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It’s Not What Happens to You: It’s What You Do with It

This is what I tell my Executive Coaching Clients…

I make choices every day as to how I’ll respond to things that happen to me. When things are not going the way I want, my default thinking tends to be either worry or avoidance of looking at ‘what is’. Both choices—yes, they are choices—rob me of an opportunity to grow.

In “My Stroke of Insight”, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor explains that limbic system responses, like fear, for instance, are programmed responses that can be set off automatically. But, within ninety seconds from the initial trigger, our system’s automatic part of the response is over. Once the chemicals surge through and then, flush out of our blood stream, we can choose if we want that circuit to keep running. Imagine….ninety seconds and then we choose our response!

This isn’t about pouring pink paint over our feelings. It’s simply saying that after ninety seconds we can either feed the negative thinking loop by allowing our left brain to story-tell (stories being the sequences of thoughts we convince ourselves are real) or leverage the most powerful creator of our reality—our brain—to focus on what we want to feel instead.

I’ve learned that there is another choice when I experience fear, worry, and doubt. One I reach for often and have to practice with conscious intention—a choice to simply notice. By paying attention to my automatic response, I feel what emotion is stirring in me and where. I then put it aside and focus on what I want to feel instead. I don’t have to focus on the thoughts that bring me pain. I decide.

I used to hate to ‘feel the feelings’ that came up when things didn’t go my way. I wanted the learning to be over already. I have to consciously choose to stop and notice my feelings and the negative chatter that’s attached at the hip. I let the stories run for awhile. I listen.

Then, I start to ask myself questions that facilitate my shift, allowing me to create the bridge to a new way to see, feel and think about what is. What am I feeling? Is that really so? What am I learning and how do I use this learning to catapult my growth? Then, when I’m ready, I go about the business of moving forward again; armed with the learning and bolstered by my shift to better thinking.

Neuroscience tells us what we focus on grows. So focusing on worry, doubt, fear, or whatever the suffering is, strengthens that circuitry and deepens our default. Time, attention, and repetition are quite a powerful elixir for embedding negative thinking—or creating new thinking.

My automatic emotional and physiological responses are opportunities for learning, but only if I notice them and feel what comes up. They point at what I need to know. The teachers are right there. Am I seeing them?

I don’t always like this process and it’s definitely not easy. But I do it. And you know what? I’ve shifted, dramatically. I am grateful for the lessons of tragedy and negative feelings. They contribute to who I am today. I use my lessons to propel me forward—after my ninety seconds, that is.

I can allow my emotions to derail me or use them to let me know I need to shift. It’s not about what happens; it’s what I choose to do with it. Epictetus said it best for me. “We are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens.”

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