A few years ago, I spoke with relationship guru and all-around-wise woman Kathlyn Hendricks for an article on relationships. She gave good advice on how we can communicate better with our partners. But her approach has also influenced how I live my life.
"Wonder," she said. "Approach everything with wonder."
We get so caught up in worry and angst and fear and anger that we forget to notice the moment before us. Wonder is the antidote to worry. And when we are actively wondering, inquiring and investigating our experience, we are more engaged in it. We are more alive, aware and curious, less angry and stressed.
Wonder contributes to our overall sense of well-being and adds meaning to our lives.
Testing it Out
I practiced this wondering thing almost immediately after speaking with Hendricks that day. My husband had just returned from the store with the wrong ingredients. I was in a rush and in the middle of trying a new recipe. I'd been very clear about the items I needed, so when he showed up with the wrong stuff I was ticked. I felt like he hadn't even listened.
But, because I was feeling a bit wiser in those moments after visiting with Hendricks, I asked a question before I jumped into a tirade.
"I wonder why you bought these items rather than the ones on the list?" I asked, without the "tone" I sometime evoke when I'm angry. Then I listened for his answer.
What I learned was that several of the ingredients I'd asked for were unavailable. He was trying to come up with something that would work in short order because he knew I was in a hurry. He even worked with the store staff to find good substitutes. He opted for Plan B instead of coming home empty-handed.
I did still feel frustrated, more at the overall circumstance. But, with my husband, I felt much more connected. Instead of feeling ignored, I felt supported. I knew he was trying to help. My anger was diffused.
Wonder is Productive
Since then, I've realized that when I wonder -- and I've got to remind myself to do this -- I am not stressing.
I'm present to the moment, living from a creative space. Instead of worrying what might happen, I'm living with what is happening. This allows for curiosity to flourish and novelty to enter. These things layer meaning onto our experience. They contribute to our feelings of peace and well-being.
When you replace that worry with wonder another crazy thing happens -- you also become more calm, clear and productive. You begin asking questions. You get busy doing.
Criticism, anger, irritation, stress -- those things take a lot of energy. When we are doing those things we become stalled and stuck. It's hard to move beyond. With wonder, you're free to explore, try, grow and laugh.
In that moment of wonder we suspend disbelief for a time, we cut the judgment and simply pay attention to what the moment has to offer. This automatically moves us into a more adaptive, flexible mindset -- one where we are more likely to overcome adversity and feel better.
Three Ways to Replace Worry With Wonder
With a little practice, wonder can be our default mechanism. It is a choice we can make in the moment and it starts by paying attention. Then try these tips.
Breathe before you freak out. It's easy to fly into the big, negative emotions and move into anger, or stress, or despair -- bypassing wonder altogether. Don't do it. Instead, when you feel triggered to negative emotion, just take a deep breath and be still for a moment or five. Don't behave out of your bad emotions, but do pay attention to them.
Identify what you are feeling. When you know, for example, that you are feeling rage, you can begin wondering about the rage -- "Huh. I wonder why I'm so upset?" and move more into wonder and curiosity rather than acting badly. Your emotions then become sources of insight rather than debilitating obstacles.
Question rather than criticize. When I can slow down -- and I struggle with this -- to gain insight and information before I become critical or judgmental, that pause always provokes a wondrous state. Before you judge, attack, defend or criticize, take time to gather information by asking questions of yourself and others with the sincere desire to better understand the situation. Heck, you can always move back into anger if you think it's working for you, but when you first become curious and begin wondering the anger is often diffused and you rest with greater awareness and understanding.
Notice the good stuff. It's all there. Life is a marvel. The way the grass can push through the crack in the sidewalk. The way the Northern Lights tie-dye the sky and the ocean waves keep rolling in. It is amazing how my heart keeps beating without my conscious thought. How the Internet connects us to the entire world with a mouse click. It is fantastic that pizza is still just so awesome no matter how many years I've been eating it.
We are surrounded by all kinds of awesome. But, we get so caught up in our work and kids and bank accounts and other stresses that we forget to notice the good stuff. Start noticing. Start wondering. Allow it to infuse your life with awe (which adds meaning) and gratitude and fun. It will yield inspiration and peace.
When you feel yourself buried by worry, go outside, look around and also allow yourself to wonder how the universe keeps expanding and the flowers keep growing and the sun rises each day. Wonder how those little tiny ants can carry that fern frond up the slope of the driveway. Be present to the amazing that is out there, fill up with the wonder of it all and you'll find that the worries become a whole lot easier to manage.
For more by Polly Campbell, click here.
For more on emotional intelligence, click here.