You want a happier, more fulfilled and less stressful life? Here’s a little-known formula:
Let me explain,
E = Events
The things that happen to us, otherwise known as ‘Life’. This could be an external or internal event, real or imagined, past, present or future. It could be your boss shouting at you, the train being cancelled a memory of a past embarrassment or failure, small or huge and life-changing like a partner leaving or losing your job
O= Outcome, the result or the effect on us
The outcome could be experiencing an emotion like anger, disappointment, hurt, sadness, frustration, anxiety, worry, even depression or stress. Behaviour such as withdrawing, crying, losing your temper, throwing things or walking out on your job or partner.
Most people live according to the unequal equation, E = O
They experience an event and believe the outcome inevitably follows. So, as an example, your boss shouts at you in front of everyone for something that isn’t your fault. If you’re operating under E = O, you are probably going to feel emotions such as anger, annoyance, frustration, humiliation, injustice, anxiety or stress. Your mood plummets and you may say something you later regret, or you swallow it down yet again. This is not good. Feeling like this and reacting to events in this way makes you vulnerable and out of control and isn’t helpful.
But the better equation is:
Where the ‘R’ is Response or Reaction.
We like to delude ourselves that we have more control over our world thank we really do but our area of control is really very small. Many things happen to us that we wouldn’t have planned or wanted. But there’s something we can always control, and that is what goes on internally for us. Our reactions – our thinking, feelings, behaviours, habits and perception of events.
We may not be aware of it but can always choose how we feel and how we react
Take the example of the horrible boss above. In this situation you can choose how you feel, whether that’s, say, angry, hurt, upset, humiliated or you can choose to stay calm and dignified or you may choose to be angry and call him out about his behaviour. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ response. It’s simply what will bring the most helpful outcome for you now.
This is emotional intelligence as explained here by Daniel Goleman.
You CAN choose and you ARE in control of your response.
When you do this the outcome can be quite different. It won’t change the fact he shouted at you in front of everyone, but it’s not inevitable that you end up feeling destroyed and humiliated – because you have chosen not to!
Take another example, this time you’re on your way to a meeting, you get to the station and your train is cancelled. Using E = O, you may feel frustrated, angry, worried about being late or anxious. This will affect your behaviour; perhaps you get angry and shout at someone. Very understandable but not very helpful because nothing’s changed; the train’s still late, you’re still going to be late for but now you also feel wound up and tense.
Not a great state to be in and not helpful. Your internal dialogue might be something like this:
Oh no, the train’s cancelled …
I am going to be late …
They’ll be so annoyed …
I’m useless, I never get anything right …
I’m an idiot …
Nothing ever goes right for me …
You can imagine how awful you’d feel experiencing these thoughts. But, using E + R = O you take control of your reaction. You press the pause button and realise this isn’t personal. No one cancelled the train to make you late or upset you, these things happen, you calm down. Now you can think more clearly and choose your next move, perhaps even say to yourself ‘Well, at least I can get time for a cup of coffee and a bit of quiet time until the train comes’!
The train will still be cancelled but the way you feel about it will shift. Your state of mind and mood will be so much more positive.
If we choose to choose our reactions more often, we can achieve a different outcome – a much more helpful one.
This can be life changing because it means that it’s not inevitable that you feel bad when things happen. Instead of lurching from one crisis to another, out of control, you can choose how you feel.
It takes practice because we’re not used to doing this but it gets easier the more we do it. It needs some mindfulness to enable you to stop and take notice of what you’re feeling and thinking in the moment, something you may not be used to doing. But it’s worth the effort and can transform the way we deal with the inevitable setbacks and upsets life throws at us.