I have always felt that we have a lot more control over what we think than we give ourselves credit for. It is interesting to watch how we interact with each other. Often these interactions set the tone for our thoughts. For instance you approach me at work and say let’s go grab a cup of coffee. I ask you how are things are going with your project and you start telling me about how unreasonable your client is and how you don’t have any way to address their clearly unreasonable requests. I nod a few times sympathetically, and recall a similar situation I had with one of my own clients this week. What started as a cup of coffee turned into bitching session about our customers, with no one walking away feeling any better. This is not unusual in most organizations happening over and over. So what’s wrong with this? Wasn’t I being empathetic? Sure I was empathetic to my co-worker, but not to my customer and I did nothing to change the tone of the conversation from what was negative to something positive. This is a pretty simple example of how we get pulled into conversations and instead of really thinking about how to control our thoughts, we just react.
You might think well no damage done, but think again. You go back to your desk and now you are focused on a difficult customer or what a pain in the ass this job is. Your colleague walks away no better off from the interaction, in fact you may have just reinforced his ill will towards his client.
What if instead of reacting to what people are saying you just listen or maybe even better you remove yourself from the conversation all together. I know this sounds weird but if you or someone else is intent on taking time to turn things into a pity party then in the long run you are doing both of you a favor by cutting it short.
These reactions are not limited to discussions. Let me give you a few examples of how we often react to various events during the day:
- Someone pulls in front of or cuts you off driving to work. You hit the breaks and give them the finger. Nice start to the day.
- Watching the news in the morning I see that someone with an automatic rifle that killed 14 people in a mall somewhere in the United States or Europe. I don’t visibly react but I think to myself the world is a dangerous place, I had better be careful when I am out in public.
- You get up in the morning and go to make a cup of coffee and find that your kitchen looks like it had been ransacked by intruders. You fire off some expletive using one of you children’s name, roommate, or spouse.
Well I just thought this was funny.
In any of these cases you are spending your time as some kind of reactionary organism where stimulus and response rules the universe. I would be the last person to say that you will ever gain complete control over your thoughts and the way to react or not to those things that are happening around you. In fact I think because we all have a tendency to do some of this; thus the need to be very careful about what we expose ourselves to. It would also be giving up to say that you have no control over how you react to the events you encounter each day. There are ways that you can stack the deck in favor of being a rationale being and not a reactionary fool. Here are few things you can do to go from reacting to thoughtful responses:
- Condition your mind – Read inspirational books, watch YouTube videos, read positive affirmations, or meditate. Remember you are training your mind, putting good things in to create that positive mindset, which will offset some of the negative events of the day, by starting from the right mindset as your day begins.
- Know your triggers – If driving to work in heavy traffic is absolutely killing you then, start earlier in the day when traffic is not as hectic or use an audio book or some other means to take your mind off it.
- Avoidance – I’m a big fan of just not exposing yourself to things that I know may be negative. For instance I quit watching all cable news stations and even local news. My only exception would be a few minutes of CNBC to get some business news. Avoidance is a risk management technique where you put into place ways to completely avoid the risk altogether and it works pretty well for avoiding negative bullshit.
- Take responsibility – Instead of blaming the world for how you react to events occurring around you, take responsibility for your reaction. Quit blaming everyone else for your poor behavior and attitude. You know deep down, it is you who chose to perpetuate negative thoughts, to be critical of others, to blame the world around you.
If and when you decide you can control how you think, then you will be in the top 10% who do not react, but instead control their thoughts. You will be one of the few that controls your own state of mind, and your happiness now becomes a decision not a reaction.