Whenever you feel the least bit miffed, hurt, disappointed, sad, angry, stressed, or rejected ask yourself this:
“What did I just make that mean?”
If you do only this you’ll liberate yourself from a whole bunch of lousy feelings. And at the end of the day, it’s really just the lousy feelings that keep you from being joyful, right?
Right. It’s not that annoying co-worker you can’t stand. No, it’s not your irritating spouse that doesn’t listen to you. And no, it’s not even the poorly managed kitchen remodel that’s taking FOREVER.
Stuff is happening. Stuff is just stuff. You tell a story about it to make sense of your world. The question is: is that story serving you?
Look at it this way. There is very little objective truth that we encounter. We’ve got a shit load of agreements we’ve made as a people so we can maintain harmony, but there are very few truths.
And then there are facts. Facts separate from the stories we tell about them because we’re storytellers. We’re authors. We create our reality through our stories and those STORIES cause most of our misery. Not the facts.
Separate “what is” from your story of “what is” and you will have a liberated life experience.
When you ask to understand your underlying interpretations of events/relationships/circumstances you unearth the inherent assumptions you overlay on facts. You assess how your story serves you or not.
The sad fact is, we rarely tell stories that serve us. Look around and notice how many people complain. Look at how they’re looking at life. Look at their interpretations of what happened.
Here’s what a miserable person does: they put blame on someone else or thing for their negativity and then feel the futility in making improvements. Essentially they’re looking out on the world and saying: “YOU are the cause of my unhappiness. If you’d just stop doing that thing you’re doing then I’d feel better. YOU have to change in order for me to be happy.”
Nope. It doesn’t work that way.
Separate the directly observable facts from your story about them. And then change your story so you feel better. If you choose to do this, you easily transform discomfort into peace.
Here’s an example:
You’ve been working hard all day. You’re tired. You’re looking forward to seeing your husband and expecting him to be on time because it’s family dinner night. The kids go to bed early and it’s important to you.
But he’s late. He’s quite late. He got caught up with a few last minute requests and then he hit traffic. Now the kids are in bed and dinner is cold.
You’re seething. So angry in fact that despite his numerous apologies when he comes through the door, you’ve closed up and refuse to connect with him tonight. Your hurt and he must be punished.
Here are the facts: You worked all day. You made dinner. You expected a set dinner time. Husband worked. Came home at another hour. Dinner as a family didn’t happen.
You’ll boil IF you make it mean that your husband is prioritizing his work over the family. By making his lateness mean that his work is more important than your requests then you’ll feel hurt, angry, disappointed… etc.
Now let’s be real. Have you had a frank conversation with your husband about how important dinnertime is, or are you ASSUMING he knows this because he should feel the same? And honestly, if you really thought he cared more about work than your family, do you think you’d be with him in the first place?
Because of a series of facts – he worked for a period of time, hit traffic, missed dinnertime – you spiral into a poorly meaning-filled pot of anger. It ruins your evening and does the exact opposite of what you were hoping for in the first place: deep connection and a shared joyful experience.
As soon as you recognize a negative emotion that’s your cue to ask: “What did I just make this mean?”
You’ll stop short of spiraling and examine your interpretation. More often than not you’ll come to your senses and come up with another story that allows you to feel compassion, gratitude, and at the very least – peace.
“He’s working just as hard as I am. He does this because he wants the best for me and the kids. Yeah, he’s late, but there is always breakfast tomorrow.”
But this doesn’t mean you slide into resignation and your requests are no longer valid.
Here’s why this works. Yes, it’s about telling a better story so you feel better. But what this is REALLY about is dropping the resistance to what is so you are clear and responsive, not reactive. (Here’s a recent post on that.)
Dropping your resistance to what is creates mental and emotional space (because you don’t have rage clouding your vision). Where there is space there is the possibility for creative solutions and positive emotion.
Going back to the example – in the space of no assigned meaning, you could have the inspired idea to have an open and REAL conversation with him later. “You know, I worked hard to make dinner for us and I was disappointed that we couldn’t all eat together. But I totally get it. You’re working hard too. Can we agree to be more deliberate around planning family dinner? And when things arise, or you get a sneaky feeling that you MIGHT be compromising the plan because of a few extra things you tack on, no problem. Just let me know and we can adjust.”
A much better outcome that evening, for sure.
So what are you making it mean? Get clear. Don’t come up with an explanation that makes you feel bad. Tell a better story that gives you relief. Have a conversation if you need to, make some changes if it’s required. But don’t swirl in a world of assumptions based on interpretations that don’t work for you.
Remember, this is about empowerment. Not resignation. This is your life. YOU are the author. Tell it in a way that aligns with your vision of who you are/want to be and what your life is about. Live it fully because you respond to facts, not because you react to stories. Be on purpose and author a good life.