February 22, 2022

Episode 27: Circumstances are neutral

Winning the lottery, being diagnosed with cancer, learning amazing tools at 20 or at 40… Is it really possible to feel good in all of these circumstances? Let’s have a look at what I mean by “circumstances are neutral” and by finding a better thought to think in each situation.

What you will discover

  • Why neutral doesn’t mean equal
  • Why thinking better thoughts isn’t the same as being right or wrong
  • How losing your horse is sometimes the best outcome
  • And many practical examples.


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

Hi, welcome to the excellent rider podcast! I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again, and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo. And to start today, I would like to thank Skibilou who left a really nice review on Apple Podcast for the podcast.

that person writes: "useful and fun! I just discovered this podcast and I love Mélanie's style. You can tell that she's passionate about what she does, and she has a way of explaining things that make it really easy to understand. She uses the perfect examples to make us see what she means.

I just listened to the episode about the perfect mentor and it is so insightful. It may me want to do the exercise immediately. I recommend, 100%." So thank you so much Skibilou for leaving that review, it's super helpful; both to the people who want to discover this podcast because more reviews mean more visibility, and so it's easier to find the podcast. And it's also very good for me because it put me in a very, a very good mood. Or to be very frank, it's not the review that puts me in a very good mood;

it's all the good thoughts I have when I read the review. And this is exactly what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the fact that our circumstances are neutral. This is something that I say again and again and again. And you, if you've been listening to the podcast for a while, you've heard me say this many, many times, and I want to explain a little bit better what I mean today, because I know a lot of you might feel triggered when I say that your circumstances are neutral.

So when I say that, I don't mean that all circumstances are equal. I don't mean that it's the same to win the lottery or to be diagnosed with cancer. And I don't either mean that what you see about your situation is wrong or that you're delusional or that your thoughts are always untrue. That is not at all what I mean.

When I mean, is that your feelings are always created by your thoughts, never by your situation. And in that sense, the situation is neutral because you might decide that it's a good situation, or you also might decide that it's a bad situation. That choice is always available to you. So some situations make it easier to think good thoughts and some situations make it harder to think good thoughts, but it's always possible to find thoughts in a situation that create the kind of feelings that will help you towards your goal. Whatever your goal is.

I mean goal in the most possible general sense now. I don't necessarily mean that it's a specific target, like getting a specific job or losing 10 kilos. It can be just the goal of being the kind of person that you want to be; the kind of person that you're proud or that you enjoy being, right?

So one really important concept here is to understand that it's never about whether your thoughts are true or not. It's always about whether your thoughts are useful or not. And by useful, I mean, are your thoughts creating the kind of feelings that are helpful to you in this situation? So let me take a few examples of different situations so that I can clearly explain what I mean when I say that circumstances are neutral.

So let's take a super easy example: it's the weather. So I'm looking at the weather right now, and it's a typical day in Sweden in the winter, so it's gray, it's getting dark and it's a very rainy. So one person might look at the window and think, "what shitty weather!" and when you're thinking, "what shitty weather", you feel a little bit discouraged.

It's not a specific discouragement. It's not tied to one particular task that you have to do, but it's just a generic discouragement. And that will taint everything that you do the whole day. So the whole day, you will do things with a little bit less cheer in your step, because you're thinking in the background, what shitty weather.

And so you're not going to get the same type of results that you normally get, because you're not going to put the same kind of cheery energy that you would normally put. And so then you're going to look at those results and it's going to confirm your generic impression that this was not a very good day.

And so you have just taught yourself how to believe even more for next time it rains that this is shitty weather. But another person, for example, the farmer down the road, might look at the exact same weather and might look at the fact that it's raining and think this is amazing because the tomatoes are going to grow - or whatever grows in the winter in Sweden, maybe, oats or something like that.

So I'll give you another example of the fact that circumstances are neutral in the sense that, again, it depends on how you look at them to make them mean that it's a good thing or a bad thing. A typical example I can give is the, if you win the lottery versus you're diagnosed with cancer.

So if you are, if you win the lottery, it's easier for most people to think good thoughts in that context or so you would think. But the statistics shows that about 70% of the people who win big amounts in the lottery, like at least a million euros or more; about 70% of those people completely get rid of all the money within the next two years.

So they make silly investments or they give it all away or they like for whatever reason they get rid or they don't have the money anymore after two years. The reason for that is simply that for most people, actually, it is quite difficult to think great thoughts about a lot of money when you're not used to having a lot of money.

