January 2012

At the beginning of every year, I choose one word as a theme, or reminder of what I want to focus on during the year. This year, my word is “choosing”. Since I had my daughter, I have been often struggling with lack of time. Without enough time for myself to recharge and relax, I have noticed that I tend to easily get irritable and impatient. Thoughts like “It’s hopeless… my life is over… I won’t ever have time to do the things that I want to do…” keep popping into my head. I found myself blaming my circumstances, my husband, and even my baby (Yes she is sooo cute, yet amid the never ending rush or after a night of bad sleep my eyes seem to bypass that cuteness). I don’t like this mentality because it doesn’t solve the problem, and it makes me feel even more powerless. I chose the word “choosing” to remind myself that I have choice at every moment. And I want to consciously choose — moment by moment — an attitude and an action that empower me rather than make me simply react to the circumstances and succumb to constant frustration.

It’s not always easy to choose what you want. There are so many distractions and influences around you. Let’s say that you always wanted to have a red sweater. So you go shopping with your significant other. You see a red sweater. It is just perfect. You reach for it. And then you notice a big sale label “50% off”. It’s on a yellow sweater. You pick it up thinking “Wow, what a good deal!” You try it on and it fits. Your significant other says, “Wow, you look good in this! I like it better than the red one.” Next thing is that you find yourself leaving the store with the yellow sweater in your hand. And then a few days later you see your friend wearing a red sweater and you remember that you always wanted to have a red sweater. Realizing that you didn’t get what you wanted, now you might get upset and blame the store that put on the sale, or your significant other who had a different preference than you. What you don’t see is that it was you who chose the yellow sweater at the end despite your desire for the red one. Do you go through life like this? You initially have what you want in your mind. Years later, you end up with something very different. You may blame the circumstances and get discouraged and bitter; or you may blame others around you and get angry.

Yes, there will always be things that influence you. Yet, who is the person finally picked the yellow sweater and walked out of the store? It’s you. You made the decision consciously or unconsciously. If you always blame the influences for your decision then you end up believing that you don’t have any choice. And you get stuck in that powerless trap where you think your life is totally at the whim of external circumstances.

We are facing choice every moment. It is obvious to you that we make choice about where to live, where to shop, what to buy, whom to associate with, what to cook for dinner, what to wear, whether to have children, etc. But do you know that we also make choices about our emotional response to things? Yes, we do. You can choose what to feel just like you can choose what to buy: a red sweater or a yellow one. And yes, there are many hooks and snares to distract you from your real choice and derail you from your track of action. But still, it’s your choice. Here is an example from my recent experience:

This morning, as we rushed to get our daughter Sophie to the daycare, my husband made a comment and I felt annoyed and hurt. I always want to be able to maintain an inner peace no matter what happens externally (the red sweater). When I felt the rush of annoyance in my chest and the tightening of the muscle on my face, the thoughts bubbled up: “what is wrong with him… I can’t have a relationship with someone who criticizes the way I talk… I want to tell him that he is wrong to do this to me…” It is very tempting to start telling him that he is wrong (like the big “sale” sign on the yellow sweater). But I remembered that I wanted the red sweater more. So I stayed silent. As we walked out of the house, my husband started to talk more about the incident and I found it more difficult to contain myself. I wanted to walk by myself so that I could cool down before I talked to him. But the same time I felt badly because I knew that he usually liked to walk with me. But I wanted the red sweater more. So I chose to tell him what I wanted. The alternative was to do what he wanted and feel angry with him as we walked. He agreed to turn back for home, and I had a good walk in the snow. It was peaceful! And once I came back home we were both calmer, and so we resolved the issue quickly. Whew! I got the “red sweater” that I always wanted!

Often, after you know what you want, other influences don’t just go away. You need to stick to your choice if you really want that. Just like in my experience, even though I chose peace, all the anger, defensiveness, and desire to win didn’t vanish. I had to keep choosing peace moment by moment. It is those moment-by-moment choices that help you get what you want. And if you choose something that doesn’t deliver the result you want, you know that you need to choose differently next time. Having choice is nice. Knowing that you always have choice moment-by-moment is empowering. I hope all of you have an empowering year of Dragon!