contrast, fantasizing enjoyably about how fun it would be to drive a new car also could prepare you to take impetuous action next time you walk by the car showroom.
Thinking about how bad your marriage is? About how much you dislike this and that annoying thing that your spouse has been doing? Each image of what bothers you will reinforce the idea how bad your spouse is acting. That's a sure route to getting increasingly unhappy in the relationship.
A focus on figuring out new ways you might handle the challenges is likely to lead you closer to the kind of marriage you were hoping for when you said "I do." Think about hugging your spouse more often. Think about listening more attentively when your spouse expresses concerns. Picture yourself expressing more appreciation for small things s/he does. Excellent. Your family life is likely to get better.
Thinking about a way out of your marriage? Ask yourself if the problems are major ones like the Three A's of addictions, affairs and/or abusive anger. These problems do merit divorce thoughts. If not, stop right there. The more you think about divorce, the more likely you will end up divorced.
Even worse, if you have begun to plan how you would accomplish your exit, that's seriously treacherous thinking. Better use your head to engage right away in some serious soul-searching. Think about how to enlist the help of a marriage counselor. Think about enrolling in a skill-building marriage education course. Most marriages, especially with a little help, can not only make it through tough times but get better from them.
Do you or your spouse speak the d-word to each other? Saying aloud the word divorce invites both of you to allow divorce to enter the realm of acceptable options, further increasing the danger ahead. Unless one or more of the 3 A's are plaguing your home, you'd be better off deleting the d-word from your shared vocabulary.
In sum, beware of what you think. Thinking really can lead to action.
Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver Clinical psychologist, is author of multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler's most recent project is a marriage skills website, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.