I try to tell myself reassuring things during these worrisome times. The most common thing I will tell myself is: things are going to be okay. I tell myself this because most of our worries relate to things not being okay. Most worries are about the future. They are not about a tiger being in the room with us. We live in an age where we don’t have to worry about tigers. We worry more about things like loneliness, finances, and disappointment. In contrast, tigers only have to worry about humans.
Another thing I sometimes tell myself is: you can do this. Most of the things I reassure myself of I already know I can do—but it still helps to have an encouraging reminder. An important part of inner strength is being able to encourage yourself in those moments when you might not feel so strong. All athletes have two coaches: the one on the sidelines and the one in their heads. The same can be said about non-athletes: that they have two bosses or two parents. Obviously, you don’t have control of what your outer boss tells you—or what your outer parent once told you. You only have control of what you tell yourself. Some athletes make the mistake of thinking that if they get angry enough with themselves it will somehow make them better athletes. My job as a psychologist is to remind them that you can’t hate yourself into becoming a better athlete—just as you can’t hate yourself into becoming a better person.
The only thing that hate makes you better at is hating.
A new thing I’ve been telling myself is: we can do this. I am much more used to thinking in terms of what I can do than what we can do, but all of the challenges that we face now as a country and a planet are obviously not a one-person job. You can’t think like a tennis player when it comes to things like the pandemic, racial injustice, or climate change. If you think like a tennis player, you’ll invariably feel overwhelmed and implode like John McEnroe used to do. It is much better to think like a soccer player, since soccer is a sport that requires great patience, vision, and teamwork. I have been told that Americans haven’t truly embraced the sport of soccer because there isn’t enough scoring. What soccer has more than scoring is the suspense of waiting for the opportunity to score.
Life during this pandemic has a similar suspense as we are waiting for so many opportunities to return. I am reminded of the Waiting Place in Dr. Seuss’s book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! One of my sons used to look at the illustration as a toddler and say, “Angry people.” I am determined to find the bright places where the Boom Bands are playing instead of letting myself become an angry person in the Waiting Place. My mom has a neighbor who has lost touch with bright places where the Boom Bands are playing. He has let himself become an angry person ever since she put a Black Lives Matter sign in her yard. To her credit, she didn’t take it personally when he suddenly stopped talking to her. She understands that to be a good person no longer means only being good to your own kind. She understands that it is time for all of us to grow up spiritually and think of unification instead of division. Spirituality doesn’t have to be all that complicated. You treat others the way you would want to be treated. You put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You try to create heaven instead of thinking of heaven as something that will someday be created for you. And when necessary you look in the mirror and tell yourself: I can do better than this… we can do better than this.