Well, not for everyone. Some people seem to have it coded into their DNA. The kind of person that has their house burn down, but the cookie jar survived so things aren’t so bad. Maybe that’s a bad example. But for most of us, it is a simple question of focus. A matter of choice.
The Illusion Of Objectivity And What That Means For Your Daily Life
The vast majority of people are unable to see things 100% objectively. The way we perceive the world is not only biased by our general outlook on life, our previous experiences but also our mood. Our emotions.
When You’re Already Sad, It’s Easy To Focus On Depressing Things
When You’re Already Happy, It’s Easy To Focus On Good Things
When You’re Tired Everything Becomes More Overwhelming
When You’re Frustrated Everything Is More Frustrating
If you’ve heard of confirmation bias, this is a similar concept. Your mood starts to affect the way you interpret information, and it’s easy to focus on things that reaffirm your current mood.
Then there is actual confirmation bias based on the way you think about life. How you’ve concluded that your life is usually like. (In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. Science Daily)
Let’s look at an example. Paul and Mia and Hiroshi the stoic are on a cruise ship that sinks. Because Paul is convinced that his life is shit, the accident becomes another argument for his case. “Wow I can’t even go on a cruise without the universe trying to kill me!” He screams, frustrated and angry. Mia on the other hand, who’s always been thankful for her life, and interprets it as a blessing. “Thank you for saving me.” She whispers, grateful to whoever or whatever made sure she didn’t lose her life. Then on the other hand, Hiroshi instead immediately starts to think about how he can turn the situation to his advantage. If there is any way to salvage, or even improve, on his planned vacation.
Maybe a bit extreme of an example, but you get the idea. A pessimist will overlook the minor positive events, and focus on the negative excessively. The overly optimistic will overlook all negative events and focus on the positive. The stoic will try to avoid getting hung up on the event itself and the emotional response to something he/she can’t control and focus on how he/she responds.
This is where many people differ. What is the ideal out of the three? If it was possible to be a stoic sage, in theory that would be perhaps the most practical. Many would say that being positive is ideal, and some would suggest that pessimism is the way to go. But I feel like at times you need positivity to drive you forward, to envision the positive outcome and let it motivate you. And other times you need negativity so you can foresee the worst outcome to prepare. But establishing stoicism as a baseline, or at least becoming as stoic as you can, is probably not a bad idea.
Realize That It’s A Matter Of Perspective
If you notice that you’re becoming overly negative, realize that it’s just a matter of perspective. This can often be a process, and is only truly learned by successfully shifting from one to the other through conscious choices.
Always Try To See It From The Opposite Outlook
And exercise I recommend when you’re first starting out, is to always try to see the opposite perspective. If you start feeling overwhelmed by the negative events in your life, focus solely on what’s good for a while. When you’re starting to feel your ego grow, focusing on the negative can be a way to keep grounded.
Focus On Finding Solutions
Stoicism to me is not about being an emotionless block of ice, but rather a large shift of focus. Rather than focusing on things that are wrong that you have no control over, focus on what you can directly affect. Rather than focusing on the event itself, and getting emotional, focusing on the best way to react. So when you run into problems, don’t let them overwhelm you. Immediately start searching for solutions.
Find Your Own Balance
If there’s one thing life teaches us, it’s that things are rarely one-size-fits-all. We’re all different enough that an identical approach often won’t work very well, but similar enough that we can learn from each other and navigate our own way.
Ragnar is a freelance writer with a passion for personal development. He’s currently working towards achieving location independence, and will be embarking on his first adventure in the spring of 2014. Read his blog for the occasional insight, inspiration or just a sense of comradery in reading about me trying and failing.
If you’ve decided to take life into your hands and force yourself to enjoy it, check out Ragnar’s blog Tangible Freedom. Where he shares his struggles and what he learns along the way.