Choices in Challenging Times

A buffet of choices

I went to an expensive buffet for dinner recently. The food selection was terrific and the quality was amazing! I loaded up my plate with brussel sprouts, cabbage and some gray stuff that smelled terrible. Wait a minute… I don’t like brussel sprouts or cabbage and I would never eat “some gray stuff that smelled terrible.” So why on earth would I load up my plate with those items, when the buffet offered hundreds of other delicious items that I do like?

Well, of course I wouldn’t… that scenario is ridiculous!

Yet in real life, we often pile loads of “crap” on our proverbial plates. Things that we do not like and do not enjoy. Yet we just pile them on, stewing and thinking and about them over and over, giving them great attention and power over our emotions and mood. Human nature? Sure. But if we’re self-aware and catch these insidious thoughts early on, perhaps they won’t take root and weigh as heavily on our minds. 

The choice is yours

As in the buffet analogy above, we face dozens of choices every day. We make countless decisions, many times in automatic mode, without even realizing. But it’s unlikely you would choose to eat moldy gross fruit for breakfast. Or choose a lunch of dirty pizza that you found in the gutter. You would make a better, smarter, more reasonable food choice! Similarly, we have so much more control over our thoughts – and therefore our experiences – than we realize. I’ve been guilty of going down rabbit holes of worry, negativity and even despair… when in reality, I could have shifted my focus and steered my brain in another direction. I could have chosen better thoughts.

Now more than ever, we have a slew of concerning, potentially-scary things “in our face” every day. We can’t turn on the TV, radio, or glance at social media without being bombarded with upsetting, frightening news. So there’s our choice – sit down, dig in and get all worked up into a fearful frenzy? Or take a little bit in, analyze the information, then use caution (and common sense!), and react wisely to this “reality.” We can still pay attention to reality, be “aware” of difficult circumstances, and then direct our attention elsewhere!

Change the channel

Not necessarily in the literal sense, but change your mental channel. Once we notice that our thoughts are leading us – and/or keeping us – in an unhappy, fearful, or angry place, we can make the switch. We can choose to change channels. 

As I write this, there’s one thing on everyone’s mind – the pandemic of Coronavirus. This is a serious, life-altering, potentially-life-threatening situation. It’s very easy – and perhaps even appropriate – to be scared and get riled up over events like this. Things that are legitimate concerns and fears. But spending 24/7 in a dumpster fire of panic is not great use of our time! We don’t help ourselves, help our families and friends, or help our community when we get stuck on the panic channel.

Go with the (easier) flow

Say you’re in a canoe about to launch in a rapidly flowing stream. You decide which direction you want to go – you can paddle “upstream” and go against the flow – or paddle “downstream” and go with the flow. If you paddle upstream, you’ll probably make some headway, but it will take more effort, be more work, and possibly not much fun. Or you could point your canoe downstream and let the current carry you, increasing your paddling efforts exponentially, making you float faster and with less effort.

The same applies to our thoughts and what we focus on. Try pointing your mental canoe downstream – put your attention on something lighthearted, happy and fun. That might be a funny video, some upbeat music, walking your dog in the park, or even just taking a nice afternoon nap. We don’t always have to paddle upstream. We don’t always have to struggle. Give yourself a break for a while and choose to go with the easier flow.

Go neutral

According to Trevor Moawad, a mental conditioning coach, sports team strategic advisor, and author, you can deal with even the most challenging circumstances by effectively managing negativity and failure – and positivity and success – with neutral thinking. In some situations it feels impossible to “think positively.” Real, frightening things might be happening and affecting your life. But “going neutral” can slow (or stop) the negative thoughts from fueling the flame to the point of frenzy. 

In Trevor’s book, “It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life,” he explains that sports teams perform better when they simply stop verbally complaining and vocalizing their gripes. In other words, the players aren’t trying to “think positively.” They are not denying that their game(s) and opponent(s) will be a challenge. They simply stop saying things out loud that are complaining, negative, or whiney. For example, the players stop complaining that it’s hot outside. They stop griping about the coaches. They stop the whiny self-talk. In doing so, the players no longer give energy to that nonsense. They don’t make it more real by complaining with each other, going over their gripes again and again.

With neutral thinking, you acknowledge that the past happened, or that present circumstances may be challenging (or even scary) – but you don’t let that predict and direct your future. You can be in the midst of some pretty dire circumstances and choose to just let it “be.” When you stop verbalizing the worry and complaints to your friends (and yourself), you’ll be closer to moving on. Again, this method isn’t all about puppies and rainbows. It’s not denial or trying to “force” positive thinking in a super-stressful time. It’s simply keeping your thoughts “neutral” by stopping the complaints. Fans of this method swear they feel calmer, more aware of their situations, more in control of their lives, and experience more peace and happiness.

Be well!

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” -Abraham Hicks