No matter where you are, or what is happening, you always have a choice on how you respond. You are never so invested that you can’t change your mind. You might need to work harder to start over. But the choice is yours. If someone has a gun to your head and gives you two options, that doesn’t mean you can’t think of a third. Life situations can make us feel penned in. But we can always choose what to do with our circumstances and make them work in our favor.
By learning to understand how things make you feel and remembering that you always have a choice you can remove the power of fear, anxiety, and external pressure. Cultivating this type of awareness enables you to recognize situations for what they really are and gives you mental clarity in the moment. It enables you to set aside all the personal baggage from a situation and deal with it cleanly.
The first step is learning to be honest with yourself. Are you angry, sad, or happy? If so, pay attention to why you are that way. Let yourself follow the trail even if you don’t really want to. As you go through this, pay attention to what is happening in your body. How do these emotions actually make you feel? If you can learn to recognize these indicators you can notice when they start creeping up on you in future situations. It will help you deal with it quickly and effectively. By being aware of them they are less likely to control you when things get rough. Or giddy.
Now look around you. Pay attention to what is happening. The people you see are all affected by all of the same things you just let yourself feel. Look at an object. Notice the texture and color. Notice how the light reflects off of it. Notice the quality of light. Developing this type of awareness helps to cultivate focus and brings you back to reality. Paying attention to how the same events affect the people around you will give you more insight into who they are and what drives them.
Stress and suffering largely come from us desiring something to be different than it currently is. We anticipate consequences or convince ourselves that we can only be happy if we have something. We start feeling those consequences before they occur (and sometimes they never do). So we get tight and irritable. By assuming we need something else – like a special person in our lives, or a better job – to be happy, we tell ourselves that we are not and cannot be happy right now.
However, if we honestly acknowledge and accept the way things are right now we can stop using energy to reject the current situation. That energy becomes available to see it for what it really is. Accepting the situation simply means acknowledging that there is a problem right now. You don’t like it. Maybe it makes you frustrated, or scared. But it’s here right now. This is simply the way it is right now. So now look at the situation for real, even though you might not want to. See it for what it is. You’ll see it’s just a sequence of events, feelings, and possible results. Knowing what you know now, pretend someone else has this problem. How would you advise them to get through it?
Now that you can see how something is really affecting you and you’ve come to terms with it, it’s time to make a choice. What are you going to do? For example, just because you have accepted that you aren’t as far along in your career as you would like doesn’t mean you can’t keep working towards it. But now you don’t have to worry about the consequences of not getting there. That’s simply anticipation of a possibility. That’s not how it is right now. So what’s your next step to get there?
Maybe you are in an argument with another person. You’re aware of how this all makes you feel. But you’ve accepted that this is going on right now. So what are you going to do? What is the right thing to do? One tip is to choose what you want most over what you want now. So if you care about this person, maybe it’s ok to accept responsibility for hurting them, even if you didn’t mean to. Or you can take the time to understand why they did something that ended up hurting you. Make your choice and own it.
Some things you can do to practice:
- Know you’re afraid of something? Expose yourself to it (responsibly) and pay attention to how it makes you feel. Recognize that feeling and learn to identify it. Notice what part of it is scaring you.
- Upset? Literally take a minute and don’t do anything. Then start deciding how to respond.
- Practice mindfulness meditation (seriously, it works)
- Practice admitting you’re wrong when you’re wrong. Start with little things.
- Pay attention to good moments, and how they make you feel
- Write down what you want out of life. What are small steps you can take to get there?
- Try to count 10 long deep breaths without your mind wandering
- Pay attention to your thoughts. Are they racing? Are you worried? Excited? How do they make you feel? Really notice what’s happening.
- Realize you are not your thoughts. The millions of thoughts we have give us options for everything we do. It is the thoughts we choose to act on that define who we are.
- How do your dreams make you feel? Go the extra mile to try acting on them, pay attention to who that makes you feel, and let it drive you.
- Get into the practice of admitting you’re wrong when you’re wrong.