So this incidentally is why the first month of my membership program, which I am launching in April is going to be dedicated to thoughts about money. Because if you want to make more money, or if you want to have more money, or if you want to get rid of your debts, you need to completely change the way you're thinking about money.

So when you win the lottery, even thought it sounds like you're going to have great thoughts about having so much money, a lot of people actually revert very, very quickly within the next couple of days to thoughts that are not helping them about money. I'll give you an example. Maybe you believe that "rich people have no friends" or that "rich people are all selfish".

So if you have a belief like this, when you don't have a lot of money, it's completely fine. And actually it's probably because you think these kind of thoughts that you don't have a lot of money, but when suddenly you have a big influx of money, then suddenly you are the person who risks having no friends, because maybe you think that rich people only meet people who are interested in them because of their money or wanting to take their money.

So what's really interesting is to understand that even a situation that immediately sounds like it would create a lot of good thoughts. Like you would start to believe, you know, like "all my troubles are over" or "I'm going to have an amazing life".

It actually can trigger a lot of thoughts, which are not going to be helpful. And it's a bit more subtle because it's not that you're thinking that it's horrible to have a lot of money. It's just that you're sinking a side thought, like "rich people have no friends", which will make you want to get rid - subconsciously of course, huh - but will make you want to get rid of that money as quickly as possible because you value friendships much more than you value money. And that's a bit sad because you could be very rich and have all of your friends and just, you use your money in a way that is more helpful to you, to the world and to the kind of values that you embody.

Another example is being diagnosed with cancer. So for most people it's easier to think thoughts that create a lot of negative feelings when you get this kind of diagnosis. And it probably is the kind of situation in which you need to dig a bit deeper or spend a little bit more time to find useful thoughts.

Because we are taught, by society , by everything that having a diagnosis, that means that your prognosis is engaged is a bad thing. And again, there are people who think differently. If you've had a long and beautiful and amazing life, you might not feel so threatened to pass away soon, right?

I had a client who was diagnosed with cancer. So she was an older lady. She was maybe 75 or something like this. And she was diagnosed with cancer and she knew that she had about, she had a few months to live.

And she felt really sad in particular because she was thinking all the time, "I can't find my place with people when I'm sick" and we worked a lot on that thought. So what she meant is that it was very difficult for her to be together with the people she loved in her life, because the cancer was taking over all of the conversation and it was very difficult for her to just be normal.

And it was very difficult for the other people to just be normal and have normal moments. It felt like there was a big elephant in the room all the time. And so she, she felt very sad because of that. So she believed, I can't find my place with people when I'm sick. And we worked on that thought and she noticed she actually had that thought all of her life.

It's just that instead of "when I'm sick", she was using a different ending of the sentence , depending on different moments of her life. So she was always believing, "I can't find my place with people". And then she was adding different quantitative depending on the different circumstances.

And when she noticed that, she burst out laughing because she really noticed that it was a self-imposed restriction. And when she started thinking a different thought, I can't remember exactly what thought we had picked, but something like, "I choose to love the people I'm with", or "I choose to love the moments I spend with the people I'm with".

She started to really enjoy those moments. And it means that the last few months of her life were amazing in terms of connection and in terms of presence and in terms of being together with other people. And that was made possible by the diagnosis because she probably would have never explored these kinds of questions had this circumstance never been as dramatic as the one that she was in.

So again, it is not the same thing. I'm not pretending that it's the same thing to win the lottery or to be diagnosed with cancer. I'm just saying that one situation apparently makes it easier to find one type of good thoughts.

And the other situation apparently makes it easier to think bad thoughts. But if you look for a helpful thought, you can find one in any situation. Sometimes it takes a little bit more work and sometimes it takes a little bit less work. That's just the way it is. So let's take a few more examples. There's a little story that I like a lot, which is the story of this, a farmer who had a horse and one day his horse disappears.

And so all of his neighbors are telling him, "oh poor you, you lost your horse. What a dramatic event. You're not going to be able to do your work without your horse. This is a really bad situation." And the farmer answers, "Maybe. Who knows? We'll see."

And then a few days later, his horse comes back to the farm and together with his horse comes a wild horse that has followed his, the domesticated horse back to the farm.

So all the neighbors are like, "wow, you have two horses now! What an amazing situation! This is so great! This is such a good turn of events!" And the farmer says, "Maybe. Who knows? We'll see". And then a few days later, his son is trying to teach the wild horse how to carry a human being on its back and the horse throws the son down to the floor.

And the son breaks his leg. So all the neighbors again, "Oh, what a horrible situation. Your son has broken his leg, this is so sad, etc". And the farmer - I think you start to understand - answers, "Maybe. Who knows? We'll see". And then a few days later there is a war that breaks out and the recruiters come to the village to take all the young able-bodied men to war and to make them soldiers.

And of course, because his son has a broken leg, they don't take him. And so all the neighbors think, "oh, what an amazing turn of events", etc. etc. And the farmer of course says, "Yeah, we'll see, who knows, you know, we'll see how things turn out". So I like that little history because it shows you that you can pretty much make anything mean anything.

It's just a matter of applying yourself and trying to think a little bit outside of the box and trying to notice, how could you look at this situation in a way that doesn't make it threatening, but just makes it as a way of learning something of value. If you, maybe you lost something physical, maybe you can gain something in terms of skills that will have made it worthwhile.

And I know that for myself, many of the worst experience I've had in my life, I don't really want to live them through again, but I know that I have gained so much. I have gained so much depth. I have gained so much empathy for other people. I have getting so much control of myself thanks to going through those episodes that I am actually grateful that I have lived through them.

Again. I feel grateful. I don't want to live in them again, but it simply teaches you how to look at situations in a different way.

So this ability to think differently about your circumstances and to find how your circumstances might actually be good, or how you might actually be able to think good things in those circumstances. That is not something that you need to get right away.

It's a process. It's a practice. It's something that you get better at. But you need to try in order for you to get better at it. So the more you ask yourself, how could I perhaps interpret the situation completely differently? How does this situation happen for me and not to me? How might somebody different than me look at the same situation and think that there's an opportunity here?

The more you challenge yourself to sincerely find how that could be true. And sometimes it's difficult. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy and sometimes it takes several days to find a different interpretation, but it's always possible. The more you do it, the easier it will be for you to notice a different interpretation and the more you will learn how to create a better interpretation of the same situation, something that is more useful to you because it creates the kind of feelings that will help you take the kind of action that takes you in the direction of your goal.

So I'll take another example: if you've just been fired, being fired in and of itself is neutral. You may be feeling a lot of distress right now because you're making it mean something that is negative.

So for example, you're making it mean that you're no good or, or that you're going to be in a disastrous financial situation or that it will be very difficult to find another job. And some of these things might be true, but none of them is helpful because of the feelings that they create for you. So, what you can choose to do is you can choose to place your attention on something different.

So I'm not talking about pretending that you have not been fired, and I'm not talking about trying to convince yourself that being fired was the best thing that ever happened to you. That's not at all what I mean. I just mean placing your attention on something different. If I give you an example, instead of looking at the situation, in terms of black and white, in terms of colors, for example, you might look at the situation and think, oh, it's a triangle.

So you're just placing your attention on a different plane. So you're not trying to pretend that it's not white and convince yourself that it's black. You're just trying to notice that there's a different plane possible. And you could also describe the situation as a triangle, or you could also describe the situation as 50 degrees.

You know, so, so just look at it from a completely different plane that means that your attention will be brought on something different that is more useful to you because it creates a different kind of feeling. So if you've been fired, you could place your attention on what skills you have that will make it easier for you to find a new job or how resourceful you're going to become as you're looking for solutions to your finances over the short term.

Or maybe, how resilient you are, that you are able to both be fired and take such good care of your children and be fully present with your children in the hours of the day that you are with them. And there's so many different ideas and so many different ways that you could look at the situation.

Let's take another example. Maybe your partner doesn't fill the dishwasher in the way that you like, and that is driving you insane. And it's driving you insane not because of what your partner does or doesn't do. It drives you insane because of your thoughts, because of what you make it mean.

And if you dig a little bit into why you, why it drives you crazy that your partner feels the dishwasher in that specific way, or doesn't feel the dishwasher or doesn't empty it or whatever beef you have going with the dishwasher. You will notice if you ask yourself, but why is that a problem?

And, but why is that a problem? And, but why is that a problem? If you like ask yourself this several times until you notice what really is the core problem, you will notice that you're making it mean that your partner doesn't really respect you or something similar, or that nobody cares if you rest or nobody appreciates your work or something like this.

And that's the thought that is making you suffer because the dishwasher being filled in one way or another. That's completely neutral. And so you could completely turn around your thoughts and learn how to believe something different, which is that when the dishwasher is not filled the way you want, it's an amazing opportunity for you to learn how to manage your thoughts.

