When we pull up to a red light, we don’t question why the light is red. We simply accept the color for what it is and immediately behave accordingly. We don’t complain about how it’s unfair, about how the traffic lights of the world are out to get us.
We don’t waste time contemplating how this great misfortune could have occurred – because it’s not a great misfortune at all. Millions of people around the world stop at red lights everyday. It is a temporary inconvenience and a minor hindrance on our journey, but we know exactly how to respond if we do encounter a red light.
What if we treated each obstacle in life like a red light?
What if we learned to accept the obstacle for what it is, vow to not waste precious time complaining about it, realize that it happens to everyone, and recognize that we can be mentally prepared for it in advance?
Using this approach we can save ourselves from a significant amount of stress, anxiety, jealousy, and anger. We can be more accepting of our obstacles and think more clearly about how to push through them. We can spend less time worrying, fretting, complaining, and more time moving on and living our lives.
Accept the Obstacle
When an obstacle unexpectedly comes our way, our visceral reaction is to ask why. We look for meaning, an explanation, a reason for why it occurred. This attempt to understand why an obstacle materialized in our life can be useful to a certain extent – it’s possible that we actually brought the obstacle upon ourselves. But more often than not, there is no action we could have taken to prevent it.
Cancer happens. Natural disasters happen. Car accidents happen. House fires happen. Economic crashes happen. Crimes happen.
We get passed up on promotions, betrayed by friends, lied to by business partners, disappointed by family members. We get a flat tire, our car breaks down, we get a new shitty coworker, an angry boss.
And while none of these obstacles are fun to deal with, they only become more problematic when we fail to accept them for what they are.
By looking for a reason behind the obstacle, we are wasting time trying to explain the past while we could instead be looking for ways to prepare for the future. We could be looking immediately for ways to make the best of the situation, to develop a strategy to overcome the obstacle, to find a path around the adversity.
Accepting obstacles is hard. This doesn’t come naturally. We want an explanation for why shit happens. We want answers. But often there are no answers, no explanation, no good reason.
This is why it’s vital that we practice acceptance. We can’t always control what obstacles come our way. But we can always control our response. By immediately accepting the obstacle for what it is, we put ourselves in a better position to overcome it.
Stop Wasting Time Complaining
When difficulty comes our way, the easiest, most elementary, most childish, instinctive way to react is through complaining.
Why did this happen to me? I don’t deserve this. This isn’t fair, I don’t accept this. This is too hard, I can’t handle this. This should not be this way.
Complaining is easy. It doesn’t require any effort, any preparation, any hard work. It comes naturally to us. But every second we spend complaining is a second we could be using to defeat the obstacle.
Each time we choose to tweet about our problems instead of take action against them, we lose. Each time we choose to complain to our coworkers about a difficult project or an impossible deadline, we lose. Complaining brings about more complaining. The more we complain, the more habitual it becomes, and the harder it becomes to focus on what we need to do to push through the obstacle.
The best way to make an obstacle more difficult, scary, intimidating, and empowering is to complain about it. This gives the obstacle strength, makes it more real, makes it bigger than it really is. Each time we complain, we take energy from ourselves and transfer it into the obstacle.
So we must stop complaining. We must stop making the obstacles in our lives bigger than they really are.
You Are Not Alone
For some odd reason we like to assume that the world mischievously crafts hardships uniquely for us. We think Why Me? Why did this happen to me? Why do I have to deal with this?
Me, Me, Me.
But the truth is: everyone deals with hardships. Everyone has their own unique struggles they must face on a regular basis. We are not alone in our battle. Obstacles are a basic element of the human experience.
But it’s immensely important to recognize that if you have an internet connection and you’re reading this paragraph right now, there are much harder obstacles you could be facing in life. If your biggest obstacles on a daily basis are an annoying commute, office politics, and drama with your neighbor about your dog pooping in their yard, you’re living the good life.
We need to keep our “obstacles” in perspective. While we act like the sky is falling over traffic jams, there are people who have no access to clean water. While we lose our heads over a broken iPhone, there are people who die of malnutrition every single day.
Everyone deals with obstacles. We should feel blessed that most of ours aren’t really obstacles at all.
The philosophy of stoicism teaches a principle called Negative Visualization. This is an exercise in which you imagine the worst possible scenario you could face today. This could be a best friend passing away, losing your house, losing a family member, a pet, etc. By doing so, you can become more appreciative of what you have in your life now. This helps you to not take what you currently have for granted.
We can use this technique to mentally prepare for obstacles we may face on a daily basis.
What if there is a traffic jam? What if my boss is in a horrible mood today? What if the printer is broken again? What if I get into an argument with my best friend?
By thinking about these negative situations, we can mentally prepare ourselves for how we would handle them. And if none of these situations do arise, we can be even more grateful.
The truth is that obstacles will enter our path at some point. They might not today, or tomorrow, or even this week, but at some point they will. They’re unavoidable. If we can learn to mentally prepare for them, we will be better equipped when they do materialize.
By treating obstacles like red lights, we can:
- Become more accepting
- Avoid wasting time complaining unnecessarily
- Recognize that we are not alone in our struggle with hardships
- Become mentally prepared for adversity when it comes our way
By using these tactics we can better equip ourselves to overcome daily obstacles.
Feature photo credit: traffic light
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