Life can throw you curve balls, we all know this - the question is how you respond when it happens. Who you are - how you respond to life's challenges - will determine the quality of your own experience and those around you. Many philosophers and teachers have pointed out that now, this present moment, is all we have. Yet many of us live in the past or live for the future.
Learning to live life in the now doesn’t mean life won’t throw you challenges. It’s more related to the perspective you have on those challenges, Erkhart Tolle teaches that optimally you want to still the mind and become an observer who is unattached to the outcome. At first I wondered what the point was of anything if I was unattached to it, isn’t that part of this human experience, that we feel things in response to the life around us?
As I began to explore the idea more, I realised that being unattached to the outcome didn’t mean I no longer cared about anything. It’s about the futility of trying to change things that already are. That is not to say you don’t take a different course in the future. As Reinhold Neibuhr famously said “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Of course this is easier said than done. I often catch my own responses to the challenges of life, and muse at what an imperfect being I am. So I learn from the experience and recommit to living life in the now.
Whether it’s an unexpected result at the clinic, or in a performance review, or a redundancy at work, an illness in the family, or a loved one deciding to take their life in a different direction – how we respond makes a huge difference to the quality of our own wellbeing.
This week as we have been settling into our new home in a new city, it became apparent our youngest cat was very sick. Pre-children, our cats were like our kids, and I have to confess in the mayhem that ensues from having little ones born into your life, the cats took somewhat of a back seat. I had noticed that she was a bit depressed and somewhat underweight in recent months, but I had put it down to upset over the move.
As it turns out, she has irreversible kidney damage. At only 6 years old, we’d been expecting her to be around for another 10 years or more, and we just weren’t ready to let her go. Neither did we want her to suffer. Through my tears there came a point when I suddenly realised that, no matter how much I wanted her to stay, it wasn’t my decision; it was hers. She would either decide her time is up and leave, or she’d choose to stay a bit longer. I couldn’t impose my will, I could only support her in her choice.
Although she has bounced back a little from death’s door and is now home, her prognosis isn’t wonderful. However, I am grateful for this time we have now and are making sure to feed her a specific diet that will improve the quality of whatever life she has remaining. Controlling the things we can.
That lack of control is the curve ball. As humans we have a tendency to try and control everything that happens in our life, but we can’t. Everyone has their own free will, and, no matter how much you may want something of someone, you might not get it.
I used to see that in the office a lot where a manager would simply tell people to do something without any real discussion, understanding or (crucially) buy in. As a result the culture was not one of lasting positive change but rather one of fear.
While the Lego movie epitomizes this in a really humorous way, it’s a rather sad indication of the all too prevalent modus operandi, certainly in the western world. Frequently I’d watch managers physically or metaphorically scratch their heads when challenged by their superiors about a poor outcome, saying “but I told them”.
Not all curve balls are negative of course, some are amazing, a long awaited pregnancy when all hope had been lost, a marriage proposal, a promotion or a lotto win. Regardless of what they are, the essence of a curve ball is the unexpected nature, at least in your mind. On some level you will probably have recognized what was occurring, just as I can now see signs I had noticed with my cat in hindsight.
It can be hard to accept that our mind plays such a huge part in the quality of our life, that it’s not what happens but how we respond. You can choose to be a victim, or you can accept that you are the creator of your own reality. Either way, you’re right.
However, if you are a leader of people or want to be, and want to be successful in doing that, not only do you have to master this, you also have to learn to teach it to others, pointing out what’s in it for them as you bring them on the journey.
Change is the norm in this modern world, and the cultures that are deliberately cultivated and supported around this are the ones that thrive. Imagine a world where people deal with change in a healthy way as the norm, how amazing would that be?
It starts with you, who you are in these moments. Is your mind battling against what is, or have you let go of the futility of such thoughts? Start with the easy things, the queue at the traffic lights, the unanswered call, the colleague who is endlessly talking, the appointment that is already late.
Taking control of curve balls, ironically, is simply about accepting the things you can't change in the moment. Choose to accept the moment and it will surprise you how things start to turn around rather than spiral. Focus on the things you can control and you'll build such positive momentum you'll be knocking challenges out of the park.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
By signing up you will only receive emails from shonakeachie.com and you can unsubscribe at any time. This is a two-step process, you will have to verify your subscription by clicking the link in the email you should receive after clicking this 'Subscribe' button. If you do not receive the email please check your Junk mail, thank you.
Please note if you are using the Google Chrome browser and want to subscribe to the RSS Feed you will first need to get an RSS plugin from the Chrome Store.