Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — We have all heard the saying "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." But for many, knowing this truth is not helping them change and react to life in a more positive way so they suffer less.
Many of us struggle to change the meanings and stories we apply to the situations in our lives. We keep having the same belief-thoughts and negative ideas that keep making us miserable. These go-to perspectives and beliefs are deeply ingrained, which makes them easy and natural to keep using. Stepping back from situations and choosing a different perspective is hard work.
Here are some things you can learn and do to shift your perspective and change your reactions to what life throws at you.
Nothing means anything
The events, situations or happenings of your life are the facts of your life. For example, someone cuts you off in traffic; your husband forgets your birthday; your child gets a bad grade in school; your mother-in-law says something negative about your parenting; you say the wrong thing and offend someone; your friend doesn't call you back all week; you don't get the promotion you wanted. Events like these happen all day, every day. It's important to understand that by themselves, they don't mean anything.
The problem — or negative feelings about these facts in your life — occurs when you immediately apply meaning or "a story" to the events. Whatever that meaning is, is what makes you miserable. In truth, you have the power to sit back and see what happened as just an actuality, without applying any meaning or story around it, or you can choose a story that serves you and is healthy.
There is an infinite number of reasons why something might happen, but you won't see the world of possibilities unless you first acknowledge that nothing means anything without you applying meaning to it. Every time something happens, sit back and say to yourself, "This doesn't mean anything. I must be careful about the meaning I apply to this. It could mean something very different than I think."
You give everything its meaning
Your perspective is everything. It creates how you think, feel and act around everything in your life. It's also important to understand that perspective is flimsy, loose and changeable. You can look at something from one angle and think it means one thing; but if you looked at it from another angle or perspective, it may look and feel totally different.
You have given everything all the meaning it has. You have either consciously or subconsciously applied ideas, assumptions and fears to each actuality, and it is these stories that cause your suffering.
Most of the stories you create come from your fears of failure and loss. You often apply meaning like "I am not good enough" to everything that happens, and this makes things feel more personal than they are. You might be quick to assume whatever happened was a shortcoming or fault in you, or you might have a belief like "I am not safe and can't trust others," which always makes things feel like someone else's fault. The trick is you have to take your thoughts less seriously.
Your thoughts don't mean anything
The subconscious belief-thoughts you adopted in childhood often determine the kind of stories you create. As a child, you might have experienced something that made you think "I am not loved," "I am not good enough," "I am not safe," or "I am not smart"; now you could be applying these belief-thoughts to every situation you encounter.
Watch for a pattern in your stories and see if they all end up in the same place. These could be thoughts like "people always let me down," "I am just not enough," "I am on my own," "no one cares," "people can't be trusted," and "I have to protect myself." The problem is these belief-thoughts are not facts; they are just story options, and there are always many other options that might serve you better.
Here is an exercise to help you find some of your ingrained belief-thoughts:
- Ask yourself what you are afraid and make a list.
- Take each fear and ask yourself: What is going to happen if that happens? What would happen if that happens?"
- Ask yourself what is it going to mean if that happens, and what does that mean?
- Keep asking these questions until you can see a core fear belief behind them. Does if that same fear or idea shows up almost every time?
- Once you have identified your most common fear thought story, watch yourself whenever something happens to see if you are applying that same story again. We all have a favorite story or belief-thought that we are overapplying all the time. It is important to find and be aware of yours because it is the first step toward change.
You are never upset for the reason you think
You think you are upset because of the actuality or event. Let's say your spouse said something negative about your cooking, for example. You think you are upset because of their rude, hurtful comment. But what is actually making you upset is the belief-thought that you aren't good enough, which is a belief you may have carried with you since childhood. If you didn't already have this belief-thought, you probably wouldn't be so upset by their comment. It is your belief-thoughts about yourself that drive the stories you apply.
This is not excusing your spouse nor their accountability for being rude, nor am I saying that you should accept and allow abusive behavior. My point is that in everyday situations like this, you will suffer less and give other people less power over you if you understood that you contribute to the problem with your thoughts. In other words, if you recognize that it's your thoughts about what happens that make you upset, you can change the story you are telling yourself and choose a perspective that serves you more.
For example, when your spouse says something negative about your cooking, you might choose a story that says you are bulletproof and what others think or say about your cooking doesn't change your value or diminish you in any way. With this perspective, you can let insults bounce off. You might also choose to address the problem with your spouse, but you will now do that from a strong, loving place — not a hurt, victim place. This will lead to a better conversation.
Everything is a lesson
After 20 years as a master life coach, I have found that my clients do better if they universally apply the belief-thought that everything that happens is a lesson showing up in their life to serve them in some way. This is not a provable fact, of course. There is no source for ultimate truth about why things happen, but we each must choose a belief-thought about the nature of our life journey. If we don't consciously choose one, we will subconsciously choose one.
Try playing with the belief-thought that the universe is on your side and constantly conspiring to serve and grow you. Choose to believe the universe uses everything that happens for your good, and every negative event can be a blessing in disguise to make you stronger, wiser or more loving.
Also, play with the belief that all humans have the same unchanging value and nothing can diminish you. This belief-thought will make you feel safer in the world and change your reactions to everything.
Changing your stories and meanings will take time and work, but you can start today by playing with these new beliefs and applying them to each situation. If you struggle with this because your childhood belief-thoughts are so strong and your reactions too fast when triggered, I recommend seeking a professional coach or counselor to help you shift your beliefs. This can make a huge difference faster than you think.
You can do this.