Dealing With Negative Thoughts – The Stoic Approach
“Very little is required to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
Dealing with negative thoughts can be a very difficult thing for people to navigate. Negativity can lure you in, slowly, until it drags you down to a level that can consume you. Being negative can be something as simple as complaining about a rainy day or complaining about your lazy co-worker. Being able to better deal with negativity or even negative life events is one of the greatest tools one can ever have in their arsenal.
Negative times and situations nearly always have some sort of positive outcome. You often see people who have a dramatically life-changing event that ends up having many positive benefits or even completely changing their perspective on life. By being able to rest in awareness through tough times, you can become much more subjective and unattached from situations. Giving you the ability to think more clearly and in turn, take better actions. By being able to become much more subjective in difficult situations, you gain a sense of perspective that you might not have had and this can lead to dramatically different decision making.
Detaching From Negative Thoughts
Over the past few months, I have had a lot of negativity sent in my direction, which I have actually welcomed. The reason I have welcomed it is because I have no control over what people say to or about me. Understanding that I have no control, gives me the ability to look at each situation with a clear mind. It allows me to not get dragged into the negative situation and perhaps say something that I would regret later.
Many of the Stoic philosophers talked about being able to deal with things that are out of your control and accepting them for exactly what they are. Seneca used to practice poverty during which he would continually ask himself, “Is this the condition I so feared?” What this taught him is that his peace of mind and his ability to be content and happy did not come from outside events but rather from his quality of mind throughout his day.
Being unattached from negative opinions or negative situations does not mean that you do not recognize them or acknowledge their existence. You just accept them for what they are. I believe that too many people get caught up in the things over which they have no control and this adversely affects the things over which they have control. Some would argue that the only thing over which we have total control is our mind. Being unattached from negativity doesn’t mean that you are a pushover or that you do not take action on things. It is more of a mindset that gives you a little more time. Time to think about what has been said to you or time to ponder your next move in a difficult situation.
Become an Observer
Is your boss being unfair to you? Thinking negatively and complaining about it won’t solve the issue. You have no control over the way your boss acts. You do, however, have control over your reaction to the situation. If you saw the same scenario involving your boss and another co-worker, what would your advice to them be? Chances are you would tell them to forget about it, let it go. Why then, do we do the opposite in our own lives? We hang on to negative thoughts and perceptions when we should be doing the opposite. Take a step back and look at your situation from a third-party point of view and take the advice you would give to someone else in your situation.
How many times have you seen a sportsperson make a small mistake and follow it with multiple mistakes in a row? We see this because they oftentimes get caught up in the simple mistake they made instead of simply letting it go. By continually thinking about it, they are left in an unhelpful cycle of what could and should have been. They begin to second guess themselves.
In order to better deal with negativity, we must better equip ourselves and be ready for it when it comes. By being ready, I do not mean that you’re sitting waiting for something bad to happen. You should be ready to take an extra moment or two if something negative arises. Instead of responding in an argument with another insult, perhaps consider a different approach. “I’m sorry that’s how you feel and you’re entitled to feel that way, but I don’t agree”. Replying with, “Yeah, you’re a c**t too” doesn’t really help anyone nor does it help resolve anything.
To better deal with negativity, I would suggest resting in awareness. Try to become more aware of yourself as a person. What are your tendencies? What are your reactions to certain situations? Are you actually a dick? Are you easily upset? Do you get annoyed easily? By answering questions with yourself you’ll gain a better understanding not only of yourself but of other people too. You’ll begin to understand that maybe a situation isn’t negative but rather you’re seeing it through a negative lens.
Perhaps a person at work is being a dick, by taking a moment to think, you’ll remember that they’re going through a divorce and that they may be stressed. Every human being on this earth is fighting a battle we know nothing about and being able to think with a clearer more concise mind can allow you to communicate more effectively, become less reactive and allow people to be themselves without passing judgment. Next time you find yourself in a sticky situation or you’re presented with an obstacle, take an extra moment and consider not reacting immediately. When we react on emotion, we tend to make some silly decisions.