A disastrous patch in your marriage? A hideous boss who makes your life a nightmare? An unstable and financially insecure future? A potentially disappointing and unwanted diagnosis from the doctor? Whatever challenging circumstances you face in your life right now, these incidents that induce anxiety/fear/depression/overwhelm can make us feel helpless. And, it is from this place of helplessness and powerlessness that all our negativity is born. It is often the case though, once there is some distance between us and ‘that awful time’ that we see how we grew from the experience or how it worked out in our favour in the long run. Sometimes it is even a blessing in disguise. The insights that hindsight brings is a wonderful thing after we have made our way through the challenge. Operative word being through. Not around it or neglecting it, but through it. Even if we know that logically, it doesn’t make overcoming the obstacle any easier in the present moment.
What happens to most of us is that we get seriously stuck in repetitive and catastrophic thinking about the worst case scenario. We cannot see the way out of our suffering. The irony is that our fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. It is hardly ever as bad as we imagine and we are always more resourceful, capable and competent to cope with what life throws us. More than we ever give ourselves credit for. We perceive and believe that we are the victim of circumstance and that all the unpleasantness is ‘happening to us’. It feels as though we have little or no control over our life and we have to work within its confines.
This is a worldview of living life from the OUTSIDE-IN. Our thoughts, moods and behaviour are merely reactions to external events. In this worldview – we ARE victims of circumstance or a villainous figure rather than the creators of our own lives.
From the OUTSIDE-IN worldview,
- we give our power away to others,
- we surrender our confidence, trust and competence in our ability to cope
- we doubt we will ever recover and that there is light at the end of the tunnel
- we lose our sense of hope and positive expectation
- we convince ourselves that there is no plausible end to our suffering
It is not a good place to be. The OUTSIDE tortures us mentally and emotionally IN-side. Enduring extended periods of time in this space is likely to spiral us downward into a chronic mood disorder. If we believe “a person does not act upon the world, the world acts upon him/her”, the implication drawn by the brain is that one can only control one’s own life by a complete, constant and ever vigilant attempt to regulate and control the outside world. Severe depression or anxiety ensues as our inability to control everything and everyone becomes evident and our ability to reclaim our power lessens.
How then do we overcome the stressors of everyday life and take back our lives and our power?
The best chance of surviving and thriving is to switch things around. We need to give up our need to be the managing director of the universe because it is an exhausting and pointless task. Magic happens when we use our minds to tell the universe what we want. Developing and practicing a life based on living from the INSIDE-OUT means that we do not spend the majority of our time responding to what we are observing, instead:
- we choose to think about, imagine and visualize what our preferred futures will look like
- we remember and appreciate all the things in our lives that are currently working well for us
- we notice and feel thankful for the small and seemingly insignificant but beautiful things that continue to bring us joy and delight
- we pay attention to opportunities for us to express our creativity, love, talent, individuality
- we strategize about how we intend to pursue our dreams
- we focus on how we can maintain our sense of integrity and dignity
- we explore what the learning might be if we were to reflect back with hindsight twenty years from now
- we search for the times when ‘the problem’ is less of a problem so that we can reproduce more of those moments (no problem exists at the same intensity 100% of the time – even pain comes in waves)
- we remind ourselves of how we successfully overcame previous ordeals
- we tap into hope and faith that this is all an elaborate plot to enhance our wellbeing
We are the drivers of the vehicles (our bodies and minds). We get to decide whether we want to go down a good (read helpful, inspiring and empowering) path or a bad (read helpless, disempowering and de-motivating) path. We are the ones who get to determine what defines us. If we are going to allow an external situation to break us, it is in our allowing of it that it does so. It is not the actual situation but our response to it that breaks us. If we are overcome with grief or paralysed with fear as a consequence of what we observe, it is our permission of that emotion to dominate us that does so. When we become less obsessed with what we see/witness/observe and more driven by what we can imagine and appreciate, we are living INSIDE-OUT.
When we begin to see the glimmerings of hope and indulge in feel-good positive emotions, we spiral upward. An upward spiral tends to lead toward an action that further contributes to us feeling better. When we see that there is some progress and we are moving in a forward or upward direction we are also more inclined to do new and different things that work better for us. Our confidence increases, our courage returns and we begin to take our power back from the situation or people we had relinquished it. Miraculously, because our minds are now freed from the relentless details of ‘my awful life’, they begin to conjure up answers that were previously beyond our reach. The sharp tool – known as our brain- begins to work for us instead of against us.
Even if you don’t believe in the ‘Law of Attraction’ (that our state of mind is a magnet that creates our reality and that we attract to us what we predominantly think about e.g. thoughts are real forces) paying attention to and choosing to reach for a better feeling thought, is going to improve your day to day existence. Your marriage, your boss, your finances and your health have to change for the better because the outside world merely reflects our inside world. (But that is a blog for another time.) If you are not convinced, experiment with the INSIDE-OUT approach. You have only suffering to lose and emotional stability to gain. Changing negative and problematic patterns is a process, not an event. Be patient with yourself and practice these new habits as often as you can. At some point, your external life will have minimal impact on your moods. This is what thriving feels like.