How to Stop Creating Problems in Our Heads
What is the difference between a situation and a problem? The difference is our perception. Whether a situation is a problem or not, depends solely on how we choose to perceive it. Situations, including difficult situations, are a part of daily life and happen to all of us. But problems don’t “happen” to us; they are created in our heads. And once we realize this fact, we can learn how to stop creating problems for ourselves and be happier every day.
When we are faced with a situation, or an event, or a set of circumstances, we typically will automatically try to decide whether it is good or bad. But the reality is that situations are neither good nor bad. They have no intrinsic value. They just simply “are” with no inherent qualifications. Any qualifications are simply created in our heads. Once we decide to attach those qualifications to the situation, we give it more power than it has. And we make ourselves subject to that power.
How do we stop giving situations that undeserved power? It is simple: by deciding to no longer use the word “problem”. The celebrated spiritual author Eckart Tolle wrote that “it’s about realizing that there are no problems. Only situations – to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted… until they change or can be dealt with.”
When we are faced with a difficult or challenging situation, we need to avoid the urge to look at it as a problem that has happened to us. Instead, we need to ask ourselves if there is anything that we can do right now to address or resolve the situation. If there is, then we need to go into action and take care of it as soon as possible. But if there isn’t, then what we should not do is worry or stress about it. We should recognize the situation for what it is. It is simply a set of circumstances that we cannot take care of right now, but which we may be able to take care of at a later time. By putting the situation on the back burner, or back on the shelf, to be addressed when we are ready for it, we avoid causing ourselves unnecessary pain.
If we just make the decision to stop making situations into problems, we will also stop creating pain for ourselves. It is just a simple, but very powerful choice. In the wise words of Bobby McFerrin, “In every life we have some trouble. When you worry, you make it double.”
So what are some steps that we can take to make this decision easier for ourselves?
1. Understanding and accepting our own responsibility
The first step is to acknowledge that we are the ones creating the problems and we are the ones who can stop them. We need to realize that our reaction to the situations we face are what is causing pain in our lives, not the situations themselves. Understanding and accepting that we are the culprits is essential before we can move on to the next steps in the process.
This step is actually very liberating and empowering. By realizing that we are responsible, we also realize that we are in control and can stop the pain whenever we want.
2. Realizing that we cannot control everything
While we can always control how we react to a situation that we are faced with, we cannot always control the situation itself. Some of us are afraid to give up control or to acknowledge that we never had any control to begin with. But insisting on trying to control something that we cannot will only cause us more pain. By realizing and accepting the fact that we sometimes have to simply let go and let life take its natural course, we free ourselves. We eliminate the inevitable pain, stress and anxiety that we would have experienced otherwise.
Learning to differentiate between what we can and cannot control is another very important step in becoming more liberated and empowered when facing difficult situations.
3. Learning to recognize when we are not making good decisions
Sometimes we are just not in the best frame of mind to think through a situation and make a good decision. We need to recognize when this happens. Maybe it is when we are tired, or hungry, or when we have too many things already on our to-do list. It is under these instances that we may have poor judgement and make a bad decision.
The wise thing to do is to put off the decision until we are in a better frame of mind. While we tend to tell ourselves otherwise, the truth is that most situations can wait to be addressed. Many of the decisions that we need to make on a daily basis can be put off until a later time, and will actually benefit from it.
When we rush to make a decision, we run the risk of more unnecessary pain. So the next time we feel rushed, we need to recognize it, take a step back and make the conscious choice to handle it when we are better prepared. We will be better off for it.
4. Not letting our fears get the best of us
Occasionally when we are faced with a new situation we are automatically afraid. Fear of the unknown or unexpected is very common and normal. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot control or at least diminish that fear. If we stop and take the time to carefully think about the situation, it usually turns out to be not nearly as scary as we initially thought.
By taking the time to calmly consider all the possibilities that could arise from a given situation, we will see that not all of them will be bad. If we further ask ourselves, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” we will often find that the worst that could happen is not only very unlikely, but also not nearly as terrible as our original fears.
Having rampant, untamed fears will cause us a lot of useless pain. Learning to control our fears calmly and rationally will spare us from that pain.
5. Looking at the big picture
It can be very easy to lose sight of what is important and let very minor events get the best of us. When dealing with a situation, it always works best when we frame that situation within everything else that is happening in our lives. We need to ask ourselves, “How much does this really matter?” to determine how much of our energy it deserves. Frequently the situations that we spend the most time dealing with turn out to be some of the least important.
The situation we are facing may seem really critical right now, but will it seem the same way tomorrow, or next week, or maybe even just an hour from now? By looking at the big picture, we can properly prioritize our actions and decisions, and save ourselves from unnecessary pain.
6. Living mindfully in the present moment.
The great majority of our worries and fears (and therefore the source of the great majority of the problems that we create in our heads) have to do with either the past or the future. How often do we find ourselves worried about or afraid of what we are doing right now? Not very often. It is usually past situations that did not turn out to our liking, or future situations with unknown outcomes that cause us the most pain.
If we learn to spend most of our time living mindfully in the present moment, we achieve two things that are essential to stopping most of our problems. First, we realize that whatever has happened in the past is gone forever and cannot affect us in the present unless we allow it to do so. We have the power to stop our past from continuing to cause us pain. Second, we realize that the future is not yet here and similarly has no power to affect us in the present. Additionally the future is yet to be determined and it makes absolutely no sense to cause ourselves pain and sorrow over events that may never take place.
By following these six simple steps, we can eliminate the self-inflicted and unnecessary pain that comes from creating problems in our heads that really don’t exist and have no power at all over us and our happiness.