Wishful Thinking

Today I sit on the airplane appreciating realistic thinking instead of wishful thinking. Many times traveling, I only allow for exactly the time it takes to the airport plus a little wiggle room. This trip was more complex. There are three of us traveling, and many more realities, like slowdowns due to construction, a checked bag, dropping dogs off, a loose hog in the middle of a field (not kidding), a stopped school bus, waiting on a contractor to complete a task before we could leave and a thousand moments that I had to yield to someone while in traffic, getting on an elevator or walking the busy hallways of the airport.

The wishful thinking I often bring to such a trip says that the path from here to there is mostly clear and everything will be smooth sailing! For the most part, my wishful thinking expects none of those other tiny moments of yielding. From that state of mind, every slowdown is a problem that fuels my “hurry-up-itis”.

As I watched the elevator doors close in the parking garage, leaving me standing there wishing I had drank MUCH less tea on the way to the airport, it dawned on me that life is much more peaceful when I treat those realities as something to be expected instead of dreaded.

Today has had more peace, because I never felt like someone doing something normal was a problem for me.

The moment at the elevator brought into sharp focus how much my state of mind influences how I experience what life throws at me. (I also made a note to self to remember to drink a little less tea on the next trip.) 

Wishful thinking not only creates a state of mind just waiting to turn normal into awful; it also shields me from facing realities that really need to be faced. 

When Jen was in the early stages of her recovery, I had done a LOT of facing reality. Like facing that my daughter was a drug addict. Like facing that I had played a part in the circumstances that brought her here. Like she could die.

Even after all that “realistic thinking” and progress in her recovery, I found myself easily falling into wishful thinking.

After several years of turmoil, trauma and healing, she was finally on a much better path. She was living near us, going to school and doing all the right things to stay clean. We had learned to set good boundaries and structured her living arrangements so that she had a good place to live. One of the conditions was that she not have a roommate.

I can’t remember what caused me to question it, but one day, I was driving into town and would pass her apartment on the way. I got a feeling. One part of me said “You need to go check it out.” The wishful thinking part of me said “Don’t go. If you find something you don’t like, you will have to deal with it. Better to not know.”

There’s a funny thing about a thought like that. Wishful thinking is often not burdened with the clarity of words. Instead, it’s just a foggy sense of hoping that things are fine. That not doing anything is a good thing. That not knowing means everything is ok. That staying ignorant lets me off the hook. 

When the words come into focus, it’s much easier to realize it’s wishful thinking.

Because the words came in more clearly that day, I could look at them and recognize that wishful thinking would not make the problem go away. If there was a problem, I needed to know so we could solve it.

So at the last minute, I turned into the parking lot. My palms were sweaty and the butterflies were fluttering. What if my instinct is right? Once I knew, I could no longer live in wishful thinking. What is my next move? Will I have the courage to make a move? What happens then?

I summoned the will to get out of the car and went to the door. Now I was torn between feeling like I was invading her privacy and defending a boundary. I almost turned back. But once I saw myself actually saying “Better not to know” I knew it was a lie.

After a couple of false tries, the lock finally opened. It was as if the lock was testing my resolve. At that moment, I could have said “I tried to get in but the door wouldn’t open.” Oh well. Go back to wishful thinking. I’m quite sure I’ve taken that path too many times in my life.

When I walked through the door, I was relieved to see an orderly apartment. A quick pass through the rooms told me there was no unauthorized roommate.

I didn’t have a sigh of relief. It was much bigger. My exhale was more like a Cat 3 hurricane. My relief was immense and palpable. 

It was only then that I could realize that I really did do the right thing – regardless of outcome. I needed to know.  

If Jen had fallen off the path, then she would have been responsible for the fallout created by her choices and actions. My denial would not have served her; instead would have fueled her decline. I would have been soft on her to save her from herself, and in the end, hard on myself.

Seen that way, it changed how I’ve come to approach those moments when I would rather not know. Am I really going to NOT show up for someone important to me to make it easier on myself? Who am I not to enforce the agreements I’ve made with people that matter? And how can I help stop myself from lying to myself?

If you have been watching my love of skiing starting to morph into a love of horses, you are seeing the answer to that last question.

What I’ve learned is that horses don’t lie. If I show up lying to myself (and therefore to them) about whether I’m relaxed and confident, they will pick up on that and show ME how I’m really feeling. That gift is priceless to someone like me who is good at putting on the “I’ve got this” face.

The famous physicist Richard Feynman said “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” 

Every time we fall on wishful thinking, we run the risk of creating unintended fallout. Wishing something to be so doesn’t make it so. It just makes us delusional.  

Realistic thinking may seem difficult  - but it’s the path to more peace of mind.

Where are you relying on wishful thinking to absolve you from solving the real problem? What lies do you tell yourself because you would rather not deal with something? What fallout are you creating for yourself and those you care about by ignoring reality?