I grew up in a small town in Southern Oklahoma. When I tell someone this fact, sometimes I get a “me too!” Then, they tell me their hometown had 15,000 people. Ok, city dweller. I have you beat.
My hometown had 300 people.
I legitimately thought a town of 15,000 people was big. When my mom moved to a neighboring town of that size, I considered switching schools. Then, I thought about the school size. Would it even be safe? No thanks.
When I turned 18, I left the comfort of my cozy hometown. Since then, I’ve lived in towns ranging from 2,000 people to metros upwards of 500,000 people. That’s nothing compared to LA, but compared to that 300-person town? Big change.
I love the amenities of living in a big city. There’s so much to see and do and the people are wonderful here. At some point I did those big city things like hail a taxi and take the MAX with a friend who knew the city like the back of her hand.
But I always had a fear of taking public transportation on my own. I couldn’t wrap my small town mind around the routes and procedures. How do people not get lost all the time? How do you know where the buses go? There are so many! Will everyone know I have no idea what I’m doing? I had a million questions about this normal thing that countless people do every day and my made-up answers scared me away.
I’m not trying to get overly philosophical here, but reading the works of Albert Ellis helped me so much. Albert Ellis was a psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) which is one of the earliest forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Albert Ellis proposes that each of us hold a unique set of assumptions about ourselves and our world that serve to guide us through life and determine our reactions to the various situations we encounter.
Unfortunately, some people’s assumptions are largely irrational, guiding them to act and react in ways that are inappropriate and that prejudice their chances of happiness and success. Albert Ellis calls these basic irrational assumptions. – Source
Basically we tend to think of worst case scenarios that steer us away from doing things that would probably make us happy to do. That’s exactly what I was doing with public transportation. I wanted to do it, but my list of things that could go wrong prevented that from happening.
So I needed to take a step back from my thoughts and break them down. Ok, so what if I get lost? The buses stay within city limits. I could only get so lost. Very worst case scenario, I call a taxi or bug a friend for a ride. How will I know which bus to take? Well, I could just ask. I could figure out the maps. The more I examined assumptions that were affecting my every day choices, the more obviously irrational they seemed.
I went to the main bus station and asking the customer service rep which routes I needed. She was very nice and gave me every bus number and times I could catch them. Then, I did a “test ride” on my day off so I could take the bus seamlessly when I needed to be somewhere on time. Guess what happened during that test ride? I got lost! I took the wrong bus!
One of my fears came true, but I no longer had irrational assumptions associated with it. So it really wasn’t a big deal at all. In fact, it helped me become a smarter traveler. I realized what I’d done wrong, knew not to do it again, and have taken public transportation countless times since with no problems.
My little fear may seem silly (although it was very real to me!) but this method of overcoming little fears helps me all the time. I used to be terrified of getting a less-than-perfect grade. I wrote about that here. My thinking was that a B would be a slippery slope. Once I get a B, I’ll mostly get B’s, then C’s, then I’d start failing classes, then I can’t finish my degree, then I’ve wasted several years of my life. It seems so obviously irrational now but it didn’t always.
That’s the kind of irrational thinking Ellis worked on. Our minds wander until our decisions and happiness suffer. When I got that lower grade, I didn’t feel bad for more than a few seconds. The world didn’t implode. My life is still intact. I’m actually closer to my degree than ever before. I’ll probably work harder next time.
Ok, so I did get all philosophical there. I’m just happy to find something that works for me. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years, and still sing the praises of proper treatment and medication, but thinking differently also helps. It’s not even “positive thinking” as much as it’s “not negative thinking.” Try it. You’ll like it. 🙂