"It's not about the event, it's about the response". Jack Kavanagh
Recently I had the pleasure of completing a course by Pema Chödrön called the Freedom to Choose Something Different, which inspired a flurry of thought around this topic. And since finishing it, I had yet to catch these thoughts and compile the learnings together.
Then yesterday after hearing about it (thank you!), I got to see this Ted Talk by Jack Kavanagh, and it reminded me of how profoundly powerful recalibrating our responses can actually be, and how cementing these lessons into practice could be a significant turning point for anyone experiencing challenges, adversity or even just the unhelpful reactions we employ to those things that get under our skin.
Three things that are fundamental to this idea for me are some of my favourite words:
Freedom - Choices - Ownership
Shit things happen. They happen on a daily basis in varying intensities. They happen to everyone. Things go wrong, we get upset, we get hurt.
And we've likely developed numerous ways of responding to these occasions.
In order to help us escape, overcome or manage the feelings that arise when shit hits the fan, we resort to habitual, probably unconscious responses.
Maybe we lash out, we turn to blame, we descend into negative self talk, we shutdown. We stew in the negativity that comes with feeling challenged, inadequate, weak, helpless or scared.
Maybe we engage in particular patterns of avoiding or numbing the uneasy experiences even if they don't actually make anything better. Quite often these responses might feel justified or right but in reality, can actually exacerbate the problem; they bring us down further or they lead us to make a mountain out of a molehill. We throw kerosene on a fire that we could have extinguished, or that could even have just burnt itself out.
So what do we do about this?
Well, we choose to do something different. We own the choice to change. We give ourselves the freedom to respond in a new way. And we begin overcoming where we had been succumbing.
'Freedom is owning our choices'
Responsibility and ownership are beautifully empowering tools we can use. But, do they tend to go by the wayside in favour of playing the victim role? Would we prefer to plead ignorance instead of facing up to the fact that we are creators in our life? We don't choose what happens to us but we do write the story of what we do with it. And some of our go-to responses are not particularly acceptable or helpful lines of plot.
Reactive ways of responding have simply become patterns or chain reactions, but they're by no means permanent. Change is always possible and we have the capacity to open up a whole new catalogue of helpful and proactive responses.
We have the freedom to make choices. Let's embrace this! The freedom to do something different is there in every snap decision or regrettable reaction. Becoming aware of alternative possibilities opens so many new doors. It frees us of the belief that we're stuck and demonstrates the potential to seek a new path, to start a new habit, to become victors rather than victim. The freedom is ours to welcome fresh alternatives into our lives; to interrupt and rephrase the conversation we're engaged in with our life experience.
Making the choice to respond differently is a substantial undertaking. It means we're recalibrating responses that have taken up residence within. And in doing so, we're enabled to dissolve the intensity of moments of struggle and instead see with a refreshed perspective. Making the choice to pause before entering a destructive chain reaction carries a wealth of strength and invites a dynamic shift in our lives. It disrupts the momentum and gives us the chance to see the choices that are available. It opens our eyes to the alternative possibilities. It highlights the freedom we have to choose to leave the passenger seat and take pride of place as the driver in our own lives.
This is one that can take awhile to embrace but is an extremely empowering tool to implement. Ownership means taking responsibility and accountability in our lives. Own the way you act. Own the responses you make. Take ownership for how they are or aren't beneficial to you and others. Own the fact that this is your life and it's up to you to make the best of it. Revel in the responsibilities you get to undertake as the master of your own experience. It's a privilege to make significant changes in our lives. The most treasured lesson I have was learning how to react differently to life, to choose a path that supports and nurtures my own experience and to own the part I play in it.
I know exactly how to be the ultimate diva of dramatic responses. In the past, I've responded to life with many a descent into self-destructive behaviours, lashed out at others or totally shut down. And it was often just because I got used to trying to escape the real feelings; trying to avoid being afraid, upset, lonely or feeling like I'd failed. I know all too well how that story goes, and I'm extremely grateful that the opportunity to rewrite it exists.
Anyone can transform their reactive responses and realise how very manageable all manner of our daily 'disasters' are when we choose a different reply. When we support ourselves instead of succumbing to an attack of self-hatred and blame. When we pause, take stock and see the alternatives at hand. When we give ourselves a chance to overcome, to persevere and ultimately, to triumph in the face of challenge...when we choose to do something different.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl