I’ve always been very interested in psychology and people, and over the years I’ve helped many close friends with their personal issues and in dealing with emotional strain. I have always been a tough person, and if something does eventually kick me down I’ll get back up and fight another day. One thing I’m very grateful to have is thick skin, and what other people think of me or say about me won’t get to me. Alright, enough with singing my own praises. I hate doing that, but I felt some context needed to be established for this to make sense. This will be a more personal blog post not related to writing, but more to mental strength and emotional toughness.
Recently I spoke to a few people dearly close to me and they were upset at someone who spoke ill of them behind their backs. When one of them asked me something along the lines of “how do you not get affected by it?” I proceeded to respond using a few of the principles with which I personally try to live by and value immensely. I felt that my words were taken to heart and appreciated, and since then I’ve wanted to share them in the hope that anyone else may try to adapt them or even just resonate with them. These principles can be applied to any bad or emotionally difficult situation, especially when it’s personal. In general, however, I believe in these principles and their ability to empower you if you can adapt them and put them into practice. I think that’s enough context for now, so let’s get to the first principle.
It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last
As simple as this sounds, it is a very hard thing to accept and one of the last things you’ll want to hear after dealing with a bad person or injustice. However, it is the truth of the matter. When you get screwed over, or lied to, or betrayed, or hurt, it most likely won’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last time it happens. If every struggle sends you to the floor down and out, you’ll have a tough time applying these principles. You need to breathe, relax and accept not that “shit happens”, but that bad things do, and people do make mistakes or purposefully do wrong.
Much like anything else, dealing with misfortune and injustice is something that takes practice. If you give in to anger or impulsive retaliation, you’ll add to your list of regrets by the time you calm down. Don’t act. Think. If you keep restraining yourself, it will eventually become second nature. Just remember. It won’t be the last time that something like what you’re facing happens. And whether it happened to you or not, it wouldn’t have been the first experience.
Pick your battles
Not every confrontation is worth having. Not everything is worth fighting over. Picking your battles is essential to not letting small things getting you, but knowing how to stand up to the things that matter. There are some fights you just can’t win, and you need to accept that. You need to accept that you can’t always change someone’s mind, you can’t save the world and you can’t fix everything. Sometimes fighting, picking the wrong battle, will only hurt you in the end. Other times, you’ll have put all of your energy into something with nothing to show for it. This is a harsh lesson to learn, but it is absolutely critical that you do. How do you pick your battles? That requires principle number three.
Before confrontation think on what you’ll gain and/or lose
This principle directly links to picking your battles. In order to actually choose whether to fight something or not, you often need to be rational and put impulsive emotions to bed so that you can think in terms of what you’ll gain and what you stand to lose from confrontation. You can only ever do this if you know in your mind that you can’t win every battle, and that some are just not worth fighting. That’s why I’ve chosen to separate these principles rather than combine them. They’re two different stages to tackling one issue. You can only evaluate confrontational situations with a clear mind if you know that by fighting you aren’t guaranteed to gain something, and that there are fights you actually can’t win.
I’ll give an example. It’s simple, but I feel it’s effective. I know someone who was upset with the rather ridiculous and unfair rules set by a senior lecturer of a course. Choosing to fight against these, emails were exchanged between this person and the lecturer. The person thought he was being polite and reasonable, and he probably was at first, but somewhere in the continued back and forth going-nowhere email exchanges, he rubbed the lecturer the wrong way, and wounded his ego. This prompted it to get personal, and the lecturer actively sought out to harm this person’s academic career for a time before other parties had to be brought in to reason it out.
Yes, it was totally unfair. But the reality is that it was well-known that the lecturer was an ego-maniac and an ass. Furthermore the lecturer was in a position of power, whereas the student was not. I am not here saying that you should be a doormat and get walked over, but if the person had evaluated the situation and realised that there would be very little to gain from fighting this lecturer, and that the cost of getting on his bad side could be severe, then this could have been avoided. Sure, this person could gain the respect and admiration of his peers by trying to stand up against the unfair rules, but that wouldn’t save him from the wrath of a sour person in power.
