What’s in Our Control?

A few weeks ago I drew a big circle in my work notebook and titled the page “Scope of My Control.”

I put

  • my actions
  • my decisions
  • my behavior

in it and

  • The weather
  • Others’ thoughts
  • Others’ feelings
  • others’ behaviors
  • others’ decisions
  • others’ actions
  • my thoughts
  • my feelings

outside.

Today, I added “the outcome” to the outside too.

A few hours later, when meeting with my new manager, I happened to open to that page. He started reading it upside down and it started an interesting discussion.

He disagreed with what was out of my control. He thought my thoughts and feelings are under my control. So we talked.

We discussed.

I don’t think either one of our minds changed.

And it was wonderful.

His point was that people shouldn’t feel hurt when they know the other person’s intentions are not to hurt them. My point was that people can’t help what they feel, what they can help is how they respond to that feeling. People can decide to act in a way that assumes the other person intended to hurt them. They can also decide to act in a way that questions their feeling. They can wonder, “why would this person intend to hurt me?” or “why would a kind person say something hurtful to me?”

I think more controversial is that I believe my thoughts are out of my control.

And as I write it again, here on this blog, I believe it even more. Our brain is on all the time. It’s constantly thinking and reacting to things. Many of my thoughts are my brain finding a pattern and thinking that something similar must be happening. I truly don’t think I can control this process. But again, I can choose how I act in response to my thoughts. I choose whether or not I believe those thoughts. Whether or not those thoughts should pertain to a decision I’m trying to make.

For me, the key to disconnecting my thoughts and feelings from my actions, decisions, and behaviors has been self-awareness.

I have spent the last year (at least) learning what my stories are, my common stories, the one my brain always tries to explain things through. I’ve told you guys some of these stories here on this blog.

Being aware of them allows me to question them. Allows me to take control of the things I can take control of, instead of following them blindly and wondering why I feel totally powerless to relive the same story over and over again.

Know what you can’t and can control. Figure out what works for you. Follow your beliefs to find the stories you tell yourself. Learn yourself. Develop this awareness. And as always, see what happens.

Fleeting Happiness

For the second time in ten days, I felt immense joy and strength and peace today.

This is not to say that for the other 8 days I felt like crap. Some of them I did. Some of them I felt just dandy. But I’m talking immense joy and strength and peace here.

You want to know the second thing I thought, right after I thought “I feel so immensely OK right now.”?

The next thing I thought was, “Oh shit! What if this feeling goes away?!”

And here lies the problem.

This fear that these feelings will go away are just as harmful as the fear that the bad feelings are here to stay.

Something I think I’ve written about before, but maybe I’ve just thought it in my head, is summed up beautifully in the following quote:

“Feelings abate on their own given enough warm attention.” – Boundaries by Anne Katherine.

Feelings are fleeting. They are not permanent states of being. That’s one of the reasons aiming for happiness is so profoundly misguided. There is no permanent happiness. There is also no permanent sadness. (I’d like to take this moment to throw a disclaimer in here that I do not equate sadness or even “permanent sadness” with depression. Depression is a mental illness and is much more than just a feeling.).

Just like bad feelings will eventually dissipate, as long as you don’t compound them by trying to ignore them, so will good feelings.

I think the greatest lesson people can learn is to embrace this ever-changing nature.

Feel sad when you are mad. Feel it fully. Feel it powerfully.

Feel happy when you are happy, embrace it, suck happiness dry, enjoy every. last. drop.

I realize this is easier said than done. I realize I say this after years of therapy, and 9 months of especially good therapy. But think about it.

Next time you’re sad, give it a shot. Breathe into the sadness. Let yourself cry, out loud, in an ugly way. Next time you’re happy, enjoy it, breathe it in, smile wide, face it head on.

 

 

Be Cliché this Valentine’s Day

Ever since I moved to the US 18 years ago, Valentine’s Day has fascinated me. I think I immediately started using the day as an opportunity to hope that my crush would reveal their undying like (not love…guys I was 8) for me.

It’s easy to see where I always set myself up for disappointment. And I can’t say too much has changed. I mean, I’m older now. A few guys have actually told me that they like me (even loved me! I’m 26 now so that’s more acceptable). And sometimes I was even in a relationship on Valentine’s Day. But I don’t think I’ve ever not been disappointed.

After years of absolutely hating this day, this year, after by far my saddest separation ever, I’m finding a lot of peace with it. Don’t get me wrong, the week leading up to this day has been HELL. And now that the day is finally here, I’m a little sad, and I can feel some low grade anxiety just chilling in my throat, but I’m also not catatonic, I’m not angry at the universe, or scared that I’ll be alone forever.

One reason for my sadness is that it took me until yesterday to realize that for all the pressure and stress I put on February 14th, all I ever wanted was for the guy I liked/loved to give me something cheesy/cliché/romantic. Just some chocolates and a rose (or a red carnation in high school). A teddy bear maybe. Just something.

I think I started feeling ashamed that I bought into this holiday. Ashamed that I wanted something so silly and cliché. But as Pete is wont to say “Clichés, as banal and superficial as they might seem, always express a great unbearable truth.” (and yes, I texted him on Valentine’s Day so I could quote him. So sue me).

I’m just sad that a year ago, when I was with a man I loved who loved me too, I didn’t have the knowledge to say “I don’t want anything big, but I would feel so special and loved if you bought me something cheesy for Valentine’s Day.” Or even the strength to just go and buy them for myself. Because that’s what I ended up doing yesterday. And it didn’t feel sad or desperate like I worried it would. It felt good. And kind. And loving.

Instead, I tried to hint about Valentine’s Day. I asked if we would do something. And when I didn’t know what I wanted, what to ask for, and therefore didn’t get it, I planted a tiny seed of resentment in me.

So much of a relationship is learning to ask for what you need and want.

So much of self-love and self-care is learning that you are capable of providing most all of those things for yourself. That’s not to say it’s not nice if someone else also provides them for you, but it’s not necessary.

So if you love Valentine’s Day, that’s amazing. Be open about it. Shout it out for the world to hear. Ask your loved one(s) to celebrate it with you. If Valentine’s Day is just another day for you, that’s great too! But don’t bash on someone who does love Valentine’s Day and finds this day hard. Don’t stomp on their truth just because it isn’t yours.

Please find love and empathy for each other, every day, but today of all days. And never feel bad about using a cliché or two!