How do we stay above the line?
If you were asked the following question, what would you say is true for you MOST of the time:
Do you believe that you are generally at the effect of the events and circumstances in your life, or would you say that for the most part you feel like you are in charge of what happens in your world?
While at certain times we all feel like life is happening TO us, and that has been truer over the last 12 months possibly than ever before, it's interesting to consider, what is my default way of thinking?
Image from www.disoveryinaction.com.au
At Positive Living Skills, one of the key philosophies or beliefs that underpin the approach of our programs is the choice or decision we can make to believe that we are 100% responsible for the outcomes we achieve in our lives, and that we always have some level of choice.
Yes that is a big statement. 100% responsibility. How can we be 100% responsible for the results we experience in our lives?
We all know that logically there are many things that occur in our lives that are outside our control - the weather, actions or decisions from Government, other people's actions, an unexpected worldwide pandemic, some changes in our health, and accidents can change our world in an instant. We are not responsible for EVERYTHING that happens in our lives.
The concept or suggestion that we think is powerful and that we want young people to 'try on' is for them to consider this:
IF we take on the belief that the circumstances we find ourselves in have a lot to do with us, our thinking, our approach or our responses, then it helps us consider that there is something we can DO to help us change our circumstances.
It's all about EMPOWERMENT.
This concept is often associated with the idea of ABOVE THE LINE THINKING and developing a strong internal ‘locus of control’. The Locus of Control scale (you can assess yourself HERE) measures the degree to which a person believes that they can influence their outcomes or if they think outcomes are generally in the hands of 'fate' or others.
When faced with choices and decisions, above the line thinking is about possibilities, solutions, taking action (without being certain of what the outcome will be), decisions, support, acceptance, empathy, forgiveness, and self-belief in our ability to handle what comes our way, and that we are deserving of pursuing our dreams, and of love.
People who practice above the line thinking look at the current situation, work out whether that is causing them pain or pleasure, consider their options, consider the potential outcomes, accept that life is full of contrast, believe in their own ability to make change and move forward. They live more in the present and look toward the future. They think about where they are right now, where they want to go and how to move toward that direction.
Below the line thinking on the other hand is about blame, judgement, denial, and justification. And while there are certainly situations that are outside of our control, making the decision that things happen ‘to’ you and that they are mostly someone else’s ‘fault’ supports a lack of self-belief and helps us stay limited in our thinking, and over time can contribute to learned helplessness.
When we think below the line we might notice ourselves thinking or saying things like:
‘I want to …… but I can’t because……. is preventing me from doing or having it’, or ‘They made me…….... I had no choice.’
And when we stay focused on whose fault something is and what little we can do about the situation, we can get very stuck, where we can't see any choices or possibilities for positive forward motion for ourselves. And often when we are below the line we are focusing on the past, blaming ourselves or others or feeling guilty.
When we focus on guilt it can do so much damage to us. We can say yes to things we don’t want to do, or we can spend years beating ourselves up about something that happened decades ago; maybe a choice we made that had an outcome we didn’t like or that caused someone else pain.
When we learn how to start truly forgiving ourselves, then blame of others starts to fade away too, and we can live above the line more often.
Like anything that will move us forward, AWARENESS is the key. And yes we are all below the line sometimes. Of course we are - we are human beings, life deals us some poor hands at times and we are built to experience all the contrast and every emotion.
The great thing is that once you start applying this concept in your life and learning more about yourself, you can start to catch yourself when you are dipping below the line and you can help yourself cross the line (in a good way) more often.
Here’s one tip for checking which side of the line we’re on. Whenever you say ‘because’ or a version of that, you are talking about cause and effect, and you could be below the line.
‘I can’t start that exercise plan because I don’t have the money to join a gym.’
‘I didn’t do my best in that exam because my flatmates kept me up late last night.’
‘I’m not good with money because my parents never taught me.’
‘I can’t get a job because I don’t have the skills’
‘I just lost it. I couldn’t help it – she made me so angry.’
‘I have had some tough experiences in the past. That’s why I can’t have a relationship again.’
On the flip side, you can also use cause and effect language with volition to help keep you above the line.
‘Because of my experiences, I will make it my mission to help others.’
‘In spite of all the obstacles in my way, I will power through. I will find a way.’
‘I can give this a go because I trust my abilities.’
‘I can forgive myself, because based on the knowledge and resources I had available within me at the time, I did the best I could.’
‘I am letting go of guilt, because letting go is good for my mental and physical health.’
Will you always think above the line? Of course not.
The big question here is, will being aware of above the line thinking, and choosing it more often assist you in living the life you want to live?
Until next time
The PLS Team