How Stoics looked at problems: 

Stoics, the Greek philosophers, had divided life into two parts, problems that we’ve control over and problems that we’ve no say whatsoever. One of the most important things we can also learn from that we can live with managing our problems instead of obsessing about eradicating or solving them completely.

Being mindful about our fears:  

Lets start with a simple exercise. Sit down and start working on your breath. Slowly and intentionally.

You’re going to experience a surge of concerns, anxieties and worries you have in your life. Just hold onto those feelings. Don’t forget breathing. You don’t have to over think your concerns, you don’t have to think about solving them. You don’t need to resolve them. You don’t need to push them away. Just accept them. Its just that radical.

Accepting Growing Pains: 

First, we need to understand that the ambiguity and uncertainty we feel in our hearts about our life is not a reflection of our choices completely. Its not a reflection of our abilities or competence.

Its a normal part of everyone’s life. Its a normal part of changes that we experience as we evolve each day.

Also, excuse yourself for your progress while you perfect yourself. We’re all at different stages of our growth, we’re all work in progress. Because of which we don’t have to judge ourselves so critically. Just accept growth and change as a part of life.

External and Internal Locus of Control: 

Now we understand that we didn’t get rid of anxiety, we just found a way to manage it. We have understood that change is part of normal growth for us human beings. Once we accept this, we shift the locus of control.

  • External Locus of Control: 

A lot of what we feel and value is determined by things that are happening in our lives. It might depend on how your partner is treating you, or how your child is performing, or the difficulties that they are experiencing, or your job that’s overwhelming you. You might be anxious about how others might judge you.

When you allow this to happen, things can feel a lot out of control, because we can’t control how others think and feel about us. That’s having the locus of control that’s outside which leads to the feelings of overwhelm.

  • Internal Locus of Control: 

If we decide how we want to feel about our emotions and anxieties, we start to feel a lot more in control. How we feel and perceive us has very much to do with what we feel about us from the inside. And this is something very much under our control.

If you have a locus of control that’s internal to you, you start deciding how you will experience all these things that are happening to you. And this gives us a sense of empowerment.

Shifting the Locus of Control: 

Taking back control of the locus begins with understanding that what we’re dealing with right now, might not matter 2 years from now, 2 months from now, or 2 minutes from now. We take back control by choosing how to respond to the situation. And that’s a more powerful way of living life than feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

  • Take stock of your own emotions before you can figure out what’s going on with you.
  • Understand the impact of your choices of you make.
  • Understand your feelings and reactions to situations.
  • Understand how your emotions and actions are affecting you.
  • Understand that in the end, we can’t even control how our spouse or child behaves.

Building an Internal Locus of Control

After shifting the control from external to internal, we can start strengthening our internal Locus of Control by following a few practices.

  • Understanding the symptoms of your anxiety: Nervousness, no sleep, no focus, racing heart etc. Develop self awareness.
  • But managing symptoms is a short term thing, if we don’t determine the root cause of our or our family’s anxieties.
  • The most important thing we can do is to understand the things that we can and can’t control.
  • We must understand that anxiety and worry comes from the sense of powerlessness we feel about the things that we can’t control and make any better.
  • We must then learn to live with what you cannot control. Example: I can prepare for the exam, I can try to talk my relative into understanding what my argument is, but in the end, I can’t control the outcome or the choices other people will make.
  • Now we can focus on the things that we can control and learn how to effectively resolve them.

Handling negative emotions about things we can’t control: 

Its very easy to say forget about all the things you can’t control. But we can’t do that. Example: If your child is a new driver, you can’t help but worry about how he or she will do with all these maniac drivers plying the roads.

We need to learn ways to deal with those anxieties. And it starts with acceptance. It starts with us recognizing those negative thought patterns, as they come. They might be irrational and unnatural, but begin with acceptance.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Theory (REBT) by Albert Ellis has some coping mechanisms.

  • Look at the Activating event first. Lets say you’re worried about how a job application that you submitted is going to be received by a potential employer.
  • List out the emotions and feelings you have related to those thoughts. Are you over-thinking in a fictional reality frame of mind?
  • List out the consequences of your thoughts. You’re anxious, you’re stressed. Are they rational thoughts?
  • Think about the rational evidence to support these irrational thoughts. List them out.
  • Notice how your negative thoughts keep churning and churning until they start to overwhelm you.
  • So start off by acknowledging your rational beliefs one by one to counter the avalanche of negative emotion coming at you. Tell yourself positive things.
  • Try slowly managing and identifying effective behaviors and conversations that actually work.

Empowering ourselves to face problems:  

  • Get a perspective. Everyone thinks their problems are the end of the world.
  • Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. First self evaluate.
  • Evaluate what you want for yourself vs. what’s best for you and your loved ones.
  • Identify priorities about what battles you want to pick.
  • Think long term benefits even if it means short term blindness towards unfortunate infractions. Think big picture.
  • Reach out to others who’re in the same boat.
  • Have faith in the fact that it will all work out in the end. Aren’t you grateful for generally a lot of things in your life turned out to be?
  • Encourage yourself to partner with others to work towards a common future.

Major Take away: 

This is how we can manage our fears and anxieties and equip ourselves to try harder in the face of failure, by supporting ourselves with a balance of two schools of thought:

  1. Pulling ourselves up for our strengths. 
  2. Practicing self compassion for our weaknesses. 

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