How To Look At Your Problems In A Better Way

reframing-picture-frame-pine-watt

“And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”

That was what the tennis player said after breaking his 16-time losing streak.

Sometimes, it almost seems like the best way to get through life is to lie to ourselves. But then again, it’s not lying if it’s true, right? We’re just choosing to reframe what’s good and bad. Seeing the silver lining, if you will.

So join me as we take a look at how we can better lie to ourselves, and turn our negatives into positives.

The problem with our minds

They say that nothing’s inherently good or bad, that thinking makes it so. That we tend to make mountains out of molehills.

They also say that our minds can’t distinguish between reality and imagination.

The thing with our thoughts is that they can work against us as much as they could work for us. Which is why it’s important to get our minds on our side.

Here are a few quick examples of how we’re mentally putting ourselves at a disadvantage.

Catastrophising: You fear quitting a shitty job because you might not find a job ever again.

All or nothing: You’ve already screwed up our morning routine, so you might as well do what you wanted. Bring on the beer and the doughnuts!

Fortune-telling: You just know that things will turn out badly for you. There’s no other way. It’s a proven fact that you fail at anything you try.

And this is only the start. Our self-sabotage knows no bounds. Which is why it’s important to build awareness.

Observing our thoughts

The first step towards better thinking is knowing what we’re thinking in the first place. Otherwise we’ll just end up going through life on autopilot.

And the main goal here is to observe our thoughts, not control them. Because anyone who’s ever meditated for more than three minutes will know what a monkey your mind can be.

But how do we learn to observe our thoughts? Here are a few suggestions.

a. Meditation: You knew this was coming. There’s no better way to learn the inner workings of your mind than by simply observing it.

b. Journalling: Turning your swirling thoughts into words is a good way of fleshing them out. Also, it’s easier to reflect on them by distancing yourself a little.

c. Chores: Focusing on your daily tasks is a great way to practise being with your mind. Take the time to be present when you’re doing the dishes, for example. See if you can observe your thoughts better.

With practice, you’ll start to notice thinking patterns that may or may not be serving you well.

For instance, do you automatically dread what’s to come every time your boss calls you into the office? Or do you grow impatient every time you join a long queue?

It’s when you gain these insights that you can begin interrupting your way of thinking. This is where you can start lying to yourself.

Reframing your blahs to yas

Jocko Willink’s Good video sums this up pretty well.

“When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that’ll come from it.”

This is a good reminder because I know exactly how it feels to choose negative thoughts.

Yes, it’s not as if you can flick a switch, but trying is better than defaulting to negativity. Here are some methods that have worked well for me.

i. Accept the guilt

Many of us are quick to avoid guilt when we should harness the discomfort instead.

So whenever I feel guilt, I tell myself it’s my conscience showing me which habits I should change.

Feel bad for eating an entire pint of ice cream? That’s my conscience guiding me. Hate myself for hitting the snooze button? Conscience. Can’t stand the thought of having dawdled another day away? Ditto.

Pain is never fun. But just like how you learn to be careful around fire, pain is also a necessary evil for your personal growth.

So don’t be so quick to run to ‘self-love’ to try and cancel guilt out with spa appointments or a swig of whiskey.

Instead, let pain guide you into not making the same mistake twice.

ii. Divide and conquer

This is the best way to approach anything in life. Don’t choose to see big goals as insurmountable tasks. Instead, break them down into their tiniest components and tackle them one at a time.

My personal example would be looking at my novel as a collection of short stories. If I look at the task in its entirety, I’d probably be intimidated into submission.

Instead, when I see it as separate chapters, then the act of writing becomes more manageable. In fact, I started much smaller. It was 250-word blocks for me at first.

The sooner you eat your elephant one bite at a time, the quicker. you can get to solving your problems.

iii. How is this the best thing that’s happened to me?

Chuck Palahniuk once said his dad wouldn’t stop pestering him for a Hollywood star’s phone number. Then his father died. He said one of the ways he dealt with it was by looking for the silver lining, however small. And in this case, he felt thankful that his father wouldn’t ask him for the phone number anymore.

Sometimes, we have to dig deep to find a positive, but there’s always one to be found.

Look at the worst thing that’s ever happened to your life. Then ask yourself how it was the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

Training yourself to think this way gives back a sense of empowerment. Sure, you can’t escape fate, but you’d at least start with something under your control. And that’s your ability to choose.

So it’s not your fault that COVID happened just as you started your business. But maybe that was the best thing that’s happened because you were forced to look into e-commerce.

