Let me share three quick stories and some life-changing lessons with you…
- “On my nursing shift at the hospital this evening, I was forced into a moment of clarity when I got off my phone, utterly flustered after having an argument with my husband, and my 8-year-old patient who’s dying of leukemia asked me if I was OK.”
- “Today is the 10-year anniversary of the day I had planned on ending my life. It’s also the 10-year anniversary of the day I found out I was pregnant with my now 9-year-old son. He’s the reason I changed my mind. And he is so worth it! But perhaps most importantly, I now realize I am worth it too.”
- “This afternoon I learned that the lady who I thought was a ridiculously young mom of the two twin girls I have in my 5th grade math class is actually their 25-year-old half sister. It turns out, her parents got divorced and her mom had the twins with another man. Then 4 years ago her mom and the father of the twins died in a car accident. The 25-year-old daughter, who was only 21 at the time, took over as their legal guardian and has been raising them ever since.”
These stories have been transcribed with permission from coaching sessions we’ve recently conducted with three of our course students. And if there’s one thing these students’ stories have it common, it’s the importance of our mental perspective.
What we see in life – how we feel about ourselves, our lives, and the people around us – greatly depends on how we think.
And the somewhat scary truth is, our mental perspective on just about everything comes from the psychological cage we’ve been conditioned to live in. A cage created by…
- A difficult or disappointing past
- A privileged or sheltered life
- Social influence
- Pop-culture and mass-media stereotyping
And gradually, unbeknownst to us, our cage – our conditioning – drains our mental energy, leaving us vulnerable to bad decision-making.
So, what can we do about this?
How do we free our minds?
There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. But if you’re looking for a smart place to start, your best bet is to take a general assessment of your life and, if necessary, stop one or more of the three toxic behaviors covered below. We’ve literally seen these three, related behaviors plaguing hundreds of our coaching clients and course students over the past decade. The root cause of each is largely fueled by a limited mental perspective.
1. Your inner craving to control the uncontrollable.
Letting go of control… and being OK with it.
That is one of the greatest struggles many of us deal with on a daily basis, myself included.
Because letting go of control goes directly against our modernized, industrialized way of living – we are go-getters, doers, architects of our destiny. We build things and make things happen on our own terms; we don’t wait for anything to happen on someone else’s terms! At least that’s what I learned growing up from teachers, sports coaches, movies, songs, magazine articles, and so forth. So allowing things to happen was not in my DNA. I had never been one to sit back and passively let go of control.
Over the years, however, my perspective has shifted. I’ve learned the hard way that a great deal of the control we believe we have over our lives is an illusion. For example, I’ve since met…
- the young man who had his life turned upside down by cancer
- the young woman, and mother of two, who lost her husband to death at 27
- the family who lost their house in a tornado
- the local business owner who was thriving until the economy collapsed
- the hard-working employee who lost her job when her employer of 25 years filed for bankruptcy
- the runner who lost his leg in a hit an run car accident
- the mom whose son has Down syndrome despite her doing everything right during pregnancy
- and many, many more people just like them…
It happens every day – situations we think we have control over, but we really don’t.
So what can we do?
The only choice we have: Let go, and be mindful…
In the game of life, we all receive a unique set of unexpected limitations and variables in the field of play. The question is: How will you respond to the hand you’ve been dealt? You can either focus on the lack thereof or empower yourself to play the game sensibly and resourcefully, making the very best of every outcome as it arises, even when it’s heartbreaking and hard to accept.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the mind is our biggest battleground. It’s the place where the strongest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things we thought were going to happen, never did happen. It’s where our expectations always get the best of us. It’s where we fall victim to our cravings to control the uncontrollable. And if we allow these thoughts and cravings to dwell in our minds, they will succeed in robbing us of peace, joy, and ultimately our lives. We will think ourselves into deep heartache and even depression.
Truthfully, there’s so much about life that we can’t control, it makes no sense to waste all our energy on these things and then blatantly neglect everything we CAN control.
We can choose how we spend our time right now. We can choose gratitude and grace. We can choose whom we socialize with – whom we share this day of our lives with. We can choose to love and appreciate the people in our lives for exactly who they are. We can choose to love and appreciate ourselves too. We can choose how we’re going to respond to life’s surprises and disappointments when they arise, and whether we will see them as curses or opportunities for personal growth.
And, perhaps most importantly, we can choose to adjust our attitudes and let go of all our worries about everything we can’t control, which in turn frees us up to take the next best step forward in our lives.
But what happens if you don’t?
What happens if you refuse to let go?
