When my sons were pre-teens, there was a series of books entitled “Choose your Own Adventure.” The basic story line was laid down and then the reader would get to choose one of several options that finished the story. Each option provided a remarkably different ending to the basic story.
It’s dawned on me lately that life is very much like those books — and it is our choices that determine how our life story evolves.
Celebrities give us dramatic examples of life choices and the resulting impacts on their careers and the lives of others. Tiger Woods comes to mind. Most recently, Ryan Lochte’s fabricated story that unnecessarily tainted the Rio Olympics in many ways. It’s not just about Tiger and Ryan — how many innocent others were affected by their poor choices?
Very recently I’ve had some thought-provoking conversations with friends about matters that tug at our heartstrings — Strained family relationships, estrangements, coping with destructive behaviors of others, and serious health issues. A lot of choices were made over the years and the results were not so positive. How might these lives be different had better choices been made?
Consider the divorced dad that doesn’t make his young child a priority. He is a no show on his visitation days, misses soccer games, birthdays and graduations. Then later in his life, when his child is grown, starting a career, getting married and having babies, dad has a “wake up” call and decides he wants to insert himself back into his child’s life. It’s pretty likely that his child doesn’t want any part of it. What drove dad’s decision to be absent in his child’s life? Resentment against mom? Too busy with work or social life?
Can he contrast what his relationship with his child might look and feel like if he had made other decisions — and made his child a priority? Would they be sharing funny stories about their adventurous good times together with that sweet little toddler nestled in his now grown child’s lap?
There is often the regret that we realize too late — we fail to make the time to stay in touch with a beloved family member or friend and then are crushed when we learn that they have suddenly passed away. Were we really “so busy” that we couldn’t make the time for a quick phone call on a regular basis? What about a surprise visit for a birthday or holiday…or better yet, no occasion at all! How might our lives actually been enriched by the time spent with that family member or friend?
Take some time to reflect on your own life history and look at the choices you’ve made that may have gone sideways. How were you feeling when you made those decisions? Did you get the result you wanted? Were you letting your emotions be in charge?
Ask yourself this one BIG question — how would that event in my life story be written had I made a better choice?
We can all fall prey to our conditioned responses when conflicts arise. This is where mindfulness can make a significant difference and it take serious commitment on your part. You have to stop in your tracks and take inventory about what is really going on.
Are you getting defensive because you feel attacked? Is it really something you did…or is the other person having a really bad time and deflecting it to you? If you did screw up, was it intentional and purposefully mean? If it was a mistake, did you own it and apologize? What is your “go to” response — slam the door and walk out, yell louder, or blame someone else?
For over a year, I have been practicing mindfulness in my daily life and even after a year of committed effort, I find myself really struggling sometimes to not give in to old non-productive responses. It takes every ounce of my willpower to breathe deeply and acknowledge my feelings and at the same time, strip them of the power to control my actions.
Trust me when I tell you that gathering up the willpower to stop that steaming locomotive of emotions is no easy feat. Deep breathing really helps — its the best gift you can give your body when pressure is mounting. Why do you think they teach it as a basic skill for getting through labor and delivery?
Did you ever notice how things escalate in the midst of conflict? Voices get louder, body language becomes more pronounced and words fly faster than the speed of light. Very often, we jump into our conditioned patterns without a moment’s hesitation.
Simply slowing down when I’m face to face with confrontation gives me a sense of control. It’s a new practice for me and it becomes a strong reminder to be mindful.
I’ve recently discovered that if I turn my typical reactions away from thinking about me, and my feelings, I’m gaining valuable insight into what the other person is feeling and needing, how they process and what their values are.
Most importantly, it gives me a lot of clarity about my choices in resolving the situation. Admittedly it doesn’t mean that the solutions are easy or fast. But I am convinced that I’m beginning to make better choices and wiser decisions.
We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it.
We can make amends.
We can make different choices and get better results.
We can be role models for others, especially our children and grandchildren.
Life is short….make the most of your personal adventure.