Or maybe you were bullied in high school and were triggered into learning martial arts, which resulted in a healthy life.

iv. What can I do right now?

I understand that some days you just can’t get off your ass to do something. On those days, it’s important to contain yourself to the present moment.

Don’t think too far ahead, don’t look at your goals, don’t even bother with everything else outside your circle of influence.

Just ask yourself what you can do right now to make things 1% better.

That could be tidying your desk, clearing your laundry basket, or even brushing your teeth. Whatever it is, err on the side of action, because that’s what our scumbag brain likes. Momentum.

I personally have a set of brainless activities to do when I’m not feeling my best. These tasks also help me feel better about myself once completed.

Examples would be cleaning the house, pruning my belongings, doodling, or stretching.

The beauty of thinking in the now is that it stops you from wallowing too much about the future or the past.

When I used to have a job I hated, I always had my car keys on my desk. Whenever I felt anxious, I’d look at the keys and tell myself that I could just walk out and drive home. That meant I didn’t need to stay in a situation I didn’t like.

So if you find yourself feeling flustered or anxious, stop. Take a breather and ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to make things 1% better.

Sometimes, just having options helps.

v. Challenge your thoughts

Let’s talk about meditation once more, because I need to remind you that your thoughts aren’t you.

Which is why when your mind tells you you can’t do something, always challenge what it deems as ‘truth’.

Maybe this is why I enjoy exercising, because I get to challenge that voice all the time, since each set goes as thus:

  • Work out to the point of fatigue
  • Mind jumps in, telling me I should stop
  • The real me recognises that as my coward voice
  • Push out an extra two to three reps to spite said voice
  • Learn my new limits, and how much of a liar my mind is

Negative thoughts have always been a problem for me. I suffer their presence even when planning to get the groceries.

My mind will tell me that the store will be packed. That there won’t be parking. That the queues would be too long. That the groceries I want won’t be in stock. I’d exhaust myself even before I’d step out the door.

But the actual experience always turns out to be much milder than my mind would have me think. That’s why it’s important to always challenge your initial thoughts.

Figure out your reality by living it, and not through the hearsay of your mind.

Happiness is not the end goal

Here we are at the end of this post, and I hope I’ve not wasted your time when I say this: happiness isn’t the point.

Because happiness, like a beach body, should be a result of the way you live, not a transaction that happens only once in life.

It’s not like buying a PS5 off the shelf. It’s more like a lease you have to continually service, one that could get out of hand if you stopped paying.

So the next time you reframe your negative thoughts, don’t tell yourself you’re doing that to be happy. Instead, do it for a better reason: to empower yourself.


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77 thoughts on “How To Look At Your Problems In A Better Way

    • That’s an astute observation indeed, and you’re the first here to come to that conclusion. I do have a high tendency to be negative, and it was much worse in past decades, so thank you for that. I feel seen too!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, sometimes it’s hard to avoid catastrophising. Sometimes catastrophising chooses you, lol. Awesome stuff to hear that the busy wedding is over and you’re back on that meditation schedule!

      Like

  1. Really great post and something I have been working on in therapy. I have a really bad habit of always being pessimistic and I sort of hate it. I’m working on being more optimistic. I have been meditating for a few years which has helped and my therapist suggested journalling which has helped too. Really awesome tips and I can personally vouch for two of them!

    Like

  2. This is all so true. When I’m perceiving something bad happening to me, I sometimes ask myself how I will look back on the situation in five years, or even a year. Most of the time I realize that looking back from the future I will think the problem is miniscule. It also helps me see that in a year’s time – or even a month’s time or a week’s time – everything will be fine and the “bad thing” will be forgotten.

    Like

    • Time really does put many things in perspective, doesn’t it? This is why I love journalling. Because I get to actually see how long it takes me to forget about a problem I thought was huge. It’s all on paper, so I can’t lie to myself. Always great seeing you here!

      Liked by 1 person

      • “It’s all on paper, so I can’t lie to myself.” Paper – what a concept! I find that writing on paper – documenting – is an easy way to figuring out a problem, addressing an issue. A way of collecting my ideas and organising them visually.

        Like

  3. Wow Stuart you just schooled me about how to tackle problems and yes empowering yourself is the right way to look at this because happiness is not guaranteed it comes and goes. Also, I do feel guilty when I have done something horrible it is like a pinch in the skin but lessons help me to gravitate and never repeat that error again🔥🔥🔥🙏

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  4. I definitely trap myself in an all or nothing mindset a lot. I’m learning to crawl out of that mindset. I appreciate how you end with happiness should not be the end all be all. I feel like happiness is too overemphasized in life.

