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Approx. 5 minute read
Welcome to Part Three in the series of Practical Tools for Improving Your Mental and Emotional Well-Being.
In this article, we’ll cover the final two foundational principles – The Meaning of Life and Out of Control.
The Meaning of Life concept can be an ‘aha’ moment (it was for me) and has the possibility for profound implications in every aspect of your existence.
Here is a scene from my novel, ‘The Shift Squad’, where ‘Teach’ Neil discusses the topic and significance of it with his students.
Neil said, “You can each experience the same event but have different perspectives because of your past experiences.”
“I get it,” said Eddie. “It’s like when two people are about to go on a roller coaster. One feels sick and the other excited.”
“Right, the same roller coaster and two different perspectives. In this example, which perspective is right, and which is wrong?” asked Neil.
“The one who is going to puke,” said Mia with a snicker.
“Nah, the one who is stoked,” said Conner.
“They’re both right,” said Jake. “Each one has their own perspective.”
“We were just kidding, dude,” said Conner.
“Yes, Jake,” said Neil. “Understanding this concept creates acceptance. The only meaning something has is what you give it. And that meaning is based on your unique set of life experiences. When you understand that each of us has different life experiences, you can begin to examine your perspectives about what is true.”
Nothing has any meaning except the meaning you give it.
Example: Think of a sporting event. One group of fans cheer for team A, the other, team B. Team A wins and A fans are happy. B fans are disappointed. And there is a large group of people who don’t follow that sport (or any sport) who don’t care who won or lost.
A simplistic example for sure. But factual. This observation applies to any and all events in life: a death, a birth, an election, a swing up or down for a stock price, a family reunion, or a virus that is plaguing humanity.
There are facts, and then there are individual truths. In the above example, the facts were: A played B, A won. Truths: Team A fans liked the result, B fans – not so much. Everyone else had no opinion.
Fact: something indisputable happened.
Truth: an interpretation (perspective) of a fact.
Your version of truth (perspective, the meaning) shapes the way you experience the world. Most of your perspectives and beliefs were imprinted on you during the formable years of childhood.
However, you can change (and probably have changed) your perspectives and beliefs from childhood – the meaning you give to life events.
And the same is true for everyone else. Each of us has beliefs shaped by early life influences, then by the choices we make as adults, and by an ongoing set of life experiences. Each of us has our own “truth” in the way we perceive life events.
Example: Jen was raised in a devout Catholic family. In university, she attended a series of courses on exploring spirituality. She now practices aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism.
New information and experiences give you the opportunity to re-evaluate your perspectives and beliefs and the meaning you give to life.
Here are a few questions for your consideration.
- What are your core beliefs and where did they come from? How do they benefit, and/or challenge you?
- Think of an experience where you and someone else had a different memory or reaction to an event, a different perspective about what happened, or its importance. Provide a theory as to why your “truth” differed from theirs? (e.g. religion, politics, and past family situations are common themes for differing truths).
- Why was your “truth” important to you, and why might the other person’s truth have been important to them? Think of it in terms of upbringing, life experiences, core values, and priorities.
So how do you go about changing the meaning you give to life? By challenging your existing perspectives and beliefs. You do this by opening yourself up to new information and experiences – just like Jen did in the example above.
The meaning of life events is up to you. You get to choose the level of importance you give to something.
Remember your desired emotional state(s) from part one. With each situation that you give meaning to (via your core beliefs and perspectives), you are either supporting your mental and emotional well-being or hindering it.
In and Out of Control
This is the final foundational piece before moving on. Let’s build upon the previous section of the meaning you give to life.
How often are do you feel frustrated, angry, or concerned about events going on around you or in the world in general? Maybe it’s a family situation, a political event, or the price of food/rent/gas, or restrictions due to COVID-19.
Most of life happens outside of you. And you have no control over those aspects.
What is in your control, always, is how you respond to life events. You get to decide what is important to you (your perspectives/truth/beliefs), and the meaning you give to an event.
There is where your power and your responsibility reside. You get to decide what you are going to give your energy to. If something is outside of your control and you decide to worry about it, that’s your choice.
There is one other aspect to this – your area of influence.
There are situations that you cannot control (like who is the mayor of your city) but you might be able to influence them.
Example: You decide it’s important to you to do what you can to elect a new mayor, one who is more aligned with your values. You decide to volunteer for the upcoming campaign.
You get to choose if you’re willing to exert time and energy to attempt to influence an outcome of a situation, presumably one that aligns with your core beliefs and values.
Think of three challenging situations in your life right now that are out of your control. For each, acknowledge to yourself whether you have the potential to influence and whether it’s important enough for you to do what you can to potentially influence the outcome, and how you might go about doing that.
Now, for each of those three out of your control situations, identify your emotional state(s) when you think about them (e.g. anger, fear, frustration, anxiousness, etc.). You have the power to alter your perspective (look at the situation differently). By reframing the situation (thinking about it differently), your emotional state changes.
Example: You’re in self-isolation because of COVID-19 (out of your control), along with your wife and young child. You begin to feel frustration, worry, panic, and agitation being cooped up inside. You notice this as your temper becomes short with your loved ones. You decide to make the best of it (what you can control). You choose to see this as an opportunity to bond deeper with your wife and child, knowing it may not last for long before you’re back on the “wheel of busy”. You do this by writing down all the things that you are grateful for. You refer to this list each time you begin to feel that agitation arising.
You can alter your response to any given situation by first being aware of what is triggering you (remember Triggers–>Thoughts–>Emotions–>Behaviors). Alter your perspective (thoughts/beliefs) and you can shift toward your desired emotional state(s). That process is in your control.
Foundational Principles – Summary
We have now covered the Five Foundational Principles for improving and supporting your mental and emotional well-being.
- Emotional Scale: Know the desired emotional state(s) that you want to live most of the time in – above or below the tabletop.
- Thoughts, Emotions, Behavior: Your thoughts invoke emotions, which result in your actions/behaviors. Thoughts/beliefs are triggered by current/future events and memories.
- How You Learn: Conscious Competence and Stages of Change Models. There is a process to learning anything new. Practice, patience, and persistence.
- The Meaning of Life: You give meaning to life events through your perspectives/beliefs. Facts are indisputable (something happened), individual truth is an interpretation of the facts.
- In and Out of Your Control: Most of what happens in life is outside of your control. What is always in your control is how you respond (the meaning you give). You choose if and how you will spend your time and energy to influence a situation to attain a different result.
For a free copy of a comprehensive PDF workbook on these tools and concepts, send me an email at [email protected]. And I appreciate receiving your comments and feedback.
Here is a link to Part Four in the series: Choosing Authenticity and Living Your Priorities.
For more techniques and tools for your mental and emotional well-being, check out my unique and engaging self-improvement novel, The Shift Squad.
I write to inspire others to greater self-empowerment, authenticity, and improved emotional and mental well-being.
I am the author of the unique personal development novel The Shift Squad.
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