You Can’t Control the World, but You Can Control Your Reaction to It

One of my favorite highlights from this week’s episode was the concept that you can’t control events in your life, but you can control your reaction to those events. It’s a classic Buddhist maxim that holds so much power and wisdom, yet most people will never really understand or be able to achieve it themselves. If you can master this skill, though, it will pay dividends in ways you can’t even imagine until they come to fruition. 

Most people identify closely with their minds, so closely that they essentially believe that they are their thoughts and feelings. With a little bit of introspection, however, you can see that this is not actually the case. It is not easy to master this ability, but if you do so you will reap rewards in your business, personal life, and every other area of your life. 

Here are some key practices that can help you develop this unheralded yet important skill. 

1. Meditation 

Starting this list anywhere else just wouldn’t be right. Meditation is the most important tool in your shed for living a more calm life, understanding your mind, and cultivating wisdom. 

A simple meditation practice of following your breathing flow smoothly in and out of your body is the best place to start. This practice is called ‘Insight Meditation’ for a good reason – it will help you become more insightful about both yourself and the world around you. 

The main goal of meditation is to give your thoughts space to bubble to the surface without judging them. You follow your breathing, and when your thoughts do arise, you simply acknowledge them, let them pass, and go back to focusing on your breath. 

By paying attention to your thoughts as if you were an observer rather than the source of what is happening, you start to gain clarity on how your mind works. Once you start to gain that clarity, you can begin interacting with your thoughts and feelings in an entirely new way. 

Once you’ve established a baseline ability to meditate, you can try focusing on our second, slightly more advanced step: 

2. View Your Reaction Objectively 

Once we begin to see our thoughts arising from a different perspective, we can start to question whether or not we like them or want to identify with them. This ability is tougher still to master than meditation, but it is also where the real rewards lie. 

Instead of getting into a shouting match the next time you get angry, what if you felt yourself getting angry and thought to yourself, “Wow, I’m really feeling angry right now; I need to watch what I say.” How much more useful would that be than simply flying off the handle and potentially saying something you don’t mean? 

If you pay attention to the way you are thinking and feeling at any given time, you will become a better communicator and also know when to shut up. 

This is tied in closely with our next habit… 

3. Give It Some Time 

When you see yourself getting worked up, when you know you are in a zone where you might say something you either don’t really mean or you know you’re not thinking clearly, just step away for a little bit. Don’t react impulsively. 

The more emotional you feel about a topic, the more you need to step away. That doesn’t mean you need to stop listening to your emotions – quite the opposite – you just need time to think through them and logically parse through what you’re feeling. 

And it’s not always an emotional reaction that’s your problem… you could even just be hungry. Knowing yourself and knowing how to parse those feelings allows you to take a step back and get into a better frame of mind before coming back to the subject. Sometimes you might need 10 minutes, sometimes you might need 3 days, but as long as you’re making sure you’re in the right headspace before communicating, you’re setting yourself up to win. 

4. Check In With Yourself Frequently 

Part of a good meditation practice is to take your practice with you and check in with yourself multiple times a day, even when you’re not meditating. This can help you get a head start on correcting a bad state of mind before it really becomes a problem. 

If you’re doing constant check-ins, you will be able to build habits into your life that keep you in a higher functioning state on a more consistent basis. You will begin to notice patterns between how you feel and your activities, your exercise and your diet. You’ll know how to get yourself in tip-top mental and physical shape on your most important days. That is a superpower worth having. 

5. Keep the Big Picture in Mind 

What are you trying to accomplish with your life? What is truly important? You have a certain amount of energy to expend every given day, how do you want to spend that energy? 

The answer to those questions lie deep inside you, and they probably have little to do with winning arguments, being right, or how your favorite sports team played last night. What really matters is your happiness, your friends, and your family. 

When you have that big picture in mind and you understand it clearly, the little things will bother you much less. At some point, you need to focus on the things you want to focus on and accept the things you don’t like as they are. No one has a perfect life, and any minute spent wishing that you did is a wasted minute. If you let too many things get to you, you’re just limiting your own potential. 

Learning to meditate is the first step on an inward journey that will allow you to regain so much power and control over your life. It’s hard to fully understand until you do it for yourself. These benefits are just a few of the ways that meditation can help you become a stronger person. Why not try becoming the master of your mind? It’s far better than letting it be the master of you. 

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