When life feels painful or out of control, we want the bad feelings to go away. As fast as possible. We want our situation to change. The conflict to dissolve. We complain, we point fingers, we vent. When dealing with difficult people or scenarios, sometimes emotional release has its place. But after the immediate swirl of reactivity, all the complaining in the world isn’t going to make us feel better, or change the fundamental facts of our life. But what we can do is change how we think and interact with ourselves — and therefore with the world around us.
What we do, where we live, who we know. These are all externalities. But really, the most powerful parts of our lives, the pieces that are with us no matter what we’re wearing, driving or who we’re hanging out with, are the stories in our minds. Those stories inform all that we see, and all that we do. They tell us how we feel, what we hear. They tell us who we are.
Except that much of our internal messaging is not who we are. It’s a narrative we’ve developed over our lives. It’s a story from our childhood, our cultures, our friends, our spouses. When things upset us or aren’t going well, we tell ourselves these stories again and again. They become our inner loop.
But we have the power to change this loop, with some small shifts in perspective. One story at a time.
Based on my own experience and what I’ve witnessed in my practice as a divorce attorney, I’ve come up with five essential tools to help you embrace and change your internal mindset: patience, respect, peace, clarity and forgiveness.
It’s easy to be impatient when going through a tough time. In particularly trying times, impatience can spiral out of control. Your impatience story can become a loop that interferes with thinking, sleeping and even productivity. Regardless of what or who triggers the angst, you can practice patience with deep belly breathing. This has been scientifically proven to calm the body and mind, and can give you a quick reprieve from any situation. Breathe in through your nose for a count of five, hold at the top and then breathe out slowly through pursed lips. Repeat several times. Notice the tension release. This practice allows you to create space for your thinking brain to engage, as you slow your emotional swirl.
When we respect ourselves, we make better decisions, not just for ourselves but also for our families. In difficult times, however, shame often abounds and our self-respect suffers. Reconciling feeling good about yourself while feeling bad about your situation is complicated. We may be trained to put on a happy face for the world, but if you’re feeding yourself negative messages internally, it will begin to eat away at your confidence and well-being. When you notice you’re feeling bad about yourself or your situation, consider whether you’re exposing yourself to people or circumstances that are feeding the negative loop. Sometimes just taking a break from a friend or relative who makes you feel bad is all you need to begin shifting how you feel.
As my grandfather used to say, never throw anyone away — just put them on a shelf. For the moment, shelve the relationships that are not serving you. Make a list of the people and experiences that lift you up. Commit to spending more energy with them.
Clarity is your capacity to receive and respond with lucidity, taking nothing personally. Most of what comes at you has NOTHING to do with you. All you can control is your own response. Of course, it’s hard not to take things personally when you’re going through a difficult time. or negotiating a complicated dynamic. But recognizing that there are many perspectives at play is a good place to start. Clarity activates your ability to communicate effectively, and to make smooth, easy decisions. Let go of blame, and clarify your needs going forward. Visualize and internalize your goals. Keep your focus positive, present and specific.
Of course we all want inner peace. But how can you feel peaceful when your present circumstance may feel like a disaster? Practicing peace counteracts emotions like fear, aggression or desire for revenge. One way to move toward practicing peace is to strive for neutrality. Peace is not about rainbows and unicorns. It’s about feeling at ease. Neutrality keeps your mind, heart and body free of tension. This freedom allows you to sustain your resources and keep yourself feeling nourished by your own attitudes and decisions. Recognize that peace is a choice and takes effort. A simple reminder is to choose your battles. A nice way to begin is to consciously remove yourself from a pointless argument cycle. Sometimes, walking away is the only forward.
Why forgive? Because forgiveness frees you. It’s that simple. When you have been wronged, anger may feel good at first; it’s a protective response. But over time when we don’t release that anger, whom are we hurting? Ourselves, of course. Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
We’re all human and fallible. When we start to forgive ourselves for what we think we may have done, or for what we may have failed to do, healing begins. When we forgive, we’re letting go of what might have been, and realizing that everything is just as it must be. When we release grudges, we feel better from the inside out. When we recognize that we have agency to decide to forgive, we are giving ourselves control over our emotional futures. We are no longer victim of our present circumstance. Whether you feel wronged or have wronged another, emotional freedom begins when you find compassion for yourself.
By focusing on your internal mindset through the practice of these five essential elements, you go from fearful to strong. From vulnerable to powerful.
Start slowly by committing to a simple daily practice to welcome these elements into your life. One at a time. With conscious effort, skillful navigation and the desire to reframe, recalibrate and re-set the pathways, our habitual thoughts and perception of our life can actually become better.