Change your perception. Change your world (Part 2 – Take Control)
Between every stimulus that you are exposed to and your subsequent response lies a choice. The freedom to choose what your response is to this given stimulus.
We must realise that we are in complete control of our lives. We need to stop blaming other people for our circumstances and develop a proactive mindset. Proactivity is taking responsibility for your actions and taking the initiative to make things happen in our lives.
Once we have developed this proactive mindset, it’s time to get to work. Take control of your life and live the life that you want. Where do you start?
Focus on what you can control, which is yourself. Focus on yourself and become the change you wish to see in the world. Everything else will follow.
In the previous post we talked about how experiencing a paradigm shift can change your perspective of the world. One of the paradigms which I am hoping to shift is that of control.
Specifically, the perception of of control: How much of our lives is controlled by us? How much of it can we influence?
Going back to our input and output model discussed previously. One might make the observation that everything in our lives can be put in to this model. Input is essentially stimuli that we are exposed to and output is our response to stimuli.
For example. When you feel hungry and ‘decide’ to eat pizza. This is actually a response. What’s the stimuli to that response? It’s all the food that you ate that day. This makes you hungry (depending on whether you ate a lot or a little) but it’s also your past. If you have had good experiences every time you eat pizza, that memory of pleasure will be a stimuli for future interactions. If you grew up eating pizza because your family is Italian that is also an input into your future decisions.
What is between input and output?
One might ask, what happens between the input and our output? What is the process or event that is between stimuli and response?
To answer this question Stephen R. Covey shared the story of Victor Frankl who was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. He was also a Jew who was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany. With the exception of his sister, his whole family including his wife died by being sent to the gas ovens.
He experienced torture that is beyond human comprehension and suffered innumerable indignities during this time. In any given moment, he did not know whether he would be sent to the gas ovens be forced to shovel out the remains of those who perished in the ovens. The pace of work, starvation of rationing food portions and constant beatings also contributed to accelerated death rates.
The last of the human freedoms
However, through this horrible experience, Victor Frankl discovered what he later called “the last of the human freedoms”. The Nazis could torture him. They could beat him. They could control everything from his environment to his body. However, what they could not take away from him was his human awareness of self. His self-image and identity.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”
Victor could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. He had the freedom to choose his response.
In the midst of the most horrible experience of his life, he was able to find meaning. He wanted to share this message with people. That thought alone would help him get through the prison camps and publish the book Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he described his way of overcoming adversity by identifying a purpose in life to feel positively about and then imagining that outcome each and every day. This was later named as psychotherapy.
Victor Frankl taught us that we are not a product of our past or our stimuli. We have the freedom to choose our response in any given situation.
Controlling our emotions
I want to touch on the topic of emotions as this will often be used to argue against our ‘choice’. People use language such as “You make me mad!” Or “You make me sad!”.
The fact is that you choose your emotions. No one can control your mind, go inside your head and MAKE you feel a certain way. You choose your emotions.
Essentially anything you see on the outside is just a stimuli. Someone swearing and offending you? That’s a stimuli. That in itself doesn’t make you angry, you choose to be angry.
Assuming the stimuli actually does cause you to be angry. Why is it that the same stimuli does not cause other people to be angry too? There are times when the same stimuli can be taken as an offence or a joke. Why is that? Because it’s open to interpretation by yourself.
To illustrate this I would like to show you the path to action model by which I came across in Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson:
Between “See & Hear” there is “Tell a Story”.
- You see/hear someone say “It’s OK Toni I’ll do it”.
- You tell yourself a story: “He said that because he doesn’t trust me. He thinks I’m incompetent that’s why he always wants to do everything himself!”
- This is when you feel annoyed and then
- You act out etc.
No matter which way it goes, you have a choice. You are able to choose what story you would like to tell yourself.
Paradigm Shifts Revisited
Going back to our previous post where Stephen R Covey experienced a mini-paradigm shift. What exactly happened? Nothing about the screaming kids changed, they did exactly the same thing. The stimulus did not change. However, Stephen’s emotions and actions changed completely. It is because he changed the story from:
“These kids are disrespectful and are purposefully trying to annoy everyone” to
“These poor kids don’t know how to deal with their mother passing – I wish I could help.”
