In my last post, I talked about how “victims of circumstance” are actually victims of unconscious decision-making.
Here is the link if you missed it: 3 Signs You Might Be a Victim of Circumstance
When things don’t go as planned, we often blame it on circumstance, and then rationalize how it was out of our control.
We can’t always control our surroundings, but we can control how we react to it.
Our “emotional brain” is responsible for many of our unconscious decisions, which steer us in a certain direction. It’s one of the reasons we always find ourselves in undesirable situations.
“The decisions you make in the thick of today’s circumstance are the defining factor in what your circumstances will be in the future.” – rockyourday.com
Changing Your Focus
Since you can’t directly control your unconscious/emotional brain, you have to change your focus to something else.
In other words, you have to change your focus to something that you do have control over. Something that can influence the way your unconscious mind makes decisions.
Namely, you want to be focusing on changing certain aspects of your inner self.
Here are the 4 things you can start doing right now to change the way your unconscious mind reacts to its environment.
1. Eliminate negative self talk
The way we think (internal) affects the way we react (external).
The other way around is also true, and this is where you have to be careful.
The way we interpret our environment (external) affects the way we think (internal). This can often be experienced as “self talk,” which can be negative, or positive.
Negative self talk can really limit your power and control in any given situation.
Whenever you allow your environment or circumstance to control the way you feel, you give up your power and become a “victim of circumstance.”
Eliminating negative self talk is something you can choose to consciously do.
You have to make the decision that you’re going to stop yourself whenever you feel it happening. Whenever your mind starts feeding you self-defeating thoughts, you have to interrupt it.
The way I’ve learned to do this is by using pattern interrupts.
As the name suggests, a pattern interrupt is basically interrupting a pattern or stimulus over and over until it begins to lose its initial effect. The way I do it is by abruptly stopping myself whenever I sense a self-defeating thought forming.
I tend to quickly think of something else that’s completely random, unrelated, ridiculous, and nonsensical.
In fact, the less it makes sense, the more likely it will interrupt your thought pattern and weaken the negative thought.
This is an old NLP trick that works extremely well and I recommend you try it next time your in a situation, and you feel negative self-defeating thoughts creeping up.
Interrupt yourself as many times as it takes until the negative thought loses its effect.
It might take some practice before you learn how to recognize a negative thought forming, but once you’ve done it a few times, it gets easier and easier. I can attest to that.
Another way to stop negative self talk before it starts, is to have a rule for yourself, that whenever you feel it coming, you’ll take a deep breath, and list off 5 things that you’re grateful for that week.
Gratitude has been shown to be a powerful method for dealing with negative self talk.
By focusing on gratitude, you’re mind is forced to change it’s focus completely.
If you can’t come up with anything you’re grateful for right away, change the angle of the question. Ask something like “If I was to be grateful for something this week, what would it be?”
You’re mind will eventually find the answer. It always finds some kind of answer to whatever question you ask it, even if it’s a self-defeating question! (we’ll talk about how important it is to phrase your questions properly in a future post)
Life is not always about what happens to you, sometimes it’s about how you react to it.
If you allow your inner self to be a direct, unfiltered reflection of your environment, then you are allowing yourself to become a bystander or victim of circumstance.
2. Acknowledge That You’re Not Always in Control
Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you have to make a decision, it’s important to understand that your “thinking” or “logical” brain is not the one in control. (Learn more: The Emotional Brain)
“The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.” – Daniel Goleman
In my previous post, I mentioned that most decisions are made on an emotional level, and then rationalized afterwards by our logical brain.
By simply acknowledging and accepting the way your brain works, you give yourself the power to “step out” and observe situations in a higher perspective.
Below is a quick video which suggests that by learning about how your brain thinks, you actually improve your ability to think.
What I’ve personally found to be helpful in making better decisions, is to have many preventative measures in place.
In other words, I create certain rules that I’ll follow in any specific type of situation, especially situations that I feel I’m bound to end up in.
A general rule that I might create for myself could be something like, “if I find myself in such-and-such situation, I’ll make sure to step back and create a cushion of space between the stimulus and my reaction.”
Another thing I do is I force myself to step back and ask specifically-crafted questions, which force me to engage my thinking brain. This helps me regain a bit more control of my situation and reduce the amount of emotional response. The question can be anything you want, but I like to use: “How will this decision affect me long-term?” and “Will this decision bring me closer or further away from my ultimate goal in life?”
Asking questions that relate to the “bigger picture” allows your brain to change its focus and see things from a wider perspective. Making decisions in this way, will allow you to have more control over the chain of events that follow.
