The goal is to change your response to what you can’t control. To grow stronger on the inside so less on the outside can affect your inner wellness without your conscious permission.
There’s an old saying, “Struggle can be used as a source of strength.” My grandmother always repeated that line to me when I was growing up. Every time I dealt with some kind of unexpected challenge, she would graciously remind me that it was helping me grow, so long as I was willing to open my mind to it. Over the years I have learned just how right she was, and how relevant her wisdom is for all of us.
The mind is the biggest battleground. It’s the place where the strongest (subconscious) conflict resides — the place where we develop habits that put us in direct opposition with reality. It’s where half the things we feared would happen, never actually happened. It’s where our expectations get the best of us and we fall victim to our own trains of thought, again and again.
Truth be told, 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 think about and respond to the hands 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 each outcome as it arises, even when it’s hard to accept.
The bottom line is that when you can’t control what’s happening in the world around you, you must challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening — to straighten out those habitual, spiraling patterns of thinking. That’s much easier said than done though, for all of us, because it’s hard to change the habits we engage in mostly at a subconscious level. But we can get better by bringing more awareness to what we’re doing…
So today, let’s take a look at three super-common subconscious habits Angel and I have seen draining hundreds of our course students and conference attendees over the past 15 years — some default patterns of thinking far too many of us engage in on a regular basis, draining us of our mental strength and well-being:
1. The habit of immediate resistance.
You might be surprised by how often you subconsciously resist life.
If you evaluate your body and posture right now, I bet you can find some kind of tension. For me it’s often in my neck, but sometimes it’s in my back and shoulders.
Where does this tension we feel come from? We’re resisting something — perhaps we’re annoyed by someone, frustrated at life, overwhelmed by all our obligations, or just bored. And our mental resistance creates a tension in our bodies and weakness in our lives. Therefore, Angel and I often recommend this simple strategy to our course students who are struggling to relieve themselves of their resistance and tension:
- Locate the tension in your body right now.
- Notice what you’re resisting and tensing up against — it might be a situation or person you’re dealing with or avoiding.
- Relax the tense area of your body — deep breath and a quick stretch often helps.
- Face the same situation or person, but with a relaxed body and mind.
Repeat this practice as often as needed today. Face the day with less tension and more presence. Change your mode of being from one of struggle and resistance to one of flow and acceptance.
2. The habit of expecting things to be a certain way.
Imagine you had a ripe, juicy tangerine sitting on the table in front of you. You pick it up eagerly, take a bite, and begin to taste it.
You already know how a ripe, juicy tangerine should taste, and so when this one is a bit tarter than expected, you make a face, feel a sense of disappointment, and swallow it, feeling cheated out of the experience you expected.
Or perhaps the tangerine tastes completely normal — nothing special at all. So, you swallow it without even pausing to appreciate its flavor as you move on to the next unworthy bite, and the next.
In the first scenario, the tangerine let you down because it didn’t meet your expectations. In the second, it was too plain because it met your expectations to a T.
Do you see the irony here?
It’s either not good or not good enough. This is how many of us live our lives… unhappily and unsuccessfully. It’s why so many of us feel let down, drained, and unexcited about almost everything.
Because nothing really meets our expectations.
Now imagine you try this instead: remove your expectations of how the tangerine “should” taste. You don’t know, and you don’t expect to know, because you haven’t even tried it yet. Instead, you’re genuinely curious, impartial, and open to a variety of possible flavors. You taste it, and you truly pay attention. You notice the juiciness, the texture of the pulp, the simultaneously tangy, tart, and sweet flavors swirling around on your tongue, and all the other complex sensations that arise in your awareness as you chew. You didn’t know how this tangerine would taste, but now you realize it’s different from the rest, and it’s remarkable in its own way. It’s a totally new experience — a worthwhile experience — because you’ve never tasted this tangerine before.
Mindfulness experts often refer to this as “beginner’s mind,” but really, it’s just the result of a mind-set free of needless, stifling expectations.
The tangerine, of course, can be substituted for almost anything in your life: any event, any situation, any relationship, any person, any thought at all that enters your mind. If you approach any of these with expectations of “how it should be” or “how it has to be” in order to be good enough for you, they will almost always disappoint you in some way, or be too plain and unexciting to even remember. And you’ll just move on to the next disappointment or unworthy life experience, and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth, until you’ve lived the vast majority of your life stuck in an habitual cycle of experiences you barely like or barely even notice.
3. The habit of focusing ONLY on what’s wrong.
The bottom line is that almost every situation imaginable has hidden beauty in it if we are willing to open up to it. For example, in the past, even as Angel and I coped with the death of loved ones, we discovered opportunities for us to appreciate life more, to appreciate the lives of those we’ve lost, and to appreciate the priceless time we had, and still have, with the people we love.
We do our best to embody this same mindset in every difficult life situation we encounter. When we get ill, it’s a chance for us to rest. When some unforeseeable event postpones one of our business projects, we spend more time with family. When our son, Mac, throws a temper tantrum, we see that he’s expressing himself, asserting his individuality, and being human.
We choose to find what’s right, even when it’s hard to see. You can do the same. On the average day, try to use frustration and inconvenience to motivate you rather than annoy you. You are in control of the way you look at life.
Instead of getting angry, find the lesson. In place of envy, feel admiration. In place of worry, take action. In place of doubt, have faith. Remind yourself that your response is always more powerful than your present circumstance. Because while a small part of your life is decided by completely uncontrollable circumstances, the vast majority of your life is decided by your responses. Again, where you ultimately end up is heavily dependent on how you play the hands you’ve been dealt.
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to forgive yourself if you’ve recently participated in one or more of the subconscious habits above. Forgive yourself for the times you lacked clarity, for the habitual past missteps that created needless tension and stress. Forgive yourself for being human! These are all vital lessons. And what matters most right now is your willingness to bring more conscious awareness to what you’re doing starting today, so you can grow stronger.
But before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which one of the points above resonated the most today?
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