Remember, It’s Your Narrative

“How you handle even minor adversity might seem like nothing, but, in fact, it reveals everything.” — Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic

Every day we are met with dozens upon dozens of new situations. Whether it’s our friend’s latest post on Facebook or the person who cuts us off in traffic, these situations are constantly working to stimulate us, to elicit a response.

All too easily our day can be derailed by something as small as a middle finger or a poorly used emoticon. Just like that, we have surrendered control of our narrative to someone or something else.

If you find yourself constantly being provoked by one occurrence or another, try taking a step back and asking yourself these four questions:

1. Why am I responding the way that I am?

More often than not, we respond without thinking.

Maybe we share our latest blog post and the very first comment is critical, questioning our point of view. Immediately on the defensive, we fire off a response explaining all of the ways that the critic is wrong about us.

The situation quickly devolves into a war of words, consuming the next several hours of our life. When it finally concludes we are left feeling raw, exposed, and strangely like we’ve lost something vital, even if we “win” the argument.

This is a prime example of just how powerful the question “why” really is. If we had stopped to examine our feelings, the scenario might have played out very differently. This leads us to the next question.

2. Is this a reasonable response to the situation?

By taking a moment to pause and process we open ourselves up to several new pathways.

Perhaps we read the comment again and discover that it wasn’t quite as abrasive as it first appeared, enabling us to see that the poster had a valid point of view that we simply hadn’t encountered or considered before.

Maybe we stop to consider the critic’s motivations for posting the comment in the first place. Was there something careless in what we had written that tugged at old wounds? Is the poster having a bad day and unknowingly venting their frustrations on us? Miles away staring at a computer screen it is impossible to know definitively.

Even if it turns out that our initial instinct was correct and the commenter was just being needlessly abrasive, taking a moment to examine the true motivation behind our response and why we care so much about the opinion of one unknown person would still point us towards a different route, one that we can pursue by asking a follow-up question.

3. Is the situation that I am responding to within my control?

There are very few things in this world over which we truly exercise control. Most occurrences exist outside of us, such as the critic’s scathing opinion of our earlier blog post.

Even our body is not entirely within our dominion. A sudden accident or the onset of disease can quickly and mercilessly rob us of our ability to function independently. One moment we’re walking out to the mailbox to check the mail, the next we can’t even get out of bed without assistance.

So what, then, do we have control over? Our decisions. Our actions. Our responses. While outside sources can and do exert some influence over us, ultimately the final choice is our own.

4. If the situation is not within my control, is it worth being upset about?

If we became agitated over every element of our lives that is outside of our grasp, we would spend every minute of every day on edge.

By allowing ourselves to be provoked by this outside stimuli, we are, in essence, handing over the reigns to our life to anyone who just happens to walk by. Wouldn’t it be better to simply concern ourselves with what we can control?

This isn’t to say that we should deaden our emotions or stop caring about subjects that exist outside of ourselves. Rather, this is about reclaiming control of our own narrative by not allowing our emotional responses to enslave us.

Repressing an emotional response is rarely the answer. It will just simmer below the surface, growing stronger as it waits for the next opportunity to break free. Instead, when we can, we should acknowledge our emotions, feel them, and let them subside naturally, rather than letting them drag us into reckless action.

By simply taking a few seconds to ask: Why? Am I being reasonable? Is this within my control? And, is it worth it? We can save ourselves a great deal of turmoil and wasted time. We may even start to discover that by allowing ourselves to blindly be provoked in the past we created the majority of our own anxiety and suffering.

Do you want to go through life merely reacting to everything you encounter? Or would you rather dictate your role in your own story?