3. “Stack the Odds in Your Favor”
It’s impossible to control how you react in every situation, but what you can do is to stack the odds in your favor.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
You can stack the odds in your favor simply by focusing your attention on improving the aspects of your life that can influence your unconscious decision making process.
They are things that you have power over, like your ideals, morals, mood, mindset, principals, health, wellness, etc.
Here are 11 things you can start doing now to positively affect the way your mind unconsciously reacts:
- 8 Tips for Managing Stress – Manage your stress levels.
- Personal Goal Setting – Set goals that can lead to last-lasting fulfillment.
- 25 Killer Actions to Boost Your Self-Confidence – Work on boosting your self confidence.
- 5 Great Ways to Conquer Self Doubt – Work on eliminating self-doubt.
- 12 Things Happy People do Differently – Find contentment in everyday life.
- How You May Be Sabotaging Your Life Without Knowing It – Eliminate self sabotage.
- 7 Simple Ways to be More Positive – Try to maintain a positive state of mind.
- How to Live Life with Full Self-Expression – Find new ways to express yourself.
- 15 Strategies Dr. OZ Recommends For Eating Healthy and Feeling Good – Maintain better health.
- Yoga: More Than a Workout – Start doing yoga.
- 10 Ways People Choose Happiness – Choose happiness.
These are just a few examples that can positively affect your inner state, and affect your mind’s ability to make more rational decisions. I recommend expanding on this list and modifying it to suit your personal needs.
4. Be Prepared For “Unexpected” Circumstances
You often hear people say things like “knowing is half the battle.”
When you know something in advance, you’re able to take action and avoid many pitfalls.
For example, imagine that you’re enjoying the night out with friends.
The energy is high and everyone is having a good time.
Your friend offers you some dessert (a high calorie one), which you know you shouldn’t be having because your goal is to lose 5lb by the end of the month.
Since you’re in the moment, you rationalize your situation (emotional decision, logical rationalization) and you give yourself reasons why it’ll be okay just this once.
Now if you don’t understand how decisions are made and how emotion affects your decision making process, there’s a good chance that when you’re presented with another similar situation in the near future, you’ll probably make the exact same choice.
You’re decision is made on an emotional level before you’re even aware of it, and you’re logical or thinking brain will protect its own integrity, by making you believe that you’re consciously choosing it (rationalization). Over time, this leads to feelings of guilt and disappointment in yourself. You may even begin to ask yourself negative questions like “why do I always do this to myself?” Your brain will then look for the answer and let you know the answer in a form of negative self talk.
Now imagine a different but similar scenario.
You’re still on a diet, but this time, you understand how decision making works. You know that you’ll be going out with your friends tonight to have a great time, and you also know that there’s a good chance one of your friends will offer you something you shouldn’t have. You know it will be a temping offer and that you’re decision will be made on an emotional level before your thinking brain even has a chance to process it.
In this scenario, you understand that your thinking brain is not the one in control when it comes to these kinds of situations (although we all want to believe that it is). So what you do instead is you make the decision right there and then, that if someone were to make you that offer, you will respond politely with “no, thank you.”
Now when you find yourself in the same situation, you already know what you’re going to say before your emotional brain even has a chance to process it. It’s pre-rehearsal and requires very little “on the spot” decision making (minimal emotional influence).
Being prepared for unexpected events that might occur, allows you to make the most rational decisions.
It’s kind of like preparing for a job interview and pre-rehearsing answers for questions that the interview may or may not ask.
Behind Every Effect, There is a Cause
Life is a never ending sequence of cause and effect and this cannot be avoided.
When we see the weather on the news, we react.
When the car in front of you slams the brakes, we react.
When someone says something that we don’t like, we react.
When a child falls on the ground, we react.
The way we react depends on many factors, but it’s mostly unconscious and based on who we are as a person and the mental state we’re currently in.
You can’t control your surroundings, but you can control how you react to them.
In my opinion, preparation and self-education are the two of the most effective strategies for dealing with this.
By learning to take responsibility for the things you have control of, you’ll start to notice your circumstances change dramatically.
You won’t be able to avoid or change your circumstance completely, but you’ll have more control of where you find yourself and how you respond to it.
This is something that’s taken me a very long time to learn, but more importantly, to accept.
Making the decision to take responsibility for everything that happens to you isn’t easy, but by doing this, you gain the ability to create powerful change in your life.
A good way to start on this journey, is with a simple morning ritual.
I hope you found this post useful and that you’ll take the necessary steps to making your own circumstance. Remember to share this post with anyone you know that may feel like they’re a “victim of circumstance”.