I’ve had personal experiences myself in which I’ve opted to avoid confrontation in knowing that I can’t win and I saved myself tons of stress and headache. For another brief example there was one argument I had with a friend (not a close one) a long time ago regarding something personal to me. Despite using factual evidence to back up my claims as well as evidence from our shared religion, I could not change the person’s mind about the issue. I realised then that I wouldn’t win, and stepped down. Continuing the fight would have soured the relationship or possibly led to it spreading to other ears, and the only thing to gain from there would be a lonely victory if I somehow won the argument in the end.
Try being calm, polite and reasonable. If that doesn’t work, walk away.
Focus on what you can control over what you can’t
This is perhaps the most essential of the principles, as it encompassed the three before it and is one of the most difficult to implement. As you go along you will encounter things that frustrate you, people who will hurt you, you will face injustice and as hard as you try to avoid trouble it will somehow find you anyway. That’s just life. In order to deal with it you need to focus on what you can control over what you can’t. In the beginning I talked about people close to me being upset by what someone said behind their back. Perfectly understandable. But the reality is that you can’t control what other people say about you. You can’t control the rumours that will get started about you, or the hateful or jealous comments which may follow you if you’re successful or popular or even just well liked by your peers and family. But you can control how you respond to it and how you deal with it. You can control what your real friends believe about you.
I can control how I react to being offended, but I can’t control someone choosing to offend me. I can control how I deal with a bad hand or injustice, but I can’t control the situation if the person who dealt me the bad hand is unreasonable or mean spirited. I can control how I think about certain ideas or behaviours, but I can’t control anyone else’s thoughts or behaviours. I can control the way I conduct myself towards others, but I can’t control what other people say about me when I’m not there. I can control my actions, but I can’t control people’s interpretations of those actions. I can control my emotions, but I can’t control other’s feelings towards me. I can control what I say and do, but I can’t control the consequences of it. I can control the advice I give to others, but I can’t control whether they choose to follow it.
Again. You can’t always change someone’s mind, you can’t save everyone and you can’t fix everything. Sometimes you just can’t and you need to make peace with that. Not everything is in your control, and if you try to bend it to your will then you will only endure high amounts of stress and deal with a heavy burden on your shoulders. It won’t be the last time you face difficultly. Pick your battles. Evaluate what you stand to gain and lose before taking action. And all the while when dealing with a problem, focus on what is in your power to control.
Don’t resort to judging others
Finally refrain from judging others. I know that it’s in human nature to judge other people for their mistakes and shortcomings. It’s easy to do that. But it’s not so fun when it’s your turn to be judged. To be human is to be imperfect. None of us are. If you choose to crucify someone for a bad decision or a mistake, remember that one day you’re going to make a bad decision or a mistake. The last thing you’ll want is to be judged and condemned. Sure, there are degrees of bad decisions and actions which are almost impossible to forgive, but there is this general principle and there is context. Sometimes forgiveness can’t be found, and sometimes someone doesn’t deserve a second chance. But it’s not always up to you whether said person gets one. Focus on what you can control. And you can control the degree to which you judge others. If you avoid judging others, you’ll find that others may be more forgiving of your shortcomings and mistakes, or you’ll even just be more accepting of your own faults when you make them.
It’s liberating not to judge or condemn and embrace the negative emotions that go with it. Just remember that judgement is an easy things to dish out, but it’s infinitely harder to take.
In closing these five principles have been invaluable to me in dealing with conflict, other people and disheartening situations. I’d hope that anyone who reads this may benefit from them as I have, and try to adapt them to everyday life. I myself still have plenty to learn – after all you can never stop learning – and would certainly enjoy picking up a few more principles by the time I have a kid of my own to guide and educate. I would hope that when that time comes I’ve acquired some wisdom from my experiences, and more so that that wisdom is worth sharing.