Episode 48: Circumstances
There’s this tendency to want to blame the circumstances for how we feel.
I’m offended because of what that person said to me.
I’m angry because that person is judging me.
I’m worried because there’s a pandemic.
I’m frustrated because I’m stuck in my house.
We think it’s “the circumstances” fault and when we think this we’re stuck and our confidence takes a huge dive.
The truth is that there are circumstances but those circumstances are neutral. They aren’t good or bad until you interpret them as good or bad. This is empowering!
This is a skill that you can practice and master.
The more you do this, the more confident you’ll feel.
Hey there! Welcome back to another episode of the Confidence Catalyst podcast. I just love being here with you. It’s so fun to hear all the places I’ve gone with my listeners. People have told me they listen as they’re on their treadmill, out and about running errands, cleaning – I sure hope I’m helpful, I might not be able to fold your laundry with you but hopefully I’m keeping you entertained and on your toes with things to think about and ponder.
Before I dive into to today’s topic I just wanted to say one thing. During this time where things are just different, schedules are different, events canceled, school has taken on a new look, and we’re being asked to stay in and stay home away from our friends, family, and just other humans it can feel restrictive and limiting.
As human beings we’re wired for connection so I get that it’s easy to feel disconnected during this time. So I want to offer you something to ponder about that will help you be able to fill that need and come out of this with stronger, deeper connections than you had before.
I want to offer to you that connection isn’t a joint effort. It’s not a “you do something and I’ll reciprocate and then we’ll create connection”. It doesn’t even involve the other person at all. Connection is a feeling. It’s something you create.
We create connection all the time without realizing what we’re doing. We watch movies and feel connected to certain characters or books. I love so many fictional people that don’t exist in reality, people I’ve never talked to, hugged, or had any physical contact with. But I love them. I feel connected to them. And all of this is because of what I’m thinking about them.
Connection is powerful and thank goodness it’s in your hands. This last week my kids and I were missing family members and thinking of them and feeling sad that we couldn’t visit them in their homes or give them hugs. So we brainstormed what we could do to connect with them and we’re a pretty crafty bunch so we spent days painting, crafting, quilting and putting together these so happy care packages. It was the best because while we were making them we talked about them. We shared memories we had of them. My kids remembered just the cutest things about their grandparents.
My son shared this sweet memory when they were younger when they’d spend the night at grandma’s house they had a super fun schedule. It was, “I love Lucy” time, then the I Love Lucy game time, then dinner time, then after dinner grandpa would make them ice cream cones and he’d put a “surprise” at the bottom. It was a dollop of chocolate and my son was so cute as he was retelling this because he said, “Like he really needed to bribe us to eat our whole ice cream cones” So many fun and special memories and connection was created.
You have an opportunity to create this connection right here and right now. You don’t have to feel restricted but instead creative. You can feel connected to the people you love by choosing to intentionally think about them. The more you do this, the more connection you’ll have created, the stronger this practice and memory muscle so to speak gets. And the more you do this just think about how you’ll feel when the green light is given and you can go see them again, go hug them, go do what you want to do now. That bond can be even greater by choosing to create connection now.
And we know that our actions stem from our feelings which stem from what we’re thinking so if you’re feeling connected, what do you think you’re going to do? How is this different than what you’d do if you were feeling restricted?
So, some food for thought and an invitation because we do need connection but that connection can take on many forms and look different to each person. I hope you choose connection.
Alright, let’s dive in today. We are talking about circumstances today.
I remember for a long time I struggled with not being happy all the time. I had a belief that good people, people to emulate, role models were just happy all the time and positive and when I wasn’t I felt bad. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t “good enough” or that I wasn’t like them like I thought I should.
And I hear it still from a lot of you that there’s this idea that we need to be positive and happy and make lemonade out of the lemons life gives us and it’s interesting because it sounds good. It sounds Nobel and praiseworthy but it’s actually something that is causing us more harm that we realize and this is why I wanted to bring this to you today.
