Throughout our lives we’ve been interpreting and making meaning out of all kinds of events. Every even by itself is just an event, but the way we see it, the importance we give it, how it weaves into the fabric of our cells makes all the difference. This meaning that we make then goes on to affect how we interpret other things, it informs the choices that we make and the behaviors that we conduct.

For example, if I were to get pulled over by the police for speeding I might think “the world is out to get me” or “I need to slow down.” I may miss the possibility that this may have saved me from an upcoming accident. Some people say life is like a blank canvas, go ahead and paint your masterpiece. The problem with that statement is that life is not like a blank canvas because we bring all of our past experiences, woundings, traumas, and triumphs with us to the seat. If you were abused as a child that is going to have an effect on how you view and interpret relationships and the world. If you are a veteran who has just come back from war and saw some of your friends wounded or killed, that is going to affect how you make meaning of many different things in life. Many different forms of therapy ask us to shift the way we seeing things, have a different outlook on life. It’s not so easy.

However, it’s also important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, says that people can survive any experience if they learn to make a more positive meaning out of it. He says, “even the worst circumstance can be transformed by our minds.”  We do walk around the world shaped by our experiences and the meaning we give to events can have a dramatic effect on how we feel emotionally and physically.

So the practice is to become aware of the meaning we are giving events and think of our initial interpretation as one slice of a pie and then asking ourselves, “what’s another way I can see this?”  

Notice your initial responses to these and then consider the other:

  • When the boss walks down the hall and doesn’t say hello does that mean that s/he is mad at you or that s/he is stressed?
  • Does showing your emotions mean a sign of weakness or a sign of courage?
  • If you get turned down by a job, does that mean that it’s the end of the world, or potentially giving you the opportunity to land a job that you would like better?
  • If you’ve just been laid off, does it mean life is over or a new start?
  • If s/he’s not calling you back, does that mean s/he just isn’t that into you or that s/he is just busy?

What did you notice with your interpretations? There are all kinds of examples like this that come to us on a daily basis. When we’re feeling particularly anxious, depressed, or panicky during the day it seems almost impossible to perceive things any other way than with negative or crisis-oriented judgment. The truth is, an event could almost mean anything. See if you can try and practice seeing other pieces of the pie and then you be the judge as to how that shifts the way you feel.

As always, please share our thoughts and comments below. Your additions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.