I have seen a cartoon recently that gives me a chuckle, and prompts reflection, every time I think of it. In the foreground, the cartoon features a male physician sitting at his desk, looking at an X-ray. On the other side of the desk, we see the patient whose X-ray the physician has in hand. Although the cartoon is in Spanish, and the physician addresses his patient as “señor Gustavo,” I can hardly imagine a reader in the U.S. who would not recognize the patient as one of Jim Henson’s most famous Muppets, Kermit the Frog, who croons the song, “Bein’ Green,” with its well-known line, “It’s not easy bein’ green.”
In the X-ray that the physician is holding, we can see the bones of a human forearm inside the outline of the patient’s body, the wrist at neck level, and the hand occupying the head, thumb beneath the lower jaw and the rest — well, you know how a puppet works. Loosely translated, the physician is saying to Kermit, who has been known as “la rana Gustavo” — Gustavo the Frog — in Spain, “Have a seat, Mr. Gustavo … what I have to tell you may come as a complete shock.” There is another version of this cartoon making its way around Facebook, I’ve found, in which the physician’s words to Kermit are rendered, “What I’m about to tell you is gonna change your life forever. Are you really sure you want to know it?”
When I think about this cartoon, I find myself reflecting on what Kermit hasn’t realized on his own, presumably, and is about to learn from his physician: in spite of any sense of autonomy and independence that Kermit has experienced and thought of himself as having in his life, he has been a puppet — not in nearly as much control of himself as he may have imagined. For me, this idea parallels a realization that I often experience, contrastingly, whenever I have been feeling especially stymied or “stuck” — so, not free — in my life, either with a sense of being victimized, or angry at and blaming a situation, another person, or other people for my discontent or pain. In these scenarios — and frequently only when things start to shift, unfortunately — I realize with a groan that I have been a puppet of sorts, subjecting myself to limited ways of thinking and talking about what I have identified as “the problem,” whatever that may be. I have been a puppet to perspectives that have not been working for me, in other words, and I did not even notice. Being held, so tightly and unconsciously, in the grip of these particular ways of thinking and talking has been the real issue for me all along!
Take, as just one example, the reaction that I have had to the recent arrival of colder temperatures in the area where I live. Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I have been working since mid-July to develop a new, healthy habit of running outside, and that I have been excited about my achievements, and enjoying the process. When cold weather came sooner than I was expecting, I began to complain, feeling reluctant to hit the trail in my shorts and a t-shirt, and grumpy about the idea of moving my running inside — to a treadmill at the gym — or investing in warmer running gear. I found myself oscillating between an emotional state of “Woe is me!” and feeling mad-at-the-weather, an experience that I let grind my routine to a sulky halt for a few days. In my pouting, I was a puppet to my feelings of disappointment, fear, frustration, and loss. When I finally acknowledged to myself that, over the past few months, I had actually learned to love running outside, didn’t want to run in the cold, and would really miss running outside when there was snow and ice on the ground, I decided that, as much sense as my sulking made under the circumstances, I wanted to have a different experience. Approaching the situation from the perspective of asking myself, “What’s the opportunity here?” I identified at least a couple of options that were open to me: I could learn about and purchase warmer workout gear, and tackle the trail in the colder temperatures with this added insulation, and/or I could get a head start on moving my running indoors for the winter, knowing that there would likely be days at a stretch of snow and ice on the ground when I wouldn’t want to run outside, even with warmer clothes. I ended up choosing to take my running indoors earlier than I had anticipated. I’m already looking forward to warmer weather, but in the meantime, I’ll still be running, which is what I want to be doing.
How do you deal with finding yourself a puppet to perspectives that harm or hinder rather than help you, or even other people? If you took to heart the idea that you can choose to think and talk about things in ways that work for you and others, that you don’t have to be a puppet to the less helpful ways, how would this change you — your life — forever?
Featured image credit: alptraum / 123RF Stock Photo
Scott is a psychotherapist, personal development coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic. He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm and confidence.