The story you tell yourself changes how you feel and your subsequent actions.
Are you reactive?
Have you ever felt like nothing is going your way, everything is breaking on you all the time and the next drama is always around the corner?
Do you know someone like this? There is always something going wrong in their life even if they do everything ‘right’? The thing is that these people are living a “reactive” life. They are literally forming a response to everything life throws at them.
People who have the belief system that they cannot control their emotions go through life like an emotional roller coaster:
- Something bad happens at work -> they become upset
- Something good happens at home -> they become happy
- The weather is storming – > they become upset
Do you know what I mean? If you aren’t in control of your emotions, it means your whole life will just be up and down depending on your external influences.
I want to emphasise the fact that these things are outside of their control. You cannot change the weather, so there is no point getting upset over it. You cannot change the fact that the delivery guy didn’t come. You cannot change the fact that your employees arrived late to the meeting. You can however, change whether you feel upset over it and whether this ruins the rest of your day.
Being reactive means letting things in your life happen to you and then responding to them. Being a victim of circumstance and letting those circumstances dictate your future.
The Proactive Mindset
The very first habit described in Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Be Proactive”. This means more than just taking initiative. Proactivity is realising that you are in control of your response to each stimulus and taking control of your life. It is the opposite of being reactive.
Meditation is in my opinion a really awesome tool to shift from a reactive to proactive mindset. Over time it teaches you to be in control of your emotions. It achieves this by helping you take a “pause” in your busy life rather than letting all events distract you from what’s important.
But you don’t need to start meditating to help you control your emotions. You don’t need to practice for a few years until you get it down pat. Just come to the realisation now: That you are responsible for your emotions. That you are in the driver seat of your own life.
By shifting to a proactive mindset, not only are you taking control of your life, you are also taking responsibility for it. You can stop blaming your siblings for making you angry now. You can stop blaming your co-worker for ruining your performance at work. You need to know that it’s on you. And it’s your responsibility to change it.
Change your State
Tony Robbins talks about our mental state and how it influences our behaviour. If you are in a scared state you will feel scared, if you are in an aggressive state you will do something different. A person can be really nice when they in a resourceful state of mind and can at the same time be really mean if they are in a mean state.
You would be familiar with this, I’m sure there have been times in your life when you thought you were absolutely killing it. Everything was in control, you turned everything you touched into gold and it felt like you were on top of the world. That’s you in your most resourceful state of mind. Of course, you might have also experienced the opposite state where everything seems to break down on you with impeccable timing.
Our feelings do not define us
Another good example of this would be the waiter/waitress at a restaurant. If they look pissed off and treat you rudely, do you think that’s their personality? Are they necessarily a rude person all the time?
We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts.
Our ability to think about your feelings/moods/thoughts is what separates us from the animal world.
These are things that happen in the moment and in the moment, the nicest person could be mean or the meanest person could be nice. Remember, we are not our moods.
Because of this, do not let other people’s labels define you.
“You are always late”, “You are always so moody!” “You disappoint me” etc.
That’s not actually you. That’s the world projecting their perception of you. It’s how the world interprets you. But really, you have a choice. To choose otherwise.
Time to make a choice
In the previous post we talked about Inputs and Outputs and briefly talked about how you are where you are now because of the decisions that you have made up until now.
I’m sure we have all have heard of that quote by Einstein stating “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” Many people may not realise what this actually means though. Let me try and put it another way:
If you are happy with the results that you are getting. Keep doing what you are doing.
It is only when you can look deep within yourself. When you can say to yourself “I am here today because of the choices I made yesterday”. Only then can you take the first step towards change and say “I choose otherwise”.
We are responsible for everything that happens in our lives. Our behaviour is a result of our decisions and NOT our environment or condition. If you want something in life, you have the initiative and responsibility to make it happen.
Rewiring our Subconscious Choices
Note that these choices described above can be made either consciously or subconsciously. At the end of the day no one consciously chooses to be in a foul mood all the time. However, they are definitely making that choice subconsciously. Often the subconscious choices are as a result of social conditioning over time. If we don’t take control of our emotions, we will start believing over time that we cannot control them.
This is not true.
