Our emotions and the way we feel have a way of taking control of our thoughts and behaviors. The manner in which we perceive our realities is largely affected by them, and they influence the nature of our decisions. For this reason, it is important to understand what is going on below the surface so we can learn to be masters of our minds.
Anxiety is one such emotion I experience quite often. Anxiety can present itself in different ways — the symptoms can vary, and the triggers are numerous. About five years ago my finances were in terrible shape. My husband and I had to close the business we started together, our house was facing foreclosure, we were getting sued for money we owed, and my car got repossessed. As one would imagine, I was a nervous wreck and in a complete state of panic. I’d wake up shaky and with so much anxiety that I would feel sick to my stomach. Eventually, we went on to file bankruptcy and made some changes until we were able to salvage our home, my car, and get out of the debt. It was a very difficult and trying time to say the least, and the effects were not soon forgotten.
Fast forward to about two years ago: My mentality concerning money had not improved. When money was running a little low, my emotions would go into a tailspin. I felt the same way as I had when our home was in genuine danger of being taken away. I’d be totally panicked even though the situation was nowhere near as dire. I would constantly justify my feelings. Worse yet, I would obsess over them. In my mind, life presented itself as a series of patterns much of the time. If I saw that a pattern was starting up, then I could pretty much guess what the outcome would be.
The sad thing is that, because I decided that I already knew what was going to happen, oftentimes it would. I in no way saw it this way at the time, but I can see it now with such clarity. We have the ability to create negative events in our lives just by feeding them our energy. If you keep telling your mind that something will happen, then you will in turn behave as though this is the case. For instance, if you think everyone hates you, then you will interact with people with this belief in mind. Before you know it, people will start to dislike you because of the way you act around them. You won’t see it, however. In your mind, this will only reinforce the belief that everyone actually does hate you. You will probably dig in deeper on this belief, making it harder to consider other possibilities. This is what I was doing when it came to my relationship with money and bills.
In retrospect, what I see now is that as scary and draining as it was for me to think that I was headed down the same path of financial ruin anytime I missed a payment on something, part of me thought it was scarier not to have a picture of what the future held, so I kept focusing on my ‘pattern theory.’
We all have the tendency to do this. We only do things if, on some level, we think they work. We usually don’t have conscious awareness of this, but the fact remains. And for me, staying attached to my way of thinking felt like I still had some level of control in my life. I was unwilling to see that I was only compounding the situation. I felt so righteous in my viewpoint on this too; how could anyone else not see it this way? It seemed logical. In fact, I thought it irresponsible not to think this way.
I’ve since learned that our brain is a predicative organ. It fills in the blanks, assuming things where information is lacking. Our mind attempts to steer our decisions by bridging past experiences to present situations. It makes sense to me now why my perspective on life being about patterns resonated so strongly. In a way, this is true, and it is a valuable tool our brains use to help us navigate our world. The problem comes when any fixed belief, such as this one, is causing stress and unhappiness in our lives. And that is where I found myself just a few years ago.
It is important that we see our conscious selves as separate from the organ that is our brain. While our minds are incredible machines that control our bodies and tell us what to do and where to go automatically, we have to gain awareness and the ability to step in from time to time and question why it is we may be struggling with whatever it may be. We have to be willing to shake ourselves out of whatever negative thought patterns we are allowing to run our lives.
Just because you always did something a certain way or always thought about a particular issue in a specific manner doesn’t mean that is the way it has to stay. Sometimes a behavior or habit that we found worked at one point in our life no longer does. If the world around us is always evolving, it isn’t hard to understand why we need to also. Nonetheless. it can be very challenging to realize when we are just being too darn stubborn. At times, it is practically impossible to see when we are the ones creating the most chaos in our own lives, especially in highly emotional situations.
So then, what are some methods we can use to check ourselves? One way to do this is to listen to others or be willing to hear feedback. I know this can be difficult, and I’m not saying that everything everyone tells you about yourself is something you need to take to heart; however, it is valuable to pay attention to what others are explaining to you, especially if you are hearing the same thing from more than one source.
Keep in mind that it is important to have a healthy level of self-esteem in order to actually be able to consider where others are coming from without judging yourself too harshly. Criticizing ourselves is not the point. People and relationships serve as mirrors that can teach us things about who we are, and it is beneficial for us to take advantage of these opportunities to gain insight into how we are perceived. It is impossible to view ourselves from the outside, so other people can help us see what we simply cannot on our own. If we find that we just can’t stand to hear what others have to say, then we need to look into why that may be. Oftentimes it is our reactions to the information we receive from those outside of us that can teach us the most.
In addition to listening to feedback, we have to listen to our emotions as they surface. They have a lot to teach us, as it was in my case, when I became intensely anxious as soon as I so much as thought about bills and money. I began to recognize that it was unhealthy to get this way and that it was beginning to control the majority of my thoughts. I could have kept blaming my situation, believing that circumstances were solely responsible for creating this feeling, but instead I tried to look at it from the other side. Sure, money problems are stressful, and that is understandable, but I wondered why I felt such strong emotions when the circumstances just didn’t seem to match up. I could see I was building things up to be bigger than they were. And I finally understood how I had an unhealthy relationship with money.
After some time, I made the connection to my beliefs about patterns and how it all related to things that had happened in the past. I didn’t use those experiences as a reason or excuse to feel this way any longer. It wasn’t solving the situation, and I was drained and frankly tired of being so upset all the time. Instead, I began to find reasons to believe that things would be better. After all, I came out of a very hard time concerning money and I was okay. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that as hard as things got, we always seemed to figure it out. What about that pattern?
It finally became clear to me that I was creating a story instead of just taking things as they came. There is nothing wrong with learning from past experiences and trying to avoid similar mistakes, but we can’t use what happened in the past as a roadmap for what we believe is inevitably going to happen in the future. Doing so robs us of our joy, as well as those around us. I began to honestly rest in the knowledge that, one way or another, I would be fine, and decided instead to put my energy into doing proactive things. I fed my mind with as much information as I could gather, found ways to express my creativity, and invested in my well-being. With time and effort, I was able to climb out of the emotional hole I was in.
I think many people can learn from my experience. When an emotion sticks with us and becomes an obsession, we need to investigate what is fueling it. You can guarantee you are feeding it energy somehow, someway. I can be quite stubborn, and I have this internal need to have it all figured out, or to at least have a plan in place. But in the face of reality, I have learned that the way I want things to be and the way things are rarely match up.
I am grateful that I have always been an inquisitive person, and because of my curiosity, I don’t stop at the surface — I want to see what lies below and find a solution. Having this type of personality has forced me put my ego aside and open myself up to other ideas. Honestly, I have found that I don’t feel at peace otherwise. I have no idea how to get other people to want to do this, but I do believe that if others can truly grasp the value in doing so, they will be much more motivated to give it a shot.
Your worst enemy is your ego. Your ego either wants to place you above others or below them. Our egos will trick us into thinking that we are either in the right or that everyone else is and we are failures that just can’t seem to get it together. In reality, we are always somewhere in the middle. We all have some level of wisdom to share and yet there is always more to unfold. This phrase will become repetitious, but life is a journey. It isn’t a destination. We must always be learning and always be growing.
Do yourself a favor and put some time into taking back control in your life. Come to understand what that means and what that is going to take for you, and then put it into action. It’s only then that we can create happier, healthier lives for ourselves.