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  5. Hi Stuart,

    It is 0003 Hours and what your post here reminds me about…is the way this page (and probable others), is the way how I would prepare my presentation back in college, with the pictures and the points…but lesser words, because it was a presentation, not a blog. Well, here? There is nothing to be known or involved in…I mean, like points, markings, CGPA, or stuff like that. I remember in college, I had some knowledge in energy…and I focused on doing my presentation whilst releasing waves of positive energy to everyone in the classroom. That’s just how much I knew at the time, like the more positive we are, the bigger our aura…and the effect to those in the environment…and, whatever else.

    You mentioned there…about something bad that happened to us, and we dig deep for the positive part from that experience…which actually led us towards an amazing, successful life. (in my own words, that is)
    Every person has his own perception and experience…but what strongly came to me, it is actually…all these countless experiences of extreme sadness. The issues were similiar, but the point is…that every time I reached that point…I became like, wanting to avoid situations associated with that…and instead, focus 100% on being a ‘Joker’, because somewhere deep down inside of me…it is like that image, or that mask…can create, not just another ‘face’…but another person, image, personality, character…that would make things 100% better in my life…but on the condition, that I avoid all the situations that brought me ‘those extreme sadness’ (that I couldn’t handle).

    I mentioned to you before about that transition, and even then…last month, was the second time I kinda laughed uncontrollably like The Joker…at work. Well, it wasn’t intentional. A colleague just wanted to teach me on how to properly do a push-up, but his hand accidentally hit a spot (I guess) around my stomach…and I automatically fell and laughed uncontrollably till I was out of breath. They always described ‘that laugher’ to sound like ‘The Joker’…yet, I can’t do it on purpose.

    The funny part is…I thought that that is a picture of your car keys and phone and…once I saw the money…I knew that that is not yours…no way.

    Anyway, it is 0028 right now…and I have three days of holiday (family stuff), but still…I get to rest.
    The only upcoming even that I look forward to, is The Latin American Festival on September 25th, 2022. It is in Bukit Bintang (basically in front of Low Yat). I managed to get a day off on that day. I love that festival (I like cultural stuff). The only thing that is still an issue is that I am still incapable of actually conversing in Spanish Language, but I have known more words since the last event two years ago. It is an annual event, but hasn’t been for two years due to COVID. I already saved some money for it (to spend on the food).

    Ya have no idea how last year…I took the taxi right after work, to go to Mid Valley for The Latin American Film Festival. I would then, took the taxi back home right after that. I did it for almost a week. The movie was free. The cost was the money, which I was quite willing to sacrifice. For such an event.

    I realized that I was not that willing when it comes to The French Film Festival. There was one earlier this year.

    Whatever…I need to sleep.

    Goodnight.

    Like

    • Well hello there! It’s interesting how you see this as presentation prep, because it’s not all that different, lol. It’s also interesting how you describe your knowledge in energy. You’ll definitely need to elaborate more on that.

      Everyone is different indeed, and I appreciate your perspectives on going through bad moments. I’m trying to imagine why your colleague would hit your stomach when trying to get you to do a push-up though.

      Anyhoo, I didn’t know we had festivals like that. Sounds fun indeed. Have you been learning Spanish long? I didn’t know we had opportunities like this to practise the language, and it’s cool you get to. Any reason why the Spanish fest interests you more than the French fest?

      Anyway, thanks as always for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good Morning,

        Well, not ‘hit’ my stomach.
        It was…’correcting my posture’. (I’m not exactly a gym person and…no coach or anything like that)

        We do have lots of stuff like…cultural festival.
        Well, not actual learning like going to class. More like through watching stuff online.
        The link below, is the trailer to the movie Mariachi Gringo (2012). It was the movie…that inspired me. Basically about a guy (Shawn Ashmore) going to Mexico to fulfill his dreams of becoming a ‘Mariachi’.
        In the end, he is in a bad…kinda living his dream.
        There is no actual romance stuff involved. I mean, there was a bit…but after he talked to her about pursuing her dream, she left in the end…to do exactly that.

        The movie is difficult to find, but not the trailer.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I learned a lot of these tips going through therapy for my depression (still struggling with it but I’m trying). One of the most helpful quotes that came out of my DBT course was this: “Pain minus acceptance equals suffering.” It’s inevitable that we’re going to be in pain sometimes, but we only suffer when we refuse to accept that pain and attempt to avoid it at any cost.
    Granted, it’s not easy, but you’ve laid out some great tips for dealing with the negative thinking that causes us pain. Great post.

