Welcome to #practices4life—practical tips for living a happier, healthier, and more peaceful life from Jim Blake, CEO of Unity World Headquarters at Unity Village.
“Here I share techniques I have learned for living a more balanced life. Some of these can be mastered, while some we will “practice” for the rest of our lives. The important thing is to keep trying because with every effort, we get better. And improvement is the goal—to make this life experience better for ourselves and those around us.”—Jim
Greetings, friends. Welcome to June, the beginning of summer and the end of the first half of the year. We are going to take what we have learned in columns one and two about changing our thoughts and monitoring our perceptions and combine the techniques to dramatically impact our daily experiences. And then we have the whole second half of the year to practice!
This month’s practice is important because it creates a foundation for everything else we’ll be working with this year. Some might consider this a pretty provocative concept, so are you ready? Here it is …
Every single day, you have the power to choose your life experience.
I know, I know. I can hear the myriad responses now. “Jim, I don’t choose the weather, the rude people, the malfunctioning computers, appliances, automobiles, and so on. Nor do I choose the serious events in life that happen to me, my family, or my friends.”
I get it, and I am not suggesting that we are somehow in control of every event that may occur during the course of our lifetimes. What I am suggesting is that by working with the techniques we have discussed over the last two months (associated with our thoughts and perceptions,) we can better manage our experiences—not just in the moment, but in the following hours, days, and weeks.
Life offers a spectrum of experiences, so for this discussion, we will use a common example followed by a more complex one. We’ll start with something simple that many of us experience on a regular basis. Most of us live a life that is over-scheduled—our days are filled with back-to-back appointments and responsibilities. A mishap like a traffic jam or a flat tire can ripple negatively through an entire day. We’ll spend it running late for every appointment, apologizing for our tardiness, and feeling stressed and frustrated.
Here’s where our practice comes in. During the triggering event–let’s say a flat tire–our emotions can get the best of us and we can become angry, upset, and stressed. We may tense our bodies, use poor language, experience increased blood pressure or heart rates, and have all sorts of negative thoughts that spin uncontrollably in our minds. A single event can make us grumpy and resentful for an entire day.
Now consider this: How many decisions will we make during the day from this grumpy, angry place that we might have made differently if we were in a happy place? How might those different decisions have changed our day, our life, or the lives of others, had we not been so frustrated when we made them? It’s interesting to consider the ripple effect a single event can have, isn’t it?
So what’s the alternative? Using our practice, when a stressful everyday event happens, we can notice that our mind has become a bit unwieldy with spiraling thoughts. We can slow our breathing, remembering that these are just thoughts. None of the scenarios the mind is chattering about have actually occurred, and there are countless possibilities for how this moment and the rest of our day can still be positive and turn out great.
We can begin to accept the fact that this event has occurred—we have a flat tire—and allow ourselves to feel a few moments of frustration. (Notice that our practice never involves avoiding or stifling our emotions; we just don’t get stuck in them.) Then we can also begin to accept that our flat tire will have some sort of impact on our day; however, what that is remains to be seen. We are not foretelling doom and gloom!
From this space, we make the conscious choice not to let a flat tire ruin the next few hours or the entire rest of our day, impacting everything else that we do through negative thinking and a sour mood. Each time fear or worry starts to creep in, we can force a smile to our lips and affirm something positive, like this: “I am open to the possibility that everything is going to work out perfectly.”
I know some of you just read that sentence and said, “Okay, Jim, that sounds nice but I have important meetings and being late could have significant consequences.”
I understand, but let’s look at it logically. Would you rather try to overcome the circumstances of an unforeseen event from an angry, worried, stressed-out space, or are you willing to try something different? Are you willing to respond by choosing to reorganize your day from a calmer place where you have accepted your flat tire and are open to the possibility of everything working in a perfect way? Which response do you think will render the best mindset for decision-making?
Let’s move into a complex scenario, like a job loss, an unforeseen change in circumstance, a personal illness, or one involving a family member or friend. I have experienced every one of these difficult events very deeply at one time or another. There were times when I felt completely powerless and helpless about my own circumstances or those of a loved one.
As difficult as it is, we must do our best to make choices about how we are experiencing extreme events. We must try to make choices about our thoughts, perceptions, and emotions that will render the greatest service to ourselves and to our loved ones. We must allow ourselves to feel our emotions fully, but over and over we must also try to manage our thoughts and perceptions so they don’t turn fearful, negative, and worrisome. We must try to keep replacing them with something that is either positive or at least neutral.
There will be scenarios where you just can’t think of any positive thought to bring forth as a replacement mindset. That’s okay. Do your best to muster up something neutral like, “This negative thinking is not serving me” and just be in a neutral place. By getting yourself out of the cycle of stress, fear, or negative thinking, you will be in a better position to provide yourself with the best mental and emotional state for healing. You will also be in a clearer state for supporting loved ones who may also be moving through this difficult circumstance.
The goal of our time together is to live happier, healthier, and more peaceful lives. The foundational component of better living is managing our thoughts and perceptions. Events are going to happen. It is our responses to them that shape our experience of life. The more in touch we become with our thoughts and perceptions, the more clarity we will have to manage and change them positively, controlling our experiences in the short and long term.
From small to large, from inconsequential to monumental, with practice we can better choose how we are going to experience events rather than feeling tossed around by them. We can’t control all of life, but we don’t have to feel powerless either. We can take back our control in the form of our response to the events of life by working with our thoughts, perceptions, and responses—starting with everyday events.
This is our practice, and practice makes progress.