Let’s get right to it. Someone does something or says something that upsets you. Or some bad driving stranger cuts you off.
What most of us do most of the time when this happens is… get upset. “I can’t believe she said that. What a bitch!” “What an idiot! Who drives like that?!” Etc., etc., etc.
Our voracious egos
We then allow our egos to dine out on the delicious meal of anger/upset/grievance stew we’ve served up. We let it fester and burrow in, the end result being the spiraling down of our mood.
Doing this over and over, day after day, month after month, year after year, has a marked, negative impact on our overall well-being. And it doesn’t have to be that way!
The main reason so many people respond like this to upset is that they don’t know any other way. “Somebody did something to upset me and I felt terrible for a while. That’s life. What the hell else is there to do?”
My simple idea: frame the situation
That’s where I come in, with my umpteenth, ultra-simple suggestion for helping yourself. The idea centers on creating a framework for dealing with the upset so you can jettison it rather than allow it to bring you down.
First thing is, don’t deny that you’re upset or quibble about whether you have the right to be upset. “So my coworker told me I looked like I’d gained ten pounds. So what? She probably didn’t mean anything by it.” No. She said that you got upset and you had every right to feel that way. This isn’t about lying to yourself. That only compounds the problem.
So the upsetting event happens and you get stirred up inside. You’re pissed. Your adrenaline starts pumping. Your thoughts start gushing. What do you do? I’ll explain it through the dialogue I suggest you have in your head:
“So and so just made a snide comment that really pissed me off. But let’s see if we can frame this in a helpful way. Does it feel good to feel this way? No. I feel terrible inside. Would it be helpful to me if I kept pursuing and ruminating over this snide remark for the next minutes, hours or days? No, not at all. Okay, so I have a choice: I can either, 1. allow myself to keep feeling pissed and upset, or 2. I can let it go. I choose option #2.”
The crux of this idea is to frame it as a choice between doing something good for you or doing something bad for you. And the logic on it is unassailable. Tell me how it can be good for you to walk around stewing about something—Ninety-nine percent of the time that is NOT good for us.
Beware: the ego won’t give up easily
This isn’t to say that our egos won’t fight like hell to get us to stay on the warpath. “Sure, I could let this go, but come on, that was just plain rude what she said. I can’t let her get away with that and act as if nothing happened! I mean, come on. She does this to everybody…” And on and on it goes in your head for the next minutes, hours, days, and yes, sometimes years.
That’s when you, your conscious self, need to ride in and save the day. “I agree, ego, it was a terrible thing she said. But I’m asking, is it good or bad for us if we let this feeling fester?”
When you choose in your head to do the sensible thing and stick up for your well-being, the next step is crucial. What NOT to do is get impatient and say, “Alright, fine. Let’s just forget about it. It’s not worth getting in a bad mood over.”
That’s too abrupt. In most cases, the feeling of upset won’t be expunged that easily or quickly. Our egos are too strong.
The answer is to LET GO
So what do we do? Right after deciding to do the right thing for yourself, you start the process of letting go. What is that process? I’ve written about it many times, but it’s worth going over again.
First, we relax. All over, but especially in the head, neck, and chest areas. Then we take a few conscious breaths. Then we find the upset feeling. I feel most things in my stomach. Others feel in their chest/heart area. Just find the feeling.
Then lean away from it. Give it space. Then watch it. Don’t do anything to it. Don’t judge it. Don’t try to push it out of you. Just watch it. Keep breathing with it…then let it go.
Depending on the level of upset, you’ll most likely have to do this at least a few times, if not many. I don’t know about you, but my ego is a stubborn little sucker and doesn’t give up easily. It keeps summoning the upset, prompting me to do the letting go process again. But with vigilance, the feeling will wane.
Treat it like a game
It can also help treat this whole process as a game, a contest where the two contestants are always the same: The conscious, actual you versus your ego.
I find this really helpful. I get upset about something. I become aware of the upset feeling. Then I say to myself: “Okay. I’m pissed. And I feel angry and shitty. So who’s going to win here: me or my ego? If I relax and let go, I’ll feel better. If I submit to my ego, I’ll be in a crap mood. Who’s going to win?”
That will then prompt me to start the relax and let go process. Again, it’s all about framing and setting up a scenario where you have a legitimate choice: Let go and feel good or get sucked in by your lower self and feel bad. It’s in our power to choose.
I’m not recommending you rollover
Don’t take all this to mean I think you should roll over any time somebody does something to upset you. If there’s something to be gained from confronting the “upsetter,” do it.
Again, though, the only criteria that should factor into that decision is: Would this be good for me? If someone at work keeps lobbing snide remarks your way in meetings with your boss, take them aside and tell them you’re not cool with that. Then let it go.
But if it’s your old, miserable mother-in-law driving you crazy and you’ve had it out with her many times over the years, it’s probably best for you to relax and let it go. If it’s a stranger who’s cut you off and driven away, never to be seen again, it is 100% in your interest to let it go.
The key here is setting up a scenario where we give ourselves a choice. We can get upset and let it torment us (chalk up another win for the ego) or we can decide to stick up for our wellbeing and let it go.
It’s not easy because the ego is strong. But the more we side with letting go, the easier it gets. And the better we feel.