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The car needed a new head gasket. The furnace died and had to be replaced. I broke a tooth munching on popcorn. My son had to have an emergency tonsillectomy. The dog is throwing up again. Sheesh! Does it ever stop?
No. It doesn’t — because that’s life. Normal life. Almost every day presents me with an unexpected surprise or two. So, why am I continually surprised? I only cause myself pain and suffering when I expect that it’s going to be any different.
As I’ve said before:
“I’ve come to realize that there is no “should be.” There is only what is. I can alleviate almost all pain and suffering by getting rid of the “shoulds” and consciously being accepting and open to whatever unfolds. Many philosophies teach, and I’ve found that, emotional torment and suffering comes from our attachment to thoughts about what happens, not what actually happens. Pain originates in the space between thoughts and reality.”
It helps to remind myself that a happening isn’t bad unless my mind slaps that label on it and sounds the alarm.
When I remember to take a deep breath and step back, reserve my initial judgement and reaction, and let events unfold, staying open to opportunities and good, I change how I experience the circumstances. Just by altering my thinking, I can transform a problem into something else. The something else is up to me.
Bad things do happen, no matter what label I put it on them. For sure. But I can drastically lessen my pain and stress while moving through any situation by working with my perspective and thoughts about it.
The car did need a new head gasket, but it’s paid for and investing in it is better than a car payment.
The whole heating and cooling system did have to be replaced in the house, but at least it was unseasonably warm on the days the heat wasn’t working and someone my brother knows in the business gave me a great price.
My son did have to have an emergency tonsillectomy at college all by himself, but he handled it exceptionally well and was all better in time for spring break (his main priority).
How To Change Your Thinking About Problems
1. Realize that your brain is wired to worry
For your protection, your brain is constantly on the look out for anything that could pose a threat. It even has a built-in negativity bias — better to err on the side of caution than to be eaten. It’s your brain’s natural tendency to react rather than calmly respond, but it can be trained otherwise.
2. Mindfully disentangle from worries and thoughts
Learn to observe your thoughts and worries, distance yourself from them, and don’t let them hook you. Turn your thoughts and beliefs around and look at them objectively from all angles. Is this really a problem or is it just something new and unfamiliar?
3. Reframe the situation
When a problem appears, consciously change your perspective by looking for the good in the circumstances, speculating possible positive outcomes, and not buying into any negative thoughts or predictions.
4. Stay in the present
Instead of letting your mind run wild, concentrate on the present moment. When you find your thoughts drifting, bring them back to the right here and now, a practice called mindfulness which calms the brain. Acknowledge that regardless of what’s happening, you’re OK in this moment.
5. Focus on what you can control
Your brain craves control and feels happier and calmer when it perceives more control, even if it’s just an illusion. Avoid imagining the worst possible scenarios, and give your attention to what’s in your control. When you stop wasting energy on worrying about trying to avoid problems, you’ll feel better and free up the energy to see possibilities.
6. Begin to see problems as a normal part of life
Instead of battling, avoiding, trying to control, or feeling bad about what you might typically see as problems, learn to view them as just part of life. Expect problems to show up regularly. Ho hum. No big deal. If you stop thinking of something as a problem, it’s not a problem.
So many times, a situation I pegged as a problem at first turned out to be just fine — great even — when all was said and done.
From experience, I’ve learned not to even begin to presume that I know what is going to be a problem…or an opportunity. What we like, want, and think we need isn’t always going to provide growth or even get us further towards a goal or happiness.
When you understand that problems are a normal part of life, they quit being problematic.
Over to you.
What problem can you look at in your life and see it as more of an opportunity to be explored than a problem to be solved?
Would love to hear from you in the comments section. What’s your take on handling problems?