Guidelight #4: When you can’t change the situation, change how you think about it.


“The impulse towards kindness is a deeper, learned habit that comes from a lifetime of associating kind behaviors with beneficial outcomes.”

― Do We Have an Instinctive Urge to Be Kind?, by Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas


 “If only my mom would support me more in my choices of birth style/location/goals, I would be more excited for her to be at my birth.”

“If only I was eligible to give birth at the birth center, I wouldn’t be so nervous about giving birth.”

“If I have to do this for hours, I don’t think I can continue with the natural birth I hoped for.”


Any of those sound familiar? Or can you think of another situation that might have had you feeling a little less in control and wanting to change your state of affairs? These internal narrators can surprise us when it comes to our strategies of emotional agility. So, if you can’t change the situation, how do you adapt to it? 

Here’s a hint: It’s not about changing our circumstances, it’s about changing our attitude. Changing your attitude requires two things: knowing your values and what you stand for, and knowing how to stop and check your behavior against those values. 

Change how you think.

Step 1: Know Thyself

What we believe, what drives our decisions and determines how we react and respond to large and small everyday situations, is determined by our core values. If you’re in touch with what drives your beliefs, it can help you to be flexible when the need comes for your attitude to be flexible. 

But what are those core values? What makes up your character as a person? And how do you find out if you don’t have a clue? An excellent way to get to know this about yourself is through a test such as this one: Personality Test, Personality Assessment: VIA Survey | VIA Institute. Dr. Brene Brown also has a list of core values. Brene Brown’s approach is to choose two (ONLY two). Then ask yourself about each one: 

• Does this define me?

• Is this who I am at my best?

• Is this a filter that I use to make hard decisions? 

 Your core values can help you with everyday challenges. When you can’t think past how you feel in the moment, or if feelings have become the means of thinking, take a breath and sift your reaction through your core values. Are you acting within your values? Are one of your values giving you a warning?  

Step 2: Check Thyself

The rub comes when you are in that emotional moment. You’d like to think you’d stop and check those values, but it can be hard when you’re caught up in a whirlwind of feeling. That’s where mindfulness comes in. 

The ability to stop, take a breath, notice what we’re feeling, and act according to these values is a practice called mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines it as, “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment.” Or, in other words, as it applies to our situation, being conscious of what you’re thinking and feeling without being too hard on yourself.


Get Thyself Some Practice

None of this mindfulness stuff comes naturally. We react because the primitive part of our brain tells us to. Learning to override that primitive brain – to change the way we think when we can’t change the situation – takes practice and lots of it. Practice being mindful so that you can do it when you need it. Practice paying purposeful attention to what you are thinking, seeing, and feeling at any given time, and without judgment. This will allow you to be more mindful in those emotional times.

Sometimes sitting with a situation is still hard, no matter how mindful and value-driven you’ve been. Here are some other strategies to help soften your thinking. 

  • If it feels like you don’t have any control, do something you DO have control over, even if it has nothing to do with the issue at hand.
  • Focus on action. Do something that will give you a tangible result. 
  • Visualize what you want to happen, not what you don’t want. Practice makes perfect, so become perfect seeing the things you want. 

Guidelights Playlist

Heather’s music choice to accompany this Guidelight is Float On by Modest Mouse.

See the growing Guidelights Spotify playlist here.

Heather Barton is an ICEA-certified childbirth educator. Heather grew up in a small town, moved away to college to study science, and landed in Nashville 11 years ago to start a family. Having her first child changed her life and revealed her true love for all things birth, baby, and mama-related.

Heather has a passion for empowering others, helping children, personal development, and always seeking to try new things. When not at the center teaching childbirth classes, Heather is traveling and finding new adventures with her husband and family.

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