On a recent trip to Australia – showing Dimitri around my home country – we were driving on a long stretch of highway. A truck came whooshing up the road behind us, until it was right on the tail of the car. Driving erratically, the driver urged us to go faster. In front of us, a small sedan was driving under the speed limit. We were stuck in the middle. So I did what any strong, self-respecting woman does. I slowed down. Del-ib-er-at-ely.
This only made the speedy driver madder. And me, too. I was angry at him for making me angry. I was angry at Dimitri for telling me how to handle the situation. And now I was angry at the car in front, for going so slowly.
As the road split into two lanes, I started overtaking the slow car. This incensed the other driver, who was expecting me to fall behind and allow him to overtake us both.
I slammed my foot down on the accelerator and swung in front of the slow driver. The truck whizzed past. By this point, I was so enraged by the situation – and at Dimitri for telling me I was driving like a nutbag – that I had to pull over to stop from having a panic attack. It wasn’t safe for me to drive.
After the rage dissolved in my body and the post-adrenaline fatigue flowed, I was left feeling shocked. And ashamed.
I had allowed a complete stranger in a truck to derail our peaceful road trip.
It was only later I realised he didn’t do that at all. I had allowed myself to feel angry. I alone was responsible for ruining our drive. I had turned someone else’s actions into my drama. My problem. My war.
At the time, I didn’t have the mindset tools I do now.
So I sat stewing in confusion and shame for the rest of the drive.
Thankfully, I married a very level and understanding man who doesn’t hold a grudge, and forgives when I ask. But that didn’t relieve the guilt I felt for driving so dangerously – for behaving just like that truckie.
I can happily say that was the last time I reacted to someone else’s actions in such a dramatic and devastating way.
Because I’ve since learned an invaluable life lesson:
Your thoughts create your results.
The truck driver didn’t make me mad. He did something totally neutral…until I made it mean something. Until I inserted my own story into the situation.
How do I know his actions were neutral? Because someone else might have reacted in a different way: carefully pulled over to let the truck pass, given him a wave, continued their calm journey.
The event is neutral, until you choose what to think and feel about it – and how to respond.
There were a million choices to make in that moment, and I chose to think “This guy’s an idiot! He could kill someone! I’ll show him!”. And I chose to feel angry. I then chose to go slowly and disobey the overtaking rules…just to prove a point. And I ended up being an idiot who could kill someone.
Talk about a revelation.
What’s coming up as I share this life lesson?
The first time I learned this, my brain resisted:
What do you mean I’m the only person responsible for my results in life? What if someone gets laid off, or loses their home, or their spouse…are you saying they’re responsible for that?!
Sometimes my mum just really bugs me! And it’s always something she says, something she does. It’s not me, it’s her!
But the deeper I dived into this concept, the more I see it’s true. Universally true.
We see it in ancient Buddhism. In psychology. In the writings of Byron Katie, Anthony Robbins, Pema Chödrön.
And we see it play out in our own life.
Someone does something. You have a thought about it. That generates a feeling in your body. You then do something because of how you think and feel about the situation. And the results you get are the ones you created…which then proves your original thought.
Let’s look at a simple example:
Situation: My husband forgets our anniversary.
Thought: “He doesn’t love me.”
Feeling: Rejected, hurt, disappointed, sad
Action: I ignore him, call my friend to complain, act passive aggressive all day
Result: I feel more alone and unloved.
But what if I chose a different response? What if I decide I don’t want to feel more alone and unloved, but happy and in love?
To get that result, how would I need to act, feel and think? Let’s work backwards:
I feel happy and in love
Action (what do I need to do to get that result?):
I remind my husband, and we make a plan to go out
Feeling (how would I need to feel to take that action?):
Loved, connected, happy
Thought (what thought would spark that feeling?):
“I’m loved and I love him.”
I know this can seem ridiculously simple. And it is. Right now, your brain might be saying “But what if I want to stay feeling mad at him? That’s my right!”
Yep, it totally is.
You get to choose.
You can choose to feel bad. Or you can choose to feel good.
Loved or rejected.
Calm or angry.
Content or sad.
Life will absolutely still give you lemons from time to time. And as Brooke Castillo, the creator of this mindset model says, life is always 50/50. Half of the stuff that happens outside of you will be great, and half will suck.
But the moment you decide to choose how you respond to life is the moment you free yourself. Empower yourself. And start living life on your terms. People can say anything to you, do anything to you. But so long as you choose how you think and feel about it – and respond to it – you can control the outcome.
In every moment, you can choose your response. And, therefore, your results.
So how will you choose?