“The essence of greatness is the ability to choose personal fulfillment in circumstances where others choose madness.”
–Dr. Wayne Dyer
The woman who hit me stumbled out of her car screaming, “That was your fault!” Although I was a little shaken up and out of sorts from the collision, I was still pretty sure I wasn’t completely to blame. I mean, she was the one who ran a stop sign straight into the side of my car. As she kept screaming, I slid back into my damaged vehicle and looked in the backseat, thankful my daughter was still at school. When I first stepped out of my car, it was to assess the damage, not to get into a fight.
Even though this woman ran a stop sign, I had no intention of jumping out of my car to scream at her. I was eerily calm and collected—so much so that I wondered if something was wrong with me. When I first started driving, my father told me, “When you decide to take on the responsibility of driving, you have to be aware that there is always a risk and you are never in control of how other people drive. You only have control over your own vehicle. That’s why being aware and paying attention to the road and your surroundings is so important.” Although that woman clearly shouldn’t have run a stop sign, maybe I could have been more diligent. But regardless of what could have been done differently, the collision happened, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I was alive, my daughter wasn’t in the car, and the damage was fixable. So I stayed calm while the lady continued screaming nonsense and I waited for the police.
What applied to my car accident applies to life: You are only in control of yourself, not what other people decide to do. So many people walk around pointing the finger at everyone around them and losing their minds in the process. “They’re the reason I am angry.” “He’s the reason I can’t be happy.” “She doesn’t allow me to accomplish my goals!” People who hold on to beliefs like those will never get to where they want to go. They’ll always remain paralyzed by life, allowing their emotions to dictate the intensity of this roller coaster we know as life. Living this way is like choosing not to take control of your own vehicle, driving around with a blindfold on, wondering why you crashed into someone else.
Are you familiar with the most powerful super-strength of all? No, it isn’t being able to see through walls, becoming invisible, or even having the ability to fly. The most powerful super-strength is the ability to take responsibility for your actions. I know, I know. It sounds like something you’d tell your kid after he/she pushed Johnny off the swing. But I’m serious. Most people can’t or won’t take responsibly for their actions. In their minds, it’s everyone else’s fault. Until you take responsibility and deal with your shit, the same situations will keep coming around over and over again. The woman who hit my car could scream at me as long as she wanted, but if she never decides to take a look at her driving or how she contributed to the accident, her life will be filled with collisions.
Being in Control
“Happiness is easy, but learning not to be unhappy can be difficult.”
–Dr. Wayne Dyer
It’s probably clear to you by now that taking responsibility is powerful; but it may not be in the ways you might think. The minute you can see your part in the process and take ownership of it, you get to take control of your own life. Being in control of oneself is truly empowering. It’s what psychologists call living in an internally controlled emotional world. When you hand over your power to other people or daily circumstances, you live in an externally controlled emotional world. You’re waiting for things external to you to let you know how you should feel about your life. I’m eccentric enough to say that you are the summation of your thoughts and actions; if that includes blaming others, then you won’t be able to get out of the negative cycles that keep you from claiming your own life.
For many years my client, Brian, was thoroughly dominated by others. He had given up control of himself by blaming everyone else for everything that went wrong. The situations that occur in life, and the emotions they provoke, aren’t simply happening to you. People doing wrong or smashing into your car aren’t to blame for ruining your day. What ruins it is how you choose to react and respond to the emotions that arise. Once you come to realize that you can feel the emotions you choose to feel, you’ll begin your journey of looking within instead of outside. You won’t be a prisoner to others’ actions or to certain circumstances in life; instead, you’ll have the ability to choose—and this will bring you freedom. It took Brian a while to understand that. He first said to me, “It’s one thing after another and another. I can’t get a break.” Every time something didn’t go according to plan, he would have a meltdown and become upset with the world. He felt like someone was punishing him and the world was against him.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer said in his book Your Erroneous Zones, “Every feeling that you have was preceded by a thought, and without a brain you can have no feelings. . . . If you control your thoughts, and your feelings come from your thoughts, then you are capable of controlling your own feelings. And you control your feelings by working on the thoughts that preceded them. Simply put, you believe that things or people make you unhappy, but this isn’t accurate. You make yourself unhappy because of the thoughts that you have about the people or things in your life.” Brian and I worked on what he did have control over, which was how he decided to respond to the situations that occurred in his life. The more he decided to take life as it came, the fewer meltdowns he had. This helped him to feel that his life was more manageable. It turned out that Brian wasn’t so upset about his circumstances; he really just hated all the energy it took to get pissed off all the time. Once he saw that he was the only one who could control that, he felt a lot better about his life.
After the accident, I did what I had to do with the insurance company and moved forward with my day. I decided in that moment that I wouldn’t allow an accident to tell me how I should feel that morning. I wanted to have a nice day, so I had a nice day. In spite of all her screaming, and blaming, the woman who hit my car received a ticket. I will never know if at that moment she decided to take responsibility for her part in the accident. If she didn’t, I’m sure it won’t be the last. I leave you with more wise words from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “You can be motivated out of a desire to grow rather than a need to repair your deficiencies. If you recognize that you can always grow, improve, become more and greater, that is enough.”
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier