It’s All How You Look At It
Do you ever catch yourself stressing over a conversation you had with someone, days after the fact? Not even a fight. A small interaction that perhaps took you outside your comfort zone. You have no idea how the other person feels, but you drive yourself crazy assuming the worst, instead of actually talking to that person.
Over the past few days, I’ve struggled in staying positive and in the moment. I’m frustratingly human, sometimes. Nevertheless, I learned a great lesson this week: Every scenario has a worst case and a best case, and we have complete control over how we look at it.
We also have the power to filter our understanding of something into two categories: what actually happened, and our story of what happened. This week, I forced myself to sit down and differentiate the ‘what happened’ from ‘my story of what happened’ for the issues that were stressing me out most. The ‘what happened’ is concrete and factual, such as, ‘my friend and I spent the day hanging out. At the end of the day, I said to him I just want to be friends.’ The story I tell myself is often more dramatic and full of assumptions, i.e. ‘My friend and I had a great day and then I ruined it by telling him I just want to be friends. Now things are going to be weird between us, or worse, he won’t want to be friends at all anymore.’
While living in a small resort town in Lake Tahoe this winter, I’ve consciously spent the majority of my time either with family or on my own. In my more social hours, a friendship quickly bloomed between me and a guy who works on the ski hill. During the first half of the season he had a girlfriend, which was great because we could quote Will Ferrell movies and make stupid faces at each other all day. He filled a big brother role right from the start.
Now that he’s single, the air between us is heavier. After a day of snowboarding, driving through the mountains, and grabbing greasy Taqueria food, my friend pulls into the driveway to drop me off. As I lean in to give him a hug, he turns to plant a kiss… and I freak out, back away, and squawk ‘I just want to be friends!’ It’s as awkward as it sounds, and he even laughs. I mumble some sort of apology, hop out of his car, and grimace as I shut the front door.
Immediately, I start to worry. Ugh, I feel so bad. Did I just ruin his day? Are we going to be friends still? And on and on. Finally, I decide to stop the madness and do the ‘what happened’ vs ‘my story’ exercise. I scribble out a couple other stressors that have taken up my mindshare lately. When I’m done, I feel much more at ease and am able to drift off to sleep. Pretty cool trick, right?
And guess what, my stories of what happened aren’t realized. None of them. My friend still calls me to hang out the next day, and each day after that. My other worries are put to rest, as well. It’s crazy to see the negative path my thoughts can take if I let them run wild. By tempering them back to the reality of what happened, I free myself up for deeper breaths and positive thoughts. Instead of dwelling on non-realities, I accept what happened and move on. And the realities that emerge always seem to fare better than my crazy little stories.
Do you ever notice your thoughts running through the worst case scenarios, rather than neutral or more positive interpretations? What if you take a step back, observe where your thoughts naturally go, and separate yourself from those thoughts instead of submerging yourself in them?
Lately, I’ve been able to pull myself out of my negative thoughts by saying, ‘wait a minute. What’s really happening here?’
Viewing life’s little hiccups in this way has proven extremely valuable for me in my relationships with others. It frees my mind from the downward spiral of assumptions, and leaves room for real conversation. Living with authenticity sometimes feels uncomfortable. Pushing through my shyness and my fears is tough. I can shrink away or I can own up to my actions, lean in to the discomfort, accept myself and move on. The more I do the latter, the stronger my relationship with myself and others grows.
Think of something in your life that is causing you stress. For instance, maybe your girlfriend or boyfriend recently pissed you off, or you had a disconcerting interaction with a co-worker. Try differentiating the concrete facts of what happened from the more emotional or detailed story you’ve been telling yourself of what happened. How do the two accounts of what happened vary, and how might you approach the situation or person differently?
The exercise above is helpful, but I challenge you (and myself) to take it a step further. Instead of just looking at ‘what happened’ and your ‘story of what happened,’ consider the best case scenario, as well. If I were to do this with the example above, my best case scenario is that my friend and I continue enjoying each other’s company and grow our friendship. When I add in this third interpretation, it opens up the possibility for something great to happen. It makes me smile instead of stress out. It provides a more balanced view of any situation, and drives home the point that it’s all how you look at it.
“When you change the way you see things, the things you see change” ~ Anonymous
I’m working toward having my first thoughts be the best case scenario, instead of the worst case. Landing in the middle of those polarizing sides is a win in itself. Life is full of struggle, but it’s much more comfortable when I recognize both sides, let the negativity go, and find a balance.
With courage, love, and intensity,