I am not a negative person. If anything I fall more on the side of naively optimistic at times. But even I sometimes can find myself caught in the spiral of negativity.
I have found myself inhabiting a relatively negative mind-space recently. I was letting things outside of my control that had little to no effect on my day to day life get under my skin. As with most negative thoughts, this turned into somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy as well as a snowball effect. The more negative I was, the more I would notice the negative side of things which caused me to feel even more negative.
And the flywheel turns.
Luckily, I was able to recognize what was going on. I spend a good amount of time and energy on self-analysis/self-awareness and it was relatively obvious that I wasn’t my usual happy-go-lucky self when it came to certain aspects of my life. So I decided to do something about it.
I was feeling negative. So I chose to stop.
That’s right. I chose to stop being negative. I chose to look at circumstances and events in a more positive light.
I have written about it before, but one of my fundamental core beliefs is that people have significantly more choice in their life than they so often give themselves credit for. This belief has its beginnings in how I was raised. If my family had a motto it would be “Alt Valg” Norwegian for “Everything Choice”. I was raised to believe that everything in life is a choice. That we may not always have control over what life throws at us, but we do always have control over how we react. I love this list of 10 things that require zero talent.
The power to choose is a marvelous thing. It gives us agency and allows us to chart a course through life instead of being at its every whim.
But it is also a scary thing. Because when you have the power to make choices in your life, the buck stops with you.
Our life is the sum of our choices. It is affected by outside circumstances, sure. But over the course of your life, your choices about how you respond to circumstances will have a much greater bearing on your life than the circumstances themselves in all but the most extreme cases. If you aren’t happy with your life, change it. This comic has a somewhat extreme, un-nuanced view of things, but I do believe that it contains a nugget of truth. We have the life we choose.
There is a second meaning to Alt Valg. Not only is everything a choice. But the ability to choose is everything.
The agency to choose your actions and reactions in life is incredibly powerful.
Relish it. And don’t let anyone try to tell you that you can’t or don’t have that power.
Adopting a Builder’s Mindset
One of the most important choices I try to make every day is the choice to adopt a Builder’s Mindset. Doing so was exactly the mindset shift that I needed to escape my very own spiral of negativity.
Adopting a Builder’s Mindset means looking at everything as an opportunity to learn and grow. It doesn’t mean that you are blind to frustrations, but it does mean you look for silver linings and try to figure out how you can make the best of any situation.
It is a positive way of looking at the world and seeing everything it could aspire to become, instead of what it is today. A builder does not waste time complaining and wishing for more resources, they make do with the resources that they have. They roll their sleeves up and make the most out of what they’ve got.
This perspective is heavily influenced by the book Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf. I have brought this book up before, and likely will continue to do so, because it is the book that has had the single greatest impact on my life and my perspective. At 100 pages long, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
At one point in the book, the main character’s teacher tells the story of an architect. The architect is world-renowned for the beautiful homes that he builds and after a long and storied career is finally ready to retire. When he makes the announcement, his boss asks him to design one more home. Frustrated by the change of plan, he does not put the care and effort he was legendary for into the home and the final product is far below his usually high standards. Once the house is complete he goes to his boss and tells him he is done. The boss then hands him the keys to the house he had just finished.
All this time, the architect was building his own house. If he had known, he would have put just as much, if not more, effort, care, and attention into it as he usually did. Instead, he was left with a home that would be a constant source of regret. The message of the story is that each of us is building our own home through the choices that we make every single day.
I love this metaphor. But I suggest a minor tweak to it.
Instead of building our own house, I think we are building our own ships that sail through the oceans of life.
There will be storms. To a degree, we will always be at the mercy of mother nature.
But we can try to build the most resilient little boats that we can. We can learn from mistakes or tragedies and we can try to use those lessons to make our boat just a little bit stronger every time.
The great thing about thinking of our life as building our own boat is that it is not something that simply surrounds us. It is an experience in and of itself.
You are the captain of your life and you have the power of choice to chart your course through the oceans of life however you would like. With a little bit of care and attention, I think that you can build something that can handle whatever life can throw at you.
And I hope that you learn to catch the wind just right and that it is as wonderful of a ride as it has been for me.