I recently was at a friend's house, and their five-year-old was getting ready for bed. He was standing on a stool by the sink brushing his teeth, when he slipped, and scratched his leg on the stool when he fell. He cried for a minute, but then he got back up, got back on the stool, and reached out for a box of Band-Aids to put one on his cut.
Now, this kid could barely tie his shoelaces, but he knew you have to cover a cut, so it doesn't become infected, and you have to care for your teeth by brushing twice a day. We all know how to maintain our physical health and how to practice dental hygiene, right? We've known it since we were five years old. But what do we know about maintaining our psychological health? Well, nothing. What do we teach our children about emotional hygiene? Nothing. How is it that we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds. Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health?
We sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones, injuries like failure or rejection or loneliness. And they can also get worse if we ignore them, and they can impact our lives in dramatic ways. And yet, even though there are scientifically proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of psychological injuries, we don't. It doesn't even occur to us that we should. "Oh, you're feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it's all in your head."Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg: "Oh, just walk it off; it's all in your leg." It is time we closed the gap between our physical and our psychological health.
Our mind is hard to change once we become convinced. So it might be very natural to feel demoralized and defeated after you fail. But you cannot allow yourself to become convinced you can't succeed. You have to fight feelings of helplessness. You have to gain control over the situation. And you have to break this kind of negative cycle before it begins.
Our minds and our feelings, they're not the trustworthy friends we thought they were. They are more like a really moody friend, who can be totally supportive one minute, and really unpleasant the next. I once worked with this woman who after 20 years marriage and an extremely ugly divorce, was finally ready for her first date. She had met this guy online, and he seemed nice and he seemed successful, and most importantly, he seemed really into her. So she was very excited, she bought a new dress, and they met at an upscale New York City bar for a drink. Ten minutes into the date, the man stands up and says, "I'm not interested," and walks out.
Rejection is extremely painful. The woman was so hurt she couldn't move. All she could do was call a friend. Here's what the friend said: "Well, what do you expect? You have big hips, you have nothing interesting to say, why would a handsome, successful man like that ever go out with a loser like you?"
Shocking, right, that a friend could be so cruel? But it would be much less shocking if I told you it wasn't the friend who said that. It's what the woman said to herself. And that's something we all do, especially after a rejection. We all start thinking of all our faults and all our shortcomings, what we wish we were, what we wish we weren't, we call ourselves names. Maybe not as harshly, but we all do it. And it's interesting that we do, because our self-esteem is already hurting. Why would we want to go and damage it even further? We wouldn't make a physical injury worse on purpose. You wouldn't get a cut on your arm and decide, "Oh, I know! I'm going to take a knife and see how much deeper I can make it.
But we do that with psychological injuries all the time. Why? Because of poor emotional hygiene. Because we don't prioritize our psychological health. We know from dozens of studies that when your self-esteem is lower, you are more vulnerable to stress and to anxiety, that failures and rejections hurt more and it takes longer to recover from them. So when you get rejected, the first thing you should be doing is to revive your self-esteem, not join Fight Club and beat it into a pulp. When you're in emotional pain, treat yourself with the same compassion you would expect from a truly good friend. We have to catch our unhealthy psychological habits and change them.
One of unhealthiest and most common is called rumination. To ruminate means to chew over. It's when your boss yells at you, or your professor makes you feel stupid in class, or you have big fight with a friend and you just can't stop replaying the scene in your head for days, sometimes for weeks on end. Ruminating about upsetting events in this way can easily become a habit, and it's a very costly one. Because by spending so much time focused on upsetting and negative thoughts, you are actually putting yourself at significant risk for developing clinical depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and even cardiovascular disease.
By taking action when you're lonely, by changing your responses to failure, by protecting your self-esteem, by battling negative thinking, you won't just heal your psychological wounds, you will build emotional resilience, you will thrive. A hundred years ago, people began practicing personal hygiene, and life expectancy rates rose by over 50 percent in just a matter of decades. I believe our quality of life could rise just as dramatically if we all began practicing emotional hygiene.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone was psychologically healthier? If there were less loneliness and less depression? If people knew how to overcome failure? If they felt better about themselves and more empowered? If they were happier and more fulfilled? I can, because that's the world I want to live in, and that's the world my brother wants to live in as well. And if you just become informed and change a few simple habits, well, that's the world we can all live in.