    Like

    • Am super glad that these tips do come up as helpful, because as someone who’s just flying off the seat of his pants, I wonder sometimes if I’m just full of crap. And yes, acceptance is a powerful tool, isn’t it? Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, and I appreciate your kind words!

      Like

  7. Great tips, I completely agree with your thoughts. I From personal experience I have also found that it is harder to feel better if you are constantly fighting all the bad and pushing away the negative emotions, instead of just accepting them when they roll in, and let them out when it’s time. Our brains are usually too focused on the far away future, instead of the immediate one and, as you say, sometimes just taking one small action can go a very long way!

    Liked by 2 people

    • What is it about our brains that refuse to live in the moment, yet always wants to stay in the future or past? What scumbags they are. But yeah, acceptance only comes when we’re not hoping for better circumstances. When we’re present and just being. It’s such a powerful state, but of course, it’s much easier said than done. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Juliette!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. What a great post, Stuart! I love the Gerulaitis quote that you started off with – the reframing is not only astonishing but full of humor. Every one of your points is loaded with valuable suggestions, but the one I liked best is “iii. How is this the best thing that’s happened to me?” That one can be a tough one to put into practice in the moment of crisis, but hindsight is a good teacher of how this works in our lives. We are where we are because of all the good AND bad experiences in our lives. Thanks for the wonderful wisdom.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yeah. I tend to be harsh on my suffering self (in hindsight) because I always could’ve handled things better. But when I actually am going through the crisis, all bets are off. I end up doing worse than I thought, lol. Anyway, thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Accepting guilt may sound difficult in the beginning but I think that’s the first step of moving forward out of the negative thought loop. A timely article ! I love the way how you iterate the idea of achieving marginal gains like 1% at a time without putting the total pressure at once. I’m quite bad at meditation but obviously wanna give it a go and see how far I could understand my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1% at a time is my jam. In fact, I think my biggest accomplishments were all achieved with small efforts rather than one big push. There’s something to be said about the micro style of achieving your goals. Thanks so much for being here!

      Like

  10. Hmmm…”1% better” eh. But what if even my 1% is not enough to get me out of a rut? Sighhh this isn’t an easy topic but thanks for being vulnerable and raising this up. We can all do with more tips on how to navigate the daily grind and re-negotiate our thought patterns to boost us to the next level. As always, thanks for arming us with ideas galore on how to life-hack better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the thing. The 1% is not meant to get you out of a rut. But over the years, you’ll be glad you accumulated some 110% worth of effort rather than staying where you were.

      Wishing you the best with what you’re going through, Kelvin!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Really liked reading this post, Stuart. I enjoy running. Perhaps the biggest benefit from it for me has been the self talk (understanding my own thinking – am I really tired or just anxious?). It’s interesting how this simple practice of being aware of your thoughts can serve both our personal and professional lives. While working on a goal, being present on the journey is as important because we’re only ever present in the present and this has the potential to be endlessly motivating whether we accomplish the goal or not.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh yeah. I like that way of thinking. We’re only ever going to get this moment, one constant length of ‘now’. So it serves us well not to try and live too far in the future or past.

      Running really does open our minds to our thoughts, doesn’t it? I appreciate it for that too. Thanks so much for stopping by, Ryan!

      Like

  12. A wonderfully inspiring and analytical write. I especially resonated with this – “The first step towards better thinking is knowing what we’re thinking in the first place.”
    I never do well in meditation, I tend to start fidgeting a few seconds into it, haha! Journalling however has been a great help so far.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I find that both journalling and meditation do the same thing—it helps us view our thoughts objectively. So many people think that they need to have empty minds to ‘succeed’ in meditation, but for me, I’ve found that the act of simply noticing my thoughts is enough.

      Love that I’ve met a fellow journaller! Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I love the part about leaving your car keys on your desk to remind you that you can leave at any time. At one point I was carrying a blank resignation form with me in my purse for the same reason. I used to be a real black-and-white catastrophizing thinker. Once one bad little thing happened, everything was ruined and my life was now pointless. I realize now that it doesn’t have to be like that. I’ve also started putting in little tasks to keep momentum going or to feel more productive. Like lately I’ve been pedaling on a recumbent bike while I catch up on other bloggers’ posts. That way I don’t feel like, Oh I just spent a half hour on my phone. I like having a list of easy tasks to get out of the way as well. And of course if all else fails, there’s always good old procrasticleaning..

