Life is tough. We all know it. So what’s to be done about it?
Like it or not, for most of us, reality is going to bite at some point. No matter how great our lives may be today, they can fall apart tomorrow. This is not pessimism—it’s life.
What goes up must always come down. No one lives trouble-free. It’s just part of the human condition. Those who recognize that another great challenge is always right around the corner are better prepared for life. We need to be ready.
But as Prussian general and military theorist Claus von Clausewitz knew so long ago, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” In other words, no matter how prepared we are for life’s next setback, we are but human. And it’s going to hurt. And how you choose to handle that pain will have a significant impact on your future.
There’s a term in psychology called rumination, and in my opinion, it is what causes most depression.
Rumination is the act of thinking over and over about one negative thing, which then catapults your thought processes to another negative thought, and on and on in a deepening cycle that is often hard to break free from. For example, first, you wake up late. Then, you run into traffic driving to work. Then you lose a big client. Then your girlfriend breaks up with you. Next thing you know you are thinking, “I am such a loser. Why is this happening to me?” Next, come the prognostications and the absolutes: “I’m going to get fired. I’ll never find a new client. I’ll never find a new girlfriend. I’ll probably never get married!”
And then there you are, fighting just to stay sane.
These thoughts that drive you further into depression and despondency are natural. But do you need a drug to handle this? Is alcohol the solution? Probably not. Here’s why: drugs do not solve the underlying issues, and drugs bring you an artificial high that will eventually leave you feeling worse than before.
Instead, I’d suggest an ancient superdrug: your mind. It is 100 percent natural, safe, effective, and free! And it’s ready to use right out of the box.
You are going to use your mind to do three things: divert, detect, and destigmatize.
The first thing you have to do is divert your mind away from the rumination before it gets out of hand. I do it myself via a tasty cocktail of cognitive-behavioral therapy coupled with ‘flow.’ You’re going to get a crash course right now in both. It’s a two-step process.
1) Stop the negative self-talk and predictions about the future.
Stop with the ‘why me’ and ‘I suck’ diatribes. Stop with the ‘I’m never going to recover’ and ‘No one is ever going to hire me again’ exaggerations. Just stop. Force yourself to stop beating yourself up. Force yourself to say some kind things about yourself that are closer in line with the truth.
For example, instead of “I suck. I’ll never find another job.” say, “I’m human and like other humans, I’ve lost my job. Big deal. It happens.” and follow up with “Sure, I am sad that I lost my job, but there are many other jobs out there, and I’m going to find one.”
2) Do something with flow to distract your mind.
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses in his amazing book, “Flow,” flow happens when we are so engaged in something that everything else is forgotten.
These flow activities can be different for everyone. This is why you can’t necessarily ask someone else, “What should I do to forget this situation?” You need to figure that out for yourself. For me, computer programming forces me to use so much of my brain that as soon as I’m engaged with it, I forget all else. If I want to emote while diverting, I will write a new song and play guitar and sing, which always tends to cheer me up.
The idea is to do something that absorbs your mind. It takes time and practice to determine what these activities are. For many people, it’s too much work to find their flow activities so they take shortcuts, i.e. drugs, alcohol, spending money, etc. Trust me: don’t take the shortcuts—it’s far better to learn to stop berating yourself and find your flow activities. These can keep depression from getting worse and diffuse an emotional situation.
Once you are less emotional, find the cause of the depression. What triggered these feelings? It shouldn’t be too difficult.
Once you are certain you have figured out the causes, you must take steps to remove them. Psychologist Martin Seligman came up with the term “learned helplessness” to describe a condition in which someone who has no restraints holding him back still refuses to act out of a false perception of helplessness.
The solution: get over it, as hard as it is.
Sometimes you need someone else to help you over the hump so you can believe in yourself again. Whatever it takes, you must force yourself to believe that there is a solution. Because the truth is: there is, and until you believe you can improve your situation, you are done.
So brainstorm up multiple possible solutions, and then start putting those plans into motion. Why is this step important? If you don’t solve the underlying cause, the trigger remains, and you will continually have to go back to step one as soon as the trigger is pulled again. The purpose of detecting the trigger is so you can neutralize it.
When something sends us into depression or sadness, good memories can suddenly be turned into bad memories. As a result, you steer clear of places, events, and situations that remind you of whatever it was that caused the depression in the first place.
For example, if you used to always eat at the diner down the street with your husband, and now you are divorced, perhaps even seeing that diner upsets you. So you plan your driving routes every day to ensure you never pass the diner, and you avoid invitations that are planned at that diner.
If you do this, you are building bigger walls of pain, rather than breaking them down and moving forward with your life. The better solution is to force yourself to create new memories at the diner by destigmatizing the location, place, or event.
For example, call up your friends and go to that diner and sit in the same booth you always used to sit in with your husband. Force yourself to drive by it every day, so each new day is a memory of that place as you drive by.
Essentially, you need to create new memories of that place or situation so that the new memories become the new normal. If you continue to avoid that diner, your new normal will always involve associating that diner with your ex-husband, i.e. the old normal is still the norm. You need to reframe that old association into something new that can displace those bad memories.
The truth is: you can overcome sadness, depression, and anxiety without medication. Your mind is stronger than any drug on the market, and using your mind as your new superdrug won’t have any of the side-effects of a high from drugs or alcohol.
Is it easy to take control of your mind and really learn how to divert, detect, and destigmatize? No, it’s not. It requires work and constant practice.
There are countless books on cognitive behavioral therapy, flow, reframing, etc. you may want to read to help you become a mind ninja. The effort is worth it to become a student of these disciplines because gaining control of your mind virtually turns you into a superhero.
Most people (and I include myself in this group) will never fully gain control over the mind, but practicing to divert, detect, and destigmatize every day can go a long way towards making your life more pleasant. This method can reduce your sadness and depression, increase your resiliency, and help you further develop your emotional control. The best part: you get all these benefits without any side effects.
Try it. You’ll be glad you did. Divert. Detect. Destigmatize.
Monroe Mann holds a doctorate in psychology, an MBA, a law degree, and is also a bronze-star nominated Iraq war veteran. He is the founder of the positive psychology-based social network, BreakDiving.io and the author of “Time Zen,” “Successful New Year,” and “T.R.U.S.T.” More info: MonroeMannLaw.com