Who’s driving your life?
How many times have you heard yourself or other people say things like ‘he made me angry’, ‘life is unfair’, ‘if I were richer, taller, younger etc. I could …’. Lots?
Why do I ask this?
When we blame other people, the world, the universe for feeling bad or for things not going the way we want them to, we’re operating in what’s known as an ‘external locus of control’. We’re looking outside ourselves for everyone else to fix things for us.
If you think that this may be you then don’t beat yourself up because I think we’re encouraged by the media and the big the corporates to do this. After all, if we’re led to believe we’re helpless and dependent we’ll need external things to support us. We’ll believe that the latest car, fashions, make up, perfume, will ‘make’ us happy. This is putting the responsibility for our lives outside of ourselves. This is insanity.
The only person who can truly control our lives and direct how it goes is us.
It’s seductive to place blame for things not going the way we want outside of ourselves or onto other people. But it’s not true and it’s not empowering. It weakens us and makes us vulnerable
What to do instead
The opposite of this is Internal locus of control. This is us saying ‘this is my life, I take responsibility for it and I will choose how I live it’. This is both powerful and frightening. Powerful because we get to drive the bus, but frightening to think that we really are in charge. But when we choose an internal locus of control we can be so much more resilient, choosing our reactions, our behaviours, our thinking so that it’s the most helpful for us in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
We always have a choice about how we react to adversity and challenge.
This is not to dismiss that sometimes life can be difficult and send challenges that threaten to overwhelm us, but the important thing to remember is that we always, always have a choice. A choice about how we react to adversity and challenge. We can crumble under it, see ourselves as powerless, broken, controlled by some outside force or events or we can straighten up, look the challenge in the eye and think ‘what can I learn from this’ or ‘what’s the best way forward for me now’. When we’re in an state of external locus of control we’re in protection.
This is essential from time to time but many people spend their whole lives in protection, limiting themselves, bleating about their lives and how unfair the world, universe, god, politicians, family etc. etc. etc. are. However, when we adopt a state of internal locus of control, by practicing and noticing when we are NOT in it, we are much more powerful. Things still happen, shit still hits the fan but how we react to it is our choice. It’s normal to get knocked off course and wobble but we don’t have to fall.
We can choose to get in the driver’s seat of our life and make it our own in the best way possible for us.
How can you do this?
Notice when you are using language that indicates that you are in an external locus of control, ‘he makes me so mad’, ‘nothing ever goes right for me’ etc. Don’t beat yourself up for this, instead be curious, notice it and then consciously make the decision to switch to internal locus of control.
Choosing Our Reactions
You may not have thought this before but whenever we react to an event we’re choosing our reaction – always. I’m taking you back to a big of algebra now – don’t panic – it’s quite simple!
E + R = O
E = Event (internal, such as remembering a time of shame or embarrassment or a bad experience; or external, what’s happening around us, how people are behaving)
R = Reaction. How we choose to react to that event. How you choose to think, act, feel.
O = Outcome. What happens as a result of that event. How you feel, what you do, your mood, your beliefs about others or yourself, the result you get.
Notice your reactions in both big and small things. When someone jumps in front of you in the queue do you stand there fuming and ruminating about all the things you could have/should have said to them for being so rude? This wastes energy as it hasn’t changed anything. You’re still standing behind them in the queue. Instead you can choose to say something to them or to not really be that bothered, after all it’s a very small thing and it will have very little effect on you in the long run.
So when you hear yourself saying something like ‘He made me so angry‘, stop the thought. No, he didn’t make you angry. You chose to be angry as a result of what ‘He’ did. So you can choose to feel something else, something that may be more helpful. But also remember there are no such things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions. Just ‘helpful or unhelpful’, ‘appropriate or inappropriate’. Choose the ones that’s most appropriate and helpful for you to get the outcome you want.
In the beginning when you’re making changes you’ll probably automatically react in your old unhelpful ways. Again don’t beat yourself up for this. Notice it, be curious and then re-enact the situation in your head, this time with a more helpful response. In this way your subconscious learns new ways of reacting to things and you can ‘slow’ your thinking enough to be able to choose a more helpful response next time.
Manage Your Emotions
Emotions are transient, physical sensations. That’s all. Yet we give them so much thought, so much attention, so much power over us. We are experiencing emotions all the time but we only notice the strong ones.
And we don’t like strong emotions; we resist them, shove them down, ignore them. But they’re useful. For a start they’re telling us something. What are we thinking that has resulted in the emotion? Sometimes we don’t know because the thought has already moved on. But sometimes it can be useful to notice as we may have concerns or worries that need attending to.
But if and when you experience a strong emotion and there’s nothing that needs to be attended to (happens a lot) then just let it be. Don’t try to shove it down or supress it. By doing that means you get entangled with it, wrestle with it and it gets even stronger. Then you may pile on another emotion of fear or other strong emotions on top of that emotion.
Instead just ‘name it to tame it’, ‘the feeling I am feeling is … shame, guilt, fear, sadness etc.’ Then allow it to be.
Maybe imagine it’s like a cloud expanding until it is as big as it needs to be. Sometimes – especially in the case of emotions such as loss, fear, grieving, regret – they can be very big indeed, often feeling like they are too big for your body. In which case let it go outside your body and be as big as it can be. Breathe through the emotion (7/11 breathing is great for this) and let it pass in its own good time, because it will pass. Emotions only last for a short time.
Adopting an internal locus of control, choosing our reactions and managing our emotions all contribute to our resilience, and resilience is what we need when we’re faced with situations and challenges that make us anxious and stressed. Resilience goes with you everywhere, propping you up, helping you to bounce back when life side-swipes you. It’s like a protective cloak against the slings and arrows of this full on, manic life many of us find ourselves in now.
The Buddha alluded to this when he said “we can’t always walk on roads covered with leather, so that the stimuli of rocks pinching our feet is gone, the roads we travel are too varied and too long. To solve this problem we need to wear leather shoes, so that no matter where we step there is leather underneath”.
So in summary
Work on your leather shoes. Recognise when you are struggling with anxiety, stress or lack of confidence, when you need help to move forward, take that help and use it to grow, to build your resources, your skills and your resilience. Work on your anxiety. Get yourself a pair of inner leather shoes, so that, no matter how rocky your road, you can still travel it with ease.