Choosing Your Responses

How taking ownership of your thoughts can change everything

As this year begins, I really want to focus on choosing to make the most of things. All of our lives are truly in our own hands, if we take ownership and take action. 

Now I know, all you need to do is open your phone or turn on the tv to see all the shit going on in the world. It’s a tumultuous time, to say the least. It’s easy to feel out of control and fall into despair and apathy. In addition, you can only control so much in your daily life. You can’t control that person who cut you off in traffic, you can’t control the lady in line that was yelling, you can’t control your family stirring up drama. 

You are not in control of the reactions, responses or actions of anyone else. You ARE in control of your own, and that’s where I want to focus. 

You are not in control of the reactions, responses or actions of anyone else. You ARE in control of your own. Click To Tweet

We humans and our emotions and responses

We, as humans, are bad at giving ourselves credit for the good stuff. It’s usually easier to pinpoint the crappy things that happen, and we like to dwell on them. 

We have a negativity bias to focus and fixate on the bad. In ages past, this actually was for our own safety and health, it kept us alive. We had to be wary and prepared for all the dangers the world held. Now though, that wiring works against us. We find ways to feel bad even about the good things, and even worse about the bad things. 

Watch out for negativity creeping up and taking over. Soon you’re always looking for the worst in everything. Even if you receive a compliment, you find a way to “yeah, but…” and putting everything in the loss column. 

Even in the worst year, some good things happen. Last year for example – there was horrible stuff happening in the world. Death took several people from us. We had one of our worst shows ever financially. We also got to experience a new city together and forge some great travel memories. We strengthened new friendships. We took leaps of faith and grew our businesses in some amazing ways. 

Even if it’s 99% crap, find the 1% good. 

The Choice

In every situation, in everything that happens to you, in every bit of input you receive, you have a choice. That choice will determine your thoughts, your reactions, your actions, and your emotions. 

As much as you try, sometimes you just can’t change your circumstances—and never the actions of others. But you do have the power to choose how your attitude affects your outlook on your day and those you influence in your life.

Optimism breeds positivity, happiness and increased performance, while pessimism causes you to feel negative emotions.

It becomes this weird self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re always looking for the worst in everything, you’ll find it. Even if you receive a compliment, you find a way to “yeah, but…” and putting everything in the bad column. If you’re always looking for even the one tiny bit of good, you’ll get better and better at finding it and see more of it. 

It’s important to try and see the good, and what could potentially go right in situations, rather than looking for the opposite. Expecting the worst is a defense mechanism for a lot of people because it “saves” them from true disappointment. The problem is, they then also will never experience the opposite! They end up blocking their own chances at finding something new and good. 

I was recently exposed to this awesome quote from Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl – “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

Respond instead of react

When situations occur, we often react without thinking. We frequently don’t choose our behaviors so much as just act them out.

How about an example:

React: Your spouse breaks something – one of your favorite glasses. You immediately react by getting angry, perhaps yelling, upsetting you both, worsening your relationship, and it’s not making anything better. Now you’re fighting, and the glass is still broken regardless.

Respond: Your spouse breaks something. You notice your anger reaction, but pause, take a breath, and consider the situation. First response is to see if your spouse is OK — did the glass cut them? Second, realize that the object that broke, in the larger view, is not that important. Let it go, adjust to a world without it. Third, help them clean up. Fourth, acknowledge that accidents happen and that it’s not something to dwell on. 

The main thing to learn is even the momentary pause. Interrupt your own thoughts and see where they are going. Be mindful – watch ourselves when something happens that might normally upset us or trigger some kind of emotional reaction. Pay close attention to how our minds react.

We don’t have to act immediately, just because we have an internal reaction when something happens. We can pause, not act, breathe. We can watch this urge to act irrationally arise, then let it go away. Sometimes that takes a few seconds, other times it means we should remove ourselves from the situation and let ourselves cool down before we respond.

Back to our weird human wiring 

I want to be very clear and very careful here to not come of as saying “Just think positively”. When you’re depressed, when you’re deep in anxiety, when shit is hitting the fan, if someone says THAT to you, I’m pretty sure your automatic reaction (if you don’t pause to respond) is going to be to punch them. I know that’s how I feel. 

Think of it as productive thinking. You want to get OUT of the bad situations, right? Negative thinking is not a productive mindset if you want to get OUT of the bad stuff and bad situations. See above about self-fulfilling prophecies. The whole idea is about mitigating negative thoughts – we’re gonna have them, the problem is when they take over! Feel the emotions, acknowledge the negative thoughts, learn what you can, but find ways to avoid giving in to them and drowning in them. Find ways to encourage more productive thought patterns. 

This is where our daily gratitude practice helps. Even when things are bad, Harrison and I find at least ONE thing every day to be grateful for. Some days it’s literally just “I’m grateful we survived today”. Sometimes they start as negative thoughts I’m able to redirect – like when the dog wakes me up at 3am to go outside – “I’m grateful Milo woke me up to take a walk because I got to see this beautiful moon and stars.” Anything and everything. I’m grateful for the large paycheck I got, I’m grateful for time with friends being weirdos together, I’m grateful for my favorite warm sweatshirt, I’m grateful for kitten snuggles…

Small changes lead to big results

To sum up, try to notice where you’re reacting instead of responding, and where you’re letting negativity creep in and take over. Once you step back and see it, you can start making conscious choices to respond in different ways and look for the positives. Even small changes will begin to drastically improve your mindset and mood as you implement them.

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