It’s very easy to react to chaos with negativity—but you can choose to instead see it as part of leading a lively, exciting life
I had a “slightly turbulent” week. I booked an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) workshop this weekend, along with an Airbnb for three nights. Then I got an audition from my agent and had to confirm I was available.
After my confirmation, my thoughts started churning:
“Oh gosh, why did I book the Airbnb? It’s non-refundable now.”
“This gig doesn’t pay much. If I got it I still have to do it for my agent.”
“When will I be able to do this workshop if I miss this one?”
I was already making up a juicy story when nothing had happened. For a brief moment, I almost bought my story. Then I realized:
Wait, these are just thoughts. Yep, just thoughts.
And guess what? I can not change the circumstances, but I can always change my thoughts.
What do you do when you find life chaotic? It’s very easy to react to whatever is happening at the moment. But does that serve you?
My career requires me to confront change: sometimes I only have 12 hours’ notice before a job.
If I let uncertainty drag me along with it, I’d be all over the place — which only does me a disservice.
Now here comes the question: How can we actually enjoy uncertainty when it’s an evitable part of our lives — and make the most out of it?
This is what I’ve learned.
My Bloody Finger
I remember the first time I cut my finger when I was a kid. My parents left a fruit knife behind, and within seconds, they saw me holding a bloody finger with a smile on my face, saying: “Look! Blood!” They totally freaked out.
Lesson 1: Fear is learned and can be unlearned
We were all born fearless. Then we learned to be scared because others—often our parents—react to things in that way. Remember, though, if it’s learned, it can be unlearned.
I approached the situation with curiosity because I didn’t perceive it as a danger. My parents (naturally) approached it with judgment, which they gained from life experience.
Curiosity brings you a sense of excitement and hopefulness, while judgment gives you aversion, fear, and hate.
Research shows that there is very little difference between fear and excitement — they come from the same part of the brain.
Isn’t that great news? If we can approach uncertainty with curiosity, asking: “What’s in it FOR me?”, we can choose to experience excitement.
However, if we see uncertainty as a huge, aggressive monster that is going to eat us alive, we will fall into “fight or flight” mode. Or worse, we’ll instantly deem ourselves a victim: “Why did this happen TO me?”
“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”
— Margaret Drabble
Only Look at the “Pros,” Not the “Cons”
When I started to feel stressed out by the uncertain situation, I took a deep breath and decided to look for the good sides in both possible outcomes.
The pros for booking the acting gig would be “extra income despite the non-refundable Airbnb fee” and “a better relationship with my agent.”
The pros for doing the workshop are more obvious — it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and it feels like a vacation to me.
Looking at the picture in this way, I had no reason to get stressed out, because either way, it’d be fine with me.
Lesson 2: Find the Pros, and You’ll Find Peace
Does it surprise you that I didn’t put “Pros and Cons”?
The reason is actually very simple: Almost everything has pros and cons. Comparing pros and cons will only add an extra burden to your mind in times of uncertainty.
Especially when there are more than two possible outcomes, such a comparison can possibly paralyze you. What’s worse, it’s way too easy to go down the rabbit hole when thinking about the cons. Our brains are hard-wired for that.
Finding the pros of each possible outcome can greatly strengthen your “positivity muscle,” Yes, it’s a muscle that you can exercise to make it stronger.
“Positivity is like a boomerang. The more we put it out there, the more it comes back to us.” — Jon Gordon
But what if uncertainty eventually becomes certainty, and now you are left alone dealing with what’s presented to you?
I didn’t book the acting job, so I came to the training. All was great, except for the Airbnb. It was extremely disappointing. Worse still, I found out that it’d be cheaper and more comfortable for me to commute, even by Uber.
My first thought was: Ugh, I wasted time, money, and energy on this crappy little place.
My second thought was: Hold on, I’m not feeling good thinking about it.
My third thought was: I actually got to experience my old days as a student, living in a tiny room in a townhouse. Plus, it was environmentally friendly. And by walking to and from the site every day, I got some decent activity.
Lesson 3: Celebrate the Difference It Makes in Your Life
It’s kind of funny, but when a possible outcome becomes reality, disappointment kicks in.
Our human brains are wired for negativity. We not only find faults with reality but also mourn for the other things that could happen but never did.
Following my three-step thought process above, everything has changed in my perception. What was a disappointing experience turned out to be surprisingly great. All because I was looking at it with different eyes.
Then I realized how much I took my sunny, spacious studio for granted. And how much more gratitude I’ve got simply from this Airbnb experience. “Good” or “bad” simply depends on how I looked at it.
When you can celebrate the differences things make in your life, there is no failure. There is only feedback that leads to limitless possibilities.
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” — Oprah Winfrey
By the end of this four-day trip, my heart was filled with joy, gratitude, and love. What started as a stressful, uncertain situation turned out to be a valuable life lesson.
How are you celebrating your life?