My mind felt like a war zone.
I was under attack, with every verbal dagger sent my way triggering a gush of painful emotions that sent me reeling into a mental mess of self-doubt, shock and sadness.
When the war subsided, there were other ‘triggers’ to battle with.
These created more reasons to feel upset, unworthy or disappointed.
Respite and happiness came in the form of emotional highs that came from the validation and approval of others, or a windfall.
Good or bad, it didn’t really matter — I felt like my day-to-day existence was being dictated by whatever life happened to throw my way, and the emotional tsunamis they triggered.
One moment I’d be calm and collected, and the next, on the verge of having a mental meltdown or identity crisis.
For years, I let life jerk me around. I also let it hold me back from reaching for opportunities that I wanted to give a go. I let it stop me from being more confident.
Naivety led me to believe that this was just how things were; that life was a journey to be spent walking on eggshells and the sum of everything that happened to little, powerless me.
Until I started looking for mentors to learn from, and studied how the calmest, most successful among them navigated life.
I realised that the problem wasn’t life or other people.
The problem was me.
CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS, CHANGE YOUR WORLD.
The mental ‘frame’ through which I interpreted life was way off kilter.
All of us have this frame, which could be made up of an endless number of variables but is mostly comprised of our beliefs, thought patterns, biases and prejudices, and is largely shaped by our experiences.
It seemed that the parts of my frame that needed the biggest overhaul were my thoughts.
Specifically, I needed to stop attaching positive or negative labels to my experiences and allowing them to define me. I needed to leave them as just that: Experiences. Events. Circumstances.
I had to stop entertaining thoughts like:
“They didn’t like my idea. My writing sucks.”
“He didn’t acknowledge me. I’m not worthy enough.”
“I couldn’t do that. It’s just not who I am.”
A healthier (and less damaging) interpretation of these situations would have been:
“They didn’t get my idea. Maybe I need to present it differently.”
“He didn’t see me. I’ll drop him a note later.”
“I’ve never done something like that before, but I can try.”
Same situation, two different frames, leading to two different outcomes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to be a delusional Pollyanna who looks at life with rose-tinted glasses glued to your face. What I am asking is for you to consider tweaking your mental frame so that your interpretations of the experiences that come your way don’t leave you suffering unnecessarily.
Think of it this way: Which outcome would you rather pick if your goal was to live your best life possible?
IDENTIFY YOUR CIRCLE OF CONTROL, THEN WIDEN IT.
In his book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduces the concept of one’s Circle Of Control, which comprises the areas of your life that you have influence or control over.
He expands on this concept further by explaining that your Circle Of Control typically falls inside an infinitely wider net or what he calls the Circle Of Concern, which covers the range of everything you spend your time thinking about.
For all of us, that’s A LOT of things, and for many of us, the two circles will look something like this:
This is basically everything that the average person has on their mind at any given time.
You could spend your time worrying about every single thing in both of these circles, but if that were the case, you’d living a highly-reactive (read: stressful and chaotic) life.
Someone cuts you off on the road, you fly into a rage.
Lousy weather takes over the day, you head out the door in a foul mood.
Your neighbour gets a bigger, flashier car and suddenly, you’ve developed an inferiority complex.
Once this growing storm of negativity gains momentum, it’s all downhill from there — not the most helpful or productive way to go about life if you’re trying to build a healthier and more peaceful mental frame.
A better, proactive approach to dealing with all the random chaos that comes your way, and one that Covey advocates, is to focus your energy on your Circle Of Control.
This means that instead of agonising over the shortcomings of other people and unfavourable circumstances, you choose to zero in on the things that you can do something about: Improving your habits, problem-solving skills and how you respond to a given situation.
As a result, you magnify and enlarge your Circle Of Control.
A beneficial by-product of limiting your attention to the stuff that truly matters is your mastery of them.
This is possible because now, by default, you’ll be spending more time on these things rather than leaking precious energy into your largely irrelevant Circle Of Concern.
You don’t have to let your external circumstances to control you.
You don’t have to let your emotions dictate how you live your life.
You can take your power back.
This post was originally published on michelelian.com