What do you choose for this day? (And you always have a choice.)

Even in the deepest of struggles, we always have the ability to choose our response.

In an early episode of Fixer Upper on HGTV, Joanna Gaines designed a sign that read, “Today is a good day for a good day.” As someone who generally dislikes typography-based home décor and grand visual reminders to be positive, I remember rolling my eyes.

However, that phrase remains with me years later, and despite my initial cynicism, I’m now a believer. Good days usually do not spontaneously happen. They are chosen.

Many of us allow our lives to be dictated by circumstances. Whether work stress, relationship struggles, chronic health conditions, or even which side of the proverbial bed we woke up on, we tend to view the course of our day as predetermined, beyond our control. It is what it is. For example, Mondays signal the end of the weekend, so I guess I’ll always hate this day of the weekThe next few weeks are going to be a nightmare until this project gets doneI slept poorly last night, so today is pretty much shot. Sound familiar?

The problem is that we give up so much of our power when we choose to take the backseat to circumstance. We fall into the trap of reacting and not responding to the internal and external events that come our way. Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” When we don’t take a moment to choose the kind of person we want to be, how we want to behave, what we want this day of our life to stand for, we miss out on the opportunity to improve ourselves and our situation, and we ultimately stay stuck.

Importantly, this is not to dismiss the intense pain of certain life experiences or to suggest that we should adopt a Pollyannaish mindset. Terrible problems can come into your life that you do not deserve and cannot easily smile your way out of. Here, rather than pretending things are different than they are, the goal is to appreciate that even in the midst of challenge and struggle, even when it feels like 99.99% of what is happening to us is beyond our control, we still have 0.01% that is ours. To weather difficult times and to live in line with who we want to be, we have to seize that which we have control over, however little. And even in the deepest of struggles, we always have the ability to choose our response. (For a moving exploration of this idea, read Frankl’s account from his time in a Holocaust concentration camp, Man’s Search for Meaning.) 

Here are some ways to make intentional choices about your day or even this moment:

  1. Set a guiding value, principle, or intention to revisit throughout the day. If I chose “compassion,” I can challenge myself to respond to others (and myself) in the most compassionate way I know how. If I catch myself behaving in a way that is not compassionate, I can nonjudgmentally correct course by remembering my intention. Other options include gratitude, confidence, or even a phrase like, “Today, I choose joy.” You can even invoke your role model and choose to live today the way you imagine they might.
  2. Identify a part of your daily routine when you often fall into “autopilot” and make the conscious choice to do something different. Do you usually settle on the couch with a glass of wine after work, without even thinking? Today, take a ten-minute walk first.
  3. In a moment of stress, frustration, sadness, or other difficult emotion, ask yourself, “At my wisest, most courageous, and most loving, how would I respond to this situation? What would the best version of me do in this moment?” Embody that imagined version of yourself and allow him/her to respond accordingly.
  4. Before answering someone in a challenging conversation, count to three in your mind. Give your brain a beat to respond and not react, so you do not say something from a place of distraction, habit, or pure negative emotion.
  5. Try opposite action, a technique from dialectical behavior therapy in which we combat intense emotions by behaving in a way that directly opposes that emotion. Think “fake it ‘til you make it.” Feeling angry? Pause and do something that is in line with joy and kindness, such as smiling or complimenting someone. Anxious? Take a deep breath and stretch your body, channeling calm. 
  6. Even in the midst of a truly rotten day, do one small thing you can do for yourself to spark a moment of contentment, joy, or gratitude. Change your mental lens to really savor, steep in, and magnify this positive moment. Maybe your partner or child hugged you tightly, or you took a few seconds to feel the warmth of the sun on your face. There is no moment too small to move the needle in the direction of a good day.

The beauty of any of these “resets” is that they needn’t happen only first thing in the morning. Every moment is an opportunity to start over. You can even choose differently up until the moment you hit the hay. Today, try making the choice to respond and not react.

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