Gradually, you will drain nearly every bit of your mental energy, as you consume yourself with…
2. Your resistance to the present reality of your life.
When life has to be a certain way in order to be good enough for you, you instantly close yourself off from all the real and present opportunities available – you spend all your mental energy resisting life, rather than making the best of it.
And sadly, this is how the vast majority of the human population lives – stuck in a perpetual cycle of resistance.
But YOU DON’T have to continue this cycle.
Again, you can free your mind!
When you consciously choose to let go of the way it “should” be, you free your mind to deal with life’s unexpected changes, challenges and chaos in the most effective way possible…
You create space for acceptance, learning and growth.
You learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others.
You see the world through an unbiased set of eyes.
And gradually, you allow yourself to step forward with a clear and focused mind.
It’s all about accepting what is, letting go of what was, and having faith in your journey.
Closing the door, completing the chapter, turning the page, etc. – it doesn’t matter what you title it…what matters is that you find the strength to leave in the past those parts of your life that are over, so you can better attend to the present.
What has happened is uncontrollable; what you do now changes everything!
Of course, knowing this and actually living a lifestyle that reinforces this truth are two very different things. Letting go – changing the way you think – is NOT easy; it’s a journey that is traveled one day at a time.
It can be excruciatingly difficult to leave a long-term life situation behind, even when your inner-wisdom tells you that things aren’t right and that it’s time to let go. At this point, you can choose to let go and endure the sudden pain of leaving behind the familiar to make way for a new chapter in your life, or you can stay and suffer a constant, aching pain that gradually eats away at your heart and mind like a cancer… until you wake up one day and find yourself buried so deep in the dysfunction of the situation that you barely remember who you are and what you desire.
Things will happen that are unexpected, undesirable, and uncontrollable. But you can always choose to take the next tiniest step. Be brave and take it…
Choose to make mistakes, learn from them, let go of them, and move along.
Choose to think better about the past and present, so you can consciously make the best of the rest of your life.
Choose to stop…
3. Your participation and engagement in needless drama.
The two points covered above directly lead to this one – whenever we demand control over the uncontrollable, or stubbornly resist the present reality of our lives, needless drama ensues.
Drama is simply the consequence of our inner conflicts with outer incidents.
Thus, the drama you are going through at any given moment is not fueled by the words or deeds of others, or any external sources at all; it is fueled primarily by your mind that gives the drama importance.
And yes, we all do this to ourselves sometimes.
Why do we get so easily stressed out and sucked into drama?
It’s because the world isn’t the predictable, orderly, blissful place we’d like it to be. We want things to be easy, comfortable and well ordered 24/7. Unfortunately, sometimes work is hectic, relationships are challenging, people demand our time, we aren’t as prepared as we’d like to be, our family frustrates us, and there’s just too much to do and learn and process in our minds.
So our inner conflict begins to boil over.
But, again, the problem isn’t the world, or other people’s thoughts and behavior – these aspects of life will always be a bit of an unpredictable mess.
The problem is that we’re holding on too tightly to ideals that don’t match reality. We have subconsciously set up expectations in our minds of what we want other people to be, what we want ourselves to be, and what our work and relationships and life “should” be like. Our attachment to our ideals stirs anxiety in our minds and stress in our lives.
In other words, our resistance to accept things as they are fuels our drama.
And we don’t want to be a part of this drama – at least that’s what we tell ourselves – so we blame others for it … which in turn creates even more of it.
But there’s good news! We can let go of drama, and find peace with reality.
I’m going to suggest a simple practice for whenever you feel stress, resistance, frustration, worry, and all the other draining mindsets that fuel drama in your life:
Focus, carefully, on what you’re feeling. Don’t numb it with distractions, but instead bring it further into your awareness.
Turn to it, and welcome it. Smile, and give what you feel your full, thoughtful attention.
Notice the feeling in your body. Where is the feeling situated, and what unique qualities does it have?
Notice the tension in your body, and also in your mind, that arises from this feeling.
Try relaxing the tense parts of your body. Then relax the tense parts of your mind. Do so by focusing on your breath: Close your eyes, breathe in and feel it, breathe out and feel it, again and again, until you feel more relaxed.
In this more relaxed state, find some quiet space within yourself. And in this space…
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness within you, that’s present in every moment.
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness of this very moment, that’s always available to you whenever you’re willing to focus on it.
Take time to just sit with the inner peace these two simple rediscoveries bring.
This is the practice of letting go of drama, and simply accepting this moment as it is, and yourself as you are.
You can do this anytime, wherever you are. You can practice focusing on the goodness in others as well. Seeing the goodness in your challenges and relationships and work, and so on and so forth.
