Be a Thermostat, Not a Thermometer

Very High Scorching Temperature Shown On A Thermostat“I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.”  – Sylvia Plath

Everyone on the Pediatrics floor was walking on eggshells around this particular father. His young daughter’s heart was failing, her body shutting down. He was reacting by behaving like a control freak, micromanaging everything, threatening to change doctors when he didn’t like what was happening.

So when we went into her room to care for her, most of us had to force ourselves to focus on caring for the little girl instead of trying not to anger the father.

Finally, I did what no one else wanted to do: I sat with him and said, “I can’t fix this situation, but is there anything you want me to do?”

He started to cry.

The one thing I can’t do as a nurse is let the mood of patients and their families determine my mood. Yet it’s something so many of us do, especially in our personal lives. So I try to remember that there is a big difference between a thermostat and a thermometer. A thermostat sets the temperature.  A thermometer only reflects the temperature.

Too often, I find myself acting like a thermometer, with my mood bouncing up and down based on the people and events around me.

By nature I am a sensitive and intuitive person. This sensitivity has its advantages, for I am often able to pick up on the “vibes” of others, sensing whether they are happy, angry or sad. However, my sensitivity also causes some problems. Sometimes I literally need to turn it off in order to live in peace with other people.

As a child I often felt responsible for the moods and emotions of those around me; this is common in a household where mental illness is present. It started in my family, then extended to my other relationships as well.

It was many years before I saw how unhealthy this mindset is. It wasn’t easy to discover that I could not control the moods of others, nor should I allow their moods to affect mine.

What a great joy it is to finally realize that we need not allow other people to impose their moods or miseries on us. We are responsible for our own attitudes and actions, and no one should be permitted to make us feel  mad, sad, or bad. There will be days when our boss, family, or friends will be disgruntled, but that should not determine our state of mind.

A joy-filled person can transform the atmosphere of his or her environment, because joy is not based on emotions or on circumstances. It is a consciously chosen mindset, designed to spread light in darkness.

We may not be able to immediately change our circumstances, but we can—and must—change our attitude and how we respond. As author and leadership coach Zig Ziglar says, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” It’s up to us!

So how can you be a thermostat today? Smile at people. Greet them with kind words. Praise others around you. Speak respectfully to your coworkers, even if they seem to behave like jerks. Strive for excellence. Dress well. Exert your fullest effort at what you do best. And honor others for their differences.

Who knows? You might just change the world.

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