And if you would believe that, then you would welcome the fact that your partner doesn't feel the dishwasher in the way you like, because every single time it would be an opportunity to catch your thoughts and become a master at managing your thoughts. So your partner is actually giving you an opportunity to master a skill that is super useful for your life.

And that's a way of looking at the situation. I'm not saying you have to buy it. I don't, I'm not saying you have to believe it that way, but it's an opportunity. It's a possibility. I'll give you last example. Many of my clients look at their lives and they feel disappointed at where they are.

They think that at this age, they should already be at this or that level. They should already have done this or that started the company or become a senior vice president or a CEO or whatever. And I used to be exactly the same. But the issue there is not where you are in life right now, because that, again, it's a neutral circumstance.

The issue is what you make it mean. And maybe you're making it mean that you're not good enough, that you don't have what it takes; or maybe that the rest of your life is not going to be so enjoyable. I used to think like that. And now I think completely differently. So for example, I discovered all the tools that I'm sharing with you now.

I discovered them when I was 44 and I'm 47 now. And I could think, oh, I have wasted so much time. Why didn't I discover these tools 20 years earlier? Think of all the progress I would have made in my life, think of where I would be by now, if I had discovered them 20 years ago, or, you know, I could completely lament that and be disappointed, et cetera, but that would just be continuing to apply my previous mindset to my new circumstances or my new situation.

But instead what I have chosen to believe, and I sincerely believe it. Like, I sincerely think that this is true because I have chosen to believe that, and I have chosen to create a lot of evidence for myself or find the evidence that this is true. What I believe is that if I had discovered those tools 20 years ago, I would not have been able to recognize their true value.

I needed to live all the things that I have lived in the past one years in order for myself to understand what these tools are and how to use them and how amazing they are. If you had told me when I was 20, in the very poor relationship I had with my mother, that the reason I had a very poor relationship with my mother was because of the thoughts I had.

I would have blown in your face. I would have told you, there's no way that's true. This is, this is completely bullshit. The reason I am miserable is because of what she's doing, or rather what she's not doing. And now it's so obvious to me that what was creating my misery in that situation is that every single time I was in the presence of my mother, I was thinking atrocious thoughts about myself.

And it doesn't make the behavior of my mother good or bad. My mother still does the same thing now that she used to do 20 years ago. And I don't always agree with what she's doing or I don't always agree with what she's saying, but it never puts me in the kind of powerlessness or rage or despair that it used to put me in 20 years ago, because I don't make it mean the same thing at all.

Now her behavior is her behavior. That's just what she chooses to do. It has nothing to do with me, with how good I am as a person, with my worth as a human being, with what is possible for me in my life, with... all of that is completely disconnected from me now. And in this way, I'm able to be fully happy and fully present with her and fully love her.

Even though I don't always condone what she's doing or what she is saying. So what I have decided to believe about my past or about my life or about the fact that I have discovered these tools only a few years ago is not that, it's too late , or I've wasted so much of my life or whatever.

What I have decided is that all the experiences I've had so far, they have made me able to welcome those tools. All of these experience, they were part of the curriculum. I cannot just highlight one part of the curriculum and decided I only wanted that because I would not have understood it if I didn't have all the lessons that came before.

So the lessons that came before they made me ready and they made me open. And I think you can look at any situation, and find your own angle and your own way of looking at the situation that will create for you, the kind of feelings that will help you really embody and really be the kind of person that you want to be in the world.

All of that is just one thought away, always. So look for that thought and figure out what is the way you can look at this situation that makes this precise situation or this precise person that you're confronting right now, the best classroom or the best teacher for what you need to learn in order to become the kind of person that creates the kind of result that you're after.

If you found this episode helpful and you want to help the podcast, well, the best way is to do like skibilou in the beginning of the episode, and to share it with other people. Either by leaving a review or by tipping a friend about it. If you want to go further, you can check out my coaching program on excellentrider.com.

We study these concepts that I share with you on the podcast in much more details, we go into much more depth, and I show you in more details how to apply them to your specific situation. And I also help you create the results that you're longing to create.

Thanks a lot for listening today. And remember that even when you can't get yourself to do what you want, even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops. And even when you don't believe it, especially when you don't believe it: you're not broken. You're not flawed. And you're not jinxed.

You're just learning how to be an excellent rider. There are no bad horses, only untrained riders.

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