You Decide

If you are hurt by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius

What we often forget is that our feelings are not caused by the outside world; we have the power to change them whenever we want. The Stoics knew about this over 2000 years ago, so it’s certainly nothing new, but in the age of social media, 24 hour news, and smart phones it’s easy to imagine that we are simply being swept along.

Perhaps some of us even want to believe that we have no choice, it takes away the responsibility of being in control. After all, there is some reward for wallowing, or getting angry or having a meltdown; you often get a reaction from those around you and that feels pretty good.


In reality, feelings are not things that we HAVE, they are processes that we DO. Feelings are not nouns, they are verbs. When you’re feeling happy, you haven’t been given a little box containing happiness, you’ve decided to run the process of happiness, and DO happy – you’re happy-ing. No one throws a bucket of anger in your face, you run the process for anger and DO angry.

Our brains are magnificent machines, and they are very good at creating shortcuts for us. They make a simple judgement, this input = set out put, we don’t even need to think about it anymore. Consider a kid that falls over for the first time, they don’t immediately cry, they look around to find out what a suitable reaction is. They take their cues from those around them. If they then decide that crying is the correct reaction and they get rewarded. They’ll be much quicker to cry next time; then over time the response becomes automatic.


That happens to all of us, all of the time. It’s hard work consciously deciding how to act about every situation, so our brains just run our default program for the situation presented. It doesn’t mean you’re not choosing though, you’re just not choosing consciously; but you could.

It’s not always easy to interrupt ingrained patterns, but it is possible, and the first step to doing that is recognising and acknowledging that you do have control over it. Take back responsibility for your reactions. Call yourself out when you could have made more positive choices, and be proud of yourself when you do.


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