Say you’re walking on a sidewalk and someone bumps you in the shoulder. I’m sure there are a multitude of thoughts that may cross your mind almost instantaneously, in fact, some of us may think about that shoulder bump for the remainder of the day. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to paint two pictures for you. Imagine that the first thought that occurred was, “I’m sure he/she didn’t mean to do that it is a pretty skinny sidewalk.” This would be a positive way of looking at the situations and is a very likely scenario. What if though, the first thought that occurred was, “who the hell does this guy/girl think he is bumping into me like that!?” This would be an example of a negative way to look a the situation. Although that guy/girl could just as likely have been trying to be rude, we can never really know what someone else is thinking. That person could have gotten bumped by someone else and now their thoughts are saying, “the next person that tries to bump me, I’m bumping them first.” You can see how a negative reaction, caused a negative mindset, which caused another negative situation. Why does this all matter? How aware we are of this mental process and how we react to situations make all the difference in what happens next in our lives. Therefore, we must gain control of our mindset and that takes practice!
For some reason us humans like to think in absolutes. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s easier to categorize things this way. The truth is, nothing is really absolute and we don’t really know as much as we think we do. Our brains often try to categorize people by how they act, how they look, where they’re from, what team they root for, who they’re dating, what size shoes they wear, and so on. This can be very useful from a “survival standpoint.” When we didn’t have such a safe daily environment, people actually had to worry about plenty more things and our brain’s natural ability to try and sense danger was probably what kept people alive. Now, in America especially, our brains autonomic nervous system (fight or flight) doesn’t really have a lot to do from a “real” danger identification perspective; so it improvises. It adapts and starts to activate when your boss gives you a large workload, or when someone bumps into you walking down the street. It wants it’s time to shine so it activates and gets you all fired up! When your fight or flight system is going, it’s just like those snickers commercials, you aren’t yourself. When we aren’t aware of what’s happening, we can contribute to a negative process called rumination.
Rumination, in psychology, is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on it’s possible causes and consequences, as opposed to solutions. (1) Ok so rumination, in my opinion, is the negative mindset itself. So when someone bumps into you and you react to your negative emotion, then you carry that emotion with you, then something else seemingly negative happens, and you carry that with you and another thing and another. You can hopefully see what starts to happen here. These are no longer separate instances where you may have overreacted, instead you’ve built yourself a full blown narrative! I was really good at this for a long time! Now things are happening TO ME instead of things are just happening. So now we become preoccupied with the things happening to us and that brings in more negativity! In reality, things happen to everyone, you aren’t the only one who has had a tough life, you’re not the only one who has dealt with bullying or lived without a parent. Those things, unfortunately, happen to many people and it’s not fair, but we already know that life is not completely “fair” the way we want it to be. Hopefully we know that by now. So the negative mindset (rumination) is passively and repetitively focusing on one’s symptoms (what’s happening to me) instead of the solution (what am I going to do about this). Someone who is dealing with this process tends to focus on the past and the future instead of the present moment. (1) They can’t let what’s happened to them go (depression) and/or are so worried about what “may” happen in the future that they can’t enjoy the present (anxiety) So that brings the next question: What are we going to do about it?
Well the first thing we have to do is become self-aware. Self-awareness is the capacity of becoming the object of one’s own attention. We also have to be consciously aware: Focusing attention outward toward the environment. (2) Becoming self-aware in a positive way means getting to your true core of what you really believe in and what you really want. When we are in alignment with this, we don’t tend to have any worry or anxiety, when we our out of alignment and aren’t living what we perceive to be our “true purpose” or our “ideal self” (2) then we start to panic and are more prone to the negative mindset. Our inner most beliefs and inner voice that tries to keep us out of trouble or let us know what’s right or wrong morally, will protect us from over-reacting to our mind. Typically this voice wants peace and happiness. Becoming consciously aware means understanding how everything in our environment works together and that life isn’t only about us. It’s about everyone. We can’t become so selfish that we are constantly thinking about what’s happening to us and completely ignoring what happens to other people, both in the immediate environment and the global environment. The reality is, if the worst thing that’s happened to us this morning is someone bumping into us, we are living a great life!
There are a few practices that help us to gain control of these processes. Simply controlling your breathing, regularly, will help you regain a sense of control in the moment, while also directly suppressing your minds tendency to blow things out of proportion. Your breathing is tied right into your threat response so when you become aware of a negative mindset brewing, pausing, taking a big inhale, and a long controlled exhale, while actually influence that negative response. Another way of training your brain to stay calm is regularly meditating. This helps give you time to be quiet and become familiar with how your brain works while you sit and observe without reacting to any thoughts. Gaining control of your mind will keep you from reacting in situations and allow you not to sweat the small stuff. Finding opportunities to help others helps you become more aligned with how you believe things should be morally. There’s always an issue that one of us is passionate about, helping others who are worse off than ourselves helps with aligning your spirit. Eliminating or shortening these cycles of negativity, while also aligning yourself with your inner-most beliefs and values are what will help keep you feeling happy and fulfilled!
In the instance of someone bumping into you, you have the option to react negatively, understanding that it won’t make the situation better, but actually may just make someone else’s day worse. You also have also have the option to take a deep breath, understand that you aren’t under direct attack, and take the high road, freeing yourself from that negative, ruminative thought process that we’re all prone to! Let’s live life happily because life is great!
-Howard Bowens III