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Staying Strong When It’s All Going Wrong

Staying Strong When It’s All Going Wrong

    Photo credit: `◄ccdoh1► (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Learned helplessness is the condition when we’re so used to being able to do nothing that we, in effect, give up trying to do anything – even though the circumstances might have changed so that we could do something if we tried.

    It can be learned by animals when given electric shock and by babies who, for example, get no feedback from their mother: They learn that nothing they do gets any response. (Presumably human babies can also learn it from receiving unavoidable electric shocks, but to my knowledge this particular scientific experiment has never been published!)

    As you can imagine, it can have massive implications for us as adults – if we believe nothing much we do can influence how things will turn out we’re fare less likely to try and do anything to improve our situation. We’re therefore much, much less able to be able to cope when things go wrong.

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    The universe doesn’t hate you – honest

    Things go wrong for everyone – the universe doesn’t have a grudge for anyone in particular. How we cope with the inevitable setbacks of everyday life is one of the things that differentiates between those people who are ultimately successful and those who aren’t.

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that at the individual level some people aren’t unlucky and that others don’t get away almost without challenge by life – but in overall, big-picture terms our responses dictate a great deal of how life treats us.

    It’s this approach which appears in such trite sayings as “If life throws you lemons, make lemonade”. They may be trite, but there’s an element of truth in them.

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    One of the big issues about learned helplessness is that we tend to regard the negative things in life as ‘permanent, pervasive and personal’. In other words, we tend to subconsciously believe that a bad situation will never change; that a bad situation in one part of our life is generalised to the rest of our lives; and that it’s something to do with us in some way that is our fault.

    To challenge these assumptions, all you have to do is find a set of tools which encourage you (or force you) to look at things objectively, rather than dwelling on the negative. By getting a greater sense of perspective it puts the our setbacks in their place, cutting away at the effects of the Permanence, Pervasive and Personalisation agenda.

    Two simple but massively useful questions to ask yourself when things get you down are these (there are others!):

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    If this was someone else’s problem, what would I do?

    It’s always easier to solve other people’s problems than your own, isn’t it? After all, the chances that you can give someone else good advice is greater than the chance of you accepting good advice that someone gives you!  Find ways of making the problem objective, so that it feels more like it belongs to someone else – getting distance from the setback is a very powerful tool.

    Examples might include such things as writing the problem down in a letter to yourself (perhaps addressed to yourself at work if you’re at home or visa versa and perhaps using your middle name if you have one). Post it second class mail so that it takes a few days to arrive…

    On a scale of one to ten, where ten is dying, how bad is it?

    A seven? A five?  And having established that it’s not the end of the world, don’t dwell on how bad it is – instead ask yourself the killer question “What’s the one thing I can do, now, to move from a five to a four?”.  There’s always something – but as humans we tend to simply get over-whelmed by the big picture of how bad something is and dwell on the enormity of the issue, effectively saying to yourself “I can’t solve this, so I might as well not try”.

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    And you’re probably right – you can’t get from an eight to a one, probably, but there’s no reason to give up and stay at an eight. Seven is better than eight and there’s always something you can do.

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2019

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

    In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

    These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

    1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

    Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

    But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

    Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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    2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

    You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

    The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

    3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

    If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

    Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

    If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

    4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

    Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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    To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

    In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

    5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

    We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

    If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

    Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

    “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

    6. Give for the Joy of Giving

    When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

    One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

    So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

    7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

    Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

    Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

    8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

    When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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    So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

    9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

    Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

    It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

    It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

    10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

    There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

    But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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    Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

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    Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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