In these articles, I explore the wide realm of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and delve into how our thoughts shape our inner worlds, external behaviors, and moods.

A hungry Fox saw some fine bunches of Grapes hanging from a vine that was trained along a high trellis, and did his best to reach them by jumping as high as he could into the air. But it was all in vain, for they were just out of reach: so he gave up trying, and walked away with an air of dignity and unconcern, remarking, “I thought those Grapes were ripe, but I see now they are quite sour.”

The Fox and the Grapes from Aesop’s Fables

The situation did not change. The grapes remained out of reach. What changed? The Fox’s mindset about the grapes. Our thoughts determine our lives, and the story of the Fox and the Grapes is one small illustration of this truth.

“I thought those Grapes were ripe. I see now they are quite sour.”

Author, podcaster, and former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink also talks about mindset. In one of his talks, he emphasizes saying “Good!” when something bad happens. Didn’t get the new equipment? Good, we can sharpen our skills with what we have. Didn’t get the new job? Good, you can keep getting experience and building the resume. Too many constraints on your time? Good, creativity flourishes under constraints.

Mindset matters.

The mindset Willink calls us to is a habit of emphasizing the positive. This is textbook cognitive-behavioral strategy. Too often, we have a mental filter that filters in only the negative and filters out the positive. The Fox displays a version of negative mental filtering, I think. Out of all the options for his mindset, he chooses to believe the grapes were sour, anyway, and this thought affects his mood and behavior to that effect, makes him sour instead. His mood becomes one of feigned unconcern and his behavior, trotting haughtily away. No one may see him undignified. The Fox is exposed as having a brittle ego.

If the Fox exchanged his mental filter to rather emphasize the positive, he might have told himself, “Those grapes are just out of reach. I can’t control that. But I sure did get a lot of exercise! This makes me run faster and leap farther to catch prey.” In this case, the Fox’s ego is not brittle but rather strengthened by the challenge. He sees himself more realistically and is able to accept the world as it is: an often-difficult place.

Let’s remember the Fox and Jocko, and bear in mind that mindset matters. Our thoughts determine our lives.