Each one of us faces a storm of chaos in our lives. Depression, anxiety, heartbreak, disappointment. Chaos is a death in the family, a loss of a job, a heated divorce. Chaos is being in debt, being born into a poor family, spending more money than you earn. Chaos is suffering from health problems, weight problems, eating problems. Chaos is not knowing what’s next, not knowing your purpose, not knowing why traumatic things happened to you.
How we respond to chaos is everything. People become successful when they can expertly respond to the chaos in their lives and organize it to suit their own purposes. Likewise, people become miserable when they can’t live with the chaos in their life and let it break them.
Chaos is the enemy of peace because, at its core, chaos sows uncertainty. When we experience chaos, we cannot find a resolution. We can’t suss out a meaning, so we suffer.
While chaos is a negative experience, it’s not a negative aspect of our lives. Chaos is a painful teacher of wisdom and test of our strength. Chaos is the heavy barbell in the gym of life. When chaos rolls up to our feet, we can learn the proper technique to lift it up and grow our strength.
There is a way to organize chaos and transform it into peace. It’s systematic but difficult. And it starts, with acceptance.
What’s the first step to reducing the chaos in your life? You accept that it’s there.
You’re not built to accept chaos. The human mind likes to craft stories around anything it can get its hands on. We all buy into a narrative fallacy that our lives are supposed to be a seamless story arc that gently glides in a single direction from a perfect childhood to a peaceful passing on. But if you’ve lived a day of life, you know that things are rarely smooth nor hardly ever goes in a straight direction.
While your head might know that life is chaotic, you have to feel this knowledge in your body. You have to live this knowledge in your life. If you’re reading this for an intellectual understanding of how chaos and peace play out in people’s lives, you’re going to lose the game of life because you’re in the bleachers and not on the field.
Most of us are in the bleachers. Most of us are spectators watching ourselves go through life. Like an overbearing parent at their kid’s soccer match, we yell out commands to the person on the field as if we know any better than they do. We use our minds to shortcut our hearts — often because we’re scared to feel what we, deep down, know we’re feeling. We berate ourselves with hacks — lifehacks, productivity hacks, creativity hacks, happiness hacks. But if we cannot access our emotional center, these hacks will push your emotional core down before it has the chance to get up.
To step into our lives, we need to step into our emotions. We need to step out of our bodies and feel the chaos around us. To face our fears, we need to see them clearly for what they are.
Your mind doesn’t want this to happen. Your mind likes the status quo, even if it’s shitty. Your mind can send you into periodic depression and anxiety as a defense mechanism to keep you from digging into the chaos that is really disturbing you. And in this, your mind does you a huge disservice by cheating the person you are at the moment for some chaos separated from you by time.
If you want to truly embrace the chaos in your life, you have to look it in the eye and not flinch. You cannot avoid opening your banking app because you don’t want to see how low your balance is. You cannot avoid the gym because you feel you’re out of shape already. You cannot avoid your partner because you feel there’s tension between the two of you. You cannot avoid your emotions because you feel they are too strong to experience.
Instead, run towards them. Run towards all of them.
As you run towards life, you will do best if you keep moderate expectations for what will happen to you. Understand that people get dumped, stood up, fired, used, abused, shamed, humiliated, and crushed. And that person might sometimes be you.
Once you’ve been able to see the chaos in your life for what it is, you can move onto the next stage: turning the internal experience of chaos into an internal experience of peace.
Transforming Inner Chaos into Peace
Imagine a person has robbed a store and is subject to an order of law that will prosecute them. They stand before a judge and jury, waiting for their sentencing. The jury reads the verdict. “Guilty.” The judge sentences the person for 2 years in prison.
How does the person who committed robbery feel about the sentencing? They feel chaos — their life has taken an unpleasant turn that they don’t feel they deserve. How does the store owner feel about the sentencing? They feel peace — this person caused damage to them and it will now be repaid.
How do you feel about the person’s sentencing? Would you feel differently if they robbed the store at gunpoint? Would you feel differently if the person was a struggling mother trying to find food for a malnourished young child? Would you feel differently if the sentence was 10 years? Would you feel differently if they were robbing a jewelry store? What if the person was set up?
This thought exercise shows that as humans, we can appreciate order but never truly experience it. Chaos and order are often placed as opposites, but wrongly so. The order in the law of gravity can be the peace that keeps our feet on the ground or the chaos that crushes us if we came near a black hole. When we can’t find order — a good cause, effect, and guarantee in events in our lives — we experience chaos. But when we have surety in the present and future, we experience the order as peace. Thus, peace is the subjective experience of order. We each experience peace when order suits us.
To begin experience peace in your life, you first must experience peace within yourself. In ancient times, kingdoms fell into chaos when the personal lives of their kings fell into darkness. The same is true for us. Our kingdoms — our business, finances, relationships, families, careers — fall into chaos when we are not centered internally.
Unless you’re a meditator, nobody has told you that your breath is your best friend. You’ve been with your breath since the day you were born, and you will be with your breath until the day you die. It brings life to you without you ever needing to ask for it.
Your breath is a reminder that you’re alive. Even if you feel like you can’t continue to live, your breath will remind you that your body believes you can.
You can breathe through anything. When times become extremely hard, your breathing can become the clock ticking down to feeling peace. If you’re suddenly overwhelmed by a flood of negative, suffocating emotions — breathe. Breathe until they go away. Breathe as if each breath takes minutes off your terrible experience — because your breath does.
If you struggle to breathe through negative emotions, try a lopsided box breathing. Breathe in for 6 counts — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — hold for 6 counts — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — breathe out for 6 counts — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — hold (with no breath) for 8 counts — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Repeat as much as you need to.
Secondly, we have to guard our perceptions. Until we die, things will usually always work out for us.
And even then, if you’re a person of faith, dying works out for you too.
But we get in trouble when we perceive that things will work out for us in the way that we expect. Life has a terrible habit of meeting our goals by winding its way around the easy path and guiding us right through the rose bushes.
To help control your perceptions, study the great Stoics Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. Each of them will teach you how while you cannot control your circumstances, you can control your response to those circumstances. You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond. And in that is a strength that blossoms into greatness.
Transforming Outer Chaos into Peace
After accepting that life is chaos, you might want to immediately calm the chaos of the externals in your life — your business, your finances, your relationships, your family, your job, your marriage, your body, your faith. But to create external peace, you must still create peace within yourself first. Otherwise, you run the risk of believing your life won’t be complete until you’ve achieved a moving goalpost.
The way to create outer peace is well-documented. Books, podcasts, mentors all show you how to take your externals in disarray and turn them around. Since you’ve done the work of cultivating inner peace, you’ll value yourself enough to stick with it when things get hard.
Once you’ve reached this step, put down this article and go pursue what you want in the world. Now is your time to create your empire. Go out. Study, network, and hustle. There is a blank page in front of you to write down how you’re going to change the world.
Where are You?
Take a moment to assess yourself along this path. Nobody is perfect at navigating chaos. But, on average, which describes you:
- I have difficulty accepting chaos in my life.
- I have difficulty finding inner peace inside of chaos.
- I have difficulty changing the circumstances of my life.
Re-read the corresponding section and reflect on why you struggle with a particular part of this process. By working through that roadblock, you will unlock the pathway to a better life.