Earlier this week I was talking with someone about the duck boat accident in Missouri and the one family that lost nine of it’s members in the blink of an eye. We started talking about how people adapt to situations like that. Why do some people, in the face of great tragedy, move towards acceptance while others, even in the midst of minor problems, become mired in a well of anger, sadness or bitterness?
Part of my mission with Natty Gal is to help people live their most satisfying life. And life can’t be satisfying if you are suffering…with sadness, anger or resentment. Today’s post talks about dealing with problems so that you STOP suffering and start living your most satisfying life.
The Four Options for Dealing with ALL Problems
In every situation, from trivial to traumatic, these are the four options available for dealing with any problem:
- Solve the Problem
- Do Nothing
- Change How You Feel About the Problem
- Accept It
Solve the Problem
If your problem is solvable, great! That makes things easier. The next question to ask: Is now a good time to solve it? Often, I find that the hamster wheel in my head starts up at night just as I should be dozing off to sleep. When this happens, I go through the check list:
- Is whatever I’m stewing about solvable?
- Is now the best time to solve it?
3 AM is NEVER the best time for solving something so I mentally put the issue in a box to be addressed the next day or on the weekend. Once I do this I can normally relax and fall back to sleep. But what about unsolvable problems – the death of a loved one, a divorce you didn’t ask for, a physical illness or handicap?
This is the easiest but least effective option. You will stay miserable with thoughts of sadness, anger or resentment. By doing nothing, you are guaranteeing yourself an unsatisfying life. Unfortunately all too many people choose this option even for relatively minor problems (i.e., the chick who stole the parking place you’d been patiently waiting for).
You can hold in the anger, keep playing the scene over in your head and complain about her to anyone who will listen but it won’t change her actions and, in all likelihood, she’ll never even be aware of the fact that she pissed you off. Much better to free yourself from the suffering with one of the other options.
Change How You Feel About the Problem
This is the method I’ve been working on a lot over the past decade! It has NOT come easy. I used to love to stew and replay things in my head, dialogue-ing fake conversations complete with witty comebacks. Until a psychologist pointed out that I was really just prolonging my own suffering with this method. And she was right.
I started learning to change how I’d feel about minor problems by starting to focus on all the good in the world. Things like keeping a gratitude journal as well as going through a mental list of what I was thankful for each day prior to going to bed. It took months of daily practice before I really noticed a difference but suddenly I wasn’t searching for those things anymore, I was just seeing them naturally.
So, using our parking space thief example above, you may want to try to re-frame the situation. If it’s a nice day, think of it as a good opportunity to park farther away, get some exercise and enjoy the sunshine. Or try considering what’s happening in her life. Maybe she’s super preoccupied and just didn’t notice you waiting. Hey, you never know!? But, if that STILL isn’t working for you (or for more serious issues), you’ll have to pull out the big gun…
Radical acceptance for life’s most painful problems can take some work. For some people, their spirituality or faith helps aid in this acceptance. Radical acceptance can be easier to explain by describing what it is NOT. It is NOT approval of the situation or resignation. It’s not passive and it doesn’t deny (“this never should have happened”).
Radical acceptance is how people in the most unimaginable of situations find that life can still be satisfying. It takes work. Try:
- Noticing when you are NOT accepting (feeling anger, annoyance, escaping reality, asking “why me”, hiding behind other things or covering up your feelings).
- Commit to accepting. Remind yourself that everything has a cause. You can agree that something is painful or frustrating but still be accepting of it.
- Keep showing up in the world. Keep participating in life. For me, just getting outside for a bit is the easiest way to do this.
- When you can’t do #3, repeat back to #1. Again. And again.
So that’s it! Four options. For ALL problems. Which will you choose?
Me? I’ll keep trying to choose acceptance (and changing how I look at things). Most problems this year have been small but losing our dog hit us really hard. I’m taking the steps above over and over. I’ll have days of getting lost in the loss but then notice it. Recommit to accepting it and get back out there in the world. An ongoing process, for sure. But one that lets me keep loving and enjoying my life. I want you to love and enjoy yours too.
Do you find yourself suffering by holding onto negative emotions? Or do you use any of these techniques? I’d love to hear more about how you cope when faced with life’s darkest challenges. Feel free to contact me via email or drop a comment below.
As always, I so appreciate your support! Have a great weekend.
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