Posts Tagged With: income taxes

Day 82: The Equal Time Rule

Years ago, I made up a “rule” for myself, to deal with my (human) tendency to focus on the negatives. If you’re like me in this way (and most people I meet seem to be), you automatically zero in on whatever isn’t “right” — possible sources of future trouble, critical comments, negative people, the “fly in the ointment,” mistakes, and so on.

As I’ve written in this blog before, this makes sense, purely from a survival standpoint. If there’s danger out there, it’s helpful for our bodies and minds to focus on that.  If everything else is idyllic and safe, but there’s a potentially dangerous creature strolling by, that’s going to get all of our (and our ancient ancestors’) attention.

But this survival instinct can screw us up. It can cause us to over-emphasize the negative while dismissing the positive — reducing our joy, interfering with connections to others, and promoting worry and regret.

Several Cognitive Distortions (listed here), relate to that, including:

Negative filtering (also known as “Disqualifying the positive”).
This is when we focus on the negative, and filter out all positive aspects of a situation.  For example, you get a good review at work with one critical comment, and the criticism becomes the focus, with the positive feedback fading or forgotten. You dismiss positives by explaining them away — for example, responding to a compliment with the thought, “They were just being nice.”


Magnifying or Minimizing.
We exaggerate the importance of some things (our mistakes, a critical reaction, somebody else’s achievements, things we haven’t done). Also, we inappropriately shrink the magnitude of  other things  (for example, our good qualities, compliments, what we have accomplished, or someone else’s imperfections).


We come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, you expect it to happen over and over again. Example: seeing one incident of rejection as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat and failure.


So where’s the friggin’ rule, Ann?

 Yes, I started out this post promising a rule I made up, to help deal with overemphasizing the negative.  I put this rule in my list of  remedies  for cognitive distortions, and here it is:

The Equal Time Rule.  To be fair, why not balance out the time spent on negative thoughts with positive thoughts?  For example, if you spend a certain amount of time worrying or catastrophizing about something that then turns out okay, consider spending that much time feeling good about the outcome. Or, if you are focusing on a negative, critical person and worrying about how they might affect you, try to give equal time and power to a positive, supportive person.

Okay, time for an example!

Several posts this year have mentioned my dread of working on my income taxes (like here and here).

(I don’t know why I freak out, so much, about doing my taxes each year.  I have a lot of self-knowledge and insight, or so I’m told, but I still don’t understand THAT, which I could probably explore in a ridiculously long post and/or another year of therapy).  (But not now.)

Here is my yearly To Do List about taxes:

February 15. Start worrying about and dreading working on your taxes.Don’t actually do anything, but definitely beat yourself up about (1) procrastinating and (2) worrying so much about this, which is dopey and really getting old.   Make sure you compare yourself to other people who have (1) completed their taxes and/or (2) aren’t as weird as you about worrying about this.  Schedule a few weekends when you’re definitely going to work on this, but then don’t. Make sure to feel guilty about scheduling and then not following through.  Try not to tell people how weird you are about this, but if you do tell people, make sure to feel dopey about that.

March 15. Continue doing all of the above, but more frequently and intensely. Note the amount of time you’ve wasted feeling bad about this and ask yourself questions like, “Why do you do this every year?”  Decide that this year, you’ve gone further than you usually do in procrastinating;  feel  bad and somewhat panicky about that. Notice that the worrying about taxes is getting in the way of your anticipating the arrival of your favorite season — Spring! Feel REALLY bad about that.

The End of March:  Always get done what you need to, somehow.

(Note that I’ve left something out here:  my frequent uses of remedies and antidotes to help myself feel better during this process.) (Again, I’m overemphasizing the negative and minimizing the positive, in how I’m telling THIS story.)  (Eeeek!)


This year, I did the above routine again — as usual,  starting around February 15.

AND, as usual,  I finished the routine this past week. That is,  I’m done with my preparation (and dread) about taxes for this year.

If I were to use my made-up Equal Time Rule, I would spend as much time and intensity feeling GOOD about completing my taxes as I did feeling bad about NOT doing them.  That means I would spend more than a month, from now on, feeling relieved and great.

Will I do it?  Nah. Not even close, people.

