Casper looked up at his guardian, bored and almost yawning. His guardian was telling him off for ripping up her slippers. She was shouting at him, pointing emphatically to her chewed slippers and saying, “Bad dog! No!” Following that, she took away his toy, refused his treats and even ignored him for a few hours. So Casper found another toy, stole a bit of the cat’s food and enjoyed his solitude in the sun instead. He was not upset by his guardian’s actions and clearly not remorseful for his actions in the least.
As Casper did not invest himself personally into the responses given by his guardian, he was not affected by them and continued to live his life peacefully.
In life, how do you react to good and bad situations? Is there actually such a thing as an objectively good or bad occurrence? When a billionaire loses £1 million in stocks and shares in a market fluctuation, it’s not the same as when you or I lose a million pounds. Criticism from your worst enemy is received differently than a negative word from your spouse. If someone sends you an angry email but you never see it, did it actually happen? If someone says bad things behind your back and you never hear it, does it matter to you? If someone thinks bad of you but fails to express it, how does that affect you? In other words, these situations require your participation, context, and categorization in order to be ‘bad’.
The situation themselves do not care. Your external world could revolve around you (and it does!) and not affect you unless you give it the power. For it to affect you, you have to invest thought, energy and time into it. When you do so, you are giving the matter, circumstance, occurrence or situation energy, your energy. Nothing or nobody in this world can upset or hurt you without your permission.
This is not referring to not feeling at all. We should always embrace our humanity. It is inhuman not to feel. If you are going to give it energy invariably, make it good energy. Give the matter the proportionate amount of attention it deserves, ranging from a lot or nothing at all. More importantly, give it the right sort of energy. The sort of energy that will be returned to you to allow growth and empowerment. Where others see it as confrontational, you see it as educational. Where others see it as harmful, you see it as beneficial. Where others see lack, you see grace, gratitude and abundance.
It is not the easiest thing to do for, by nature, many of us are quick to react, quick to judge, quick to defend ourselves, our beliefs of right and wrong and our identity. It is a natural mechanism to improve our survivability. After all, in the past, the one who sights the sabre-tooth tiger first gets to live. In the present, making fast decisions can be desirable to avoid pain and even obtain pleasure. So, moving, thinking, speaking, and acting fast is a trait many have naturally become.
Strive to take the jerk out of the knee-jerk. Learn to sit with the meaningless of the stimuli, even if it does not feel meaningless. Holding your tongue, being thoughtful first, checking your emotions to see if they will help or disempower you or anyone else in the situation and forming a thoughtful response before speaking or acting becomes incredibly hard to do though you would probably benefit from it. However, the upside could be significant. You could be saying or doing less things that you will likely regret later. Your reaction could bring a more positive response to yourself and all involved. You could enjoy more moments of peace and tranquillity instead of being upset and hurt. At the very minimum, you will get to grow which may, in turn, develop self-pride and improve self-respect.
Carol Dweck, psychologist and author of ‘Mindset – The New Psychology of Success’ has described fixed and growth mindsets. Very simply, those who have the fixed mindset believe that our range and depth of intelligence, skills and capabilities are fixed and finite. Contrary to those who possess the growth mindset who believe that they are not and those said attributes can be developed and nurtured.
If you possess a growth mindset and want to grow, it is useful to curb your initial thoughts, feelings and actions and ponder on them before formulating your response. It allows your mind a chance to take in the information for evaluation because as discussed above, the natural tendency would be to react fast. You may appear to be ‘slow’ because you took ‘so long’ to respond. It does not really matter as you work at your own speed to achieve the best outcome. The fastest response does not necessarily mean the best outcome in this case.
Those are determined to respond immediately, perhaps are operating from a fixed mindset? After all, if they feel they cannot improve and their intelligence is fixed, they will always fall back on their fixed capability, hard grained instincts and respond quickly for they do not see the point of contemplating their response. After all, nothing will change for them, right?
Our reaction is what actually decides whether harm has occurred. If we feel that we’ve been wronged and get angry, of course, that’s how it will seem. If we raise our voice because we feel we’re being confronted, almost naturally a confrontation will ensue.
But if we retain control of ourselves, we decide whether to label something good or bad. A bad day for the ego could be a great day for the soul if you allow it to be. Choose to learn from the events, situations and occurrences that the universe has bestowed upon you. You should be that lucky! In fact, if that same event happened to us at different points in our lifetime, we might have very different reactions. So why not choose now to not apply these labels? Why not choose not to react?
Casper chose not to react and hence continued his life in peace. His guardian could have written off her slippers as a lesson, learn from it (keeping her prized possessions away from harm) and been grateful she has a dog as a companion to chew her slippers instead of getting upset by the situation. What sort of energy do you usually give to supposedly ‘bad’ situations? Do these ‘bad’ situations empower or disempower you?
‘Keep in mind that it isn’t the one who has it in for you and takes a swipe that harms you, but rather the harm comes from your own belief about the abuse. So when someone arouses your anger, know that it’s really your own opinion fueling it. Instead, make it your first response not be carried away by such impressions, for with time and distance self-mastery is more easily achieved.’ – Epictetus, Enchiridion, 20