What do you choose?

August 27, 2010

“It is not, and never will be, about how you feel. It will ALWAYS be about what you choose.” Dr. Zonnya

So often, I think to myself, or hear someone else say, “I have no choice.” or “What choice do I have?” Every day, we are faced with decisions that involve unpleasant choices, choices with unknown or undesired consequences, or choices that we just plain don’t want to make. This is a very stressful and frustrating situation, and one that happens over and over again.

While it is true that we will find ourselves forced to make a decision, does it necessarily follow that we “have no choice”? Even though we may feel like we don’t have a choice, chances are what we really mean is that we are in a position where we don’t like our options. Sometimes, it helps to think about what we CAN choose.

We can choose to be happy. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” We can choose how we perceive a situation, and how we are going to react. So often, we think of happiness as the end result of becoming successful, and wait for something from outside to “make me happy.” In reality, happiness is something to search for on the journey to success, and that can only be found inside ourselves. We can choose to see only the down side, to remember only the painful part of the lessons we learn, or we can change direction by thinking positively and looking for things to be happy about. No one and nothing can make us miserable unless we choose to let it.

We can choose our companions. It’s hard to be happy when we are surrounded by negative people. This is a harder choice because it means that we may have to give up a friendship, or limit our contact with a family member. Toxic people, people who are constantly choosing to be negative about their own journey in life, can overwhelm others with their dark, unhappy thinking. Negative attitudes are contagious, and the only remedy may be to quarantine the source. We can choose to be around people who help us think positively by being positive themselves. We can choose to give the “gift of goodbye” to the dream stealers and negative thinkers around us.

We can choose to be grateful. In times of stress or uncertainty, I forget about the many blessings I have. I am learning to redirect my thoughts from unhappy or negative emotions to things I already have to be grateful for. It’s hard to maintain a sulk or being unhappy when you are thinking about the good things already in your life!  “Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all the others.” – Cicero. If we find things to be grateful for, and thank people who help us, this gives us the opportunity to sow positive seeds in others’ lives as well.

Sometimes things happen to us that we just don’t like. “I don’t have to take that!” is frequently the beginning of an argument or a confrontation. Sometimes it may be triggered by a criticism, a negative review at work, or a snide remark by one of those negative people mentioned earlier. Sometimes it can be the negative consequence of a choice or an action we made ourselves. The key is to decide how to deal with the situation. I CAN refuse to “take it” and try to fight my way out of it, convince someone else that I’m right, or just hold my hurt feelings in my heart and feel bad. Although I am guilty of all of these reactions, I am learning to apply a more practical approach. William James said, “Acceptance of what has happened is the first step in overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” I can choose to accept the criticism or the consequence, refuse to get angry or hurt, and examine the situation for the meaning of it. If I can see a reason for the consequence or the criticism, this gives me the opportunity to improve and learn from it. If there is no merit, I can let it go and move on.

Choice can be a scary thing. It means taking responsibility for ourselves, our actions, and our happiness. It removes the ability to blame other people or circumstances for what is going on in our lives. The other side of this issue  is the fact that it gives us the freedom to change things, to choose how we will react, and how we look at things, and to choose the people with whom we will spend our time.  It actually gives us the power to make our journey on our own terms.

“There is no obstacle that true grit and Amazing Grace cannot overcome.” from SIMPLE ABUNDANCE by Sarah Ban Breathnach

This quote inspires me so much. “Grit” as a term for determination is so appropriate because it embodies hard work, getting down to business (the “nitty gritty”), and really digging in. Amazing Grace is the gift that comes from outside ourselves to lift us over the top, just when we think we can’t go one more step. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to keep on keeping on. We work so hard to keep going. So often, we try to take our daily journeys alone and don’t even think of asking for help. While it is true that there is a lot of work, a lot of study, and a lot of effort that we must do individually, it is not true that we have to take the journey alone. Sharing with a friend, being accountable to a mentor or accountability partner, developing a spiritual life, all can contribute to both sides of this hard work/gift of grace equation. Discussing the difficulties and ideas for solving them can help clarify the thought process. Listening to someone else can bring us the idea we hadn’t had or show us where we are on the wrong track. Looking beyond ourselves into the spiritual can bring us a peace and a clarity and open us to receiving the support and encouragement we need, not only from others but from God as well. As Lyndon Johnson said, “There aer no problems we cannot solve together, and very few we can solve by ourselves.” Sharing the journey, with its difficulties, can keep our supply of determination, true grit, up to the maximum needed. Exploring the spiritual opens us to receiving the gift of Amazing Grace, keeping our spirits positive and our outlooks hopeful. With this combination, those difficulties and road blocks are not so intimidating, no longer insurmountable obstacles.

Patience is a virtue…

August 13, 2010

I’m sure everyone is familiar with that expression. Unfortunately, patience is a virtue that I have to work to achieve every day. I am especially impatient with myself. If I make a mistake, a mistake that in others would be a minor issue, I tend to get upset with myself, and then discouraged. This in turn can lead to that downward spiral-“Why keep trying? I’ll just mess up again.” It’s so important to recognize our own humanity, and to accept that we will make mistakes. The important thing is to have the patience to learn from the mistakes and to keep trying. It has been said that people who haven’t made mistakes haven’t made anything. Every endeavor is actually a process, requiring us to learn and apply new things. As we keep learning and keep trying, we are acquiring the skills and the knowledge we need to achieve that goal. “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.” – – Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622)

The Rust Upon The Blade

August 1, 2010

“It is not work that kills men; it is worry. Worry is the rust upon the blade.” Henry Ward Beecher

How much time do you spend worrying? I know I spend a lot of time worrying about all kinds of things. Some days, it seems like there is no irritation too minor, and no problem too big, for me to worry about. In the past, I have told myself that thinking about issues helps me be prepared. I have come to realize that thinking about issues, in the sense of preparing a plan of action to address a situation, is a far cry from worrying about an issue, and what I have been doing is nothing more than worrying. “What if…” “What will I do…” What can I do…” Thoughts that start with these and similar phrases are nothing more than fear manifesting itself. These thoughts are the beginning of a downward slide from concern to a conviction of total disaster waiting around the corner. Basically, worry is fear stealing our time and our present, reflecting our feelings of powerlessness.
“I have spent most of my life worrying about things that never happened.” Mark Twain
I realize that, in the past, I have convinced myself that, by worrying about something, I somehow prevented it from happening. It’s far more likely that I simply wasted the moments I spent worrying, and missed opportunities for joy, enlightenment, or success. How do we handle worry? It’s easy to say just stop worrying. I think it’s better to face the issue, and think or write it out: “What’s the problem or concern?” ” What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen related to that problem?”  “What would you do if it happened?” and finally “Can you live with it?” I am far from being an expert at this technique, but I have found that, in situations when I have calmed down and actually applied this method, it helped me to put my problem, concern, or choice into perspective, and helped me realize that I can handle things, and I don’t have to fear them. It is certainly much more effective to spend a few minutes or an hour looking at the matter objectively, than to spend hours or days stewing in futility, wasting time that could be better spent so many other ways.  Just as rust dulls the edge of a knife, worry dulls our mental capacity to think clearly and to solve problems.  It is up to us to bring ourselves back to clear thinking and positive action.

“Worry often gives small things a big shadow.” Swedish Proverb