Every single morning of my life, I wake up with anxiety. I’m thinking about the future — what I need to get done for the day, what I want my week to look like, my grand plans for the future, everything. I’m thinking about the past — mistakes, things I wish I could change, beating myself up over what’s already set in stone.
Throughout the day, I have problems, annoyances, obstacles, challenges. And it always seems so real to me. Just like it seems real to you. We think we have problems, but all we have are interpretations of events.
Logically, we know our thoughts help dictate our reality, but oftentimes life just feels like it’s happening to us. Our perception of reality becomes reality. You have these beliefs and ways you think the world works that are impossible to objectively claim are true, but you treat them like scientific law.
Your mind, for lack of a better word, tortures you. Think of how many thoughts you think in a single day, how they come up from nowhere, and how you don’t seem to have that much control over them.
What do you do about all this?
Personally, I’ve (tried to) practice mindfulness and meditation for the past five years. I’m not good at it, and I don’t know if you ever can become good at it or if that’s even a goal you should have, but it does teach me to be aware of the ridiculousness of my own thoughts. On top of that, I’ve studied practices like stoicism and learned great lessons from books like the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
I don’t go to the full lengths of Eastern Philosophy or Stoicism and try to abandon all ambition, ego, and desire, but they’re useful tools for me when my brain gets all out of whack. Use some of these ideas, quotes, and helpful explanations to remember that this is all in your head.
“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” – Naval Ravikant
It takes a lifetime to understand that desire is a never-ending well you can’t fill with your accomplishments. You think not having something is a problem. And in some circumstances, it truly is a problem, e.g., not being able to afford food.
But you have to understand that no amount of accomplishment is going to make you happy. You can do things you can enjoy, develop competence, and get worldly rewards as a byproduct, but the outcomes themselves will never fill the void you have.
I struggle with this, badly. Each time I achieve a goal I just want more. I create unnecessary anxiety over having a better future and tend to forget how great I have it already.
I don’t think any of these problems are solvable. You can only grow in the process of trying to solve them. Even attempting to interpret a problem as a non-problem appears to be an act of…problem solving.
You can’t fully get away from it. At best, you can counterbalance your ambitions with gratitude. Remove the emotion from the process of what you’re doing as best you can.
“How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks.” – Marcus Aurelius
How much of our lives are robbed by focusing on other people? All this unnecessary anxiety created over the actions of other people we can’t control. At least when you focus on yourself, you have a shot at solving your own problems, but other people? Forget about it.
Of course, focusing on others occurs because we don’t have confidence in controlling ourselves. It has to be someone else’s fault because the only other alternative is realizing you let yourself down. Like all these mental gaffes, you have to practice catching them.
Feeling envy? Catch it. What does someone else’s success have to do with you? Nothing. Urge to gossip? What does that solve? What kind of person does gossiping make you? Catch it. Outraged at society? What is your outrage going to do? Nothing. Catch it.
Have you ever — even once — gained anything of value whatsoever by prioritizing someone else’s actions over your own? Can you change someone else’s thoughts, philosophy, and speech?
Even if you can, is it worth the time you could’ve spent living your own life?
I see people sling mud at one another on the internet — with so much energy — why?
It never leads to anything good. Both sides are worse off and nothing gets resolved. We forget how fleeting life is and the fact we’ll all be dead sooner than we think.
“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.” – Marcus Aurelius
This reminds me of the quote “being bitter is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
It seems like we all have a masochistic relationship with anger.
Someone harmed you. Ok. But it’s done. How does your angry change what happened? It doesn’t. Why can’t you just let it go?
“Because they should pay for what they’ve done.”
Imagine a situation where they do pay for what they’ve done. Do you think it will give you peace? Is it worth it if it comes at the expense of your own character?
“Because they should feel bad for what they’ve done.”
Why? Because you said so?
As difficult as it is, we need to realize people live according to their own scripts. We can either accept them as they are or try to change them.
If you can change them with reason then by all means try, but if they’re unreasonable, why waste your precious time and energy attempting to fix what’s permanently broken?
James Altucher says that “anger is fear clothed.” I like that. All emotions seem to stem from love or fear. With anger, perhaps we’re afraid of just fully feeling hurt. But when you let the feelings wash over you, you have a chance to let them go. When you’re angry, you think you’re angry, but you’re actually just trying to suppress your anger and control it.
All these lessons teach you that detachment is the better way. You can’t control shit. Not even your own mind. So stop trying so much to control everything and try to develop harmony with what’s going on instead.
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” – Mark Twain
This one might be the worst one, right? All these imaginary scenarios that never come true. Have you ever been kept up all night by something that was going to happen the next day, only to find out it wasn’t that bad?
I remember once asking for a $10,000 raise from my job. I was scared shitless and kept visualizing the harsh rejection I’d get. Turns out the meeting went well and I got the raise with little resistance. All that worry for nothing.
You’ve had countless moments like this where you were worried about nothing, but you almost never learn your lesson and repeat the same mistake again. The tone of this post sounds pessimistic. You’re always repeating mistakes and getting caught in the same mental traps in perpetuity.
The key here, again, is to try to get a little bit less neurotic, a little less worrisome, a little less bat shit crazy about the past and the future. Making that little bit of progress can have a monumental effect on your life. Being able to move through the world just a little bit more calmly can make a world of difference.
Alleviating bits of stress, gradually, can add years to your life. Stress kills. Getting a bit better at mindfulness, staying present, and avoiding worrying about the future long enough to execute in the present, can lead to better outcomes.
The awareness that all this goes on in the first place is a major step above the denial most people live in. You’re not going to permanently stop worrying about the future ever, but be more aware and detach as much as you can.
“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgement of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgement now.” – Marcus Aurelius
This makes sense logically, but it’s so hard to practice each day of our lives.
My reality only exists in my mind.
Your reality only exists in yours. You could make the decision to simply stop letting circumstances bother you — you could.
I’m sitting here typing on a keyboard of a $2,000 dollar machine capable of spreading my message around the entire world in less than one second.
I have food, clothes, a roof, good friends and family, a career I enjoy.
What do I really have to complain about all the time?
What do you have to complain about in the grand scheme of life?
Please know, I don’t intend this message to be judgmental in any way. I face all of these problems on a daily basis.
The quotes mentioned in the piece are true. They’re absolutely true. We have a choice to determine what our reality means to us.
When faced with problems, obstacles, and tragedy, remember you always have a choice.
There is a correct way to live. Not based on money, status, power, lust, greed, envy, or any of the other poisons to our minds.
Just to live out each day, do what we’re designed to do, and enjoy life.
Because we’ll all soon be dust.