You want to change your life? Control the only thing you can control: the meaning you give something. ~Anthony Robbins
I love this quote especially because I’ve been learning in grad school about different therapy models that address changing the client’s meanings that they give to things/experiences/people. If you change the meaning you give something, you change your perspective–kind of like those aha! moments Oprah talks about. Changing your perspective to something more positive enhances your life and empowers you. If you stay stuck in a story or meaning that detracts from your life, creates drama, or labels you as victim–well, that’s a choice–and you have every right to live life the way you want to. However, here’s a question: How’s that working for you?
Anthony Robbins’ quote reminds me of the Serenity Prayer, listed on the left.
If you’re stuck in the middle of a challenge, you can change the meaning you give to it. Ask yourself: What am I supposed to be learning from this experience? Or, if it’s in the past: What are the lessons I was supposed to learn from this? Focus on the meanings these challenges present to you.
All problems/challenges/failures/mistakes are, are learning opportunities.
Another way to shift meaning is to ask yourself: Are you approaching this as a victim or as the hero/heroine of your life? If you view it as a victim, the meaning will be different than if you look at your challenges through a hero’s eyes.
The death of my mother when I was 7, gave me the gift of never taking life for granted. This is one of the meanings I’ve attributed to her early death. I also have associated her untimely death to a shortage of time, so I catch myself frequently thinking I will never have enough time to accomplish all I want to do in this lifetime. That meaning can be motivational, but sometimes it begins to feel oppressive. I have to remind myself to shift the meaning (and my attitude).
The meanings you give to things can go from tragedy to triumph simply by changing your thoughts. Think of some famous people who have overcome great odds:
- Elie Wiesel escaped death at a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
- Wayne Dyer grew up as a foster child.
- Bill Clinton was the son of a single mother.
- Maya Angelou and Iyanla Vanzant both got pregnant as teenage single mothers and kept their babies.
- Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team.
You don’t have to do monumental things like these people have, you only have to let go of the ineffectual meanings you have attributed to your things/experiences/people in order to change your life. Imagine if Michael Jordan let that rejection define his life after that. Or Elie Wiesel held on to bitterness and resentment. None of these people let their past define their future. Holding on to these things holds you back, and poisons your body, mind, and spirit. Changing their meaning so the story is life-enhancing is, well, it’s life-changing!
Do this: Do you have a particularly challenging issue that’s plaguing you? Childhood wound, divorce, job loss, illness–something that feels unfair, yet there’s not much power you have over “fixing” it? Make a list of all the positives that have come from it. If you can’t think of many, ask a friend or family member to help you. Then, look over your list and see how you can shift your life-detracting meaning for a new more life-enhancing one.