Sometimes maximizing your positive impact means minimizing your negative impact or the negative impact that something was somebody will have on you. Receiving bad news usually triggers a sequence of predictable events. After receiving the news we immediately start calculating numerous very bad possible future scenarios and consequences. Our mind takes control of our imagination and uses it to construct images of what this bad future might look like. When we think about a stressful future scenario we often leave the present and spend enormous amounts of time imagining ourselves in the stressful situation in the future. There is nothing impacting us in the present but we feel stressed now (in the present) because we are imagining how bad the future scenario will feel. This is a good thing in one sense because it is the human body’s way of telling us that there is potential danger down the road and we need to prepare for it.
When we find ourselves in this situation, the first thing we need to do remind ourselves that there is no threat to us right now (in the present) so we should calm down and take a deep breath. After creating a “safe psychological space in the present” we can more rationally start thinking about what to do to avoid or mitigate the stressful future scenario. At the risk of stating the obvious, whenever a human is confronted with a bad scenario (short-term or long-term) humans feel bad. You will continue feeling bad until you find a solution that will avoid or mitigate the damage from the bad future scenario. Therefore, the sooner we start working on it and finding solutions to the better. There’s nothing to be gained from constantly reimagining the bad scenarios many times over. After the mind has done its job and allowed you to imagine the bad scenarios a small number of times and, thereby alerted you that there is danger down the road it’s time to stop watching unnecessary additional replays and start working on developing solutions. In some rare cases there may not be a solution (for example, being sentenced to death). In these situations the solution is perspective that allows you get through it.
It’s also important to take personal responsibility for the situation – believing that you have the ability to influence the situation and the will and courage to take the action to do it. Nothing will make you feel more uncomfortable than believing that you have no control or very little control over the situation. I always say, there is always a way. If you can’t think of a way this does not mean that there is no way it just means that you haven’t thought of it.
Although I cannot point to any research that supports what I’m about to say, I can say that, from my own experience of being in many difficult situations, I always feel much better after going through the process of breaking down the problem then specifically asking myself how to solve each piece of the problem then simply coming up with “possible” solutions as opposed to “actual” solutions. If I do happen to come up with an actual solution then of course I feel better because I know that the problem has been addressed. However, if I have not come up with a solution I still feel better as a result of knowing that I’ve come up with some possible solutions. However, the creation of the possible solutions only buys time. I know that I need to develop possible solutions to the point where they are closer to actual solutions over time otherwise I will slowly slide back into feeling bad again. The timeframe within which this sequence must be completed is obviously determined by the timeframe conferred on me by the problem.
In the first part of this process, as you come with ideas you will imagine them being implemented in the future. When you do this the body will respond by feeling the same (if the idea has no impact), worse (if the idea makes the situation worse) or better (if you imagine that the idea will / might work). This is your natural tool for analyzing potential solutions – you imagine the possible solution in reality and, depending on what happens, you feel good, neutral or bad. If you have come up with a potential solution it gives you hope and hope is the light at the end of the tunnel that makes you feel better (even if it is only temporary because, of course, the hope must be replaced with an actual solution or a mitigating solution before the future problem scenario becomes a reality in the present).
Negative thoughts and emotions impact your ability to deal with the situation, particularly if you are in a time sensitive scenario. In this situation, it’s critical to shift your state of mind in a way that allows you to observe the situation without the high-intensity impact of negative thoughts and emotions distracting you from the cold hard analysis that needs to happen right now. This is often called the “observer mode”. It allows you to be more analytical and to get a better understanding of the problem and approach the development of the solution with the more neutral approach of an observer. This ability to create a temporary detachment from your reality in order to be able to analyze the situation free of emotional distraction is extremely powerful. If you are dealing with genuinely difficult situations I strongly suggest you learn more about and to develop this skill (I cannot stress this enough). It is even more important if you are in a situation where other people will be affected by your decisions.
If you’re dealing with an enormous problem it can be very difficult for your mind to jump to the solution in one leap. Start by breaking down the problem into smaller pieces and listing all of the possible solutions. If you are in a difficult situation, it’s absolutely critical that you list every possible solution no matter how crazy it might be. After listing all of the possible solutions (that may possibly include several that you really don’t want to pursue) then start connecting the dots. One aspect of one solution may help to make another partial solution complete. You may be able to construct a plan A, Plan B, plan C, etc and pursue them all concurrently in order and know that you have a plan will cover several variables that have yet to become constants. If the problem you’re trying to solve is serious then you need to put everything you have into this process. You will always feel uneasy and nervous if you feel like you have put anything less than 100% everything you have to give into solving the problem.
After working through a possibly grueling problem solving session you need to find a way to relax for a brief period of time in order to rejuvenate yourself and resume working on solving the problem with a clear head and a lot of energy. In order to relax you have to be able to get sufficiently distracted from your problem (temporarily). It’s not good enough to watch a serene video if you are thinking about your problem while watching it. Humans are social creatures. There may be some people in your life that you can lean on to help you with this problem. There are probably other people in your life that somehow have a positive energy and simply makes you feel better when you’re around them. Think about the people in your life and the role that they could play in helping you with this situation and remember that the way that they help you does not necessarily have to involve solving your problem. It could be a simple as their presence helping you get through the day. We are hardwired to solve our problems with social interaction. People often say “I couldn’t have gotten though this difficult period without the support of…”. They’re right. That’s how humans work.
Humans immediately feel better in the present when they are making progress toward a goal that is important to them. In this case the goal is solving a serious problem. The solution maybe to eliminate the problem or to reorganize your life around the problem so that its impact is mitigated or becomes irrelevant all together. It’s important to remind yourself that there is also a third option and that is that you find a way to turn this negative into a positive. In some cases this scenario happens by accident but it doesn’t have to be an accident. If you actually ask yourself the question – how can I make this bad news a positive thing and start listing all of the ways it can be positive you will be amazed at what may be possible. When one door closes, another one opens.
Next articles in this series: “Memories and Happiness”