Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of? Decide how you want to think about it and move forward.

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A line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet resonates highly with the concept of Neutral on the Winning Edge Programme: ‘There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.’

What do I mean by neutral? So, a football goes over the line. Is that good or bad? Well, it depends which team you play for or support. Which team you play for or support will then determine whether that result in your eyes is a good or a bad one. In itself, the ball going over the line is a neutral event – it is neither good nor bad; if no one has any interest in football, that ball going over the line has no meaning for them. However, if you support one of those teams, you attach a meaning to what happens to that ball and value the result – depending on where your loyalties lie, you are either pleased or maybe you’re ranting about the quality of playing and/or coaching!

Everything is neutral until we place a value on it and that means whenever we adopt a value, we become a hostage to the emotions it creates.

So, how does knowing everything is neutral, help you in your personal and work lives?

Think it over

What you need before anything is anything other than neutral to you is awareness. Until you become aware of an event it’s neutral. As soon as you become aware of it, without any conscious thought, it gets ascribed a position on your value chain. High on the value chain, high value, low on the value chain, low value. And all shades of grey in between. Before you ascribe value to an event it is still neutral. Once an event has a position on your value chain that’s when it has meaning. As soon as it has meaning, it is no longer neutral to you.

Events are right or wrong depending on different people's values and beliefs. Think – the ball crossing the line. All events are neutral until you consider them and then you decide whether they are right or wrong for you. And so we come back to the fact that ‘Nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.’

This means you’ve never had a bad day, just a whole lot of neutral days you didn’t like. You have every right to think of them as bad days, but it is your thoughts and expectations that make them bad.

It’s not your life that makes you happy or unhappy, it’s your opinion of your life that makes you happy or unhappy. So, isn’t it great to know it's not your job / partner / car / house / kids that make you happy / unhappy - because all those things and people are what? Neutral! It’s our perception of a neutral world that decides our happiness. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “Happiness is a state of mind. Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Choose your thoughts

We can all be thrown curve balls in life – this current situation is testing our mettle and for many, it has meant a loss of their job, their business, strained relationships, ill health – physically and/or mentally. It can be hugely challenging to view situations of this nature as merely neutral and I am not suggesting for one minute that it will have no effect on us. However, we get to choose and decide how we want to think about these circumstances, and everyone will respond differently according to their own unique perspective. 

The way we choose to think about people and events in life, will have a direct impact on our quality of life. I am again reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist and a prisoner of war in several concentration camps in Germany during World War II. In his book, he talks about the one thing that is within us and beyond the reach of any circumstance – and that is our ability to choose the way we think. Powerful words from someone who faced extreme circumstances.

I think an important question to ask ourselves then is ‘How do I want to think about this?’

Now I don’t mean murder, racism or domestic abuse and other such serious issues, I personally don’t need to stop and think about how I feel about those things; I mean things like getting cut up at a roundabout, or something happens at work, I can ask myself: ‘How do I want to think and feel about this? Is this worth me getting upset about? Will getting upset help? Is it really that bad? Because too often we react habitually and without thinking. As we say on the Winning Edge - MUMMS it! Make Up My Mind Slowly. And perspective helps here. In the grand scheme of things, how important is this really?

We were all on a work Zoom call recently and wrapping the call up, Mr Winning Edge - Richard Jackson MBE - asked if we were all OK. I responded that the heat was quite overwhelming and in true British style, we all chewed the fat on that one. I also said my children’s tempers were all fraying somewhat with it being the school holidays on top of Lockdown and Richard quite rightly said: ‘I too am finding this whole situation, plus the stifling heat, frustrating but when I think like that, I remind myself that at least I’m not in Beirut.’ And right there, it stops you in your tracks. Because haven’t the majority of us so much to be thankful for? If only someone in Beirut right now had only to worry that the weather wasn’t quite how they preferred it to be, or that their kids were getting a bit ratty with each other. Yes, of course it’s all relative and we all have challenges that we’re dealing with but aren’t very often these challenges probably mild irritants, or an issue we could solve if we put our mind to it, or indeed if we chose to think differently, might be an inconsequential issue that we find we don’t really need to waste our time, energy and emotion on…

You don’t have to like the bad days – just get perspective.

So here’s a thought: maybe some of the things we invest emotion in, like traffic, surly shop assistants and IT failing us, aren’t worth it and we’d be better off investing our emotion in other things like our family, developing ourselves, contributing to our community, friends, clients...

Taking control

Understanding the concept of Neutral is a way of managing our mindset. Isn’t it incredible to think that things are as good or bad as our thoughts make them?!

And some things we should make bad; we’ve mentioned murder, domestic abuse and racism - I’m not going to make any other choice apart from they are bad, but we have a choice to make about the day-to-day irritations and upsets, we get to ask ourselves, is this is 1 minute worry, a 2 minute worry, a 10 minute worry? It’s our choice.

We have the ability to choose our thoughts around any given situation, and whilst it might not feel neutral to us, this will be down to our own meaning and perspective and the value we place upon it.

It is my friend’s Wedding Anniversary today but this is the first year she will not be waking up with her husband to celebrate with him, because he was taken to hospital with suspected appendicitis last night. She awaits news of how he is and when she can visit him. With the COVID-19 situation, it has made everything so much more complicated. Perhaps wondering if my friend will be anxious, frantic with worry or at the very least frustrated that this is on their anniversary, I called to check in on her. She is in fact stoic and philosophical – ‘thank goodness they caught the infection in time and all that is important is our health and happiness. Nice meals, gifts etc pale into insignificance.’ Her husband’s condition is not neutral to her, but the fact that it’s playing out on their special day is something she has chosen not to concern herself with. Another person might not view the same event with a similar viewpoint. They might feel hugely disappointed, that the day is ruined – 'as if we haven’t had to cope with enough recently with COVID-19 and so I was looking forward to celebrating’ – another valid perspective. But which one feels more empowering? Which attitude helps that person to gain control of a situation which is out of their control?

There are many instances in life when we might be feeling irate, disappointed, infuriated by circumstances or by somebody’s words or actions, but we do have the ability – not necessarily always the desire – to choose how we want to think about it. It’s perfectly natural and understandable to feel these emotions at certain times in our lives and understanding the concept of neutral is not about invalidating emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration or disappointment, it’s about recognising that those emotions derive from the type of thoughts we are having which stem from our values. Feel the feels but rather than build a monument to them or the situation, be conscious of them, process them and choose your path forward – one that is mentally moving you forward rather than keeping you stuck in a moment you feel you can’t get out of.

If we consciously know that everything is neutral until we decide the value we place on it, we know that we have the choice as to how we decide to think about it. Some things we will choose to slide down our value chain, some things will be fixed. But understanding the concept of neutral means we comprehend the importance of knowing what our values are, where our line in the sand is and therefore how much time, energy and emotion we want to invest in what we choose to think about.

It's about not allowing yourself to get stuck being angry about the ball going over the line, because that you cannot change, but you can change the way you choose to think about it. Or support another team… (only someone who doesn’t have an interest in football could make such a preposterous suggestion!). And on that note, I shall bid you farewell for now and go and separate my warring children – a completely neutral event which I am choosing my thoughts and emotions over very very carefully…!

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