You can build a healthy daily ritual of stopping the needless drama in your life, and rediscovering the peace and joy and love that are always just a few thoughts away.
(Note: Angel and I build healthy, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
If you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU.
Which point mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
Have you ever struggled with one of these toxic behaviors?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Another surprisingly timely, well-rounded write-up for me.
Thank you, M&A!
I love how you explain that the first two points lead to the third. No doubt that they are all related issues! They all cut the the core of my past resistance to reality that created my decade-long engagement in lots of drama and pointless activity that didn’t move my life forward. I was endlessly fighting against myself in every imaginable way. Your Getting to Happy course and teachings have been guiding me through this predicament, however. And over the past few months I’ve successfully let go of some ideals that held me hostage. I’ve also added a couple positive daily rituals into my life that counterbalance my negative tendencies to re-engage in the the things that I’ve let go. Slowly, I am seeing real progress…nice and steady. But of course it’s a journey…and I’m getting there.
Thank you again for these words, and for everything.
Victor Henderson says
Another one of your emails arrives in my inbox right when I needed to read it. Number 3 resonates so deeply today — I’ve been partaking in my fair share of drama recently. Thanks for getting me back on track, and for continuing to providing the guidance and coaching you’ve been giving me over the years. I’m a better man for it!
Although this post speaks to me in many ways, I think your thoughtful overview about the importance of acceptance, presence and maintaining and appreciation for the unpredictability of life is what resonated most with me today. If and when I embrace the moments of my life without resistance and conditions, I am my happiest, my most peaceful, and my most productive self.
To quote your book (which I recently received as a gift, and love):
“The best present you can give someone, including yourself, is the purity of your full attention. Just be present and pay attention to the little things, and appreciate them for what they are. Then let your presence guide your next step.”
Ashley Kung says
I am a total advocate of looking away from things outside yourself that you can’t control, and instead focusing within on what you can control. This is one of the most empowering things a person can do.
Something that helps me stop focusing on what I can’t control is to shift from a problem-oriented mindset to a solution-oriented mindset. It forces me to start thinking about things I’m able to control or take action on to make something better!
“Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness of this very moment, that’s always available to you whenever you’re willing to focus on it.”
YES! I find that when I return to the present moment, things are much simpler and clearer. Things instantly feel more pleasant, and I can find no reason to feel upset or unhappy, except for the thoughts I choose to think about. I realize I was missing the peace and contentment that can be found here and now.
Thank you for a great post.
I can’t begin to tell you the perfect timeliness of this post in my life. I have always enjoyed your writings but this one spoke to me and what I am struggling with. Thank you for putting into words what I needed to hear. I need to work to let go and accept; mindfulness is key.
Thanks, M and A
My inner craving to control what I can’t control. I’ve been stuck in limbo trying to get divorced and yes I want to control what I can’t. I’ve done everything I could to accommodate my soon to be ex, he’d rather siphon off what we have left then work with me. So yes I’d love to have control over this. A year and a half when we have nothing it too long
The first point resonates so deeply with me. I always like being in control of everything and that is clearly not a healthy way to live because I really cannot control a lot of things. I’ve started learning to let go and this post was a perfect reminder. Thank you for your articles, they’re always so insightful.xx
Patricia Shark says
Thank you so much for making me see life better. Letting go of what can’t be controlled and not getting into the drama aspect. I read the email to start my days and read it again to see if I have followed it.
Aixa Edwards says
Excellent and relevant to the struggles and issues experienced in daily life. I love the solutions
“We will think ourselves into deep heartache” – ah, true. Recently my 31 year old son has stopped speaking to me. He won’t talk to me about what the problem is, and has no desire to reconcile. My other son lives with him, so I am effectively cut off from both of them. Not to mention his girlfriend, who I love and shared many interests with. It’s out of my control and I’ve done all I can do to make it right.
Being rejected by a child is a heartache like no other. Especially when you feel that it is totally unfounded in reality. But, as you state, there is nothing I can do about this uncontrollable situation. I find myself ruminating on it endlessly, unconsciously, and have to bring myself back to what I am thankful for and what I can control. My hope is that this situation will end at some point, but until it does I am excluded from family gatherings, and they are my only family.
