How to Smooth Out Life’s Little Speed Bumps

Life has ups and downs. One day you make a big sale and the next day your refrigerator breaks. One day you’re in love and the next day you are breaking up. One day your co-worker is in a great mood and the next day she’s abusive. One moment you’re happy and the next your stressed out.

That’s life and you must roll with the punches. Isn’t that what they tell us?

It’s no wonder I see and speak with so many stressed out, exhausted people. And for many of those people, the lows are deep and the highs too infrequent.

It’s what I call the “yo-yo syndrome of emotional surrender.”

You see, it’s not that life itself has ups and downs, it’s that WE decide which events fit the up or down bucket. And the way we do that is by the meaning we assign to each event we experience.

Here’s an illustration of what I mean: I once met a woman I wanted to be friends with, so we started spending time together.  Unfortunately, she frequently would set a date to meet someplace and not show up or bother to call me. The first time it happened, I gave her the benefit of the doubt so the experience didn’t register as a “down”. By the third time, while waiting, wondering, worrying and feeling hurt, I decided to confront her. After all, friends don’t stand up friends and leave them hanging, right?

Her response flabbergasted me, “Well, if you are my friend, you have to deal with all of me.”

Hmm! Her version of friendship did not match what I wanted — respect and consideration — so I ended the connection.

Shortly thereafter, while I was away on a business trip, my dog decided to destroy the one gift the woman had given me. A touch of sweet karmic revenge, eh?

I stored the experience as another bad-friend event, which added to the other bad-friend events I had experienced, which eventually tainted my trust in other people.

Fortunately, I discovered that I can transform a bad memory into a good memory (or at least a neutral, non-emotional triggering one) simply by changing my mind about why I thought the event happened (who did what and why they did it). With the woman mentioned above, I eventually came to understand that it wasn’t so much that she was disrespecting and inconveniencing me, rather she was feeling out of control, thus needing to control our time spent together. And perhaps she was even testing me to see the limits of what I was willing to put up with to be her friend.

Once I realized that her behavior was about her issues rather than an intention to slight me, I was able to disconnect from the hurt and immediately reclassify  the experience.

The good news is that we have complete control over the meaning we give each experience we encounter. If a life event causes you to feel happy, proud, lighthearted or loved, you deemed it to be a good “up” experience. Conversely, when events cause you to feel stressed, unhappy, sad, grieving or angry, something was said or done that you didn’t like.

But you first decided whether you liked it or not, and the instant you settled on a particular side, you emotionally reacted to it. If you decided it was good, you felt happiness, joy or love. If you decided it was not good, you might have felt tense, sick to your stomach, weak, faint or exhausted.

The solution is unbelievably simply, yet can be difficult to do: Change the meaning you gave to the event.

Beliefs, values, morals and thoughts are not fixed. We can change our minds, especially once we see the error of our interpretation of an experience or upon receiving new information. After all, there is no way we can ever really know the intention of another’s action unless we ask them directly and they tell us the truth. It’s all speculation, and to get all stressed out for assuming the purpose of another’s actions creates “emotional surrender” — the emotional response colors all logic and becomes the dominant event memory.

So, if you are tired of having the same stressful response to a certain type of experience in your life, the first step is to find a different way to interpret those past events. For me, I had a pattern of attracting people who were horrible friends, and while looking deeply at myself one day to see what beliefs I was holding that led me to that type of person, I realized that it was my lack of self-esteem and my mother constantly saying, “If I find someone who doesn’t like me, I do everything I can to make them like me,” which led me to allow people to pick me rather than me picking them. And bullies are masters at finding wimps.

I also realized that their behavior pattern was their issue, not mine, so I was able to reclassify all past relationships once I cleared my own emotionally-stored memories. And because I changed my perspective about past experiences with people, I opened the door to have the type of friendships I always wanted. What a difference a change of mind can make!

If you are ready to transform your stressful experiences, here are a few questions to ask yourself about the event to see it in a different light:

  • How can I know for sure that my version is accurate? Assumptions have a way of leading to misunderstandings.
  • Is there a possibility that there was another reason why the event happened? Maybe there were other extenuating circumstances that contributed to what happened that you don’t know about.
  • What did I learn about myself as a result of the event that enables me to be a better person? Self-reflection is the most important tool I discovered, which changed my life.
  • What good happened as a result of the experience? No matter the experience, there is always something good that comes from it, if you look closely enough.

When something happens that triggers your “Unhappy Button”, you have three choices: 1) stew in your feelings, 2) clear the air with the other person, or 3) don’t take it personally.

Remember, misunderstandings and hurt feelings crop up when people try to assume they know another person’s motives, then respond based on that assumption. Open your mind to consider other possibilities. If we assume our version is always right, we are in for a lot of bumps and pits in the road of life.

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