But I LOVE that idea.  And by having that rule, even if I don’t keep it, I invite myself to feel as good as I possibly can for as long as I can possibly can.

Because it’s only fair, right?

Thanks for reading.


© 2013  Ann Koplow      (for my Equal Time Rule)

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Day 55: There is NOTHING I have to do today (AND antidotes)

The title of this post is a thought I had, right after I woke up today.

There is NOTHING I have to do today.

And that’s a rare thought for me, these days, for lots of reasons.

For one thing, this year I have committed  to writing a blog post, every day. That commitment is something I chose, for myself, but it’s also a commitment I’ve made to you, dear reader.

But yesterday — for the first time in This Blogging Adventure — I wrote a complete post ahead of time, which I intended to post today.

While I’ve created several drafts of Possible Future Posts before, yesterday was the first time I packaged up a complete post, spell-checked it, tagged it, and had it ready and raring to go. And I liked the post when I wrote it, and I still like it. I’m intending to post it sometime soon (even though I’ve decided, at this point, not to post it today).

However, having that post written and all ready to go affected me this morning. I felt different when I woke up. Instead of being uneasy when I first woke up, I could have this unusual thought:

There is NOTHING I  have to do today.

Now, one might argue that premise  —  that there is NOTHING I have to do today — was faulty, even though I had a post all ready to go. That is, when I woke up,  I DID have something I needed to do today regarding my blog post — I needed to Click and Publish that pre-written post.

But the obligation of clicking and posting the blog post didn’t count as Something I Had To Do — it was too quick and easy.

So I was still able to stay with that thought after I woke up.  There is NOTHING I have to do today.

And, ladies and gentlemen, I will now  present yet another possible challenge to this Amazing Premise, that There is NOTHING I have to do today.

There are things I have to do today, to survive — like breathing.

But I’m choosing not to count those, either.

Okay, now  — because this will help me — I’m going to Go Mathematical On Your Ass.  That is, I am going to formulate an equation of Something I Have to do,  in order to further convince myself that there is NOTHING I have to do today.

(For those of you who don’t like — or assume you’re incompetent in — math, don’t worry.  I’ve already pretty much stated these points, although not in mathematical form. The Mathematical Portion of this Blog Post will  be over soon, and you can always skim through or skip this portion of the post)

(And for those of you who DO like math and/or know more about math than my 60-year-old brain is able to remember right now, don’t worry. The Mathematical Section of this Blog Post will be over soon, and you can always skim through or skip this portion of the post.)

The Mathematical Portion of this Blog Post

Something I Have To Do =  Something I’ve Committed To Do OR Something That is Due by the End of Today AND NOT Something That Takes Less Than 5 Seconds AND NOT Something I Do Automatically or Need to Do to Survive.


Phew!  Now that THAT’s over with, I can present the evidence that There is NOTHING I have to do today, as follows:

It’s a weekend, so I don’t have to go into work.

My blog post for the day is written.

There is nothing else due by the end of today.

I’m not counting things that would take more than five seconds.

I’m not counting things, like breathing or eating, that I would do automatically or for survival.

Therefore, I have proven, to my satisfaction:

There is NOTHING I have to do today.


Here’s a 4-minute “peaceful interlude” I just found onYouTube to represent that “Ahhhhhhhhh” I just typed above:


That piece, from “Peer Gynt,” was the exact music I was hearing in my head, as I was imagining a peaceful interlude. And it only took me about 3 seconds  to find that video on YouTube.

Now, dear reader, at this point in this post (that I didn’t have to write, because There is NOTHING I have to do today), I have a question for you.

Did you watch the whole video?

Because I didn’t.

I could have. And that would have been great, I know.  I could have used it as a Mindfulness Exercise.

For those of you who might be interested in reading more about what I mean by “a Mindfulness Exercise,”  check out this italicized explanation:

When I say that I could have used the YouTube video as a Mindfulness Exercise, I mean that I could have focused on taking in — through my senses of sight and hearing — the experience of being present with that video, as much as possible. I could have used that video as a way to practice being in the moment, noticing that my mind might be wandering, letting go of judgment about that, and then gently redirecting my wandering thoughts back to focusing on  the video, again and again. (Here are some things I often tell people to prepare them right before we do a mindfulness exercise: (1) There is no right or wrong way to do this, (2) Your mind is going to wander, because that’s what our minds do, (3) This is not about focusing perfectly on something, (4) When other thoughts come in, notice them, let go of them without judgment, and gently refocus your attention, and (5) Mindfulness is not so much about the focusing, it’s about returning to the focusing, again and again.

