Monday, August 13, 2012

Circumstances Are Neutral? Yep...I Believe They Are...

I said something in my last blog post that I want to explain more.  I've had a few people ask me about it, and really, understanding this idea has made a huge difference in how I approach my life these days.  So, let me explain myself a little bit.

What I said is that I believe that circumstances - the things that happen to us in our lives - are neutral.  I believe that these events have no emotional impact until we choose to react to them and assign them that value in our lives.

Just like the transmission of a car in neutral is not capable of moving the vehicle either forward or backward until a gear is engaged, so the circumstances in our lives are not able to impact us either positively or negatively until we choose how we are going to respond to them.  My car will move in the direction I tell it to when I engage the gear I select.  My response to circumstances will create the feelings that the circumstances produce in my life.

Here's an example of what I mean that might help explain it a little better.

The arthritis and tendonitis in my knees is a circumstance in my life, a circumstance I deal with every moment that I'm awake and standing on them.  Physically, my knees are painful...there's just no denying that. But emotionally, arthritis is neutral...until I assign an emotional response to it.

Some days, that response is frustration.  On those days, I tend to whine a bit about my circumstances.  I often can be found sitting down to ease the pain a bit, although sitting for prolonged periods really doesn't do anything to help my knees, and can in fact make them MORE painful physically because they get stiff from being in the same position for too long.  Frustration days lead to no working out - after all, the knees aren't going to get any better because I work out, so why go, right?  These days sometimes lead to emotional eating, although I'm getting better at choosing not to do that very often anymore.

So, let's recap...choosing to respond to the pain of my arthritis with frustration leads to whining, a sedentary lifestyle, and possible food binges.  Anything positive hiding out in there that I missed?  No...I didn't think so!

Other days, however, my response to the pain of my knees is determination.  I am determined that I will do what I can do...all that I can decrease the amount of pressure on my knees so that the pain will go away.  The best and only way to do that is to lose weight, and I know that, so I work harder at it, with a different kind of resolve.  I eat less, move more - no matter that it is painful - and grit my way through a workout, take anti-inflammatory meds, ice my aching joints.  In short, I do all that I can do to lessen the impact of arthritis on my body. 

Now, let's look at this response to the circumstance of having arthritis.  Responding with determination leads to eating less, moving more, and taking care of my joints in a way that makes my physical therapist proud of me.  Those are decidedly positive outcomes in my way of thinking.

Here's the deal...having arthritis and tendonitis in my knees is neither positive nor negative.  It just "is".  It is a neutral event in my life...until I choose how to respond to it.  It is my response to the circumstance, not the event itself, that determines whether it's positive or negative for me.  I understand that most people see arthritis and pain as negative things.  But my belief is that it's only a negative in my life if I choose for it to be.  I can reshape my thinking, deliberately choose to focus on something other than negativity, which makes the circumstance something other than negative, too.

Is any of this easy?  No.  Not really.

I wish I could tell you that I consistently choose the positive response to the circumstances in my life.  I try to.  And many times I'm successful.  But not always. The reason for that, I believe, is that my "default" is wired to be somewhat negative.  I'm programmed to interpret physical pain as a very negative experience, and then I do things in response to that experience that I think will lessen my pain, like become less active.  The problem is, the things I choose to do are often things that will have the exact opposite impact.  They'll increase my pain, not lessen it.

If it's not easy, is it at least worth it to play this mind game?  Yes.  Most definitely.

While I can't tell you that I'm always in a good place mentally, I CAN tell you that when I am thinking this way, my life is happier, my mood is better, and knees hurt less!  Perhaps it's because I'm focusing on something other than pain.  Perhaps it's because positive thinking releases serotonin or other endorphins that block the pain.  Perhaps it's because I'm doing things that really do lessen the pain, like strengthening my quads, hamstrings, and other muscles and tendons that will work in place of my messed up knees.  I don't know...and honestly don't really care.  I do know that it's true.  Choosing a positive response to my circumstances leads to very, very positive outcomes.

I hope you will consider what I'm saying here and not discount it.  Because this is not just Angie wearing rose-colored glasses and not having a true view of the world and how things are.  No...that's not me at all.  This is Angie being EMPOWERED in her life to determine what her outcomes are going to be.  And the best thing is, you can do this, too.  Once you believe it.  So think on it a little bit...see if it makes some sense to you.  And better yet, start trying it!  See if it doesn't work for you, too!

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