“It’s not what happens that matters but how you react (to what happens) that matters”
“It’s not about the situation or the circumstance, it’s about you in it”
“Things only have the meaning we give them”
“People only treat you the way you let them”
You the Reactor
All of the above sayings refer to how we deal with, manage and react to what happens in our world. In extreme cases a momentary reaction can influence, if not shape, the next ten (twenty, fifty) years of our life. For good or bad. And on a completely different scale, many reactions will be unconscious, almost meaningless blips on the radar of our life. From the moment you and I get out of bed each day we are reacting (consciously or not) to our dynamic environment. Fortunately we don’t live in a static world; how boring would that be? We react to a broad range of stimuli hundreds of times every day and while the majority of our reactions are incidental and largely inconsequential (catching the falling spoon from the edge of the table, changing stations when we don’t like the music, answering a simple question), others will play a significant role in our future – although we may not be aware of it at the time.
Finding the Bad
Some of us have mastered the ‘habit’ of reacting negatively; of finding the bad, rather than finding the lesson or finding the good. For many people, the “what can I learn from this” question doesn’t feature nearly as much as the “why do these morons make my life a misery” or “why does this always happen to me” questions.
Two people go through the same event (a minor traffic accident perhaps). One emerges from his vehicle wielding an iron bar, frothing at the mouth, screaming obscenities and threatening violence, while the other calmly searches for a pen and paper to exchange insurance details. The psycho gets arrested for attempted assault and battery with a weapon, while Mr Calm drives home with a small scratch on his car, kisses his wife and kids and carries on with his happy life. Rather than learning a lesson from the experience and vowing to change his ways, the angry psycho gets even angrier at the cops, the judge, the legal system, the government and the rest of the world for victimising him. Following his arrest and conviction, he continues to stumble from one (self-created and perpetuated) drama to the next. Never realising that in the middle of all these catastrophes, he is the common denominator. He is the reason. He is the creator of the mayhem. He is the problem. And the solution; should he choose to be. If only he would learn to manage the events of his life differently (react differently), his life experience (his reality) would change dramatically. But as long as he continues to do the same (react poorly), he will continue to produce the same type of negative, destructive outcomes.
Calm in the Middle of the Chaos
The sooner we realise that we can have a great day, every day, despite what does or doesn’t happen on that day, the sooner we will move away from the chaos and into the calm. Keeping in mind that we exist in a physical world but do most of our living in our head. With practice you and I can be the calm in the middle of chaos. For the most part, the only environment you and I can control is our internal one, so how we react, how we interpret situations and the type of questions we ask ourselves will play a big role in that process. Even though we have the ability to control our internal environment (our reality), sadly, many of us hand over that power to situations, circumstances, events, ‘luck’ and my (least) favourite, other people. As long as our internal environment is merely a reflection of our external reality then our happiness will always be held to ransom by something beyond our control.
Every day of our lives you and I are presented with situations, circumstances, events, challenges and conversations which will elicit a reaction from us (one way or the other). For some this will produce an emotional, volatile, irrational, spontaneous or even disastrous response, while for other folk it will be a more measured, calm, considerate and strategic response to the happenings in their world. Emotion is what drives us, but logic and intelligence is what should be steering us.
So why do we do react stupidly when we know better?
Because in ‘that moment’ our response invariably has nothing to do with logic, understanding or intelligence and everything to do with emotion (insecurity, anger, fear, resentment, jealousy). We don’t actually think, consider or plan, we just react. Rather than (us) managing our emotions, all of a sudden our emotions are running the show. Often with dire results. All that ‘self-help stuff’ goes flying out the window. Yep, seen it. Done it even. Sitting at our computer reading an article like this is the easy bit; it all makes sense. We’re in complete control. We’re calm, cerebral, logical, rational, philosophical and evolved. We ‘get’ it. Well, we get the theory of it anyway. But sitting at our computer is not really when we’re put to the test, is it? It’s when that person pisses us off (again)… and all the personal development lessons from this website go straight out the window. Or hopefully not.
So how do we react differently?
I’ll tell you in part two.