I do a lot of mindfulness exercises, at work, with people. And I think practicing mindfulness is really helpful.

However, I didn’t want to do a mindfulness exercise for myself, while I was writing this post, using that YouTube video. And I didn’t have to (because There is NOTHING I have to do today).

Now I’d like to make another point about Things I Have to do, which is this.  Sometimes there are things that I have to do that I am glad to do.

For example, yesterday there were some things  I had to do, because it was my son’s birthday. For example, I had to pick up his cake.  Those tasks didn’t feel like obligations, at all, and I really enjoyed doing them — because they were about joy and celebration.

But there is nothing I HAVE to do today, even if it’s something I would enjoy doing.


(Same piece, from Peer Gynt, different YouTube video.)

Hmmmm, but there ARE some SHOULDs that I COULD think of, for today.  (See here and here for more about SHOULDs.)

For example,  I SHOULD be doing tax stuff!  It’s already February 24th!!

(You know what?   I have to say I’m enjoying this evolution of my skills — my mastery —  in blogging. On Day 45,  I invited people to imagine that scary Bernard Herrmann music. Today,  I can just put it in the post!)

So, yes,  SHOULD Statements (particularly those regarding taxes) can be an automatic anxiety-trigger for me.

But I’m letting go of that anxiety, while I am writing this blog post.

And how am I doing that, dear reader?  Well, several ways, including the following:

(1) I clicked on one of the tranquil videos above, and I watched it and listened to it for a little while, and

(2) I gave myself credit for something I’ve learned and mastered at this point in my blogging (i.e., incorporating sounds into posts).

And both those things helped.

And — as often happens to me, while I’m writing a post — this post (which I did not HAVE to write today), has gone somewhere I didn’t expect.

It’s gone to the topic of Antidotes.

Antidotes are one of my names for Things That Help — tools for challenging Cognitive Distortions.

If you have read other posts in this blog, you may know that there are 13 Cognitive Distortions (as identified by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and which I have listed here).

During this Year of Living Non-Judgmentally, I have been working really hard to identify and share as many tools as I can that will help challenge the 13 Cognitive Distortions. I’ve been collecting antidotes, skills, ANYTHING  that will help in my quest to battle these Dread Distortions, which seem to plague me (and, as far as I can tell,  most members of the human race).

And, in today’s blog post, I have referred to and demonstrated some of these tools, including:

(1) Examining The Evidence,

(2) Mindfulness,

(3) Giving Yourself Credit (e.g., for developing mastery and for working hard),  and

(4) Repetitiveness (a.k.a as  The Broken Record Technique).

(Regarding #4, here’s a quiz question for you, if you’re playing along at home. How many times did the phrase “There Is NOTHING I have to do today” occur in this post?)

Okay, one more digression for this post before I put this puppy to bed.  (It’s self-reflexive digression, because it’s about digressions!)

( I wrote — and then cut out — a digression in this post about how digressive and long my posts are on weekends. This digression included a discussion of the skill of Pros and Cons, but  I cut it because of one of the Cons of a long, digressive post: By including so much information in one post, I run the risk of confusing and losing people.  So I cut it.)

Where was I before that digression?  Oh, yes.  I was trying to let you know about antidotes and other tools I HAVE written about in this blog, so far, including these in previous posts:

(1) Focusing on what you are doing, rather than on what you’re not doing,

(2) Losing the investment in the outcome, and

(3) Using personal medicine.

I’ve been working on compiling lists of tools, including a hand-out, called “Antidotes to Distortions,” which I’ve been using in individual and group therapy.

And, just as I eventually figured out how to post The 13 Cognitive Distortions  here, I will also post this List of Antidotes, so you, dear reader, can access them and read them at your convenience and pleasure.

But not today!

Because there’s NOTHING I have To Do Today.

Thanks for being here with me today, in a place where none of us HAD to be.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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