In life we have circumstances. And circumstances are things that are out of our control. Then we have thoughts and we interpret those circumstances. It’s not that the circumstances made us feel a certain way or that because that bad thing happened now I’m upset.
There are just things that happen in the world and in our lives. These circumstances are neutral and they don’t mean anything until we interpret them.
Which is a huge responsibility because we get to choose what we want to think, how we’ll feel, what we’ll do, and ultimately what we’ll create. And this is what I want you to think about this week.
I want to invite you to be very intentional about your why and what you want to create.
What I mean by that is getting to the thoughts behind the beliefs that “I should interpret that in a positive light.” Or “a good person would interpret in a happy way”. Because sometimes we don’t want to interpret the circumstances in a happy light. We’re not supposed to be happy all the time.
In the scriptures, we read that “Men are that they might have JOY”. Joy isn’t happy. Joy is deeper, richer, broader, and longer-lasting than happy. I think of happy as fleeting. It’s like a fun Disneyland day. So fun, so many happy moments but then a week later you’re at home and that magic has worn out a bit and now you’re left wanting versus JOY which I see as deeply significant lasting moments. Moments spent in sincere and deep conversations with my family or different seasons with friends or family. It’s longer. It’s lasting. Those memories are coupled with not just happy moments but also mourning with those that mourn and sitting down to have difficult conversations. It’s loving each other through challenges and obstacles. It’s rich, deep, and full of the contrast of emotions.
Joy allows for the 50/50 that life provides. It makes space for the opposition in all things, not just the happy, light, positive ones.
So when you have this thought that “I should be happy”, “I shouldn’t complain” or “I shouldn’t think that way” I want you to question that. Why should you be happy right now? What if you’re not supposed to be happy right now?
Think of this pandemic. There are many people struggling, dying, being affected in difficult ways. I don’t want to get to happy. I don’t want to think, “yay! The pandemic”. I want more than that. I want to be sad sometimes. I want to mourn when I see the healthcare workers just spent and exhausted and sacrificing so much. I want to be sad when I see families in tears at the loss of a loved one. I want to choose all of that.
It doesn’t make you a negative person. It doesn’t mean that you’re not a good person because you’re feeling that way. It means you’re human and that the opposition is part of our journey and it’s okay. Without this, we couldn’t fully comprehend the good either. We couldn’t create or feel real, lasting joy.
So first and foremost I want to invite you to drop the notion and idea that we should be happy all the time because this belief is actually causing you more negativity. Even though it’s masked as a positive.
We’re not happy all the time and we need moments of the contrast to even make the happy possible. So when we’re really wanting to be sad or upset and we resist. We shame ourselves for not being happy or optimistic then we’re just creating more negativity and we’re further from that joy.
Instead, I want you to just embrace where you’re at right now. Embrace what you’re feeling. Embrace your humanness. Just step alone will work wonders for you and increase your capacity to feel real joy.
Now, let’s get back to circumstances. Circumstances are by definition neutral. They’re just things that happen in the world. Earthquakes, for example. It’s just something that happens, right? When you hear that word notice what happens, notice your thoughts.
When I teach my kids this in fourth grade they’re usually thinking, “and? So what?” – they have a neutral feeling because it doesn’t really mean anything to them in that moment. It’s just another facet of earth science.
But to you right now, you might be thinking something different. We’ve had several earthquakes recently and you might be feeling anxiety or a little afraid.
The word itself didn’t create your feelings. If it did then everyone would have that same feeling which they don’t.
It’s all a matter of what you’re thinking and how you’re interpreting that word. Each person is going to have a different experience with it because of their thoughts about it, because of how they’re choosing to interpret it.
Knowing this gives you immense power.
