There are many aspects of life which we can not control. We did not choose our parents or our siblings. We did not choose when or where we were born. We have no control, for the most part, over the state of the economy or whether our partner decides to end our relationship. Yet we do have control over the most important aspect of all, how we frame the things that befall us. We have the ability to define our experiences.
How we define our experiences, how we view these experiences, is our reality. I have often been in a meeting with other professionals in which a client afterward expresses that they did not feel “heard.” Many times the professionals are taken aback and want to deny the client’s experience of the meeting, particularly as most often these same professionals are setting forth a great deal of effort to ensure that the client does feel heard. What matters is not whether or not the professionals felt that they heard the client yet rather whether or not the client felt heard. This speaks volumes as to how our perceptions shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Let’s look at a few examples.
– That guy that you had a great first date with does not call you again. Do you perceive that something is wrong with you, that you are not pretty enough or smart enough? Or do you believe that the two of you were not a connection or that the issue is on his part and not yours?
– Your ex-husband once again is late to pick up the kids. Do you believe that he is intentionally trying to sabotage you and make you look like the “bad guy?” Or do you believe that traffic really was a nightmare or that he is just terrible with time management?
– Your boss is again critical of your proposal in front of your team members. Do you go home and stew, thinking about what a miserable person your boss is and how they are just out to get you and would do anything to get you fired? Or do you wonder why your boss is so critical, maybe they are worried about their position with the company, and decide to discuss with them what they would like to see differently from your work?
– Your friend is not returning your phone call, despite repeated messages. Do you believe that she no longer cares and is not really a friend any longer? Or do you believe that she is overwhelmed with her own life and may need support just as much as you?
– You survived a horrific attack, or car accident, or concentration camp. Do you shut yourself in your home, never to leave, forever living in fear and believing the world to be a cruel place? Or do you seek help and support and learn how to move forward, continuing to live your precious life, and regain faith in others?
Maybe some of those negative thoughts you have are true. Maybe your ex is trying to sabotage you. Maybe your boss is a miserable, critical person. Yet you have no way to prove these thoughts as facts and making these negative assumptions can lead only to frustration and anger. By choosing how you think and how you frame situations, you have the power to write your own life script. You can be a victim or a survivor.
Take a moment and think about a challenging situation in your life and write a script depicting how you would like to think, feel, and act within that situation (be realistic!). You might just find that when you write your own role in your script, you are more likely to embody that role in life and thereby begin to change how you define your experiences.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl.