“What disturbs men’s minds is not events but their judgments on events.” Epictetus
Stoics and psychologists agree. Most of your negative feelings are caused by irrational or inaccurate thoughts. You do not need positive thinking to feel good. You just need a more accurate one.
I compiled a list of the most common inaccurate thoughts. This list was inspired by the work of psychologist Albert Ellis.
1. You need to be liked by everyone.
You don’t. In prehistoric years, you needed to be accepted by your peers to survive. You would not want to be expelled from the tribe. You have more options now.
When I started writing online, I braced myself for the haters. I was expecting the worst. It did not happen. Yes, some people did not like what I wrote. But, I got to connect with individuals from all over the world who shared the same interests. I found my tribe. Had I tried to please everyone, my posts would be so bland and fake that nobody would connect with them.
You do not need to be liked by everyone. You just need to be liked by enough people to be part of a community and be able to make a living. Today, this community can be dispersed across the globe.
2. You should be competent in everything.
A few years back, someone told my mother that I was not good with housework. My mom was offended. I was not. It is a fact. I do not enjoy housework, and I am not competent in it. That is ok; I outsource it. I still get to enjoy a clean house and nice-smelling clothes. And I get to dedicate my time improving on things important to me. Like parenting or coaching.
Also, I do not need to be competent to enjoy doing something. I am not a visual person. I prefer ideas. That does not stop me from painting or posting on Instagram. Why miss out on the fun just because I do not have the talent?
3. It is catastrophic when things do not go the way you want them to go.
Things will not always go your way. Find a way to accept this. Maybe you can prepare yourself mentally for all possibilities.
Tony Robins suggests another idea: “What if life was not happening to you but it was happening for you?”
It is true that some of the nicest things in my life happened because things did not go my way. If I had not been rejected by my dream company during my MBA, I would not have found a job at Google. If my house purchase had not fallen through last year, we would not have moved to a tropical paradise this year. Have you experienced the same? Life happening for you?
Even if you do not believe that everything happens for a reason, you can still believe that you are resourceful enough to re-pivot. You will make an excellent lemonade with the lemons life threw at you. And sometimes, you will end up somewhere better than what you had planned for.
4. If there is a danger, you should worry about it.
My husband quit his job to take a year off with our family this year. There was a risk that he would not find a good job when we would come back. He could have let this worry ruin our Sabbatical. It would defy the whole purpose of it. Or, he could park it to deal with at the appropriate time. I am glad he chose the second. We are not even back from our travels, and he already has an attractive offer. What a waste of worrying it would have been!
The following quote is attributed to Mark Twain: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
The best way to deal with worry is shown in the diagram below.
5. You are defined by your past.
You cannot change your past. But you can change your present and your future. Do not let something that happened in the past affect you for ever. Deal with any psychological ‘unfinished business’ and then move on.
6. People and things should be different from the way they are.
I fall into this trap. My friends should be doing more for their happiness. My company should have fewer politics. And my husband should be more open to my crazy ideas! This thinking pattern causes frustration, and it is useless. It is what it is. The world does not have to follow my arbitrary ‘shoulds.’ When I show less judgment and more acceptance, everything in my life improves.
7. You can be happy by doing nothing.
Happiness is natural. My baby is by default happy. It is the state a relaxed mind will fall into. But, in today’s world, you have to do things to get into this relaxed state of mind.
The last six months were probably the happiest of my life. I am trying to work backward how it happened. Was it something I did? Well, I did quite a lot. I uprooted my family with a newborn and a toddler and moved to a tropical island. I started exercising and having a nap. I continued my masters in Executive Coaching to keep learning new things and growing. I wrote and expressed my creativity. I developed a deliberate gratitude practice. I met new people and made new friends. I resumed dates with my husband.
You get the drill. Happiness may be your natural state. But, you can rarely get there with inaction.
8. It is easier to avoid life’s responsibilities and difficulties rather than facing them
I learned that this was a false belief when I was 20. My tooth was hurting. I avoided going to the dentist because I was afraid of how painful it would be to take the tooth out. Finally, I went. And it was nowhere near as painful as I had imagined. And the pain was gone once and for all. Since then, I know it is easier to deal with problems head on, rather than trying to avoid them.
Another example relevant to this is parenting. The first years are hard. I believe that the harder you work as a parent the first years, the easier your life will be later on. You need to do a good enough job when your kids are young. Then, when they are older, they will probably be confident, self-regulate, and love themselves and others. Once again, facing the responsibility head on, makes things easier in the long run.
Is there a difficulty or responsibility you are avoiding? In what cost?
Being aware of these inaccurate thoughts is a huge step. Next time you catch yourself having them, just notice them. Are they helping you towards your goals? Just let them settle down. Your mind will drift to something else naturally. A more accurate thought. And remember, you are always a thought away from a whole new experience of the world.
You can download Caterina Kostoula’s free Balance & Self-Care toolkit to assess your self-care needs, identify your energy zappers, and create more space in your life.
Caterina Kostoula is an Executive Coach and a Global Business Leader at Google. Follow Caterina Kostoula on Facebook, Medium, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.