Imagine losing your job for a moment. If it is a poorly paid place where you did not feel comfortable and you are confident that you will find a better job, it is likely that this situation will not affect you much, in fact, it may even please you. But if you believe it was your life's work and that you can never find something better again, you will probably feel devastated.
This indicates that, in many cases, we don't just react to events, but our emotions largely depend on our beliefs and expectations.
In this sense, the Stoics argued that there are no good or bad events, only our perception. Shakespeare summed it up even better: “There is nothing good or bad; it is human thought that makes it appear that way ".
This idea, also defended by Taoism and Buddhism, tells us that it is not the same thing to think "this happened to me" that "what happened to me is terrible". If we limit ourselves to the first affirmation we will be more objective, we will suffer less and we will also be able to appreciate the lesson or what is positive in the facts. On the contrary, with the second statement we will limit ourselves to seeing only the negative side.
This idea is also the basis of Albert Ellis' philosophy and helped him formulate his Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, according to which most of our negative moods are not caused by circumstances, but by our irrational beliefs.
1. Check what you can check. Ignore the rest.
"I ask for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
The Stoics applied this statement better than anyone else. They were aware of the need to have some control over their life, but they weren't obsessed with it, so they always wondered, "Can I do something about respect?"
If you can do it, do it. If you can't… Accept it and move on because worrying only generates stress.
In fact, many of the things that concern us and worry us are those over which we have no control. Making the distinction between what can be changed and what cannot, will transform you into a happier person because not only will you be able to experience the here and now more fully, but you will also learn to focus your energy on what really matters. So you will be much more productive, efficient and happy.
Therefore, the next time you worry enough to feel overwhelmed and anxious, ask yourself if you have a chance to control events. If so, take action on this. If not, get rid of this worry, focus on those things you can change.
2. Accept. Without falling into passivity.
Most people have a hard time accepting events. Within us we think that accepting is synonymous with giving up, even if it isn't.
In fact, have you ever wondered what the opposite of accepting is? It is to deny. And denying the facts is never a good idea, it's as useless as denying it's raining, it just doesn't get us anywhere.
Obviously, this denial is camouflaged, we deny the facts through a simple word "should". So we say, “they shouldn't have treated me badly”, “it shouldn't have happened to me”… Whenever we use a “should” what we're really saying is that we don't accept what happened, we deny it because we put our expectations before reality.
However, denial is irrational, and only generates unnecessary resistance that breeds anger, suffering and distress. Therefore, to be happy and live in a more balanced way, it is essential to accept reality, even if this does not mean taking a passive role.
For example, if it rains, just accept the rain. Denying it will not make it disappear. But you don't need to get wet, you can always protect yourself with an umbrella.
For the Stoics, acceptance was not synonymous with resignation, it meant accepting facts as they are and then deciding what to do about it. Stoics, like oriental philosophy teachers, teach us that we should not waste our energy fighting against things that are beyond our control, it is smarter to accept them, keep moving forward and see how we can use them to our advantage or, at least, how to minimize the damage.
Therefore, the next time things don't go your way, don't deny the reality. Accept it and ask yourself what you can change.
3. Choose whose child you will be. Actively build your "I".
It may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that no matter what your parents did to you, you are now in charge of your life. In fact, many of the problems and worries arise in your mind, but they come from the way of thinking and dealing with life that they have instilled in you. But now you have the power to change the way you deal with such situations and, more importantly, how you feel about them.
You are not alone in the world, you can learn a lot from others. There are great models to follow, like that of Seneca, one of the great pillars of Stoicism, who said: "we say that we do not choose our parents, who have been given to us by chance, but we can choose which children we want to be".
This indicates that we can break away from many of the constraints of our past to build the person we want to become. Whenever we say “I've always done this” or “I am like this” we make an excuse not to change and maintain the current state of affairs.
In fact, if you plan your economy, next vacation and social life, why not also take some time to build the person you want to be?
So, when you are in a difficult situation, it will be useful for you to ask yourself: how would the person I admire and have chosen as a life teacher react?
With this simple question you will be able to get out of yourself, you will take the appropriate psychological distance and you will be able to see the irrational beliefs that are fueling the vicious circle in which you are immersed. It's a change worth making.