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The Power of Identifying Circumstances

What is a circumstance? We talk about them all the time, and they largely dictate our lives and actions based on what we think and feel about them. I think that’s basically the entire life experience in one sentence.

A circumstance according to the dictionary is a fact or condition connected with or relevant to an event or action.

We’ve all probably all heard to not be “a victim of our circumstances,” but what does this actually mean?

Let’s clearly define a circumstance in an example. Once again, it is a fact.

“That woman was rude to me.” — Is this a fact?

Nope! Thus it is not a circumstance. Rude can mean many different things to different people. That’s always how you know you’re having a thought about the circumstance.

Unless you have a direct quote the circumstance, in this case, would be: “A woman said words to me.” — A neutral statement.

Circumstances are inherently neutral. So, “A woman spoke words to me” is a fact. Then a thought about that circumstance can be “She was rude.”

Now, why bother defining these things? Well, it is for the sake of the superpower we all have but seldom use: awareness. By uncovering this, we get to discover the lens through which we see the world. We get to observe how we are thinking so we can really break down your mindset. Why is this useful?

The way you see the world creates your whole life experience. If we clearly define our circumstances and see that they are neutral (and really understand it) we may defuse thoughts/feelings and uncover beliefs we didn’t know we had.

Let’s take another example: “I’m broke.”

Now, what does it meant to be broke? Does that mean the same thing to everyone? Absolutely not. When referring to money most often we have solidified judgments that greatly contrast others based on how they were raised to think about money, what they’ve made their experiences mean, etc. So the circumstance here would be the beautifully neutral digits that are actually in your bank account.

I have $725.89 in my bank account (not my actual bank account, this is a hypothetical.).

That is a neutral circumstance. We all have judgments, assessments, that can make us feel so many different ways about this number. But it is just a number. Bill Gates probably doesn’t think this is very much money, but a college student probably thinks they’d be rich to have this much in their account at once. Numbers are neutral, our thoughts about them are not.

Questioning our thoughts is always productive. Inquiring about how we would feel without the thought about the circumstance is also usually very very helpful. Here’s a thought that I hear a lot from musicians in particular and one worth questioning:

“I’m not good enough.”

I’ve talked about this before, but this is a hard one to get. We usually mistake this thought for a circumstance. “Good enough” is an opinion. Let’s take an example that may lead to this thought pattern being triggered.

Circumstance: I wasn’t chosen as the competition winner.

Thought: I’m not good enough.

Most musicians have had this thought before. I used to believe it so deeply and had absolutely no idea that it was at the root of my feelings of inadequacy, unhappiness, etc.

Possible alternative thoughts (that are believable): “I loved my performance” or “My playing just didn’t match what they were looking for today.” This may seem trivial, and what does it REALLY matter if I believe in myself. Can’t I just fake it till I make it? (I would not recommend this, though I can see what people get out of it.)

If you view your life through the lens that you are not “good enough” you will always look for evidence of it. Our thoughts about neutral circumstances create our feelings. And for me, I’m just not willing to hold on to this belief, simply because it makes me feel really bad. Our thoughts shape our entire life experience.

“My playing just didn’t match what they were looking for today” makes me feel different than “I’m not good enough.” It tips the scale from negative emotion to positive emotion or even neutral emotion. Our emotions are how we experience life. The human experience is made up of emotions and thoughts about these neutral circumstances. Our emotions fuel our actions.

And you’ll never get positive results from a negatively fueled action.

Think about how this mindset can compound over time.

If your thought is “I’m not good enough” when you think of that competition, you’ll always associate that circumstance with that thought. So, when you compete again, what will the probable reaction or belief be? “I’m not good enough.”

But how can you believe you’re good enough to win if you haven’t won yet?! (Really good question.)

Let’s explore this further. If we don’t win the competition, and we think that on the other side of a win is the only to think we are good enough, then we try again. Let’s break this down.

Your circumstance is this new competition. Your thought about it is: “I’m not good enough” because that’s the belief you’ve been practicing. You probably feel inadequate when you think this thought. So from that feeling of inadequacy, what kind of action (or inaction) do you take? Probably practice with less confidence, you don’t make decisions as deliberately in the practice room, you probably try to get a bunch of people to validate your performance (teachers, peers, etc.). And then weeks of taking that kind of action culminate, you probably not winning the competition.

And this is just fuel to prove that original thought right. I was stuck in this circle until January of 2020 I remember the moment I realized that I had truly internalized the notion that I “wasn’t good enough.” My mindset worked for me in that I got some results I wanted sometimes, but gosh is it filled with misery and inadequate feelings all along the way. Now, through the tools of life coaching, I truly don’t believe that anymore.

We can even think about it this way. The way you play your instrument is completely neutral. It isn’t inherently good or bad. People will always have thoughts, opinions, judgments, etc. about it, but it is neutral whether you are a beginner or you have a DMA. That is how you know that you can’t action or practice your way out of your mindset. I was happily on my way out of my DMA when I discovered I’d still been believing I wasn’t good enough. Playing ability has little to nothing to do with our mindset.

So, how do you believe you are good enough to win the competition without winning the competition? Well, do you know someone (say your teacher or a player you think is amazing) who could easily win the competition and there’s no question in your mind that they’d be good enough. Have they won the competition yet? No. Then how can you believe that? You can just choose to think the thought: they are good enough. I’m not over-simplifying here, it is just that.

The key to everything here is to realize that our thoughts are optional and changeable through practice. I didn’t want to think I wasn’t good enough anymore. I didn’t want to think a lot of old thoughts I’d had about me, so I changed them. It takes time, but my life experience is 100% different than it was a year ago.

Your opinion of yourself is so important, because it shapes your entire experience, regardless of whatever neutral circumstance you’re in. Why would you choose to think that you’re not good enough? It may not seem like a choice, but now that you’re aware, you get to take responsibility for how you think and feel. And that’s a superpower I wish I’d had a long time ago.

If you want to work on your mindset, I am running a special on life coaching until the end of 2020: $15/hour sessions. I'd love to work with you! Fill out a form on the contact page or DM me on Instagram! (@chelseatannerflute)

Much love,

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