I was talking with an old friend of mine the other day and we remembered a situation we’d been in during college. It was a crappy situation, but we didn’t do anything about it.
“What the heck were we thinking?” we asked ourselves (our “today” selves). “Why the heck didn’t we just get out of there? It would have made things so much easier.”
Well, the answer is, our younger selves didn’t just get the heck out of there because we didn’t see getting the heck out of there as an option. We didn’t know we could just leave.
With the benefit of hindsight (and more than twenty years of life experience!), we could clearly see that we had many more options available to us than we recognized at the time. We could have chosen to leave the situation. We could have spoken up to change it. We could have brought humor to it.
But we did none of those things. We resigned ourselves to “just getting through it.”
I notice that I feel much more powerful and expansive than I did then. Sure, there are periods where I feel fragile, depending on what I am going through. But overall, I have a sense of standing on this earth with more steadiness, more perspective, a wider vision.
And I’m pretty sure this is directly related to the fact that I am aware that I have more choices than I believed I did in the past.
These can be actual, physical-world choices. But the choice that is most obvious to me today is in how I respond to what’s happening for me.
Back then, when I had the belief that I was stuck or trapped, it would send me into a flurry of frantic activity in which I would try to flee my circumstances, or, as in the situation with my friend, I would freeze, assuming I had no options.
What’s striking to me today is recognizing that, back then, I didn’t notice my belief. The belief “I’m trapped” was actually outside of my conscious awareness — I was reacting to a belief I didn’t even know I had!
Awareness of how our thoughts are triggering our feelings, and how our actions are triggered by those feelings, is key in recognizing our options. There are so many options we can’t see when our lives are being run by beliefs we never question.
Just today, I got triggered by an email request that seemed ridiculous and unfair to me. I felt a sense of anger and injustice rise up in me and I was ready to tell this person off. I started writing my email response in my head, in the most sharp-tongued tone I could imagine.
At the same time, I felt I had to take care of the sender’s feelings, so I felt a conflict — taking care of myself and taking care of the sender. Within probably thirty seconds of reading the email, my feelings were about to propel me to action based on this swirl of anger and confusion.
But: I stopped. I stopped and simply noticed the feelings coming up in me. After I sat with the feelings for a bit and just let them be, I could see that my feelings were based on the following thoughts:
How dare this person request this of me! Don’t they know I have a life?
I need to set them straight! They can’t think they have the right to request this of me!
What the heck is wrong with my life that I have to deal with this kind of thing? What am I doing wrong?
Wow. Look how quickly the thoughts evolved into a blanket statement about my life and its “wrongness”.
Now, I’ll be honest — ten years ago I would have acted on my anger and righteousness. I would have shot back a scathing email (probably cloaked in sarcastic politeness) and gone on to regret it. I likely would have escalated things with the sender and felt out of control and crappy and mean.
But when I stopped (and believe me, it wasn’t easy to stop, even after years of practice) and simply felt the emotions, I could trace them back to the thoughts the email had triggered in me.
And then I began to reconnect with my power. I began to see where I have control and where I don’t.
I can’t control what the sender thinks about me or wants from me.
But I can control the way I respond to it, and I can (from a place of peace) communicate that I would prefer the sender not make these sorts of requests of me. What that may look like, I’m not sure — I’m not calm enough yet! 🙂
What I do know for sure is that I have many more options here than to shoot back an angry email or to believe this person has some kind of power over me. And the key is to see those options.
Sometimes in situations like this, I write down dozens of things I could do instead of the thing my knee-jerk emotional reaction would have me do — even silly and ridiculous ones, like “climb up on the roof and do a manic dance in the rain” or “paint my toenails deep purple” or “kiss the top of my cat’s head”. Or “spray-paint LOVE on all the cars in the parking lot.”
I wouldn’t necessarily do all these things, of course (or maybe I would!), but you get my drift. There are tons of ways we can choose to respond that we may not be noticing — until we make a point to notice.
So, how do we notice?
• When your feelings are strong, don’t act, sit. Count to ten if you want to. Notice that sitting with strong feelings is only that — sitting with strong feelings. It will not kill you if you don’t act on them in that moment. You will not dissolve.
• Once you’ve felt the feelings, notice what thoughts bubble up, as I did above. (Sometimes it takes a while — maybe a few hours or a day in some cases — to allow your feelings to settle enough to recognize the thoughts that are driving you. Other times it’s a quicker process.)
• Question the thoughts you notice. Are they true? Are they helpful? What thoughts would feel better and more helpful and more true?
• Come up with at least ten ways you could respond. Notice your options, even if they’re seemingly silly ones like those I listed above.
• Now, ask yourself: is action necessary? Yes? What action do you want to take? Does it feel settled and peaceful? Then, do it. Action is good, when it’s inspired action.
It is always, always, the way we choose to respond in this moment that determines the course of our lives, because our lives are nothing more — or less — than moments, strung together, like thousands and thousands of fairy lights.
What do you do when you feel trapped or “up against it”? What happens when, instead of taking immediate action, you pause and notice your options? I’d love to hear from you.
Are you in “creative transition” and needing support? I’d love to help. I currently have openings for new one-on-one coaching clients. Find out more, here.
Above image © Alptraum | Dreamstime Stock Photos