Aldous Huxley once said, “Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

Things are happening to us and around us all the time. Some of them are clearly of our own making – we can see our direct role in creating the circumstance or situation. Others seem to be beyond our direct control – we feel caught up in situations created by outside forces.

When things are beyond our control, we may not be able to change the circumstance or the unfolding of events right away, but we can choose who and how we will “be” with what is happening. We can choose our response.

Granted, when things catch us by surprise, our initial reaction or thought may be reflexive, influenced by prior conditioning. In that moment, it doesn’t feel like we “choose” our reaction – it feels automatic.

However, we can choose our second thought. From the moment that we recognize our initial reaction, we can begin making conscious choices about how to proceed. We can choose how we interpret what is happening or the meaning we give to it – the “story” we are telling ourselves about it. And this is critically important, because it’s the story that we tell ourselves that creates our experience. Whatever is happening is just an event. How we interpret that event determines our experience of the event.

Taking responsibility for how we interpret events and situations, how we respond, and the ways in which we choose to engage can transform our relationships, our work, and our experience of everyday living. Just as the surfer can’t control the wave yet can be in command of how she rides the wave, so can we also be in command of how we surf the waves of life.

A simple two-step process can help you learn to be more in command of how you respond to life’s surprises:

  1. Pay attention to what is happening around you and within you all the time. Recognize that there are often many layers to situations and circumstances, and practice being aware of multiple layers at once. At the same time, notice how you are responding to what is happening in your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
  2. Remind yourself that what is happening and your experience of what is happening are two different things. You may not be able to change what is happening in the moment, but you can choose who you will be within the situation and what role you will play. So who do you choose to be? How do you choose to respond?

As these two steps become habit, notice how your experience of daily life shifts. Notice the impact of your words, both on yourself and on others, when you speak with clear intention. Notice the impact of your actions when you come from a place of greater awareness. Become proactive in your choices. Make conscious choices about how you will engage with what is happening. Learn to surf the waves of life. It will make a difference.


P.S. If you found this post helpful, interesting, or thought provoking, write a comment below and let’s get a conversation going. By sharing insights and perspectives, we all stretch our awareness and understanding.

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