Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation, one that is completely out of your control, thinking there MUST be something you can do to change it? Recently I had to close my business (a dance studio) due to the pandemic while I was still tied to an ongoing lease. It was one of those situations. Right in the middle of my own internal process of how best to deal with it, I met another business owner who was facing a similar challenge. She was filled with anger and bitterness towards landlords in general. As we talked, I realized that I had actually gone through a transformation from feeling trapped and victimized to now feeling completely free. I made multiple, conscious decisions to not only think differently about the situation, but to actually live differently, and it set me free.
Here’s a few steps of my process so the next time you’re feeling trapped in a situation that’s out of your control, feeling resignation or anger and bitterness, you have an alternative.
Separating Myself from My Thoughts:
When I closed the doors of my business, I thought I could negotiate myself out of my lease. I’d put a lot of upgrades into the space, I’d had some good will with the landlord and the pandemic was an aberration, she’d understand. No. I was wrong. She refused. Over and over again. Yes, I got angry and frustrated. I felt justified and I wanted to ‘make her understand’. After a bit of pouting, stomping and railing, I stopped looking outside and started looking in.
None of my thoughts or feelings about the situation actually impacted my landlord. Even if I directed my anger and frustration towards her, it wouldn’t change the outcome or affect her in any significant way. The only real impact was on my own well-being. I was the one who suffered from the negative thoughts that roamed around my head. You know the ones, they get stuck on repeat and keep you from falling asleep, or get you up early with another ‘zinger’ that you should have said. It was time to change that pattern. I had to detach myself from the thoughts themselves and tell a different story.
Easy to say, harder to do. How does one separate themselves from their thoughts?
Storytelling and Awareness:
In this instance, I used two skills sets: storytelling and awareness.
Let’s start with storytelling. Did you know that your thoughts are just stories, and the results of the stories you tell yourself? For example, the thoughts that were initially running through my head were all based on the story (simplified version alert) that I closed due to something beyond my control and therefore I should be let out of my lease. When I wasn’t, it got ugly in my head. My thoughts were taking me towards blame, helplessness, anger and bitterness. Plus I felt justified.
I didn’t like it so I sat down and made myself come up with 10 alternative versions of the story that I was telling myself (the one I was sure was the ‘truth’). Here’s the short version of just a few of those stories.
Original – My landlord is wrong for not letting me out of my lease and I need to make her see that she should do the right thing. Maybe I can take her to court.
V.1 My landlord was also impacted by the pandemic and needs my rent more than I do.
V.2 This has nothing to do with my landlord. I was a royal ass to someone in a prior life (i.e. held them to a contract they could no longer fulfill) and I’m being given an opportunity to change my karma!
V.3 Someone has been looking for a space exactly like this one that I created. If the landlord takes it back I will have to undo most of the renovations that I did and the person looking will either not notice the space, or will have to put the work in all over again!
Every one of the stories I wrote gave me a different point of view, and came with a different set of thoughts and feelings. After writing 10 versions I was laughing because some of them were outright crazy and outlandish. It didn’t matter. The point of the exercise was to get me out of the ‘yes, I know there are different ways of thinking about it, but my landlord is such a jerk’ spiral of thinking. It worked. Doing the exercise took me out of conceptualizing and into experience. I really ‘got it’ that – I didn’t know. I didn’t know “why” the situation was unfolding the way that it was and any thoughts I had about why, or what it meant, were just stories.
There were facts: I closed my studio and had an ongoing lease. “Why” I was being held to the lease and “what it meant”, those were all just made up stories, which meant I could choose any one that I wanted. The one that made me smile and laugh, or the one that made me bitter and angry. That’s freedom.
The second skill I used was awareness.
In order to change a thought, or a story, that is running, first you have to become aware that it’s there – catch it when it’s running. Many years ago I decided I wanted to be in charge of my thoughts, instead of them being in charge of me, so I started cultivating a daily practice of observation and awareness. I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to pause every hour – in that pause, I’d observe my thoughts. I wouldn’t do anything with them, or try to change them, I’d just observe.
The most interesting thing began to happen. When I observed a thought, without judgment or the need to change it, it would often dissipate with no effort from me. At the end of the day I would note the 3-4 thoughts that came up consistently as well as any that I found particularly interesting. That collection of thoughts gave me huge insights into the beliefs that were running my life. At that point, I could start the process of changing them.
Awareness, especially self awareness, is a powerful tool to have in your toolbox.
The Journey to Personal Empowerment:
Building skill takes practice, whether it’s learning to drive or changing thought patterns. It doesn’t happen overnight and the more energy you put into it, the more results you get. The practice of observing thoughts doesn’t create instant transformation. It takes time and consistently choosing to become aware of the thoughts that run your life. For me, the freedom I now have has made me very grateful for the energy I have put in – and continue to put in.
In my journey, there have been many times when I found myself triggered, unable to slow down the runaway train of emotions and thoughts, stuck in a single, debilitating internal story. In those instances, I took some space for myself. I allowed myself to leave the situation, communicating with those involved that I needed time alone to process. This ‘time out’ practice has kept me (time and again) from saying things I would regret later and allowed me to return to a place of clarity and empowerment.
Reaping the Rewards:
It may not seem like it, and this is a quest of self-empowerment. When you use these tools consistently you will notice significant changes in your life. For me, not only did my perspective on the lease situation shift, but I attracted new opportunities that more than covered what I paid to my landlord. My stress level plummeted and I actually enjoyed the 7 months that it took to find a sub-tenant. During that time I also met several amazing people that I would not have met had I been upset, angry and focused on getting my landlord to hear my old story.
By realizing that any story is as valid as any other story, it set me free to consciously choose the ones aligned with my desires and values, which created a more joyful and meaningful existence. The more I practice separating myself from the thoughts that define me, the easier it becomes, and the more freedom I experience.
Breaking free from the stories that are defining your life and reclaiming your personal power is a transformative journey. It begins with the awareness that thoughts are just stories (and results of stories), and that you have the power to choose which thoughts/stories to entertain.
Are you ready to play with your stories, set yourself free and change your future? If so, set an alarm on your phone right now and start observing the thoughts and stories that are running your life! What you’ll discover is fascinating.
In case this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m Maren, an executive life coach, speaker, dancer, and serial entrepreneur empowering you to step into your purpose and live your most fulfilled life. To learn more about how we can work together, one-on-one, to uncover your unique gifts and get you dancing with life, click here. For corporate trainings or inquiries regarding speaking engagements, please complete this form.