It’s really easy and tempting to want to blame our feelings on what’s going on around us. Just going through your Facebook feed you can see this playing out. There’s so much talk and coverage of the pandemic and the feelings are all across the board. There are some of you that are feeling angry with the political response. Some of you are deeply saddened by the demands placed on healthcare workers. Some of you are feeling moral superiority over your neighbors or people you see online because you’re social distancing better than they are. And some of you are in awe and grateful for the acts of kindness and service people are doing right now.
There’s a wide variety of feelings all about the pandemic because there’s a wide variety of thoughts about the pandemic. The pandemic in and of itself just is. It’s a virus and it doesn’t mean good or bad, or angry or sad. It doesn’t mean anything until you interpret it as something.
We don’t talk a lot about other viruses like the cold or the flu and I’ve seen stats that these kill more people on a daily basis than COVID-19 but because we’re not focused on it, because we’re not thinking about it we don’t feel the same intense feelings that maybe you’re feeling about this pandemic.
This pandemic is a circumstance and currently out of our control or specifically your control. We can take precautions and do our part but it still exists and is out there and neutral.
It’s only when we start to argue with these facts that we get ourselves into trouble. We think it shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t have to be at home. We should be allowed to go out and about. We should – all those should – it’s these thoughts that create our experience, not the circumstance.
Again, the circumstance doesn’t mean anything. It just is. It’s information and you get to decide what that information means to you. What you’re choosing to believe about that information. What you’re choosing to feel and do.
I want you to think about this, that no two people have the same experience. I was reading in the Book of Mormon an account where Lehi and his family are traveling in the wilderness. Laman and Lemuel aren’t happy. They blame their circumstances for their suffering. They think that if they had stayed in Jerusalem with their things, their status, their life they’d have been happy. They talk about their struggles and say that it would have been better if they died because it’s just too hard.
Then there’s Nephi same chapter that is focusing on the blessings and tender mercies. They’ve always had food to eat. Their families are strong and able to meet their current demands and he talks about all this abundance that they’re experiencing.
They’re all together. They’re traveling together. They’re in the same wilderness. They left the same Jerusalem. It’s the same time period and yet their experiences are so different. It’s easy to side with Nephi and say that he chose the better path and to judge Laman and Lemuel but I want to invite you to step back and just notice the overall scene.
The circumstances were the same but interpreted very differently. I don’t want to go as far as saying one is better than the other or that one is good and the other bad.
There are thoughts that create feelings. Feelings drive actions and then actions create consequences.
This is just an example of showing you what’s possible. That we don’t have to be confined to feeling a certain way just because of how the circumstances are. We are the creators of our mortal experiences. The circumstances are out of our control and as such the most helpful thing you can do first and foremost is just to accept what is. Before you judge it and think it should or shouldn’t be a certain way, there is so much power in just letting it be what it is.
It’s information. It’s factual. It’s neutral.
Make a place for it. This acceptance doesn’t mean endorsement. It doesn’t mean I have to like it or agree with it. It just means that it is. That I acknowledge that it happened and not resistant to it.
When I run models with my clients I’m such a stickler about the circumstance line. It needs to be factual and leave all interpretation out of it. This is so important because when you can look at it from this stance. Like, instead of saying, “My sister yelled at me” which is already emotionally charged we’d change it to “My sister said words” or I like to go even further and write out exactly what was said.
You can already feel a difference in the two. She yelled vs she said words.
This drops the resistance by seeing it as it is, neutral. It almost leaves you with that question of…” and? So what?” This is how you want to see your circumstances because from this point now you’ve cleared the mental drama and can decide what’s next for you. What do you want to think about it? Why do you want to believe that? What feelings does thinking that create for you? Is that a useful thought? Is that thought going to create the results or consequences you want?
This is empowerment. It’s all a matter of choice when you look at the circumstances for what they really are. Neutral facts and information. There’s no war, there’s no resistance – it all becomes a matter of choice and agency.
You get to utilize your freedom to create the experience you want to create. Here’s something I want again to revisit. Just because you can choose to think what you want to think and experience I want to invite you to try on the option of not having to choose happy all the time.
Again, it doesn’t make you a bad person, a negative person, or wrong. It means you’re human and you’re choosing deliberately what kind of mortal, human experience you want to create. There are many times that I choose, on purpose to interpret the circumstance as negative. I don’t want to be happy about certain things. I could. I know that I could choose to think differently but sometimes we don’t want to and again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to want to feel negative sometimes. In fact, it’s these times that allow the happy to exist.
Your power will come from knowing that it’s your choice. That the circumstances didn’t make you upset or that you have to feel a certain way. It’s a choice. When I know that I’m choosing to be upset and I own that I feel empowered because I know that I’m not stuck. I know that I can unchoose this when I’m ready if I’m ready. CIRCUMSTANCES don’t make us feel anything. You have to decide what you want to make those circumstances mean and then you get to decide how you want to proceed.
I want you to practice seeing everything as a circumstance. We’re so ingrained to certain beliefs that it’s hard to separate out what’s a circumstance and what’s just our interpretation of it. The more you can see things as neutral and circumstantial, the more power you have over it, and the more control you have over your life’s experiences.
When you start seeing everything as a circumstance first before the judgments or interpretations you will also have greater access to seeing many possibilities instead of just linear thinking.
When you’re driving and someone cuts you off instead of jumping to your own interpretation of, “What a jerk!” You would instead think, “a car is in front of me”. You can’t even add fast, or dangerous because those aren’t factual, they’re just your interpretation. So strip all of it just to the facts. Then notice how differently you feel. “A car is in front of me” and then it’s like, “and? So what? – okay, that happened, now what?”
I was actually driving home from Monterey months ago. I went with a good friend of mine who was driving ahead of me due to road construction it took us double the time it would normally take to get home. It was a beautifully warm evening and my kids had all fallen asleep in the back and I had audible on and was happily whisked away in my book and at one point I rolled down the window to let in the breeze and this car went around me and yelled some pretty ugly words at me. It completely caught me by surprise because I didn’t remember cutting anyone off or doing anything that would have warranted such a response. And I just remember being confused. I immediately, as humans do, went to wondering what happened, what could I have done, did I cut him off? If so, it was unintentionally done. And I could feel myself getting agitated.
So I decided to run a mental model in my head and just thinking of the C line – getting it to a circumstance made all the difference. Instead of, “That guy yelled ugly things at me” like my brain was hanging on, it turned into, “That man said words”. I then thought of all the words I had heard that day, the conversations I had with my kids and my friend and my own words my head, the words that were on my book. They were all just words.
Coming from this place those words didn’t have to be offensive, or mean, or ugly. I didn’t have to be offended or defensive. I had so many options and I just chose to let him be wrong about me. I didn’t choose happy. I just chose neutral. I chose to let him be wrong about me and then it was over and I moved on.
When you choose to start with circumstances you realize how much power you have your life. You see how you not the circumstances shape your experiences. Maybe you choose to interpret the circumstances as neutral, maybe you want to be mad. You’re the authority over your life and what you create. So then the question becomes, what do you want to feel and create in your life?
When you’re angry, do you like how that feels? Do you like your actions? Is it serving you in a way that is in alignment with who you want to be?
If you feel horrible do you want to continue feeling horrible? It’s optional. You don’t have to, but it’s your choice. Just make sure you’re owning it. That you approve of your experience.
Experiences don’t happen to you, you create them. Circumstances are neutral. They’re just things that happen in the world but you get to decide how you want to interpret it. Your experience is entirely up to you.
Remember, James Allen, said, “You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”
Test this out. With everything that happens get it to a circumstance first. See it as neutral. And notice how much power and authority you have over your life and your experiences.
Next week, come back and we’re going to talk about how to help you with the next step, the interpretations, and choosing thoughts that serve you, maybe not necessarily happy thoughts but useful, productive, serving thoughts. Thanks, everyone!
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