But maybe the universe is offering me an opportunity to discover another place of belonging that will be wonderful! Maybe a place I wouldn’t have discovered if not pushed out into the world to find it. Every problem has a gift inside of it. I’m looking for mine…
I have recently been going through this very same thing… I was unable to function for the better part of a year. While I am still very devastated by the loss if my daughter in my life, I am now seeing some of the reasons, as well as unbelievingly many blessing come from this very heartbreak. I have found tremendous peace, love and understanding from God. He came to me at my very lowest point, and He lifted me out of it with such gentle and caring love. I am now able to experience a joy that I now know I have never had before. It has been the most incredible experience of my life, and it runs parallel to my pain. This has been my first reply ever to any comments, but reading through these, I saw yours. Knowing the way He has healed me, when I didn’t even know I needed to look for Him or His help is why I needed to share this with you. I will be happy to share my contact information if you are interested in hearing the details of my suffering, and of my healing. You are not alone.
My struggle right now is there is something looming over the heads of my husband and me. We have no control over it and it will be devastating if the worst happens. It will change our lives forever and I am trying to accept that whatever happens we will deal with it but it is the scariest thing I have ever faced.
I dwell on the worst possible scenario constantly and don’t know how to let it go and just live day by day.
We have made some really bad decisions based on the what-ifs and are now trying to correct those. The bad decisions have cost us money as well as anguish. I have never been in such a mess in all my life.
I live every day in fear of the hammer falling. I have always suffered from anxiety and now it is ten-fold.
I can understand where you are coming from. I have wasted some time in a similar limbo, concentrating on the “problem” and not seeing any solution. Then when my anxiety was at its highest, I decided that I could survive no matter what happens. Once I accepted that I had no control over “the problem” and other people’s potential actions, I concentrated on enjoying each day and doing my best to move toward a solution. The better I got at enjoying each day and being grateful for all the many blessings I have, the easier it has become to get up with a positive energy in the morning, to takes steps to move myself and my life, forward. I still don’t know how things will work out but I have become a more patient person, able to act with more grace and self compassion and find faith that all will be well, no matter what. I wish you well and that you find similar faith to believe that it will all be OK.
I am desperately trying to have faith and patience. Some days I do and then days like today all I have is that pit in my stomach feeling.
I do count my blessings and trust that as long as my husband and I are together we will get through this. Unfortunately, that is part of the equation – there is a chance he could be taken from me for a while. That is the scariest thing of all.
I’m trying to do as you say and many people recommend but am having a hard time doing it. I was blessed w a wonderful very successful career and while doing volunteer work contacted an in curable illness which put me out permanently from work, my retirement, my passion sport and pretty much a future relationship when u have to tell them there is no cure. Getting past that by helping and making the illness follow me instead of the other way around, started to take shape with new desires and giving back. Then the bomb hit when my father’s health took a turn and I became the main one involved because my entire career was medical. Just as it was at its worst my mother’s health had a devastating turn (living very far apart) . This background leading up to I had started to come to grips w one parent going but the rock of the family has been my mother, if sickness wasn’t bad enough it was because of the gross malpractice of a cardiologist her in town who has basically taken her life. Siblings are in their own world so I sold my home and moved up here for full help. I’m desperately trying to practice the daily wisdom but what makes it harder is the brain infections are in the frontal lobe which has a huge effect on controlling my emotions and it is so hard to watch every day as she withers away in front of me. In addition in have anger inside that I’ve never felt before for the doctor who did this . It’s one of the worst cases I’d ever seen but w my weakness I’m not capable of taking on a lawsuit. I can’t stay focused on the in the moment. I’ve made lists to read every day etc but when it hits me I have very little control. Any and all mind tricks, I call them that wo disrespect, just need, I would appreciate. Thank you
Ava Philippus says
I have no words of wisdom. Just to say that I feel for you and am here supporting you. Best.
Marc it’s always a good read a real fresh outlook on life. Thanks
I had excruciating heartbreak in my 50’s… it debilitated me. For two years after, I allowed it to define me. His words echoed in my brain and I wore his criticisms and cruelty like a shawl. Then, unexpectedly, my elderly bachelor uncle came to spend his last year with me. It was hard and wonderful, that journey I took with him. Mostly, it reordered my mind. My focus on him helped me find myself again. He had no idea, I think, how his presence helped me silence the echo of unkindness, released me from the hole I dug myself.
Now, a year after his death, I am peaceful in my day to day. I am open to the chance of love again, but the need for it no longer defines me.
I read your email each week. It’s like a little meditation that centers my thoughts and helps me stave off what diminished me in my past.
aqsa shahid says
i am facing all these problems
This artical explaines in depth why the AA prayer works so well. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Donna M. says
Reading this before I even get out of bed to start my day. So glad I did!
I am going to re-read this several times today….. I am facing divorce from a man I love, stage 4 cancer w/ my mom, father’s stroke, and having to move out of my beautiful home. I am about to lose it–or AM losing my mind. I needed this!
