There is a series of children’s books that are written in an “Choose Your Own Adventure” style. They all start out the same, but at different points in the story, the reader gets to choose a path. Each choice creates different twists and turns, and eventually, a different ending. Life is like that. You choose your own adventure every day by deciding what to focus on.
To show you what I mean, take a moment to think about an unpleasant memory. Maybe something disappointed you, made you angry, made you sad, or things just didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Just recall that for about thirty seconds then notice how your body feels. Notice your thoughts. Notice your emotional state.
When you have a pretty good handle on that, let that go, then find a memory that makes you happy. Maybe you reached a goal, experienced something on your bucket list, or did something special with your friends. Now just think about that memory for about thirty seconds then notice how your body feels. Notice your thoughts. Notice your emotions.
If you are like me, when you thought of the unpleasant thing, you felt tension in your body, heavier, slower, and less motivated. When you thought about the happy memory, you instantly became lighter, more optimistic and relaxed. It didn’t take a day or even an hour. It was instantaneous. What does that little experiment tell you? It suggests to me that our reality is based on how we choose our own adventure. In every life, affirming things and invalidating things happen every day.
So, how we choose to view our every day adventures affects our lives moment to moment, day to day, and year to year. If we focus on the positive things, we feel more positive, hopeful, and joyful. We say our lives are good. If we focus on the negative, we feel invalidated, hopeless, and defeated. What the story is really doesn’t matter. You could say, “We were so poor. We had no toys to play with so we played in the dirt.” Or you could say, “Remember when we were kids and we played with mud pies? Why don’t kids do that anymore? They don’t know how to play anymore.” It’s the same story, just a different interpretation.
So if we have an overwhelming number of negative things, you can still influence the outcome by changing how you interpret the event. Most events are value neutral. We decide what they mean and how they make us feel by how we interpret them. If I failed fourth grade, I could say that I am a failure. Or I could say that it was the right thing to happen because I wasn’t learning the material. I would have been further behind and struggled more if I had passed anyway. If I didn’t get hired for a job, I could say that I am cursed and will never find a job. Or I could explain that something better is just around the corner.
There is no objective reality to either of those situations. Repeating the 4th grade does not make me a failure. Getting passed over for a job doesn’t mean I’m cursed. Those are only two of many possibility explanations, so why not choose an affirming one that leaves me feeling good about my life and myself? You are the author of your story. Tell a good one! Make it a happy one.