When I woke up this morning, the Los Angeles fires were blazing. The sky looked eerie, the sun shone weakly through layers of smoke and it seemed like the end of the world was here. The suffocating smell permeated my bedroom and I felt trapped. My “go to” distraction from the turmoil of daily life is walking. When I get out, go to the park and walk, I forget the reality of these days for a while. I almost feel normal (if it weren’t for the masks, I would), I see other people and I breathe in fresh air. But there isn’t any right now. Walking is out of the question and I feel even more isolated.

I closed the windows to block out the smoke and my mind went off, making up scary scenarios. A ton of “what ifs.” What if my house caught on fire? What if I got sick? What if I couldn’t get groceries? What if my Internet went down and I got cut off from the rest of the world? These are not good things to think about over morning coffee, mainly because they aren’t happening to me right now. Why don’t I come up with good news scenarios, like having a roof over my head, the money to buy food for me and my cat, and having the Internet where I teach classes and communicate with friends? I’m not denying that large numbers of people are suffering from our current difficulties, we all take turns, but if I look at what’s real and I stop to breathe into the moment, I’m basically okay.

The biblical adage, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” comes to mind. To me that means it’s a waste of time to worry about tomorrow, to drown in a diatribe of “what ifs.” There is enough to worry about in the present moment, things that are actually happening. Making up stories about things that aren’t real depletes our energy and adds more fuel to the fire. We have plenty of fires, metaphorical and actual, to remind us about that.

It takes a lot of mental discipline to stop listening to false stories of doom, but I refuse to live a fear based life. When my mind starts looping and fretting, I imagine I’m watching a depressing movie and I remind myself to change the channel. I have a friend who actually puts out her arm and turns her hand, as if she’s physically changing the channel. She told me she did that for months until it became so familiar to her, she could simply imagine it. But she didn’t stop. Breaking up old programming is a mighty task. You can’t do it once and have done with it. It takes constant repetition and when it becomes automatic and familiar, we have to keep on doing it.

I don’t know why it’s so much easier to create negative outcomes than positive ones. Maybe it’s a bad habit, old learned behavior, or maybe it’s just the human condition. Whatever it is, however we got stuck in the habit of expecting the worst, life will be deeply uncomfortable if we don’t decide to do something about it. I believe in magnetism, that like attracts like. But whatever the truth is about that, imagining the good thing rather than the bad thing simply makes me feel better. If it goes further than that, if it really does change things for the better, that’s the “Amen” at the end of a passionate prayer.

Do you make up negative stories that leave you feeling hopeless and helpless? What do you do about it?