A man wants to hang a painting. He has the nail, but not the hammer. Therefore it occurs to him to go over to the neighbor and ask him to lend him his hammer. But at this point, doubt sets in. What if he doesn’t want to lend me the hammer? Yesterday he barely spoke to me. Maybe he was in a hurry. or, perhaps, he holds something against me. But why? I didn’t do anything to him. If he would ask me to lend him something, I would, at once. How can he refuse to lend me his hammer? People like him make other people’s life miserable. Worst, he thinks that I need him because he has a hammer. This has got to stop! And suddenly the guy runs to the neighbor’s door, rings, and before letting him say anything, he screams: “You can keep your hammer, you bastard!” (Aus: Paul Watzlawick, Anleitung zum Unglücklichsein, S. 37 und 38, 20. Auflage 2011, Piper Verlag).
This story is probably one of the better known of Paul Watzlawick’s numerous anecdotes about our pursuit of unhappiness. I often used this story to read in group seminars and enter into our construct of everyday life or conflict situations. Most of us smile when we hear the story and quickly recognize parallels to our own stories that play out in our heads before they become our own reality and unconsciously influence our own actions. What Paul Watzlawick does not tell us in detail at this point is, why do these mental stories and mental escapades occur and how do I protect myself from getting caught up in an illusion that is destructive to myself and also to others and from allowing my actions to arise out of these mental stories?
The first and, in my view, most important exercise is to be aware of what’s going on in your head. Neuroscientists assume that we have up to 80,000 thoughts per day. When I heard this number, I thought it was impossible. However, when I started to pay more and more attention to my thoughts, as an exercise in between during the day, I noticed that there is a countless mess going on in my head. Already in the morning after waking up, thoughts are simply there. And meanwhile I believe this initially doubted impossibility. I am aware that I still can only bring fragments of these thoughts into self-observation. And even if I consciously focus on one thing and look for a solution, I perceive that thoughts come and guide me to look something up, to research or I draw from former experiences to find ideas for solutions. I probably don’t really plan any of my thought processes. In mindfulness or yoga classes, it’s common to hear: Thoughts come and go, just like the clouds in the sky. Notice them and let them go. Only when I began to consciously observe and perceive this show in myself and my head I understood these simple messages, which I had been hearing for some years.
We literally stick to some thoughts and stories and these thoughts and stories influence and control our behavior and our emotions. Many of these mental stories run unconsciously. This unconscious part often steers us into tomorrow or yesterday and rarely into the moment. We believe that we take conscious action and make conscious decisions.
I like Byron Katie’s quote : You don’t think, you are thought! We follow these thoughts and we like to identify ourselves with them. We follow the energy of our thoughts and this energy can have various forms: charged, negative and rather dysfunctional, even destructive or constructive, creative, joyful and searching for solutions or even neutral. We direct these energies towards ourselves and others and spread them without being aware of our responsibility in spreading them, be it towards ourselves or others. At the same time, we want the outside world to always be polite, peaceful, respectful and friendly. We follow our thoughts with what we know or think we know about ourselves, the world, others, and how they really are. We create with them characteristics of distinction and belonging as well as our own identity.
Throughout this book, we will begin to trace our mental stories and identities together.
Cologne, October, 12th, 2022