Let me share three quick stories and some life-changing lessons with you…
- “On my nursing shift at the hospital this evening, I was forced into a moment of clarity when I got off my phone, utterly flustered after having an argument with my husband, and my 8-year-old patient who’s dying of leukemia asked me if I was OK.”
- “Today is the 10-year anniversary of the day I had planned on ending my life. It’s also the 10-year anniversary of the day I found out I was pregnant with my now 9-year-old son. He’s the reason I changed my mind. And he is so worth it! But perhaps most importantly, I now realize I am worth it too.”
- “This afternoon I learned that the lady who I thought was a ridiculously young mom of the two twin girls I have in my 5th grade math class is actually their 25-year-old half sister. It turns out, her parents got divorced and her mom had the twins with another man. Then 4 years ago her mom and the father of the twins died in a car accident. The 25-year-old daughter, who was only 21 at the time, took over as their legal guardian and has been raising them ever since.”
These stories have been transcribed with permission from coaching sessions we’ve recently conducted with three of our course students. And if there’s one thing these students’ stories have it common, it’s the importance of our mental perspective.
What we see in life – how we feel about ourselves, our lives, and the people around us – greatly depends on how we think.
And the somewhat scary truth is, our mental perspective on just about everything comes from the psychological cage we’ve been conditioned to live in. A cage created by…
- A difficult or disappointing past
- A privileged or sheltered life
- Social influence
- Pop-culture and mass-media stereotyping
And gradually, unbeknownst to us, our cage – our conditioning – drains our mental energy, leaving us vulnerable to bad decision-making.
So, what can we do about this?
How do we free our minds?
There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. But if you’re looking for a smart place to start, your best bet is to take a general assessment of your life and, if necessary, stop one or more of the three toxic behaviors covered below. We’ve literally seen these three, related behaviors plaguing hundreds of our coaching clients and course students over the past decade. The root cause of each is largely fueled by a limited mental perspective.
1. Your inner craving to control the uncontrollable.
Letting go of control… and being OK with it.
That is one of the greatest struggles many of us deal with on a daily basis, myself included.
Because letting go of control goes directly against our modernized, industrialized way of living – we are go-getters, doers, architects of our destiny. We build things and make things happen on our own terms; we don’t wait for anything to happen on someone else’s terms! At least that’s what I learned growing up from teachers, sports coaches, movies, songs, magazine articles, and so forth. So allowing things to happen was not in my DNA. I had never been one to sit back and passively let go of control.
Over the years, however, my perspective has shifted. I’ve learned the hard way that a great deal of the control we believe we have over our lives is an illusion. For example, I’ve since met…
- the young man who had his life turned upside down by cancer
- the young woman, and mother of two, who lost her husband to death at 27
- the family who lost their house in a tornado
- the local business owner who was thriving until the economy collapsed
- the hard-working employee who lost her job when her employer of 25 years filed for bankruptcy
- the runner who lost his leg in a hit an run car accident
- the mom whose son has Down syndrome despite her doing everything right during pregnancy
- and many, many more people just like them…
It happens every day – situations we think we have control over, but we really don’t.
So what can we do?
The only choice we have: Let go, and be mindful…
In the game of life, we all receive a unique set of unexpected limitations and variables in the field of play. The question is: How will you respond to the hand you’ve been dealt? You can either focus on the lack thereof or empower yourself to play the game sensibly and resourcefully, making the very best of every outcome as it arises, even when it’s heartbreaking and hard to accept.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the mind is our biggest battleground. It’s the place where the strongest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things we thought were going to happen, never did happen. It’s where our expectations always get the best of us. It’s where we fall victim to our cravings to control the uncontrollable. And if we allow these thoughts and cravings to dwell in our minds, they will succeed in robbing us of peace, joy, and ultimately our lives. We will think ourselves into deep heartache and even depression.
Truthfully, there’s so much about life that we can’t control, it makes no sense to waste all our energy on these things and then blatantly neglect everything we CAN control.
We can choose how we spend our time right now. We can choose gratitude and grace. We can choose whom we socialize with – whom we share this day of our lives with. We can choose to love and appreciate the people in our lives for exactly who they are. We can choose to love and appreciate ourselves too. We can choose how we’re going to respond to life’s surprises and disappointments when they arise, and whether we will see them as curses or opportunities for personal growth.
And, perhaps most importantly, we can choose to adjust our attitudes and let go of all our worries about everything we can’t control, which in turn frees us up to take the next best step forward in our lives.
But what happens if you don’t?
What happens if you refuse to let go?
Gradually, you will drain nearly every bit of your mental energy, as you consume yourself with…
2. Your resistance to the present reality of your life.
When life has to be a certain way in order to be good enough for you, you instantly close yourself off from all the real and present opportunities available – you spend all your mental energy resisting life, rather than making the best of it.
