If something is bad for us, we should stop doing it. Of course it’s not that simple—people have addictions, compulsions, and desires (hereafter referred to as compulsions), and it may seem almost impossible not to submit to them. The two forces—the compulsions and the knowledge of their negative consequences—are in a constant battle to control our behavior. The “voice” of our compulsions can be quite strong and very crafty. We’ve all had times when we’ve rationalized having one more drink (“It’s a special occasion!”) or junk food (“Just while I’m watching the movie.”), and, at those times, our rationales have seemed perfectly sound. We’ve also had periods when the voice of reason has been dominant. We clearly see the connections between our behavior and its negative consequences, and we’re able to control ourselves. So why does this battle take place—why can’t we see the healthy and logical path and just follow it? If we could answer these questions, we’d find a clear path to healthy, positive behaviors.
Even though our feelings are intertwined with the feelings, words, and actions of others, the responsibility for them is ultimately ours and ours alone. There are extreme situations in which another person can significantly impact our emotional state, but we are still responsible for what we do in response to that impact. We should never give that responsibility to anyone else. When we abdicate responsibility for our emotions and give that responsibility to others, we give them power over us—power that is rightfully ours. Realizing this can give us a great sense of freedom: freedom to act in ways that will give us happiness, fulfillment, and peace, and freedom from others’ control over us.
The past year was challenging for many. Most of us had unprecedented circumstances that we had to deal with and adapt to. Some of us faced more dire circumstances than others, including the presence of COVID and the resulting illness and loss of loved ones; the specter of losing our livelihoods; and the stress and uncertainty related to hurricanes, wildfires, and the alarming political landscape. It was not a relaxing year. How do we cope when everything seems out of whack and there are multiple sources of anxiety and stress? How can we learn to be resilient? It’s certainly not a switch we can turn on when we need it. We have to take the time to process what we’re going through while at the same time figuring out how we can best adapt to the specific effects of what we’re experiencing. This takes reflection, perspective, and proactivity. It also takes courage—we have to face the new reality and accept the changes that are happening.
When you think about what you want from life, what do you immediately see?Like anything we try to achieve in our lives, we will be much more likely to be successful if we are specific and intentional. Creating and continuously honing our idea of what success looks like is an important aspect of achieving our goals as well as developing goals that will make our lives meaningful. Most of us, if asked what we want from life, should at least be able to answer in general terms—raising happy, healthy children, providing for our families, happiness. But how many have a deeper or more specific answer at the ready—a vision for their lives and a path to making that vision a reality?
We all have the responsibility for our own lives. That may seem obvious, but there’s a big difference between acknowledging that fact and actually incorporating it into how we live our lives. If we truly embrace our responsibility for our lives, we live our lives according to what gives our lives meaning and what makes us happy.
It’s extremely easy to live a reactive life, bouncing around based on what’s happening to you and using external cause and effect as the foundation for where your life is going. But the fact is, the direction our lives take is totally and completely up to us. It may not seem like that sometimes—we all have elements of our lives that seem totally out of our control—but if we take a closer look, we might find that many of those elements are in our lives by choice. We could choose to drop them if it came down to it (see “Choice”). We also might find that we’re letting those things dictate the direction of our lives when we could be taking more control of some of those “out-of-our-control” elements.