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Notice the Space. Change Your Life

By Contributing Editor Lynnelle Wilson

When I was working, it was a bit easier to maintain my composure and power through the chaos and sh*tstorms. It’s business, not personal, right? I don’t know about you, but that ability to maintain composure would evaporate in the midst of a personal crisis. Words and tears would fly. Recently, though, I crossed a new threshold.   

After 10 years together, my husband left. Rather abruptly. This decision came after we had already sold our home in Austin, planning to relocate to Dallas. He purchased a home in Dallas without me.

Four weeks were to pass between the time he made this decision and his actual move. There was still love there on both sides, but you can just imagine the other emotions flying around.

Talks, tears, negotiations, threats, apologies, reminiscing, bargaining, trying to explain, reason, more tears… you name it. Four months of a storm of emotions of a life in turmoil.

But, after weathering this personal tsunami, I’m happy to look back and know that I managed to maintain my composure and sense of self (well, most of the time).

Admittedly there were a few times where the composure and sense of self flew out the window and emotions ran amok. There were more than a few autopilot, lizard-brain episodes.

Overall, however, I’m happy with myself.  After much focus on growing self-awareness, managing to choose my responses in highly charged situations, staying true to the person I want to be, is a huge personal, success. 

A lot of practice and self-work is involved in this success. One thing that is key to helping me come back to center when the emotions are high is this Victor Frankle quote:

“In between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When you feel rising emotions, look for that space. It is in that space where YOUR personal power lies, and it’s the key to handling personally paralyzing situations with grace. (Well, if not grace, then without ugly crying.) This is what I’ve been practicing, and I can’t tell you how much it helps navigate changes, challenges, and life transitions.

Maybe you’ve gone through a personal crisis after you retired. Whether a divorce, a move that didn’t go as planned, someone disappoints you, or any number of curveballs life throws at you, it can be tough to handle and stay balanced.

At this stage in our lives, a loss of identity, confidence, and relevance can wash over us after retiring. You don’t feel like the strong, self-confident woman you were when working. The fear, lack of confidence, lack of direction, and stress you feel will affect everything you do and every interaction you have. And, as much as your spouse might want to help, it’s my experience that your spouse or partner doesn’t really understand. They can’t help.

You may try to explain your feelings of loss and irrelevance to your partner, only to receive a light-hearted response, such as:

“What? This is what you wanted. “Why don’t you join a book club?” (insert your own version…work out? …call Marilou? …be grateful. 

While well-meaning, this feedback can trigger a reaction from you, like:

“What do you mean A BOOK CLUB!? How is a BOOK CLUB going to make me feel more relevant??”

…or something equally constructive. This, snowballing into full blown, hurtful arguments and words you can’t take back. 

Here’s the trick that was instrumental for me: Notice the physical sensation that arises in the space that Frankle notes in his quote, “In between stimulus and response there is a space.” That space is bookmarked by:

  1. The physical sensation, sometimes a gut-seizing sensation, the FIRE you feel at nearly the exact moment your partner’s words leave their lips – and
  2. The nano-second BEFORE the next word leaves your lips in response.

You will ALWAYS have a physical reaction that precedes an automatic reaction.

When you focus on that physical sensation, your awareness stays in the now. Staying in the present moment, you don’t get sucked into auto-pilot and won’t react without thinking. Your “auto-pilot” reactions, in a nutshell, are subconscious responses, your lizard-brain kicking in to protect yourself based on old experiences (yours or your ancestors) in similarly charged situations. These subconscious learnings or beliefs are also called paradigms.

We can have many big, deep conversations about our subconscious beliefs and paradigms. They are important conversations for real change. But for the purpose of this article, just know that the first step to regaining your sense of self and confidence is self-awareness. To “notice the space” is to practice self-awareness. Improving your self-awareness will enable you to stop reacting on autopilot and start responding thoughtfully and calmly in emotionally challenging situations. This is powerful. It will change your life.

Lynnelle Wilson is founder, mentor & chief cheerleader of the BOLD-Women community. After retiring from a successful career, she discovered how much more than a paycheck you leave behind. Now, she’s on a mission to help women redefine their “retirement” paradigm. Rather than a time to slow down and kick back, BOLD-Women seek a mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually active life – post-career. BOLD-Women is a resource and a community for post-career women who are transitioning from a life focused on conventional success to one prioritizing authenticity, personal growth, and exploration. 

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Kathy Whelan
11 months ago

These are wonderful insights, Lynnelle. Kudos to you on using this technique to navigate a very high stress situation! I wish they would teach this to school children so everyone would grow up using this important skill.

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