When Life’s Plan Differs From Our Plan

Tharwat Lovett, MAP

How many times have you made plans for your day, week, month or year only for those plans to be interrupted by life? It is not an uncommon occurrence for reality to fall short of, or occasionally exceed, our expectations. Expectations are predicted outcomes or preplanned courses of events. When expectations are met, we feel safe and prepared. When expectations are exceeded, we feel joy and gratitude. When expectations are unmet, we feel angry or disappointed. Point being, the establishment of expectations and their relationship with reality yield emotional reactions. As a result, expectations give our conditions power of influence over our emotional state of being. 

If we are reactive human beings, then we allow our emotions to influence our mental narratives. When we do so, we give up a certain amount of control, allowing our conditions to heavily impact the story of us. Author Stuart Wilde believes negative emotions are a human creation—that they do not exist in the universe outside the human expression of them. He goes on to say that what triggers these negative emotional reactions are the gaps between expectations and reality. When we expect compliance from our conditions, when we require conditional conformity to the prescriptions written by our expectations, we in essence are giving up power to the people, places and things from our external world. 

How do we take back our power? First and foremost, becoming aware of our expectations will allow us to begin the process of taking inventory. Identify which ones we may be willing to eliminate altogether, which ones we can edit and for those we feel are necessary, which ones we can prioritize. It is near impossible to eliminate expectation all together, but we can train ourselves to expect cautiously and sparingly. 

Secondly, we can learn the art of responsiveness over reactiveness. This means when reality goes off script from our plans, we resist the urge to emotionally react instantly. Instead, we create space and observe. Viktor Frankl suggests that true power is the space between stimulus and response. In this space we have not only the power to observe with greater clarity, but also the power to choose an intentional response—therefore, responding to our conditions rather than reacting to them. 

When we successfully remove the contingency of our emotional state of being from our conditions, we not only invite a great deal more peace into our lives but we also succeed in taking back the control and power that is rightfully ours.

Image - tubes of paint and brushes; we can use the metaphor of an artist choosing colors to address our thoughts.

Paint A New Picture

The power of our thoughts during the COVID-19 crisis.

The world has changed so much since we we last talked. 
Emotions are running high during COVID-19, like the messiness of this abstract painting.
Raise your hand if emotions are high right now? COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the planet and in the lives of billions of people. At some point, we will have figured out how to beat the virus because that’s what we do as human beings. But long after the virus is contained, there is still a bigger, more dangerous disease that is likely to continue to infect millions of people on this planet—hopelessness. Despair is expected to end the lives of more people than the coronavirus.
The feelings that we are experiencing during the COVID-19 crisis can be as detrimental as the illness itself.
How do we inoculate ourselves from hopelessness? In the Bhagavad Gita, it is said, “For those who have conquered the mind, it is their friend. For those who have failed to do so, the mind works like an enemy.” Gaining control of the mind is key if we wish to ever make that transition from surviving our lives to thriving within our lives. As a matter of fact, gaining control of our mind not only protects us from hopelessness, it also manages fear, reduces anxiety, heals relationships, enhances creativity and can completely change our lives.
We can choose which thoughts we pay attention to, just as an artist chooses colors on their palette.
There are many techniques we can use to learn to regulate our mind. It’s most important, however, to know that it is the job of our conscious mind to filter thought. Imagine if we figuratively had a thought bubble engulfing us like a cloud of ideas at all times. It would be the job of our conscious mind to sift through those thoughts floating in and out of that cloud and decide which ones to accept and which ones to reject. The thoughts we accept are the ones we submit to the subconscious, whose job is to make everything we give to it reality. Our thoughts, the chosen or accepted thoughts, literally paint the picture of our reality. The power is in the choosing. We can paint a new image on the canvas of our lives simply by choosing a different set of thoughts. Thoughts color our reality.
Like these colors chosen on paint rollers, we can choose the thoughts that color our reality.
The global quarantine has provided us with the gift of time and space that we likely did not have prior to this experience. In this space and time, we can take a few steps back to look at our life’s work. There is no better time than now to take inventory of the images we have painted that bring us joy, reevaluate the brush strokes that detract from the beauty, value and purpose of our painting and then intentionally set brush to canvas as we begin to paint new images with carefully chosen colors that depict a vibrant, thriving and hopeful self-portrait.
Image of a blank notebook and watercolor palette.