Notes to myself: It’s not events that upset us, but our judgement about them.

About a year ago, I stumbled upon a book called “Stillness is the key” by Ryan Holiday. It ended up being a great introduction to Stoicism and helped me to shift my thinking and perception of certain events around me. At that time, I was a person who took things too seriously, overthought them, reacted emotionally and impulsively without reason, and occasionally been called inflexible. I think the majority of it came from assumptions and schemas in my brain about the world around me. I tended to dye the words I hear in harmful colours, only because I didn’t know all the facts.

Awerness is the first step to make the change

Believe me, I’m still prone to assumption, such a thing doesn’t just magically disappear overnight. I might take words and comments too personal, add ill-disposed intent, or a whole story behind them. Work, personal life, doesn’t matter. It’s part of me, and I’m sure (I hope?) my past has some reasonable explanation for that. Understanding is the first step to make the change. I’m better now at reading those early signs when my automatic system kicks-in, and I know how to handle them.

Being aware of such behaviours opened my eyes, and I started noticing similar patterns in people around me. When I provide, with good intentions, feedback or comment, my listener may resist, show contempt, try to defend their positions or actions. I’m trying to be honest, constructive, and I don’t get back what I expect — “How they don’t see that I’m only trying to help?”. I can’t influence how they perceive my words. Still, I can make a conscious effort to adjust the tone of my message to become more balanced and positive. It will take time, and it doesn’t surprise me anymore, I reacted in the same way as they do.

Choose not to be harmed

Epictetus was saying that it is not events that upset us, but our judgement about them. Requests or comments are absolutely objective and very often don’t carry any malicious intent — they are just words coming out of someone’s mouth. Our minds add emotional load, we try too hard to find the more profound meaning and very often not a positive one. The famous “what is his hidden agenda?”. It is especially valid in times, when online communication became more common, or even necessary due to the current health restrictions. We work remotely and text messages exchanged on chats are easy to write, but sometimes hard to understand. That’s when things escalate. We pick one sentence that we feel was hurtful to our ego. Then we obsessively focus on the meaning, chasing ghosts of our emotional response by dragging the entire conversation down, only because our assumptions have already written the whole story.

“Choose not to be harmed,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.”

Our reactions are subjective. It is our choice to read a message and think that it’s victim-blaming, personal attack, attempt to undermine our authority… Or whether we should see it as what it is — a different way to think about the situations we find ourselves in throughout life.

We believe we know what other people feel or mean. This is why we let our automatic system to respond quick, skew the reality, and we do it without the required scrutiny or even second thoughts. Our assumptions are not our friends, and we need to let them go.

Notes to myself

  • Dye events with your own colours.
    I should take words as what they are — no need to look for a hidden meaning or take it personally. People are trying to do the best they can in a given situation (especially if it’s a stressful one), they do have good intentions. If something doesn’t feel right — ask questions and help.
  • Facts and truth should not upset me.
    It’s not easy to find a person who speaks the truth, but if I find one, I should not don’t get upset by their words. Take them as a learning opportunity, or just yet another challenge.
  • Adapt to changes and stay flexible.
    I tend to get upset when plans change, but that’s life. Things will change, and being flexible is one of the human’s best qualities. The world doesn’t revolve around me, and changes are not here just to piss me off. Amor fati.
  • Avoid serious discussions on chats.
    Be careful when discussing serious topics on a chat. Emotions don’t come thru, and it doesn’t matter how many smiley faces I add at the end of my sentence. Things tend to escalate quickly and can leave a long-term trail of destruction in relationships.
  • Listen to understand not to respond.
    It is easy to respond in conversations, I don’t even think about it. Yet, It is hard to understand what other person is trying to tell me, how they feel, what they want and what they need.
  • Ask questions, don’t assume…

Highly accomplished and results-oriented professional with background in leadership, software engineering, automotive, photography and design.