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Are you free?

Do you ever react to something or someone in the moment and later regret what you said or did? Me too!

For those of us who are highly emotional or reactive, it can sometimes seem like reacting in a certain way to circumstances or to people has become automatic, a habit that we are not able to control. It is almost as if we are locked into a pattern, unable to change it.

But conscious living requires us to realize that:

"Between stimulus (what happens to us) and response (what we do in response to what happens to us) there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Victor Frankl

Over the next few days, let us explore this "space" where we can choose our response. Why is this important? Because the ability to choose our response is what makes us human. That's why!

In his book Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl wrote that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to...

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Using the circles in daily life

It is so tempting to hang out in the Circle of Concern. I need not take any action, or any responsibility. I can just vent and complain and momentarily feel that I am engaged in life. At least I care, right?

Not a great formula for a life well lived, though, is it? It is energy draining and ultimately powerless.

This is why I need to move out of the Circle of Concern as soon as possible.

Here is how: every time I am frustrated or upset over something, I need to ask myself a simple question: What, if anything can I do to impact this situation?

If I can come up with actions that I can take (they can be tiny, minute even), great. Let me start acting upon one or some of them. Now I am in my Circle of Control. The more time I spent in this circle, the larger my Circle of Influence becomes. Can you see how?

If I cannot come up with a single thing that I can do (for example, about the US election - SIGH), I need to remind myself that I am hanging out in my Circle of Concern which is the...

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Where are you focusing your energy?

Where are you focusing your energy?

Once you have drawn your circles and written in them the things that you are concerned about and the things that you have influence over, it is time to get honest about where you are focusing your attention and your energy.

It is tempting to rant and complain about the things that concern us like politics, the economy, the weather, the lack of social justice in the world etc. etc. It makes absolutely NO difference to what we are concerned about.

Focusing our energy and our attention on matters that we cannot change or impact is guaranteed to bring about a sense of powerlessness and unhappiness in our lives.

But here's the thing: if we focus instead on things that we DO have control over, guess what happens? Our circle of influence grows.

So here are some things that I care about (Circle of Concern), followed by an example of something I could do to impact the situation (Circle of Influence):

My physical health – eat well, move and sleep
...

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What is in your circle of control?

Continuing with our exercise on what we control and influence in our lives . . . it is now time to draw one final circle. Place this circle inside your circle of influence. It will be smaller than the other two.

Your circle of control is those areas of your life over which you have direct control. Just pause and reflect for a bit. What are they? Go ahead and write down everything that you control in your circle of control.

What did you write in your circle of control? Did you write your children or your spouse? Really? Please do let me know how you control them as I have not figured out that one yet!!

It is common to write many things that upon reflection turn out NOT to be within our control. So go ahead and delete those now.

Upon a bit of reflection, it becomes clear that the only things we have control over are:

our attitudes
our words
our actions
and our reactions to what happens in our life

(Do we have control over our thoughts and feelings? That is an entirely different...

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Your circle of influence

Continuing with reflections on the what we control and influence in our lives. Just inside the circle of concern is another circle. This is our circle of influence. The Circle of Influence encompasses those concerns that we have some impact or influence over.

So go ahead, draw a smaller circle inside your circle of concern.

The actions we take, the things we say and how we interact with out world directly or indirectly impacts things in this circle.

What is in your Circle of Influence?

In mine I might put things like my relationships, the emotional climate of my home, whether or not my children feel supported, just to name a few. I also put my health and mental and emotional wellbeing.

It is powerful and potentially life changing to actually do this exercise for yourself.

Are you unclear about where to put certain things? Do they belong in the Circle of Concern, the Circle of Influence or somewhere else? It is ok to be confused or unclear about where things go. You can move...

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What are you concerned about?

One of the books that changed my life is Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Over the next few days, we will explore a tiny bit of the wisdom from this wonderful book (named one the most influential books of the 20th century).

Covey uses concept of the Circle of Concern versus the Circle of Influence to explain how we can take responsibility for our own lives.

The best way to understand these concepts is to actually do the exercise. It only takes a few minutes initially but has HUGE payoffs as you deepen your initial understanding.

To begin, take a piece of paper and draw a large circle on it. Please label this "My Circle of Concern". In this circle write down everything that you are concerned or bothered about in your life. Go on. Don't hold back and don't overthink it. The more you write, the more things are likely to come to mind.

The circle of concern is a VERY large one for me. It contains everything from climate change to the state of the Muslim Umma to the...

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The Difference between intentions and goals

A question that often comes up with setting intentions is this: What is the difference between goals and intentions?

Although goals can sometimes be confused with intentions, they are in fact quite different.

A goal is a desired outcome in the future. A goal is something that you set by thinking about a specific outcome that you want. For example, my goal could be to get a certain job, to achieve a milestone in health or to commit to a long term relationship.

An intention is about how we commit to showing up in our life everyday, regardless of what is happening around us. It is the guiding principle or value that we act from, and it is very much based in the present moment.

For example, an intention related to relationship might be "I intend to relate with honesty". This would be a guiding principle in my relationship regardless of whether or not my ultimate goal of being in a committed relationship is met or not.

Having a clear intention means that whenever I stray away from...

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Are you going with the flow?

It is so easy to 'go with the flow'. It is easy to let life happen to us, to experience life as it is happening around us, reacting to each day as it unfolds.

It is so easy, in fact, that we often do not realize that we are doing it. Things are happening around us, asking us to react to the urgent. When we are not reacting to the urgent, whether it is at work or with family, we are tempted to 'numb out', 'veg out' or 'chillax' with the steady stream of mindless entertainment which is SO readily and freely available.

The cost of living like this, of 'going with the flow' can be huge. If we do not stop to ask ourselves if this the life we want, if we are satisfied with the way we are spending our days on this planet, there is a good chance that we will end up dissatisfied, and feeling empty and meaningless.

As Rabbi Harold Kushner puts it, "Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry...

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Is it necessary?

When we are inundated with so many messages, specially in group chats and on social media, we have to learn to ignore what is not helpful.

There are times however, when it is wise to respond to messages that are not true or helpful.

If we receive something even as part of a group that makes no sense or is obviously false, it is tempting to avoid a response thinking that it does not concern us.

But here is the thing: each time we are receiving or hearing a message that is not true, there is a good chance that our silence will be deemed approval.

This is a time to speak up if you know something to be untrue or not credible.

If it is a group chat situation, it is best to message the person privately and request that they correct the information. This gives them a chance to save face rather than face the possible embarrassment of being called out in the group.

When we hold ourselves and our friends to a high standard of communication with truth and integrity, we can improve the cyber...

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Is it helpful?

Even if the messages past the first test of veracity, we must pause a moment to ask if it is helpful?

It is good to remind ourselves that if we don't have anything to say, it is perfectly acceptable to be silent. If we cannot add anything to the conversation, let us practice noticing our desire to fill up what feels like an uncomfortable silence. We can notice this feeling of the need to engage and not act upon it.

Our words are so much powerful when they are spoken intentionally and not just to fill the silence. The same is true for our messages.

Questions to ask to determine whether it is helpful:

  • Does it add to someone knowledge?
  • Does it inspire them in some way?
  • Will it bring a smile to their face?
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