And sadly, this is how the vast majority of the human population lives – stuck in a perpetual cycle of resistance.
But YOU DON’T have to continue this cycle.
Again, you can free your mind!
When you consciously choose to let go of the way it “should” be, you free your mind to deal with life’s unexpected changes, challenges and chaos in the most effective way possible…
You create space for acceptance, learning and growth.
You learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others.
You see the world through an unbiased set of eyes.
And gradually, you allow yourself to step forward with a clear and focused mind.
It’s all about accepting what is, letting go of what was, and having faith in your journey.
Closing the door, completing the chapter, turning the page, etc. – it doesn’t matter what you title it…what matters is that you find the strength to leave in the past those parts of your life that are over, so you can better attend to the present.
What has happened is uncontrollable; what you do now changes everything!
Of course, knowing this and actually living a lifestyle that reinforces this truth are two very different things. Letting go – changing the way you think – is NOT easy; it’s a journey that is traveled one day at a time.
It can be excruciatingly difficult to leave a long-term life situation behind, even when your inner-wisdom tells you that things aren’t right and that it’s time to let go. At this point, you can choose to let go and endure the sudden pain of leaving behind the familiar to make way for a new chapter in your life, or you can stay and suffer a constant, aching pain that gradually eats away at your heart and mind like a cancer… until you wake up one day and find yourself buried so deep in the dysfunction of the situation that you barely remember who you are and what you desire.
Things will happen that are unexpected, undesirable, and uncontrollable. But you can always choose to take the next tiniest step. Be brave and take it…
Choose to make mistakes, learn from them, let go of them, and move along.
Choose to think better about the past and present, so you can consciously make the best of the rest of your life.
Choose to stop…
3. Your participation and engagement in needless drama.
The two points covered above directly lead to this one – whenever we demand control over the uncontrollable, or stubbornly resist the present reality of our lives, needless drama ensues.
Drama is simply the consequence of our inner conflicts with outer incidents.
Thus, the drama you are going through at any given moment is not fueled by the words or deeds of others, or any external sources at all; it is fueled primarily by your mind that gives the drama importance.
And yes, we all do this to ourselves sometimes.
Why do we get so easily stressed out and sucked into drama?
It’s because the world isn’t the predictable, orderly, blissful place we’d like it to be. We want things to be easy, comfortable and well ordered 24/7. Unfortunately, sometimes work is hectic, relationships are challenging, people demand our time, we aren’t as prepared as we’d like to be, our family frustrates us, and there’s just too much to do and learn and process in our minds.
So our inner conflict begins to boil over.
But, again, the problem isn’t the world, or other people’s thoughts and behavior – these aspects of life will always be a bit of an unpredictable mess.
The problem is that we’re holding on too tightly to ideals that don’t match reality. We have subconsciously set up expectations in our minds of what we want other people to be, what we want ourselves to be, and what our work and relationships and life “should” be like. Our attachment to our ideals stirs anxiety in our minds and stress in our lives.
In other words, our resistance to accept things as they are fuels our drama.
And we don’t want to be a part of this drama – at least that’s what we tell ourselves – so we blame others for it … which in turn creates even more of it.
But there’s good news! We can let go of drama, and find peace with reality.
I’m going to suggest a simple practice for whenever you feel stress, resistance, frustration, worry, and all the other draining mindsets that fuel drama in your life:
Focus, carefully, on what you’re feeling. Don’t numb it with distractions, but instead bring it further into your awareness.
Turn to it, and welcome it. Smile, and give what you feel your full, thoughtful attention.
Notice the feeling in your body. Where is the feeling situated, and what unique qualities does it have?
Notice the tension in your body, and also in your mind, that arises from this feeling.
Try relaxing the tense parts of your body. Then relax the tense parts of your mind. Do so by focusing on your breath: Close your eyes, breathe in and feel it, breathe out and feel it, again and again, until you feel more relaxed.
In this more relaxed state, find some quiet space within yourself. And in this space…
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness within you, that’s present in every moment.
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness of this very moment, that’s always available to you whenever you’re willing to focus on it.
Take time to just sit with the inner peace these two simple rediscoveries bring.
This is the practice of letting go of drama, and simply accepting this moment as it is, and yourself as you are.
You can do this anytime, wherever you are. You can practice focusing on the goodness in others as well. Seeing the goodness in your challenges and relationships and work, and so on and so forth.
You can build a healthy daily ritual of stopping the needless drama in your life, and rediscovering the peace and joy and love that are always just a few thoughts away.
(Note: Angel and I build healthy, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
If you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU.
Which point mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
Have you ever struggled with one of these toxic behaviors?
Leave a comment and share your thoughts.