Choose what you stress over

Summary: Change what you want and can change. Accept what you can’t change. Explore, though, whether what you’ve deemed unchangeable really is that.

We’ve all been there, filling ourselves with negative emotions while we’re:

  • Sitting in a traffic jam which moves slower than the plot of Game of Thrones
  • Waiting at an airport or a train station for a delayed plane / train (which, for some bizarre reason, is never the provider’s fault – it’s always something seemingly out of their control. I might come back to this type of communication with customers in a different post)
  • Spending an abhorrent amount of time in a queue for something – whether to enter a festival, get some tasty food or coffee or to use a toilet in a crowded place (especially pre-half marathons, when everybody tries to offload as much as possible)
  • Looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying “I’m fat and my nose is too big” or something similarly negative about the way we look

I’ve deliberately mixed up different situations to show you some illusions that we get ourselves into.

This will sound incredibly trivial: some things we can change / influence, some things we can’t do anything about in that particular moment. If you’re in a traffic jam and there’s no way of escaping it – you’re stuck and you’re facing a choice: either you accept that you’re stuck, you can’t do anything about it and therefore remain calm (although probably pretty bored) or you start getting angry about the fact that you’re stuck, shouting at your co-passengers, honking at other vehicles and generally turning into a Traffic Hulk. Apart from additional adrenaline and stress hormones’ output, you’re not getting anything out of your actions.

Same thing happens in a queue at an airport (where you actually don’t have to queue if you have already checked in – unless you desperately want to stick your hand luggage into the overhead lockers). You can either feel stressed and then offload your stress on that poor flight attendant or just accept that this is the way it is in this particular moment. Your train is late? How will your stressing over it speed it up? Maybe had you not been thinking about how annoying it is that the train’s delayed, you could’ve approached the topic creatively and found a way of getting to your destination using a different means of transport?

Because that’s the bottom line – by stressing over stuff that you cannot influence, you take valuable thinking resources from yourself, which could be invested into creative solutions / turned into useful energy. If you can’t do anything at that particular moment – then just accept that. It’s really simple. Let that situation teach you something, though – if you spot a pattern, e.g. the same train is late every week or that road is busy on every Friday, then it would be the very definition of madness to take that train / road again and expect different results. On top of that, if you do the same things over and over again and they make you feel stressed / angry / sad / annoyed etc. over and over again, then why would you do that to yourself?! Step back, observe yourself and your behaviour, understand how you are sabotaging yourself, learn, improve and move on. It’s really not worth your energy or time. Actually, ask yourself that vey question: is this really the best way I could be using my energy right now? And very rarely will road rage provide you with a positive answer. Snap back out of that state and focus your actions on something else.

Just make sure, though, that whatever you are accepting as an unchangeable situation, really is unchangeable. If you’re queuing for a long time, you will be most likely a victim of the sunk cost fallacy – we’ve all been there, saying to ourselves “I’ve been queuing for that long already, I might as well queue for a few more minutes” or “if I leave now, all that queuing time was for nothing”. That’s a fallacy, though, a complete illusion. You cannot get that time back anymore, it’s gone – but your conscious choice isn’t and it is still dependent on your actions! Obviously, you leaving the queue will be a result of multiple factors like how badly you want what’s at the end of the queue, whether you need to get it immediately and cannot postpone it or what’s the opportunity cost, i.e. could you be doing anything else that could be of more value to you. Next time you’re queuing, though, and start thinking about all that time you’ve lost already, please again step back and assess the situation. If you leave the queue following a conscious choice, you won’t get that lost time back, but at least you won’t sink any more of it into that pointless activity.

Finally then, “I’m fat and my nose is too big”. If you read my other posts, then you probably already know what my thoughts on this are. Both things are changeable – you can lose weight or have a liposuction and you can have a plastic surgery. But I would argue that in the most cases the thing that needs to change it your attitude. To me, “Fat” is a state of mind. As long as you’re trapped in that mindset, it might lead you even to extreme situations, e.g. when you’re losing weight to get rid of the “fat” and end up in malnutrition and depression (how cheerful). If you want to lose weight, JFDI! But as you go, learn how to accept yourself, with all your imperfections and flaws. One “flaw” might be your nose – most often than not, it will again be a silly illusion. Maybe you heard a comment about the size of it when you were a kid and you’re still reacting to it internally? Bottom line here is that if you decide to e.g. undergo a plastic surgery, in most cases that won’t solve the problem. Don’t treat the symptoms – look into the root cause and deal with it.

I might come back to this at some point in the future. But for now, please remember that in this world there are things that you can change if you want to and there are things that you can’t change, even if you wanted to. If you really want something to change and it’s realistic (i.e. your goal isn’t becoming a tall person when you’re 29 and you’re Shakira’s height – that’s not going to happen, sorry), then go out of your way and change it if that’s your true desire. For the things that you cannot influence the only healthy choice – healthy for the mind, body and soul – is a mindful acceptation and appreciation of the thing for what it is. You can always re-frame the things you cannot change and therefore influence your perception of them (which, as we know from The Matrix, is everything), but I’ll describe that some other time.

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