I didn’t create it or think of it, but I do choose to live by it.
Instead of naming off three or four resolutions for 2018 that will be broken or forgotten come February, I am adopting a mantra for the year or for the math minded people (not me!), a formula, to guide me through 2018. Would you care to join me?
How about letting go of shoulda, coulda and woulda’s and embracing our daily opportunities for growth and mindfulness? How about we stop sleep walking through life and awaken ourselves to the potential living inside each of us? How about we accept that regrets are simply limits we have put on ourselves and excuses are a two-ton backpack we drag everywhere we go allowing it to hold us back from personal freedom or joy? How about we approach our days differently and see if we get a different result? What do we have to lose- other than more days of feeling the same way.
From the first moment I heard this “life formula”, it captivated me. It encompasses so much of what I work with people in therapy on and it encourages complete ownership of one’s life, our thoughts, our behaviors, and our choices. It’s super simple yet has so much clarity and allows us to see that our destiny or our demise is in our hands. We are the drivers of our bus and we control the outcome of our lives.
My 2018 equation is this: E+R=O.
The basic idea is that Event + Response = Outcome. If I am unhappy with my Outcome, it is up to me to change my Response. Chew on this: you are 100 % responsible for your own life.
If you’re a blamer or a victim, this formula is not for you. If you go through life judging others, this formula is not for you. If the glass is half empty, this formula is not for you. If you hate change, this formula is not for you. Think about it: we chose who we are. It’s okay to be Debbie Downer, Pessimistic Patty, or Negative Nelly, just admit you like your name. Life didn’t give you this title, you chose it.
There are factors that are out of our control like who our parents are, how we are raised and what kind of environment we are forced to grow up in. Those are the E’s. But that does not dictate the Outcome of our lives. Those are circumstances that impact us, but they do not define us. We might not have control of our external conditions, but we have control of our behaviors and the approach we take to the challenges we face.
I can look back on so many life Events that I have Responded in a way that ultimately didn’t serve me. After having a miscarriage in my fifth month of pregnancy, I beat myself up and experienced a tremendous amount of guilt. I believed that I did something wrong and it was all my fault. My Catholic guilt kicked in and I questioned if I was being punished for something I did in the past. I felt my body failed me, I let my husband down and that I was unworthy of being a mother. The Outcome was depression, anger, and isolation from others, at a time when what I needed most was connection. Thank goodness for an amazing therapist named Jane who helped me process my feelings and change my Response to one of self-love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Had I changed my Response initially, my Outcome could have been different, and I could have saved myself a tremendous amount of pain and self-loathing.
On a lighter note, I went on a date in high school to a Haunted House. It was an actual date, the kind I had always dreamed of where he asked me out and said he would pick me up–except when he came to my house, he sat in his car and honked. And when my dad told me I would wait inside the house all night until he came up to the door to properly pick me up, he honked again. It was embarrassing and the start of a disastrous night. Here is where I own my part or my R. Somewhere between the start of the Haunted House and the exit to leave, I decided I had no interest in this guy. So I bailed between the mummy and the zombies. Yep, I left my first official date. We had no cell phones back then so at some point he must have figured out I didn’t get abducted by dead people or attacked by scary monsters and he went home, I can only assume. The Outcome was that I had to see that guy every day for the rest of high school and it was so awkward and uncomfortable. It was impossible to completely avoid him so I was forced to duck, dodge and juke contact with him. The Outcome I created made high school life complicated but it was a direct result of my choices.
Side Note: If you are that guy reading this, I am truly sorry. And if you have a son now, I hope you taught him to always go to the front door and never to sit in his car and honk.
For most of us, every day is simply a string of Events: get up, go to school or work, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. And if we do the same thing over and over—regardless of how we are feeling about it—we typically get the same Outcome. If we are unhappy with this Outcome (i.e.… I don’t like my weight, I drink too much wine, my grades suck, or I feel disconnected to my friends or my spouse), our Response is the variable that can create a different Outcome. It’s the game changer. How we Respond to the Events, changes the Outcome.
Life often deals us struggles or disappointments. As a parent, there is nothing more hurtful than seeing your child rejected, hurt, or left out. How we Respond to situations like this not only produces an Outcome that affects us but effects our children as well. Feeling hurt or slighted by people doesn’t mean we have to give them control of how our day ends, it just means we must adjust our Response. If our Response is supportive and loving, the Outcome will be less damaging. Likewise, it is up to us as parents to teach our kids that they can’t act out and then run away from the consequences of their actions. Life and relationships don’t work that way. Teaching and modeling E + R = O can change the course of their lives.
One important point to be aware of is that R does not mean React, it means Response. A reaction is immediate and often comes off as defensive. It is instant and doesn’t take into mind long term effects of what you do or say. Reacting often equals regret for our behavior because emotions without reason are dangerous. The more reacting we do, the less in control we feel and ultimately, the less empowered we are.
Reacting is a gut instinct based on fears and insecurities. Each of us have old triggers or messages we have either told ourselves or others have told us, and we have allowed those messages to define us. These messages often center around old hurts and therefore the reaction is often irrational or over the top. Reacting is easier but often has damaging results because we choose to give away our power.
The flip side of reacting is Responding. When we Respond to an Event, we act with cognition and deliberation. It is based on reasoning, thought, beliefs and authentic perspective. Responding allows us to stay in control of ourselves, our behaviors, and our choices. Choosing to take (or not take) action is so much different than having an automatic reaction that usually ends negatively. The difference between react and Response is how I feel about something versus what am I going to do about it. Responding is a choice.
Welcome 2018. I’m ready to kick your ass and tell my inner critic to stfu. I’m prepared to be accountable to my behaviors and my choices. I will use my words to build myself up, not tear myself down. I know you’re going to throw some zingers at me, but I know that if I want to be my best me, I must own my Response. If I am to be authentic, I must be accountable and present. I am in control of my Outcome and I am ready to put this equation into action. Bring it on.