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  • Jaime Lang

Choose Your Interpretation

We don’t always have a lot of control over what happens to us (from a Law of Attraction perspective you could argue that we do actually have control over what happens to us, but even then it would only be to a certain degree and would be dependent on your ability to line up your focus—so for the sake of this post lets say that we are not LOA experts and do not yet have complete control over the situations that show up in our lives) side note: this post actually also works with the principles of LOA to reduce resistance and allow set backs to be used in a beneficial way even though I’m not going to be spending too much more time on LOA specifically.

Sometimes things don’t go the way we expect them to and life can be really overwhelming or disappointing. In those circumstances, you might feel powerless and as though the negative things that have happened will continue to happen. This is a difficult spot to be in. It can feel a lot like being stuck in a dark hole or having life throw things at you constantly. I’m not going to say it is easy to realize or wield, but when you are in a situation like this you still have power. One of the most powerful tools you can use to help you get through these types of circumstances is the power of interpretation. Going through unwanted, painful circumstances sucks—but how you choose to interpret those situations can go a long way towards shaping your overall outcome. We always have the ability to decide how we will interpret the events in our lives. We don’t always choose exactly what we experience, but we do get to assign meaning to those experiences. Those meanings can have profound, long term effects on how we see ourselves, the world, and god or source. Those meanings both form and are shaped by our core beliefs and they often become the filter through which we see the world. This is crucially important because that filter will determine how you experience things, it will color the experience and shape the belief to give each situation a particular feeling. The feeling will tell you about your own views, but it will also be part of your life while you are here. If your filter lends itself to increased fear then overtime you will experience significant fear, but if it lends itself to love, joy, or confidence you will experience more of that, even in difficult circumstances.

The filter through which you experience your life directly impacts your perception of life. Choosing how you will interpret circumstances is one of the most powerful things you can do to change that filter and consequently change what you believe about yourself and your life. What you believe about yourself and where you stand in relation to your life shapes many of your decisions and has a direct impact on your quality of life, so being able to interpret events in a way that is beneficial rather than harmful can have a direct impact on the quality of your life.

Let me give some examples about circumstances that you can choose to interpret in different ways. Let’s say you are driving and someone cuts you off. When this happens you could interpret the situation by saying that the person was being careless or reckless and is jerk because of what they did. How does thinking that feel? For the most part, people become angry when they interpret this event in this way. That’s because it triggers fear related to a world in which there are careless people who are willing to cause you harm to get ahead. It increases your level of distrust and makes you feel like you need to defend yourself. Anger in this situation is your way of protecting yourself from people who do not value your wellbeing.

Instead of interpreting the situation as the person being a reckless jerk, you could interpret it through the idea that the person didn’t see you and probably didn’t mean to cut you off, it was done accidentally. In this case you might still see the driver as being careless but can also see that it might not have been intentional. You might still be scared and feel angry because someone could harm you by not paying attention, but it feels less like a direct attack. You might also be able to recall times when you accidentally almost hit someone that you didn’t see in which case you could trigger compassion or understanding.

Let’s interpret this same situation one more time, just for fun. Let’s say that you get cut off and think that person must be in a hurry, maybe they really needed to use the bathroom. This could elicit several different reactions, but generally I’ve seen it elicit understanding and humor. We can all relate to being in a rush because of the really uncomfortable need to use the bathroom. Relating to another inspires a feeling of connection and understanding while the bathroom situation creates humor. We might still be unhappy about being cut off but it is no longer personal or as scary, because we can see ourselves in the driver and also the humor in what it means to be human and have a body that needs what it needs at the most inconvenient of times. Maybe one of these interpretations is actually accurate for this situation, or maybe none of them are—but it doesn’t matter, because the actual reality is that you got cut off and you are unlikely to know why. How you chose to interpret that is up to you.

Another example with more pervasive implications could be that you applied for a job and didn’t get it. If you interpret this event as, “I didn’t get the job because I am a loser or a failure or I’m incompetent”—if you use any interpretation that says that there is some part of you that bad or wrong and will perpetually prevent you from achieving a goal, you are creating a severe amount of pain for yourself. This type of interpretation doesn’t say that you did anything wrong, it says some part of you is wrong and the emotional response to this is one of shame and hopelessness. It is not only painful for you to live through in that moment, but as long as you hold on to it as a belief you will struggle to apply for new jobs or try for things you are not certain you will achieve. This is because if you believe that you can’t do something because you are wrong and you cannot change you, then the logical response is to think that you cannot do the thing you want to do. Why should you try to do something you can’t do? And if you do try with the expectation of failure you will likely pursue it with either defensiveness or lack of confidence which will make it more difficult for you to achieve success.

