Ever notice how you learn a new word and suddenly you hear it everywhere? Or you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, are late getting out the door, spill coffee on yourself in the process, and decide it’s just going to be one of “those” days?
And as the day progresses, it does indeed turn into a snowball scenario where your increasingly bad mood just gets amplified as shitty little things keep happening to you? Just as you start thinking: “everyone’s an asshole today”, everyone really DOES turn out to be one, even the old lady you opened a door for, who actually scowled at you in “gratitude”?
On the flip side, other days are the polar opposite. You wake up fresh, rested, and full of smiles. You go through your day grinning at strangers on the street (and they do it back!!!), random acts of kindness are passed around like Halloween candy, and you see nothing but rainbows, good cheer and lollypops everywhere despite getting, say, splashed by a giant bus?
Some days are simply out of our control, and shit WILL happen that we won’t necessarily like.
But if we’re batting for averages, what we want to see in our lives will usually pop up. Take a step back and ask yourself what emotions you’re averaging on a regular basis.
If you find that you are angry most of the time, chances are you’re looking for things to get angry at. If you’re thinking that EVERYONE around you sucks (including people you barely know), you’re probably looking for reasons not to like or trust others. If you think that most people are good, well, that’s probably because you choose to see the good in them.
So the next time you find yourself saying that bad things are always “happening to you”, ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, you’re somehow perpetuating or choosing to focus on those things.
To take a step back and look to yourself as the source of your reality is not easy. It was hard for me, about 10 years ago, when I was angry at everything: cab drivers, commuters on the road who didn’t know how to drive, the postman, the girl at Starbucks who was too slow, the customer service person on the end of the line who just “didn’t get it”, you name it. I really did think it was him, her, or that. It was easy. It was them, not me. It was my city, it was the people, it was the weather, it was everything BUT me that made it so.
Then I moved to Asia, where everything was new and fresh, and what SHOULD have been exciting wasn’t. Instead of awe, I felt anger. Instead of walking around with my head in the clouds of novelty, I walked around with my head up my ass hating everyone for everything: they were too loud, they spit, they ate loudly, they slurped their noodles, they giggled too much, they stared at me, even people’s BREATHING was irritating.
And that’s when it hit me: I was literally on the other side of the world, yet everyone and everything around me pissed me off with the same intensity and for the SAME reasons as they did back home. The anger had followed me. How could that be?
And then I stumbled across a book that spelled out what no one in my life would dare say to me. “You are LOOKING for the experiences you have. You WANT to be angry”. Huh?
That statement was like a (much needed) slap in the face. So much so, that I threw the book away, decided it was stupid, got angry (of course), and thought that was that. Except it wasn’t. That sentence kept popping up in my mind at random moments so often, that eventually I had to stop ignoring it and pay attention.
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty, but I had to admit that it made sense. I was indeed LOOKING for reasons to be angry. It wasn’t them, it was ME. And that was a hard pill to swallow, since it’s always easier to blame outside factors and point the fingers of misery at anything but ourselves.
And then, gradually, something kinda cool happened. Slowly, I became AWARE of my reactions and interpretations. I didn’t change them right away, but eventually I learned to catch my thoughts before I escalated them further. And with time, this awareness led to a conscious nipping-in-the-bud of the perpetually pissed off inner dialogue I was having with myself and projecting onto others.
Here’s the thing: we have no control over what thoughts pop into our heads, but we DO have control over how we interpret them. If we think that we are helpless to stop them, and that’s just the way things are, we become victims of our minds.
We start looking for external factors that confirm our world view.
That thing I said earlier, about learning something new only to have it pop up more often than usual in our lives afterwards? There’s a name for it: Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.
The short explanation is that you experience “frequency illusion”, which is caused by 2 psychological processes: selective attention and confirmation bias. In a nutshell, this means that you’re unconsciously scanning your environment for whatever is at the tip of your thoughts. When you begin to see those things more often (because without realizing it, you’re LOOKING for them), it reinforces your beliefs that what you’re seeing is indeed, the state of the world, and you chalk it up to pure coincidence.
If we think something like “only bad things happen to me”, we will look for the negative aspect in every situation while overlooking any potential positives, just so we can say to ourselves :”See? I knew it. I was right. Everything sucks.I told you so”.
On the flip side, when this notion of us having control over what we WANT to see kicks in, we can use it to focus on the sweeter things in life.
If you look for the good in people, you will see it. If you search for something positive even in a bad situation, you will find it. You just have to be willing to look.
Realizing that your outlook begins with choice is an empowering thing, and it will help you enjoy life a little more.
So, without judgment, ask yourself if there are recurring patterns or emotions in your life. If they’re good, congratulations, your mindset probably has a lot to do with them.
If they’re not so good, that’s okay. Start with asking yourself what part YOU might play in perpetuating, looking for, or maybe even just settling for staying in a bad situation. And if you’re not ready to do anything about it yet, that’s okay. Just remember: you see what you look for, and what you focus on expands.
Just keep this notion at the back of your mind: You see what you look for. What do you want to see more of in your life? Think about it.