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We Are Our Choices

My husband spoke at a conference in Jekyll Island last week and I tagged along so that we could enjoy some 1:1 time after he was done. However, less than 24 hours upon arrival, I was down for the count with Covid. Noooo!!!! Twice in three months? Are you freaking kidding me?!

I had big plans for our weekend- yummy meals, time hanging at the beach, poolside drinks, bike rides, and naps. Instead, I spent Friday and Saturday isolated in our hotel room feeling rotten and having a major pity party for myself in between naps. Every time I heard someone laughing outside I was resentful and just thinking about my husband sitting outside enjoying the view while I was stuck inside was frustrating.

By Saturday night my body was much less achy, and I even had a little appetite. As my husband ate seafood takeout across the room while I sat un-showered, in my pajamas in bed enjoying a Dairy Queen Blizzard for dinner, I looked over at him and realized this moment was what the “in sickness and in health” part of our vows was all about. And then all of a sudden, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

I mean, of course, I’d prefer to be sitting on a beautiful beach in Bali with a drink in my hand! But no, what I felt in my hotel room was a peaceful acceptance of what was. Right here, right now.

I looked around the room and took in all the details. I wanted to cement the moment in my mind along with thousands of others we'd collected over the years. We'd definitely had much more fun, and also much more difficult, times together but this one still deserved to be added to the collection.

No, the weekend didn’t turn out like either of us expected and it was totally reasonable that I was mad and disappointed, but I could choose to stay stuck in those feelings or try to find something good in the present moment that I could embrace. Right then I was eating ice cream for dinner, watching a movie with the love of my life, and starting not to feel so sick. And that was good.

We are our choices. – Jean-Paul Sartre

Our bodies are hard-wired to focus on the negative first as a matter of survival, and research shows our negativity bias starts when we are babies. Focusing exclusively on the negative, however, can have a profound impact on our decision-making, relationships, self-image, and perception of others.

So, if humans are prone to be more negative, can we really do anything about it? Thankfully, yes. We always have a choice about how we want to respond.* It can sometimes be helpful to wallow in your sorrow, but choosing to stay there can be detrimental. Here are a few things to try when you find yourself channeling your own inner Oscar the Grouch:

  • Self-awareness- Pay attention to your inner self-talk and whether or not it’s keeping you on the hamster wheel of negativity. For instance, if you catch yourself only noticing the bad in a situation, or keep replaying life events over and over wishing you or someone else had acted differently, pause and consider a reframe. “What else is happening right now that may be good?” “What can I learn from this situation or person?” “What can I start or stop doing to make this better?” If you’re struggling to find an answer, ask a friend for their input.

  • Consciously redirecting- If you notice things are heading in a negative direction, choose to do something that brings you joy-- read a book, listen to music, play with your child, go for a walk, take a nap, or hang out with friends. Chances are you’ll return to whatever was previously troubling you with a new perspective.

  • Savor the positive moments- When you experience something positive, try hard to savor the moment. Pay attention to how your body is feeling, notice the details of the people and places around you and commit them to memory. Practice doing this and it will become easier and familiar to your brain, offering you an alternative to the human tendency to focus on the negative.

  • Mindfulness or meditation- Being still is one way to do this, but I prefer to engage my body and mind differently. If this sounds like you, consider doing yoga, journaling, consciously listening to the sounds you hear while you’re on a walk, or making a list of things you’re grateful for are examples of mindfulness. Here’s another one- the next time you have a meal, pay attention to the smell of your food, the textures on your tongue as you take a bite, how it feels as you swallow, etc.

What would you like to do differently the next time you find yourself sitting in a pile of negativity? One thing I definitely want to do is eat more Dairy Queen Blizzards for dinner!

*If you’re suffering from mental illness, please seek the help of a professional.

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