When I experience something negative or unintended, it is usually helpful to spend some time reflecting on the ways I may have influenced those events. How could I have done things differently? Did I make the right decisions based on what I knew then? Did I do everything that was within my control? But I tend to go too far by finding ways to be responsible for everything that happens including the many things that are completely out of my control.
When I get bad news, I think about the ways I could have prevented the event from happening. If someone criticizes my work, I obsess about creating work that will satisfy everyone, thus creating nothing at all. When someone takes my actions (or lack of action) in an unintended way, I apologize and blame myself. I try to find ways to control every outcome, every person’s opinion, and every thing that could happen to me. It’s a safe world where I have all the answers. It’s a world where I attempt to predict every ending.
But more often than not, I’m wrong, and eventually my ability to control everything falters. I lose hold of the “perfect” life I have built as I can’t keep up with all my attempts to rationalize the uncontrollable and unpredictable inevitabilities of life.
Your self-blame implodes, creating a cloud of negativity that darkens your mind and your heart. You hold on to this pain through attempts at more control. Or maybe you push away the pain by distraction through work and numbing.
You can let the hard emotions sit in your heart, or you can do the more difficult thing. You can choose to feel them completely, and let them pass. I find that the following are helpful in getting me out of my cycles of negativity and self-blame:
- Journal. Write freely in a journal. Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the spelling, grammar, or whether it even makes sense. Just let it flow. It’s only for you, so the feelings in the moment won’t turn into reactive behavior or resentment towards your loved ones that you’ll regret later. You can even throw it away afterwards.
- Meditate or take at least ten very deep breaths.
- Do your daily practice, or the thing that helps you feel healthy and positive.
- Go for a walk. Don’t take music or a phone. Give yourself some physical and mental space.
- Write down what you are grateful for. Sometimes the bad things can feel insignificant once we focus on the positive aspects of our lives
“Billions of things could happen that you haven’t even thought of yet. The question is not whether they will happen. Things are going to happen. The real question is whether you want to be happy regardless of what happens. The purpose of your life is to enjoy and learn from your experiences. You were not put on Earth to suffer. You’re not helping anybody by being miserable. Regardless of your philosophical beliefs, the fact remains that you were born and you are going to die. During the time in between, you get to choose whether or not you want to enjoy the experience. Events don’t determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. They’re just events. You determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. You can be happy just to be alive. You can be happy having all these things happen to you, and then be happy to die.
You gain nothing by being bothered by life’s events. It doesn’t change the world; you just suffer. There’s always going to be something that can bother you, if you let it.”
-Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself)
. . .