Lately I’ve been fascinated by how we “frame” certain situations in our minds. “Framing” refers to the storyline we create in our minds to explain something that happens to us. The thoughts we have are the basis for the emotions we feel in response to any given set of circumstances or facts.

For example, take the fact, “I am leaving my job.” This is an incontrovertible fact. Anyone observing the situation from any point of view would agree with it. However, how we feel about this fact depends on one intermediate step that few of us have the training to notice – how we feel depends on what we think about the facts in front of us.

A helpful diagram from Brooke Castillo’s Self-Coaching 101 looks like this:

Circumstance/situation:

Thought:

Feeling:

Action:

Consequence:

If I think the thought, “I will never find another job,” or “Only losers leave their jobs,” or “I must be crazy to leave my job,” then I will experience feelings of fear/hopelessness, unworthiness, and self-doubt, respectively. However, if I think the thought, “I choose to make space for work that better suits me,” or “I am caring for myself by letting go of something that drained me,” or “I gave everything I had to that job and it’s time for me to give to something else,” then I will experience feelings of empowerment/freedom, self-worth, and generosity of spirit, respectively.

Which would you rather think? Which would you rather feel? How would you rather act? And which consequences as a result of those actions would you rather have in your life?

The point is, it’s up to you. Framing takes practice, because we don’t naturally observe our own thought patterns. We need to pause and be still long enough (for example, in meditation) to watch our thoughts enter our minds. When we see them, we must greet them with kindness and compassion, so they can be examined gently. The gentleness is often difficult for people who want desperately to improve, because there is so often a belief that if we criticize and push ourselves enough, we will be motivated to change. I’ve found, through thirty-four years or so of trying, that it really doesn’t work for me.

So my challenge to myself is to examine every thought that surfaces in response to one of the facts or circumstances of my life. Someone doesn’t call or doesn’t show up. What is the thought I am having in response to that? How does it make me feel? Does that feeling help me create my life, or hold me back? Why am I interested in remaining attached to feelings that hold me back? I’m not.

So one of the thoughts that surfaced a few times in response to my most recent changes – which I frame as my repeated, persistent attempts to step more fully into my current sources of power – came from outside myself, but still registered in my head. The thought, which came out as words of advice from others, was, “I don’t know if I would say those things, Lisa, because it makes it sound like you’re having a BREAKDOWN or something.” This word, “breakdown”, had a particular charge to the well-intentioned souls who were trying to make sense of what I was choosing to do in my life. As if it were something I should truly fear and therefore avoid. But to me, it seemed false. To me, a “breakdown” implied an inability to deal with things. Paralysis. In that sense, STAYING in my job  – not leaving it – would have been a breakdown for me. It would have required me to break down my own hope for a more truthful expression of my spirit, and a life more in alignment with my spirit. To me, leaving my job was not a break down but a WAKE UP.

By leaving my job, I chose to WAKE UP to the actual reality facing me. I had created something, gotten really far into it, learned a lot along the way, and armed with those lessons, I felt prepared to embark on a new way of offering my gifts in the world. To do that, I had to face the need to make space. I had to face the prospect of disappointing, surprising, or scaring other people. I had to respect their responses, whatever they might be. I had to honor myself throughout every stage of my process, including the stuff that might not be pretty to look at. I had to know that once I could do this, I could look forward with new eyes, cleared by the acknowledgment of the truth, and the fearless confrontation with loss.

A career change may be the gentlest way that our life wakes us up. If our bodies still serve us, we have a chance to take another step in any given direction. I still count as a blessing every day the fact that my body speaks to me in the language of fluidity or pain, openness or stiffness, strength or weakness. By taking time to visit every corner of my body each day in yoga practice, I have the chance to check in with the facts, notice my thoughts, and feel the feelings associated with those thoughts. Sometimes my body just has a conditioned response – heart pounding, chest constricting. But it’s brief. It’s impermanent. I watch it arrive, wait, and then see it go away. No thought has to accompany it at all. It can just be a fact, left alone. Some people might call that calm or peace.

I like to think of it as power.

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