Another way that you could interpret not getting a job could be to say “I didn’t get it because I am not well qualified”. If this is true, then this interpretation is less damaging because it implies the potential to create change. If there was a specific reason you were unable to get the job, then you could address the reason and be optimistic about obtaining a similar job in the future. You could also interpret it as “there might have been many other candidates who were also really good for the position”, from here you might feel frustrated but you could also look for ways of making yourself more competitive by re-working your resume or practicing for interviews. You could also feel like it would make sense to apply for more jobs to improve your chances. It might still be hard to compare yourself to others, but if you can see that it isn’t about you being inadequate then the event doesn’t hurt to the same degree. There are other interpretations, which could be helpful or harmful depending on you and your situation. For example, you could interpret it as not being the right job for you. This could inspire hope and trust in god or the universe since it is making sure you get to the right place, but it could also be used as an avoidance mechanism.

There are many ways to interpret circumstances and many more to interpret the pattern of circumstances that make up your life. How you interpret different situations goes a long way towards shaping your view of yourself and the world. This is why techniques like personal narratives can be so empowering. If you shift the way you tell your story, you can shift the way you see yourself. If you take charge of the way in which you interpret events, you give yourself permission to look for new explanations, explore different perspectives, and to see that you can choose to look at something in a way that benefits you in the long run.

If I don’t meet a certain goal I don’t have to interpret it by telling myself I am bad for failing. I can use it as an opportunity to acknowledge the courage it took to try something that was difficult for me and to develop compassion to understand the reasons I was unable to achieve it. Then I can address those reasons or accept them, but either way I have just created a better relationship with myself and grown in understanding. I have also made it more likely that I will try to reach that goal again (which will give me a better chance of succeeding at it later).

Changing our interpretation of a difficult circumstance does not mean that the circumstance will stop being difficult, but it can mean that we can use that difficulty in a beneficial way instead of a detrimental one. In order to use this tool, pay attention the next time something happens that upsets you. Think about the circumstance and ask yourself what it means to you and why it is upsetting. See if you can recognize how much of what you are telling yourself is an assumption. Can you change the parts that were assumed? If so think about some of the different alternative explanations for that circumstance and see how they feel. Which ones feel better and which ones feel worse? Think about what each interpretation means and how believing in that meaning will impact you as you move through life. Then decide which interpretation makes the most sense for you and allow yourself to tell the story with greater emphasis on that lens while acknowledging that you do not know everything with certainty.

Playing a game where you look at a situation that isn’t related to you and see how many different interpretations you can find to explain it can also be a good way to practice this skill. Doing this will help you develop discernment to differentiate between the objective event with no interpretation and the meaning added to an event and allow you to practice seeing things from different angles and observing the impact of those angles on emotions. To do this you could pick something like a sports event where the circumstance is that a certain team won. Then think about all the ways this could be interpreted from the players on each team or the audience and what it could potentially mean for them. It is easier to see different sides of things that are not personal, so practicing with events that don’t relate to you can help you develop habits related to looking at events and perspectives which make it easier to recognize and revise your interpretation of things that directly impact you later.

Choosing to interpret a difficult circumstance in a beneficial way is not the same as denying that the circumstance is difficult or painful. This does not mean invalidating the experience that you have had. What it does mean is looking at the meaning you attach to the experience and deciding if that meaning is beneficial or harmful to you in the long run. Once you recognize this you will find that you can choose whether you want to keep feeding the meaning that you have assigned to a circumstance or focus on a different interpretation instead. This does not mean that all the pain from a painful event will go away, only that you don’t need to add additional pain on top of it and that you don’t have to choose to prolong the pain beyond the event itself. It can be tricky when you are first learning to use the power of interpretation, but doing so can provide you with opportunities to challenge old beliefs and turn difficulties into steppingstones for future growth.

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