How One Geek Sorts Out His Mind II

Okay, great. I’ve shared the fact that I’ve been in a funk. And yesterday I took the time to share how I’ve attempted to cope with it after waiting for it to go away didn’t work. But have I learned anything? Made any progress? That’s today’s entry.

Converging Solutions

Whether it’s a function of the sorts of problems I was having or the types of content I was reading, I started picking up overlapping messages across multiple authors covering Stoicism, Existentialism, neuro-linguistic programming, meditation, and other disciplines. I’m now not entirely certain where I saw these various solutions, but it’s been good to see the consistency. It means–in my mind, anyway–that I’m on the right track for identifying personal solutions to emotional volatility and anxiety. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Again and again, the message has been hammered home: You can’t control what other people do, but you do have control over how you react.
  2. A more difficult but also important lesson to swallow has been that everyone is doing the best they can in any given situation. More concretely, everyone acts (or reacts) based on their own experiences and points of view. They aren’t (necessarily) saying or doing things to purposely upset you. They are, as my buddy Kate the counselor put it to me once, “reasonable from their point of view.” Again, regardless of how the other person(s) act, the ball is in your court when it comes to responding calmly, rationally, lovingly, or humorously–whatever floats your boat.
  3. A key tool in emotional control is mindfulness, meaning being able to sense when you’re getting upset and then to slow down or stop it. Once you’ve put the breaks on your emotional response, try to look at the situation more objectively rather than let your emotional reaction cause you to take a bad step.
  4. Related to #3, your emotional perception of reality does not necessarily correspond to actual reality. Indeed, the greater your level of upset, the less likely that your perceptions of a situation are correct.
  5. If you’re emotionally (over)reacting to a given situation, the odds are good that you’re not merely reacting to the present situation but some other, related situation from your past that upset you. The stories you told yourself about that past event after the fact greatly affect how you react to related situations when you’re older. It’s time to tell yourself new stories about those past events.
  6. Your perception of yourself in the world will go a long way toward explaining how and why you react to people the way you do. If you don’t have a high opinion of yourself, you’re likely to see yourself as powerless in certain situations and are therefore more likely to react with anger or defensiveness if you feel you are being insulted, threatened, rejected, attacked, etc.
  7. This was not stated directly in any of my reading, but it comes across as a second-order interpretation: your life will have purpose only if you believe it does. What you choose to believe that purpose is, of course, is up to you.
  8. Related to #4: your thoughts about reality do not necessarily reflect actual reality. And nine times out of ten, if you’re responding irrationally, you’re responding to your interpretation of events, not the events themselves.
  9. To borrow one of the better lines from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, “Your focus determines your reality.” Put another way, your daily perceptions of the world are greatly determined by what sorts of thoughts you dwell on regularly. That reminds me of my favorite Bible passage: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
  10. Confidence and self-esteem do not come from externals (career, money, relationship status). Instead, they derive from your ability and willingness to make mature decisions that move you in the direction of making yourself a better (not a perfect) person.

Deep breaths. Now, back to living.

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