I have no choice about whether or not I have Parkinson’s. I have nothing but choices about how I react to it. In those choices, there’s freedom to do a lot of things in areas that I wouldn’t have otherwise found in myself.
-Michael J. Fox
There are so many things in life beyond our control that we don't get to choose: who our parents are, the country or circumstance of our birth, random illnesses and accidents. Any yet, for every situation, especially the traumatic ones, we can choose how to respond.
Do we crumble? Perhaps. Even that might feel beyond our control sometimes. The question is: do we get back up? Do we dust ourselves off and make the conscious choice to work through it and strive to cope? This saying illustrates that idea beautifully:
People don’t die by falling into the water; they die by staying in the water.
Here are four choices that all of us can make day after day.
Choose to quit blaming others
Bad boyfriend. Awful parents. Horrible teachers. Rotten boss. Crummy friends. You name it. I have many clients who could tick every single box on that list – yet still they rise. They choose to either change the circumstance or view it differently. Perhaps for the time being you do have a dreadful boss and there’s really no option to make a change. You can still manage how much you let the boss negatively effect you. You can choose how much time to spend thinking about said boss, and you can also choose to leave those toxic feelings at work and not drag them home, using your boss or your bad day to be a tyrant to your family. You can choose to get out there in the world and give back rather than stewing about the multitude of ways you’ve been let down.
Choose to be grateful
This choice never ceases to amaze me. For many of us with a healthy family, a roof over our head, and food in our belly, we want more: a bigger house, a newer car, a fancier vacation or an easier life. And yet, many of the families I know with the biggest challenges (health, financial, grief) also have the longest gratitude lists.
Grateful that this year we’re home for Thanksgiving, not in the hospital
Grateful that despite all the problems, we haven’t lost our sense of humor.
Deeply grateful that even though my marriage ended I have wonderful friends.
Choose to find something every single day to be grateful for. With practice, that list will grow and you’ll notice more and more reasons to be grateful. Animals are even capable of profound gratitude.
Choose to ditch jealousy
Choosing to step away from jealousy and comparison is closely related to the previous choice, having gratitude and being gracious. Here’s how I felt my jealousy evaporate like the flick of a switch:
I vividly remember living in the midst of a renovation when my babies were small. Every choice was a painstaking balance between what we wanted and what we could afford. Our house was built in 1909 and had undergone a few shoddy (at best) renovations. As a result – there was a lot of “unsexy”, invisible, expensive jobs that needed to be remedied just to make it safe. By day, my husband designed beautiful multi-million dollar cottages. At night, we sat at the kitchen table crunching numbers to figure out what we could (and couldn’t) afford for our own home.
After one such night, I was doing my usual walk with the double stroller through beautiful, leafy Riverdale. It’s a lovely neighbourhood in Toronto close to The Danforth with gorgeous parks, beautiful homes, and a great view of the skyline. I passed one house undergoing a massive renovation with no expense spared: top of the line windows, a stunning porch, skylights, and exquisite landscaping. I bitterly thought to myself, “Harrumph – must be nice”. In that moment, in the blink of an eye, I thought, “Enough! I am sick of your sourpuss expression and green eyed jealousy”. My thinking transformed to, “Good for them. They have a stunning home and I hope they will enjoy decades of making happy memories together”. The whoosh I felt was nearly visceral – I felt lighter, I felt unburdened. Being happy for people – even complete strangers felt amazing.
Choose your words with intention
I can tell you with absolute certainty that I never thought I’d quote Bieber, but this line in one of his songs caught my attention:
When you nod your head yes
but you wanna say no
What do you mean?
No, I’m not a big fan of the Biebs, but this is a great lyric. And not just for young teenage girls. Often times women have difficulty speaking up for what they want. We say yes when really, we want to say no (or vice versa). A very popular phrase right now is “sorry, not sorry”. Here’s an idea: only say sorry if you MEAN sorry.
In this great article, Lena Dunham talks about sorry as a reflex and highlights what’s behind it:
Because the fact is, a lot of the time when I say sorry it’s because I’m mad. Really mad. So mad that I’m afraid anything but sorry will cause me to explode and drip my hideous rage juice all over someone I’m simultaneously pissed at and trying to please. And so saying sorry serves as a sort of cork, making sure my emotions are contained and packaged neatly. Sorry is the wrapping paper AND the bow.
“Sorry” is just an example of what can happen when we don’t choose our words with intention. Mean what you say and say what you mean. If it comes out wrong (which happens to all of us), make the choice to clarify it.
When we are angry, anxious, or down, it’s worth taking time to look at the choices that we’re making on a daily basis that keep up stuck. No doubt, naysayers will respond, “easier said than done”. I’m not saying it’s easy. I am saying it’s worth it.