There’s no doubt about it, “life” happens. And how we handle it can teach us a lot of about ourselves. Do we muddle through the best we can? Do we get angry and blame whoever or whatever “did” this to us? Do we see it as a challenge or a learning opportunity? The way we maneuver those inevitable bumps in the Road of Life is our choice. The more important question is: Does it empower us or dis-empower us?
Here are a few considerations for handling life’s upsets in an empowered way to help turn those “bumps” into personal growth opportunities and deeper wisdom.
What is your default modus operandi?
Do you find that you often “react” to the upset? Or do you “respond”? In other words, do you go into stress-mode, reacting with your favorite flavor of, “Holy crap, Batman”? Or do you “count to 10” then respond?
If you’re in the “Holy Crap” camp, welcome to the Human Race! That’s typically our default programming, thanks to a well-working Reptilian brain. Anytime this instinctive coping part of our brain perceives danger, it automatically goes into fight, flight or freeze.
However, we can learn to take a breath and allow the “message” time to reach our more evolved decision-making brain. It only takes a fraction of a second, but it gives our neocortex an opportunity to respond to the challenge, which is likely to create a better outcome.
Another aspect of default programming is our Locus of Control, which is how we perceive our ability to affect change in our life. If we consider ourselves responsible for and able to control the happenings in our life, we have an Internal Locus of Control. If we feel like whatever happens is out of our control, or we’re at the mercy of other people, luck or destiny, then we have an External Locus of Control.
Do you find yourself more on one side or the other? Or on different sides, depending on the specific area of your life? There’s no “right” answer here. Being aware of our automatic tendencies is part of the personal growth journey to understand ourselves.
Life is a Mirror
The energy we put out comes back to us. “Like attracts like.” This was written about by Plato as early as 391 BC, and is a basic premise in the Law of Attraction. Many religions share this same “we reap what we sow” principle as well.
If we go about our life grumbling, critical and judgmental, we tend to run into other people who are also critical and quick to judge. We’re also apt to “find” more things to grumble and complain about! If we have a happier disposition and always try to see something positive in people or situations, we’re more likely to surround ourselves with positive-minded people and see the silver linings in life’s “clouds.”
The most important thing to remember is that we always a choice. Where we are today is a culmination of the decisions and choices we’ve made up to this point. Where we are tomorrow will depend on the choices we make today. If we don’t like what life seems to be giving us, we can decide to make a different choice – in our behavior or in our thinking.
An Opportunity to Up-Level
“A problem can’t be solved at the level it was created.” Albert Einstein told us this. In fact, if we insist on trying to “fix” the problem at this level, it tends to make things worse. So the best strategy is to back off, regroup, and come back to it from a different angle. This “regrouping” step usually requires an “up-leveling” of either our thinking, our belief system, our behavior, or all three. The certainty is, there’s an opportunity here for some serious personal growth!
Up-leveling our friends might be in order as well. Jim Rohn, motivation speaker and business philosopher, teaches that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Research shows that we are greatly influenced by people who are closest to us and that we are often more affected by our environment than we think. Negative, critical, complaining people can drag us down, or at best, keep us stuck. Spend some time around positive, glass-half-full people, and we’re bound to come away with a more cheerful outlook.
“Red Flags” and Other Signs
When looking at current or past upsets, evaluating the “red flags” we’ve missed along the way is crucial to gaining wisdom and self-understanding. These signs along the way can show up as quiet, occasional thoughts that keep floating though our mind, uneasy “gut feelings” or a vague sense that “something” isn’t right, fleeting moments of clarity, or sometimes blatant “red flag” conversations, behaviors or situations that we purposefully ignore. Hind-sight is 20/20. And realizing how the signs came and how we side-stepped them can prime us for being more observant in the future. This self-reflection can also reveal negative, sabotaging behavior patterns that, once acknowledged, can be changed.
“Red flags” act as emotional warning systems. They hold important information about our world and our experience with it. Ignoring the signs by making excuses or blocking them from our awareness hinders our ability to make healthy, accurate decisions. Paying attention to them can help us better process the experience and learn from it, which enables us to make better decisions in the future. This is also where the most significant nuggets of wisdom tend to hide.
Remember, Life is Neutral
Yes, “life” happens. Upsets and disappointments are going to occur. However, these events, in and of themselves, are neutral. We give them their meaning. Again, it’s about having a choice. We can look at what happened as a “mistake” – something to beat ourselves up over or a reason to throw blame at others. Or, we can see it as a “gift” and use it as an opportunity to know ourselves in a deeper way.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau
Ultimately, ongoing personal growth and deeper wisdom is about finding the positive learnings from life’s events, integrating them into our experience, and letting the rest go.
Personal Growth in a Nutshell:
- Notice your default way of dealing with life. Is it working for you – in a happy way – or not?
- Own up to the part you played. What did you do or not do that contributed to the outcome? How could you have done things differently?
- Look deeper. Are there underlying beliefs, thought patterns, or behaviors that contributed to this outcome? Look at the situation from different angles to gain a broader perspective.
- Reflect on the “red flags.” What signs did you miss or ignore? What emotions did they bring up? What was the underlying message or “warning”?
- Find the positive learnings from the experience and let the rest go.
Quarter second – Reptilian vs Neocortex: http://www.freibergs.com/resources/articles/building-a-personal-brand/your-brain-on-fear/ (What Happy People Know, Dan Baker, PhD)
Plato, Empedocles, first law of affinity, LOA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_attraction – c.391 & http://www.tokenrock.com/explain-law-of-attraction-28.html
Religions, reap what you sow: http://www.onenessofreligions.com/reap-sow/
Red Flags, emotional warning system: Monica A. Frank, PhD