30 Seconds for Hope: Your mind is a powerful gatekeeper. When you are faced with challenges, the core person who is you will choose what to believe and how to think. Believe it or not, becoming aware of that fact infuses help and hope!
Now the full story:
I didn’t act fast enough when my husband, Mike, first informed me, so you could say that I brought the explosion on myself. But I’m getting ahead.
“There’s a dead possum under our neighbor’s front porch,” Mike said on Wednesday. “And it really stinks.”
Ugghh. That house was unoccupied, so who would take care of this?
On Thursday, as the smell began to invade our house, I had a brainstorm. Call our city’s animal control! Surely they would take care of it or at least find the new owners. But procrastination set in, and I forgot.
Friday (while I was gone) my husband “solved” the problem single-handed and told me when I came home:
“I scooped up the decaying possum with a shovel, and double-bagged it, and threw it into our garbage tote.”
His satisfied eyes portrayed the look of a hero who had rescued his damsel from death itself. But oh, was he ever in for a surprise because there was no hero parade inside of me! Instead, an explosion arose in me, and wild, contentious thoughts erupted inside my brain. Within milliseconds a quarrelsome monologue had exploded in my head. Dreadful.
“That smelly, slimy, maggot-infested possum is now on MY back porch for a week until the garbage truck comes!” I thought.
Somehow I held my tongue while those thoughts continued to race. “My grand plan for a carcass rescue from animal control has been ruined. Summertime 90° heat, seven days till garbage pickup, maggots everywhere, flies buzzing, not to speak of decomposing crud leaking out! Really?”
Yes, the dreaded had happened. Instantaneously, a full blown explosion had gathered inside my brain because my plans were now demolished. I was ready to detonate.
But I didn’t. I held my tongue before I blasted because I recognized a choice at this crossroads.
A mind choice of, “Don’t talk yet.”
Did you know that the mind can choose pathways to follow? At forks in the road, your mind can decide yes or no. It would have been okay for me to go the way of persuasion, especially if I could have calmly presented my facts. And you might choose that route if ever faced with a dead possum in your garbage. That’s okay. The point is, you and I do have choices. Your mind is the gatekeeper of your muscles, utilizing brain signals to tell those muscles what to do. In this case, my decision instructed the muscle command center, “Stop the vocal muscles.”
Instead, I mulled over my problem while my husband went out on errands. I was not a happy woman. I did not like having a decomposing carcass anywhere near my back porch.
Then suddenly a burst of inspiration came. I could still call animal control and ask them to take that bagged possum out of our trash can. I wouldn’t have to wait seven days!
But immediately my mind had a second thought. “Out of respect for Mike’s heroic efforts, what if I just ask him whether that’s okay with him, too?” I was sure he would say yes, but I would communicate my love for my husband by checking with him first. So, of those two thoughts, 1) call animal control now, or 2) call them later, I chose the second.
When Mike came home, I sweetly walked over to him, and in my most respectful, winsome voice I asked, “Would you be okay, or would you be offended, if I called animal control to pick up the possum from our garbage tote?”
And then a second dreadful thing happened. My husband unexpectedly replied, “I don’t see a problem.” What? He didn’t want me to bring animal control into this?
Such a surprise. I had totally expected to be on the phone within minutes. Now I was stuck with a dead animal for seven days. (“Unless it gets really smelly,” he said, which he doubted would happen because he thought two bags were more than enough to contain smell, and maggots, and ooze).
So at this second crossroads of potential explosion, I was confronted, once again, with mind choices. Actually I had three choices. I could contend for my point of view and try to win. Or I could call animal control anyway. Or maybe I could select a third option… Could I choose to think that this mountain of a problem was actually not all that major? That it was just a molehill? Maybe I could wait a day or two (or seven) to see how things turned out? Maybe I could let my husband learn from his mistakes rather than from my lectures? Or (gasp) maybe I might even learn? Maybe I would discover that a dead possum in two garbage sacks doesn’t pose a problem in summer heat after all? I had a three-way choice.
So my mind made its decision. Of those options, I silently answered myself, “No-No-Yes,” opting for the third. I decided on the spot to let this one go. Even though I felt completely free to state my opinion and appeal for him to change his mind, I decided to change my own stance instead.
I changed my mind.
And my brain signaled my mouth to cease talking.
And I did. Oh, except to say to him, “Okay.” My mind’s yes-no control switch had worked.
And so does yours. Never forget that you really do have choices in how to think. You are not at the mercy of your thoughts, but rather your mind has ownership of your thought processes. The core person who is you can choose what to believe, how to think, and what sources of information you will listen to (based on rational evaluations of truth). You can even make choices in the moment by becoming aware of options and then activating the switch. Practice this: Yes or No. It can become a helpful habit. (No one is perfect at it, for sure, but practice really does help.)
For example, your friend calls you last minute to cancel your coffee date.
You can think, “She doesn’t like me.”
Or you can think, “She probably had something important come up.”
You have two possibilities to consider (and maybe more). Since you can’t read her mind, and since there’s no need to believe your own negative speculations, you can use your yes-no mind switch, to disbelieve, “She doesn’t like me.”
We are not at the mercy of our circumstances, but rather what we believe about the circumstances will influence our emotions. Interactions can be helped by our mental evaluations regarding what is important and how to respond. Remember, it’s always okay to change your mind in order to land on a better, or more truth-filled, thought.
So now it’s a day later. Saturday morning. A few minutes ago I checked the back porch and smelled a moderate stench and saw some flies buzzing around. I’m watching and waiting to see how this goes. But meanwhile my mind is still informing me, “This is a little deal, not a big one. No need to contend for this one.”
I have options for how to think. And I’m at peace with saying yes to my choice.
Update on the possum in the garbage:
On Saturday afternoon my husband approached me, saying, “I was on the back porch, and that possum is getting really smelly. Double bags are not working to contain the smell. And there are fly eggs all over the bag. And just now our neighbor talked to me about the awful stench. So I’m okay now with you calling animal control.”
Okay! (Smiley face!)
So now that dead possum is G-O-N-E. (Fist pump!) Yet letting my husband “live and learn” was an okay choice for me to make. This was a mole hill, and thankfully I caught on before my exploding brain detonated my mouth. Yay! Though “live and listen to me” had been my default mode, “live and learn” won. And we both learned from the experience.
Btw, Mike gave a thumbs-up for telling our story. We both think it’s funny—now that the dreadful carcass is gone!
And PS: Don’t forget that there’s always grace for you if an explosion does happen. For resources about grace (because we’ve all blown it) see here, or read my story here. No need to fret about the past. Everyone makes mistakes. Just learn, find forgiveness, and move forward. Actually, that’s a mind choice, too!