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ooo. I would say the blank resignation form is a good one. I used to have a resignation letter typed up in my e-mail Drafts for the same reason too! The lengths we go to. But hey, if it helps us cope…

      That’s so interesting. I think I should do something similar when going on my WordPress commenting sessions too. That’s a perfect example of finding our own ways to be active.

      Love your comment, Hetty. Thanks for sharing these slices of your life!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I love this Stuart. There are so many really helpful hints and tips here. The one I’m taking away today is what 1% will make things better. My CFS is really challenging me at the moment but I’m determined not to let it win. Focusing on 1% seems like a positive step for me.

    Thank you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Nice article, Stuart! The roman numerals was a nice change from the usual numbers.

    About the part where you talk of guilt: I think it is important to understand that there is nothing wrong when you have to take a break. None of us can do the same thing at the same intensity, day after day. We should not feel guilty for getting away, and recharging our batteries.

    Now, if only I could apply that to myself…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve found that once you look at guilt as a signal to do better, it’s much easier to live with it, to take a break and not beat yourself up over it.

      What was that quote from a famous monk again? Make friends with pain and you’ll never be alone?

      Thanks for the chat as always, Tanish!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. So much to unpack here, Stuart. One thing about retirement is that I tend to do much more self-reflection, so this post speaks to me. (“Pete Springer, yo dude, pay attention when I’m talking to you.”)

    Great list of ways to observe your thoughts. I was surprised that you didn’t have exercise on your list. I’ve never tried meditation, but in a sense, I think that’s what I do when I exercise. My mind automatically goes into overdrive, and I do some of my best thinking as soon as I begin walking or plod along on some mundane exercise machine.

    A little pain is one of life’s best lessons. I know when I’ve been through an experience where I hurt (I wasn’t thinking raging hangover, but that also applies here), I try and remember that feeling and try not to repeat it. I think, “I can’t stand the way I feel right now. What can I do differently, so I don’t have this feeling again?” Rather than playing the victim role, I’m suddenly steering the ship again.

    Awesome post! As a tennis geek, I probably am the only one of your followers old enough to remember Vitas Gerulatis. I’ve never read his quote before, but that was hilarious.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Haha. Given the number of times I bring up exercise as the panacea to life, I think it’s good to not mention it once in a while to avoid sounding like a broken record.

      But isn’t it weird how our greatest ideas come during exercise? For me, I’ve started bringing my phone out for runs so that I can just tell Siri to note down an idea. The extra weight in my hand is worth it. I’ve grown fed up of my hubris in remembering ideas post-run.

      And yes, pain is such a great teacher! Provided we see it that way. It’s so easy to blame pain for causing trouble, instead of seeing it as a source of improvement.

      Anyway, what a great comment here, Pete. I’m honoured you took the time!

      Liked by 3 people

  17. Ha Ha, Whenever I predict that I am going to have the worst day I find myself logging onto amazon prime or netflix 🤣. What a great astrologer I am. Yes a small chore like cleaning our desk can go a long way not binge watching 😃.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yeah. And for my case, the chores or tasks need to be bite-sized too. Or else I wouldn’t want to do them when I’m feeling down. So I don’t clean the entire bathroom, I just wipe down the sink. I don’t organise the entire kitchen, I just rearrange one cupboard drawer. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Liked by 2 people

  18. I’m reading along, and saying … Yes, yes, yes … until the final section. And I agree with so much of your analysis of mind process and thought. For me, happiness isn’t a state of mind. It’s a state of heart. But, am happy to discuss 😉😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s weird. I see happiness as something fleeting. Like a floating feather. The more you try to chase it, the more it’ll fly away. But if you just wait for it to fall, you’ll get it. I don’t even know if I’m wording this well, lol, but yes, please do discuss if you have more to add!

      Liked by 2 people

      • A floating feather is an apt (and lovely) image. I use clouds a lot … If you’re chasing something then it’s outside of you. A goal or accomplishment. It’s to think about, plan for, take action. These are all head-centred. Happiness is heart-centred. Oh, and if you can align head and heart, this is where magic happens ✨️💖

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I love the thought that guilt is the conscious showing us habits to change. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it from that perspective before and I’ve felt guilty plenty of times in my life. Thanks so much for sharing this with me! Farm chores in my opinion has a way of keeping me humble and grounded. Something about accomplishing that task every day that makes things worthwhile.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve found that it’s best to make friends with guilt. Accept the messages it’s trying to tell you, but don’t let it dictate who you are as a person. Easier said than done for sure.

      And I’d imagine farm chores would be so satisfying! To be on top of tasks that sustain you, there’s no better feeling than that. Thank YOU for sharing perspectives from your reality!

      Liked by 1 person

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