If you think about it, we are never actually responding to an event, we are responding to the conversation in our head about it. This is good news and bad. The bad news is that we cannot blame our circumstances for our unhappiness. The good news? We have the potential to change our emotional response in any situation.

This is not to deny that life can be very very difficult and some challenges are heartbreaking. But knowing we have the possibility, though difficult, to change our response to a disturbance can give us hope for a better present and future. The challenge is to become aware of what we say to ourselves when life is not going well. In hard times, do we nurture and encourage ourselves or does a harsh inner voice punish and judge ourselves, making a bad situation worse?

The steps to "reprogramming" the harsh inner voice are, as they say in AA, simple but not easy. The first step is to ask yourself, "If I had the choice, what would I rather be feeling right now?"

This question and answer changes nothing in the moment but sets a goal for a gentler, kinder inner life. The brain can only do what it can imagine. The next step is to write out a "script" of what you would say to someone you love who was facing the same challenge. Then, rehearse the voice, preferably out loud , three or four times a day.

With practice, this new, nurturing voice becomes your ally in hard times. As William Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking made it so."

Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist and the author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life.

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