Imagine for a moment of losing your job. If it’s a job poorly paid where you don’t feel at ease and trust that you will find a better employment, it is likely that this situation will not affect you much, indeed, it might even please you. But if you believe it is the work of your life and that you can never find something better, you will probably feel destroyed.
This indicates that, in many cases, we do not just react to events, but our emotions depend to a large extent on our beliefs and expectations.
In this sense, the Stoics argued that there are no good or bad events, but only our perception. Shakespeare summed it even better: “Nothing is good or bad; it is human thought which makes it look like that.”
This idea, defended also by Taoism and Buddhism, tells us that is not the same thing thinking “this is happened to me” that “what has happened to me is terrible.” If we limit ourselves to the first statement we will be more objective, we will suffer less and also appreciate the lesson or what is positive in the facts. In contrast, with the second statement we’ll just see only the negative part of things.
This idea is also the basis of the philosophy of Albert Ellis and served to formulate his cognitive-behavioral therapy, according to which most of our negative states of mind are not caused by circumstances, but by our irrational beliefs.
1. Control what you can control. Ignore the rest.
“I ask the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can change and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Stoics applyed better than anyone else this statement. They were aware of the need to have some control over their lives, but they were not obsessed with this, so they always asked themselves: “Can I do anything about this?”
If you can do it, do it. If you can’t… Accept it and go forward because worrying only generates stress.
In fact, many of the things that concern us and worry us are those on which we have no control. Making the distinction between what you can change and what not, will turn you into a happier person because not only you’ll be able to live more fully in the here and now, but you’ll also learn to focus your energy on what really matters. So you’ll be much more productive, efficient and happy.
Therefore, the next time you care so much to feel overwhelmed and anxious, ask yourself if you have the ability to control the events. If so, take the measures in question. Otherwise, get rid of this concern, focus on those things that you can change.
2. Accept. Without falling into passivity.
Most people have difficulty accepting the events. Within us we think that accepting is synonymous with giving up, even if it’s not.
In fact, have you ever wondered what the opposite to accept is? Deny. And denying the facts is never a good idea, it is useless to deny that it is raining, simply does not get us anywhere.
Obviously, this denial is hidden, we deny the facts through a simple word “should”. So we say, “they should not treat me bad”, “it was not supposed to happen to me”… Every time we use a “should” what we are really saying is that we do not accept what has happened, we deny it because we put our expectations before reality.
However, the denial is irrational, and generates only a useless resistance that feeds anger, suffering and distress. So to be happy and live in a more balanced way, it is essential to accept the reality, although this does not mean to take a passive role.
For example, if it rains, simply accept the rain. Denying it will not make it disappear. But it is not necessary that you get wet, you can protect yourself with an umbrella.
For the Stoics acceptance was not synonymous of resignation, it meant to accept the facts as they are and then decide what to do about it. The Stoics, like the Eastern philosophy teachers, teach us that we must not waste our energy fighting against things that are beyond our control, it is smarter to accept them, keep going and see how we can use them to our advantage or, at least, how to minimize the damage.
Therefore, the next time things do not go as you wanted, don’t deny the reality. Accept it and ask yourself what you can change.
3. Choose who you will be the son of. Build actively your “ego”.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that, whatever your parents did to you, now you are in charge of your life. In fact, many of the problems and concerns arise in your mind, but come from the way of thinking and approach to life that you’ve been taught. But now you have the power to change the way you deal with such situations and, most importantly, how you feel about it.
You are not alone in the world, you can learn a lot from the others. There are great role models, such as Seneca, one of the great pillars of Stoicism, who said: “We say that we do not choose our parents, we were given them casually, but we can choose what kind of children we want to be”.
This shows that we can break with many of the constraints of our past, to build the person we want to become. Every time we say “I have always done like that” or “that’s what I am” we assume an excuse not to change and maintain the current status of the things.
In fact, if you plan your economy, the next holidays, and your social life, why not dedicate some time to build the person you want to be? So when you’re in a difficult situation, it will be helpful to ask yourself: how would act the person I admire and I chose as a teacher of life?
With this simple question you’ll be able to get out of yourself, assume the proper psychological distance and be able to see the irrational beliefs that are fueling the vicious circle in which you are immersed. It’s a change that’s really worth.