Ava Philippus says
Wow, you too sister! I am here, quietly sending support. In solidarity then.
Donna M. says
This is an amazing article and I love how you explain each of the 3 toxic behaviors. Number 2 really hit home! When I was growing up, we “played” Happy Family. So, I smothered all my emotions down with distractions & STILL find myself, at 53 years old, doing the same thing. I loved your thoughts on how to free yourself and will start the practice of just sitting, being mindful of all you mentioned.
I receive your emails and you always seem to hit just the right note with me. Thank you for your words of wisdom and hope.
Kathleen K Murphy says
My 97 year old mother just passed away. We are settling her estate. There are six adult children. Three (in my opinion including myself) are being fair, gentle and kind. Two are being greedy, confrontational and have stopped speaking to me. The other is getting an earful from the two who are behaving badly and aligned himself with them. As the youngest I’ve always had the inner craving to control the uncontrollable.I’m the peace maker.I resist the reality that my family is dysfunctional and I get sucked into negative talk and drama instead of walking away because we “should” all be getting along and have good relationships. Your message couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Thank you.
Number 2 resonated with me a lot. Instead of going with the flow, I sometimes resist what’s going on around me, and even internal feelings because they don’t line up with an idealized version of my situation or myself. I’d like to live my life open to new ideas. I’d like to stay in the present moment and appreciate the people around me for who they are, not just for what they can do for me. Thank you for this article!
I have been struggling with my health and appearance issues for last 3 years. I would be feeling and still sometimes that I am not like before, energetic, enthusiastic, passionate and youthful. I would be feeling like heavy, dull and old. One day I was reading my horoscope report which said that my face and mouth would be holding me back. This increased my worry but I started to think about the reason for all this and I started to realize that mainly it’s my own behaviour and my way of thinking so I started to change it, I also started doing face exercises and I really started progressing.
david k wang says
Marc and Angel,
I don’t usually post comments. However, I am compelled to do so today because I am almost always amazed by your articles.
The insights you provide on the human condition is so keen and deep. Thus, remedial actions suggested are relatable and easily grasped. To me, you are to self improvement what Joel Osteen is like to televangelism, in that, instead of just expounding words and concepts as they are found and just read them out loud. You present them in such a way that makes it easily understood, and therefore, impactful.
Thank you and keep up the great work. I suspect as you reach a larger audience, greater success is down the road for you.
Just this first statement says it all for me….
Because letting go of control goes directly against our modernized, industrialized way of living – (we were taught and drummed into our heads; to be) we are go-getters, doers, architects of our destiny. (that we have the control and power to make anything happen if we put our minds to it). We build things and make things happen on our own terms; we don’t wait for anything to happen on someone else’s terms! At least that’s what I learned growing up from teachers, sports coaches, movies, songs, magazine articles, and so forth. So allowing things to (just) happen was not in my DNA. I had never been one to sit back and passively let go of control.
”Over the years, however, my perspective has shifted. I’ve learned the hard way that a great deal of the control we believe we have over our lives is REALLY just an illusion.”
that last paragraph also was a real hard-ache and pain to learn, and to learn how to practice it.
Kriti Pandey says
These points make so much sense to me. Especially point 1. Letting go of control is something I struggle with a lot. I want things to be a certain way and I end up wishing people also behave a certain way which obviously isn’t possible. When someone does something I don’t like, I show my disapproval very visibly. I hate this about myself honestly. I hope this article helps me with the struggle. You two are doing a great job! Thanks ?
Helaine Lasky says
Remembering and forgetting! Thank you for helping me to remember!
Khushi Srivastava says
This has got to be the best article I’ve ever read from your website. It was so amazing I actually had to copy large parts of it and paste them in my list of favourite quotes so I can read it over and over again.
Thanks Marc !!
Today, post my office hours and throughout the day I was lost and this has become a kind of routine (knowingly or unknowingly)…But when i reached home, a little small vice in my heart whispered to just read the blog ‘marcandangel’…and yes! here I am with answers to my situation, mind clogging clouds of emotions, the worthiness I seek from others …etc
I could see a clear resonance with the point you mentioned where the mind gives more importance to the Drama which is the consequence of the inner conflict with outer incidents.
Thanks for your heartily written posts ….It does help and creates magic!
I feel compelled to write about my experience this week as it was one of the most intense I have had so far.
I am now recovering from major surgery. Although i am still in a lot of pain, i feel very lucky for all the support from my friends and family..they never left me alone and made sure I knew how much they cared about me.
Whatever happens next, I still have a lot to be grateful for.