The Joy of Choosing
Stress. worry. anger. frustration. fear. I know them well. Most likely you do too. They are unavoidable parts of the human experience. How do you manage these? Where do you see undesired patterns or habits in your life when experiencing these emotions?
When approaching stress management, we often look to avoid stress by distraction. What is the purpose of this distraction? To think about or focus on what is stressful LESS. Unfortunately, these attempts to decrease stress often perpetuate the problem instead. If anxiety is significantly influenced by a person's thinking, then perhaps active thinking is necessary to reduce anxiety.
But what type of thinking am I talking about? Not all thinking is created equal. Most likely, you have seen how certain negative thought patterns can be detrimental to your productivity, mental health, and relationships. Unless you’ve found a way to turn your brain off, you are already thinking. Constantly, and perpetually. When something is challenging in your life or in your relationships, you may think about what you wish was different. What you wish your boss, your spouse, your parent, or the other driver on the highway - would change. Thoughts of this nature can be consuming. Obsession over what others should do differently, or how life would be so much easier “if so-and-so would _____”. I am personally very familiar with this way of thinking. If you recognize this pattern in your own life, how is it working for you? Are others changing? Is your stress lessening?
A person’s best thinking is characterized by: (1) an ability to get neutral about the facts of a situation or experience and (2) direct their energy where they can be most effective. Typically, a person can be most effective in enacting change when addressing factors they can control.
This means focusing on self.
“Who do I want to be?”, “What type of mother, father, son or daughter do I want to be? What kind of employee? How about as a wife or husband? “How do I want to act towards ____?” “How do I want to respond when something doesn’t go my way, or when I don’t agree with what someone else is doing?”.
Thinking about yourself is often depicted as selfish or self-absorbed. However, what if your thinking can in fact benefit not only yourself, but those around you? Self-focus is not inherently selfish. Instead it can be responsible. Thinking that is focused on how you actively manage yourself, how you steward your life and resources, is an integral component of maturity and character. Consistent adherence to this stewardship is possible through a focused effort to align your choices with your goals. Imagine choosing to move towards a type of person you want to be, the impact you want to have, independent of others’ choices or actions.
Humans often feel stuck or trapped when focused on circumstances outside of their control. It can feel as if there is nowhere to go and no way to influence change. When we feel trapped, we feel threatened, and biology kicks in – i.e., instincts: leading to heightened emotions and reactions to protect ourselves. Just as we would react to the threat of a truck barreling towards us, we react to feeling threatened in relationships. Instincts are, in a sense, automatic, and therefore not always aligned with a deliberate choice founded on our best thinking. Instincts tell us we must react to threat in specific ways. These responses are narrow, and often unnecessary (barring life-threatening danger). They are also typically unhelpful in reducing our stress or promoting success in our relationships. Fear driven reactions can determine our words, actions, and relationships; if we allow them.
By being neutral (considering facts and declining assumptions) and focusing on yourself, you become more aware of all your options. The narrow options you could previously see expand as you defocus on the threat and grow in awareness of what you can choose -- what you want to choose. In this way you assume more power in your life, by taking the control away from your emotions. Instead, you can play a more active role in your life by practicing choice. Choice about what you do and say, how you interact with the world, and who you are.
There is joy in knowing your options. There is joy in choosing. In having congruence between what you value, and your choices. Your stress and emotions don’t have to mandate your life or your relationships. There is more for you.
Want to learn more about your relationships and how you can make a difference? I’d love to work with you, just give me a call.
-- Madison Meadows, M. Ed. Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern #77757
Supervised by Leah McDill, Ph.D. Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor: #13143
New Life Counseling Center: (512) 238-1700, ext. 316 Work Cell: (726) 999-0539 firstname.lastname@example.org