From Chaos to Calm in 3 Steps: Generate Gratitude, Set the Intention, Take the Aligned Action
Life can feel chaotic, stressful, out of our control. And to be fair, many things in fact ARE out of our control. But, our emotional experience of life doesn’t have to be. And our sense of stability and self-control is exactly that, a SENSE. How we interpret our world, our circumstances, everything around us, is what we can have full control over, though it might not seem like it at first glance.
To achieve a life of control and calm, a life that’s on our terms, we don’t wait for only the things we want to ever happen, it’s not about creating a carefully constructed bubble in which everything goes exactly as we deem it should. Achieving a life of control and calm means having mastery over how we interact with and experience life happening around and with us.
Let’s come back to 2 often-forgotten Truths:
- Things are happening all around us all the time.
- These things, these activities of life, are inherently neutral. We ascribe meanings to things based on our system of values and cultural norms and expectations. (ie. someone weaving in and out of traffic in the U.S. is deemed as alarming and a legitimate cause for concern based on local driving expectations, but someone weaving in and out of traffic in India is deemed as a normal, acceptable way of getting around town.)
If we can accept that things are happening all the time, and that these things are inherently neutral, then we can begin the journey toward an emotional self-mastery, generating a sense of control and stability through whatever comes our way.
This doesn’t mean that we are working toward never having a sudden emotional reaction — feelings like surprise, shock, and uncertainty will still be a part of life, the work we do here is simply to lessen the grips that these kinds of emotions have on us, and to put us back in the driver’s seat of our own life. So often we end up being driven by our initial reactions to our circumstances, putting our emotions at the mercy of whatever things are happening in life around us, instead of determining our own emotional experience and living with masterful intention, regardless of whatever circumstances we encounter.
When we experience contractive emotions, such as stress, fear, anger, frustration, and despair, it can be very easy to let those emotions dictate our moods. Something we don’t like happens, we feel anger, we’re in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Very common chain of events. What we are working toward is something we don’t like happens, we feel anger, we process it and decide how we want to feel instead, and we continue with our day focused and happy.
To do this, we interrupt the chain of events right after we notice the contractive emotion. Let’s take an example that happened during the course of me writing the second paragraph of this piece: I knocked over a glass and spilled green juice all over my butcher block wooden desk, which supports my MacBook Pro, my monitor, among lots of other electronic knick knacks that generally don’t appreciate liquids.
Here’s what could have happened:
I spill the juice, I curse and get angry at myself and at life, I snap at my husband who hears the kerfuffle and asks if I’m okay, I rush to clean up the juice and end up making a bigger mess, I give up on writing this article because I’m too flustered to write coherently, and then I rush into my next task feeling rushed and stress, and I perform that task poorly because I’m not mentally present and still stewing over the spill and beating myself for making a mistake as well as for failing to stick to my weekly Monday Medium post routine. Not exactly the most empowered morning.
Here’s what happened instead:
I spill the juice, a let a few expletives fly (I tend to curse when I get a spike of fear, and I was fearful that the juice got on my electronics), I inject a couple of statements of gratitude:
- I’m grateful the juice didn’t get on my keyboard!
- I’m grateful this happened while I was writing instead of on a call with a client!
- Anytime there’s liquid on my desk there’s a chance it could spill, so I’m grateful this happened and that I’m more aware and mindful of it going forward!
- I’m grateful the glass didn’t break!
- I’m grateful that I had a dark green hand towel so I didn’t have to ruin any of the light colored ones with green juice stains!
I made certain to interrupt the flow of emotional construction with gratitude, and felt a real sense of relief emotionally as well as physically running through my body as a result. Then, I set the intention to continue to write this article even though I was noticing that the next task (writing content for my course) was scheduled to happen because this article takes priority to be released today, and because I could make space to work on my course later this afternoon if needed. Finally, I decided to align this event with my work by incorporating it into this article — perfect timing!
Thankfully no real damage was done, and even if there had been, the process of gratitude, intention, aligned action would still have been relevant. If my keyboard had been ruined from the juice spill, I would have called Apple to schedule a repair, and in the meantime, I would’ve finished this article using a spare Bluetooth-enabled keyboard, an old iPad, or if worse came to worst, I could have written and published this article on my phone. OR I could have thrown my hands up and bailed on the article altogether and blamed the spill.
When you set the intention to continue to move forward despite circumstances that aren’t to your preference, you get creative and find a way to keep making progress toward your goals.
When you give into emotional constriction, you are letting your external circumstances determine whether you succeed or not, and you leave all your power on the table. You live at the mercy of life around you.
Practice this series of 3 actions: interrupt the constrictive emotions with gratitudes, set an intention of how you want to proceed, and take the action that aligns with that intention. As you gain experience with this technique, you’ll notice yourself feeling more in control of your days, and these days will add up!