What else does stinking thinking do? Does it lead you to blaming rather than acceptance? If something goes wrong with a client, for example, even if I was not directly involved, I have to own it. A client doesn’t care why something happened; they usually just want it fixed and to understand how it can be avoided in the future.

The wrong response can lead us to try to explain why something went the way it did rather than make a real apology. I remember when my property casualty insurance was up for renewal. I noticed some things were missed, and I expected an annual review. When I let my agent know that I was moving the account for a lack of service, he told me that his assistant should have contacted me. While that may be the case, I hired him, so I expected him to take responsibility for what didn’t happen (and my frustration) rather than toss his assistant to the wolves. But it was more important for him to defend his work product than to take ownership for what didn’t happen. Could he develop greater competence in accepting this?

Now consider the ways we react to social media. Sometimes we feel bad because something we posted didn’t get enough likes. Or we might become envious of something someone posted about themselves. Or, on the other hand, we might feel superior about our own posted accomplishments. But social media is one-dimensional. We’re interpreting the way innocuous posts affect our own status. Isn’t that crazy? What competencies could we create to change what we can and accept what we can’t?

The fact that something can make you feel particularly bad (or good) means you’re allowing others to affect your spirits.

I write a column about money and values for a newspaper. I’m careful not to read online comments after publishing a piece because I know my moods will be influenced by what people I don’t know have to say about my article. I want to avoid areas where I unnecessarily cause the wrong kind of thinking to surface. I can’t fully be competent if I’m not being affected, but I can be more competent in choosing how to engage.

So what are some competencies we can develop to manage our own thinking?

First, when we are feeling bad about something we did or didn’t do, we should evaluate the action, but not judge ourselves for it. If we do judge, we’re falling into the binary thinking of something being either good or bad. Every day we end up doing something we wish we hadn’t done, or not doing things we feel we should have. Maybe it was a small thing like not returning a call or being distracted when someone was talking to us. We shouldn’t run from these ideas. Instead we should explore them, forgive ourselves, and move on.

Second, if we are struggling with something, we should sit with it. Play with it. Move it outside of ourselves and observe it. Stinking thinking creates negative feedback loops. But we can break them by cracking them open. The idea is to change how we are viewing things as well as how we view ourselves.

Third, we should embrace our flaws. We all have things that we are working on. We shouldn’t pretend we have it all together; we won’t fool ourselves and it will stunt our effectiveness.

If stinking thinking is really the universal addiction, we should remember that addictions are managed, not eliminated. People are multifaceted, and some of those facets serve us better than others. Building competencies to manage our thinking will help us in our practices as well as our lives.

Ross Levin is co-founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina, Minn.

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