Finding the moment of choice.
I am slightly obsessed with choice. Not the pointless choices – like which shampoo to buy – but the little moments of choice in everyday life that help us to cope with life’s difficulties. Choice can be complicated and subtle and choice can be really simple. We always have a choice but it often isn’t the choice that we think it is.
Often we do not have a choice about events that happen to us. For instance we experience physical pain, or the bus turns up late, or we experience a sense of anxiety that seems to come out of nowhere. Generally our initial response to these experiences are also beyond our control – they happen so quickly! Maybe we respond with an automatic emotion, or a negative thought, or through physical tension. However, once we become aware of this response, we encounter the moment of choice. We can feed the reaction or we can stop, breathe and be kinder to ourselves. Sometimes just reminding ourselves that there is a choice can help!
Earlier this year I failed my driving test. I felt disappointed and initially noticed the old patterns of thinking creeping in – ‘If I had just tackled that roundabout differently…’ – ‘Will I ever pass?’ – ‘It’s not fair!’
I had made a mistake on a roundabout. And once I was aware of my error (after being told by the examiner), I had no choice about the outcome. It was a clear fail. The thoughts came almost instantly and were unpleasant but familiar – accompanied by a sense of anger and frustration both at myself and every other driver on the road! Those initial thoughts and feelings came so quickly that I had very little choice. However, once I became aware of them – here was my precious moment of choice! I didn’t have to feed the thoughts. I didn’t have to catastrophise or beat myself up! Instead I could remind myself of what I did well on test (a perfect parallel park!) and remind myself that failure and mistakes are part of being human. Success comes from good judgement, good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement – when I pass I will be an even better driver!
Often making a choice means choosing whether to accept a difficult experience (that may be beyond our control) or whether to fight against it. Often our reaction or over-reaction to an event can make us feel worse. We experience something unpleasant and then we also experience fear, self criticism and worry. Alternatively we are so busy avoiding the unpleasantness that we make our situation worse!
However, with practice, we can choose to accept an unpleasant situation, allowing ourselves a greater sense of peace.
How to Accept
We practice acceptance by gently turning towards an unpleasant experience. We investigate it in the moment with a sense of friendliness and curiosity. And we don’t try to change it!
How to Accept: Top tips
- Ask yourself whether you can really change the situation. If you can’t then here is an opportunity to practice acceptance.
- Be curious about your experience in the moment. How does your body feel? What else are you aware of?
- Remind yourself that you have a choice!
- Normalise your experience. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone has unpleasant experiences sometimes. It makes us human!
- Try speaking to yourself as you would speak to a friend or loved one.
When/ What to Accept
With practice we can learn to accept a situation or sensation that we cannot change. Sometimes it can be quite subtle and we might need to really question whether we do have a choice. When we practice acceptance, we are accepting our response to a situation NOT the situation itself. If someone is abusing you or treating you badly it is not appropriate to accept this. It is best to seek help, maintain safe boundaries or get out of the situation. What we are learning to accept is our own feelings and responses to the situation. Accepting something that has happened in the past does not mean that we are condoning it – we can choose accept the past so we can make positive choices about the future.
Mindfulness is not passive. I am increasingly finding that when I stop and choose to respond with kindness to the things that I cannot change, I have the strength to take action with the things that I can. So my test is rebooked – is your (metaphorical) test rebooked too?