Setbacks and disappointment

So, the downside of this trying malarkey is of course that trying often leads straight to failure. Trying, as we all know, is in fact the first step towards failure.

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And when what you’re trying to do is something of a life-long project (feeling better, being a better person) then failure is of course downright inevitable. Every day cannot be a better day than the one before. Every step cannot be a step forward. So, it seems this is another aspect that will have to be dealt with. But how?

“Plant expectations – reap disappointments” in all honour, but how do you ever do anything without expectations? How do you work on trying to be better and feel better if you don’t have the expectation that what you’re doing will help? And when it seems to help, when you have actually managed to handle a situation in a better and more productive way than previously because of the work you’re doing, then how do you avoid being devastated when the next time rolls around, the same type of situation, and this time over you completely botch it? I thought I had this shit down! What gives? Did I get cocky? Overrate my own abilities, what? So, here are my thoughts to try to make this better:

1) Two steps forward, one step back… Failure implies trying, so at least I’m trying! I’m doing something. I’m not just giving up. That seems comforting to me. Feels better than to feel crappy and not try to do anything about it. Keep taking steps, and the odds are good that eventually you’ll get where you’re trying to go. Take no steps and, well. You’re almost guaranteed not to get there.

2) Every day is not a good day. There can be reasons you’re not at the top of your emotional game on any given day. Maybe you’re stressed about something. Maybe it’s just one of those days. This is okay. Sometimes you have to be gentle with yourself and forgive yourself. Just like you feel better if you forgive others for disappointing you, you’ll feel a whole lot better if you forgive yourself for disappointing you.

3) Try to see it as a learning experience. Every exposure to the situation that upsets me gives me a chance to practice not getting upset. And even if I failed spectacularly this time, next time will be a chance to succeed. It sounds over-optimistic and sappy, but logically, it is true. You can’t succeed at something that you never have to deal with.

Today, I read an article about this researcher who had written a book about why people like playing video games when they keep failing (boss fights, platform jumps etc.) Obviously, people like a challenge. My thought is that the more times you have to retry that boss fight, the more pissed off and frustrated you get, the better it feels and the more of a kick you get when you finally succeed. So maybe failing isn’t always bad, if you can see it as building towards a more satisfying pay-off? That thought actually makes me feel a little better!

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Anger management

There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally

I’ve always been infinitely better at knowing how to hurt people than make them feel better. It’s so easy to lash out! And so hard to hold my tongue. Maybe it’s my backlog of grievances from my school days, and misdirected lust for revenge, but that does not make it any more okay. So I’m trying to stop that. And the easiest way not to lash out at someone is to try and not get annoyed with them in the first place.

I get very easily annoyed at people. Not to say angry. Not to say hurt. That is because I’m impatient – to me a lot of people are notoriously slow at doing things, like responding to e-mails etc. Many are the times when I have sat fuming and wondering what on Earth is it that can POSSIBLY take so long!? But, just like with insults, I have found that there are a few ways to think that can help relieve the anger and frustration I’m prone to feeling.

Firstly, I find it helpful to identify why I feel so frustrated. What are the thoughts behind that grating, unhappy anger and impatience? Depending on the circumstances, I have come up with a few different ones.

1) ‘But I would never…’

I would never behave that way – make someone wait that long. Sure, once in a while something legitimately happens that causes the delay – but most of the time, honestly, they’re just being slow for (what I consider) no reason. And I get hurt that they’re just not prioritising me in the slightest when they don’t reply to a chat message for half an hour because they were ‘caught up’ watching a you-tube clip or something. I would never do that. To me, that’s just basically rude.

And that feeling is very hard to shake, but here’s the thought that helps to at least ease the discomfort: They’re not me. This is the top one. Just because I would treat them in a certain way, it doesn’t mean that I should expect them to treat me the same way back. I can multitask; watch a film and reply to a message simultaneously. Perhaps they don’t have that ability. They think differently; their minds work differently; they have a different way of doing things. It doesn’t mean they’re being rude on purpose just because if I did the same thing, I would be. And there’s nothing to say that my way of doing things is the right one, or even the common one. The more people I interact with, the more I seem to realise that I’m probably the unusual one.

2) ‘It used to be better’

Another big source of unhappiness for me is comparing things to the way they used to be; those days when interaction was swift and pleasant. And I have noticed that this thought isn’t just the sadness that things are worse now, but a fear that it’s a continuing tradition. That if something is worse today than it was yesterday, then it is bound to be worse still tomorrow.

But this is a false projection. People don’t work that way; they’re not quite that linear and predictable. Anyone can have a bad day today and a good day tomorrow. If things can get worse (and they always can!) then they can usually get better too!

3) Overlooked reasons.

Tiredness. Stress. Work / school, family matters. Mental health. There can be lots of things on people’s minds that they don’t mention but that are causing them to act in a… less considerate manner. But these factors hit people differently too. See no. 1)

A few days ago, someone wrote something that really annoyed me on a message board. It wasn’t directly affecting me or related to be, but… sort of. And my knee-jerk reaction was to post something snarky back, but I managed to restrain myself, and I’m glad I did. Apparently, this person, it turns out, struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts and whatnot, and when I found out, it made me think about how I tend to forget about people’s reasons. And about giving them the benefit of doubt even if you suspect that they are lying about their reasons.

4) ‘Is is my fault?’

It’s important not to fall into the paranoid ‘was it something I said’ mindset where you convince yourself that you’ve pissed them off and they are somehow taking their revenge. This one can be very hard to deal with, but if you do piss someone off, you usually know it with more certainty than that. Now, if I do feel strongly enough that I have done something inconsiderate, I just ask. And, if it turns out I have done something, out of my impatience and annoyance, I apologise. This has certainly happened; I have said quite a few things that were out of line over the years. But I am working on not letting it happen again.