Some people's lives seem like a soap opera. But though endless crises
and confrontations can be entertaining on TV, they make for frustrating,
unsatisfying lives. If you'd rather have peace of mind than daily
dramas, you need to take charge of the script.
"Learn to act for yourself instead of just responding to what's happening in your life," advises Gretchen Grindle, M.Ed., N.C.C., CEAP, a counselor in Virginia. "Make deliberate choices about how you look at things -- and how you want to deal with them."
Most people react without thinking, "especially in situations in which they feel hassled or threatened," says Ms. Grindle. "We're constantly responding to stimuli -- an annoying co-worker, a whining child, a grumpy spouse. Instead of considering what's really going on or the most constructive way to respond, we often lash out in ways that aren't very helpful."
Of course, this usually results in negative consequences. If another person is involved, the result is likely to be hurt feelings, angry responses or out-and-out resistance.
Even when people are alone, they often let circumstances control them, instead of the other way around. For example, when you're caught in traffic, you feel powerless, so you make yourself miserable with anger or frustration.
"Instead, choose to use the time in a way that builds positive thoughts," says Ms. Grindle. "Do relaxation exercises, listen to a book on tape, plan what you'll do the rest of the day. You'll arrive just as soon, and in a much better frame of mind.
"Learn to separate what you can control from what you can't," says Ms. Grindle. "You can't control another person, and many situations are also beyond your power. You can only control how you act, so your focus should be on your contribution."
Act with care and courtesy
To start acting instead of reacting, Ms. Grindle says, "reflect on what has been working in your life and what hasn't. In the big picture, has your behavior been getting you where you want to be?"
Here are some more strategies that can help you be more active and less reactive:
"Most people today lead lives that are ripe for stress," says Ms. Grindle. "Take time to claim some happiness -- kiss your spouse, hug your children. Whatever else you need to do, this is a very important action to take."
Online tools to help manage your daily life.
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