March 13, 2014

Thermostat or Thermometer


That was the question at topic of an article that I was reading today.  Strangely, the article didn't really relate to the topic at all, but it sure made me think.

A thermometer monitors and reports the temperature of the environment around it.  The thermostat is where the temperature is determined.

It was a compelling question.  It made me reflect on my own life to see where I might be acting as one or the other.  In some situations, we're all thermometers.  There are things in life over which we have no direct control so monitoring and reporting where necessary is all that's required or allowed.
There are many area's of our lives over which we have total control.  In those areas we ideally are thermostats.

I'll be the first to admit that I've played thermometer way too often in the past.  It somehow seemed "easier" that way.  I learned the hard way, that when we give up control over situations that are our direct responsibility, it's not only NOT easier, it's downright miserable. Let's look at some examples where this is true.  Our personal happiness is a good place to start.  

 When we burden others with "our" happiness, it not only makes life difficult and unpleasant for them, but it ensures we are likely to spend a lot of time disappointed. 

How on earth can we expect someone else to know what "makes us happy" when half the time, we're not even sure ourselves.

Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person refused to take responsibility for their own happiness?  Did you feel like a constant disappointment.  Did it seem like no matter what you did, it wasn't enough?

How about our attitudes?  Do we sometimes act as thermometers pretending that our attitude is determined by our environment?  

Maybe you're someone that still believes it's possible for others to determine your mood?  I had a friend, who was a psychologist, share with me a great illustration of how silly that really is.  He was called to a junior high school by the principal to intervene between two boys who were constantly fighting.  As you might imagine, when he asked the boys what the problem was, they each blamed the other for "making them mad."  

What Doug did next was brilliant.  He explained to the boys that it was completely impossible for someone else to make them angry and told him that he would prove it to them. 

Doug took a ten dollar bill out of his pocket and laid it on the table in front of the two boys.  He told one of the boys that he would give him $10 if he could make the other boy angry.  He told the second boy that he would get the $10 if no matter what happened, he was able to keep from getting angry.  As you might predict, no one got angry that day.  Doug pointed out that when our motivation for not getting angry is greater than our motivation to get angry, we can always control our anger.

The point then is this:  We have a lot more control in our lives than we think...and sometimes more than we care to admit.  

If we refuse to set the temperature of our environment, we can't complain when someone else takes it upon themselves to crank the heat.


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