I would like to share an extract from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (you must probably be sick of it by now. If you haven’t already read it though, what the hell are you waiting for!) Stephen shows us that loving is a choice. Over time however, we are conditioned to think that the feeling of love is out of our control. Stephen challenges this notion:
“At one seminar where I was speaking on the concept of proactivity, a man came up and said, “Stephen, I like what you’re saying. But every situation is so different. Look at my marriage. I’m really worried. My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“Love her,” I replied.
“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend, love is a verb. Love—the feeling—is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling.”
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R Covey
What to focus on now
As humans, there are a lot of things we care about: Money, Health, Family and Relationships. These are all important. What else do we care about? The weather, other people’s personality, the news, our problems at work, how much debt our country has and nuclear war etc.
Stephen R Covey called this our circle of concern. In it, you have every single thing that you care or are concerned about. What you must remember is that everything you care about takes mental energy. You can’t care about EVERYTHING in the world. Our attention or level of care should be viewed like a currency. Not only is there a limit to how many things you can care about. But the more you care about one thing, the more attention it takes away to care about other things.
If all you care about is your job/career, you cannot put as much attention into your relationships. If all you care about is watching TV and eating, you cannot devote as much attention to diet and exercise.
The question is: What should we focus our attention on? On things that we can control. This is what Stephen called our Circle of Influence. Our circle of influence is a small subset within the circle of concern.
Circle of Concern – everything we care about
Circle of Influence – everything we care about that we can also control
Stephen noted that proactive and reactive people could be differentiated by their circle of influence and how big it is compared to their circle of concern:
The proactive person only focuses on what they can control rather than external factors which they cannot.
This means more than not paying attention to what’s on TV or what’s the latest gossip in the neighbourhood, this is about focussing on yourself when it comes to change.
Focus on Yourself
When you undergo personal change, when you have life changing breakthroughs. What’s the first thing you want to do? You’d want to tell your friends and family about it! You feel so happy and blessed and all you want to do is show them how you did it so that they can also experience it!
It literally feels like you are giving them a present, something that will change their life. Guess what?
Don’t do it.
One of the biggest and hardest lessons I have had to learn was:
You cannot change other people. You can only change yourself.
This is especially true for those that are closest to you. Be the example and change yourself. If they come to you wanting to do the same then support them, otherwise do not ever push change onto them.
Reading books has had a profound effect on my life. However, this only started when I voluntarily picked up a book to read. Why is it that when I was forced to read books in high school that it had no impact on me?
I think the discovery and the willingness to read is as much a part of the change as the words themselves. This goes for everything else in life.
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world”
If your spouse is overweight, telling them to lose weight will only push them further away. The only thing you can do is lead by example. Lead by transforming your own body. Let your spouse go on their own journey. Be there to help when they ask but let them change and grow as they can and are willing.
Focus your energy on what you do control—yourself.
“Lord, give me the courage to change the things which can and ought to be changed, the serenity to accept the things which cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference”
Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer
Consequences of our actions
A clear distinction needs to be made here: Although we are free to choose our action, we are not free to choose the consequence of our action.
You can choose to punish someone, but you cannot choose how they will react to punishment. By adopting a proactive lifestyle, we are committing to taking control of our lives. Naturally there will be times when we make mistakes and have performed an action for which we rather have not had the consequence. There are two things that you should take away from these mistakes:
- Learn from your mistakes. Do not justify or lie to yourself and others. Just cop it on the chin and
- Move on. Anything other than a lesson to be learned, the consequence itself is outside of your circle of influence. Continuously mulling over the past is a self-destructing behaviour that prevents you from living in the present.
Making and keeping commitments
Now that you are aware of the concept of proactivity it is time to make a commitment. Commit to being a proactive person. Stop letting circumstances and other individuals control you. Choose to live the life you want.
Act or be acted upon.
A good place to start is to make and keep commitments. These goals are the basic building blocks of effective habit formation. This is one of the key first steps to personal development. It is only through working on your goals that you acquire a sense of self awareness, hunger for growth and character that will enable you to achieve all the other positive things in life.
“It is here that we find two ways to put ourselves in control of our lives immediately. We can make a promise – and keep it. Or we can set a goal – and work to achieve it. As we make and keep commitments, even small commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives. By making and keeping promises to ourselves and others, little by little, our honor becomes greater than our moods.”
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R Covey