Bad stuff. It happens to all of us. Sometimes it happens all at once. When it does, you might find yourself shouting at the sky: “Why, Universe, why?!” If you’re feeling angry at life right now, I’d like to help you to fall back in love with life. And I’ve got a terrific tool which has been proven to help.
Here’s the deal:
When you’re angry at life, it’s not only the event itself which is upsetting you, but the way you are explaining the event to yourself. Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the U of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, says a lot of your love (or hate) for life is dependent upon “the stories” you tell yourself about life. These stories, or “self-talk,” can either enable you to persist in the face of challenges – or completely disable you.
Seligman says: “Pessimists, who generally don’t bounce back easily from bad times, see failure as permanent, pervasive, and personal. They tell themselves things like: ‘My life is ruined!’ and ‘This bad thing is going to undermine everything.’ ”
Optimistic people, in contrast, tell themselves that setbacks are temporary – confined to that one situation – and are usually about the other person – not a character defect in themselves. Optimists tend not to get angry at the universe. They simply assume that bad events are an exception – and good things will continue to happen.
If lately a lot of bad stuff has been happening, you’ve got to mindfully train your brain to think like an optimist. You must know in your heart that challenging times are temporary – and stop seeing your relationship with the universe as permanently torturous and dysfunctional.
Dr. Seligman has partnered up with Dr. Karen Reivich to create a specific process for bouncing back from tough times – that’s literally as easy as A B C D E. Here’s how it works:
- When we encounter Adversity (that’s the “A” step in this process), we react by thinking about it.
- Our thoughts congeal into Beliefs ( the “B” step in this process), and they become so habitual we don’t even realize we have them – unless we stop to focus on them.
- These beliefs have Consequences (the “C” step in this process). They determine how we feel and how we act. They can spell the difference between dejection and well-being, giving up and constructive action.
D and E. The first step to falling back in love with life, is to start to be able to see the connection between A, B,and C – then doing something about it! This brings us to the “D” step – which is all about “Disputing” the negative beliefs – so that you can get to the “E” step – which is Energizing yourself with positive emotions.
Below is specifically how this A, B, C, D, E process works.
A Tool For Letting Go Of Anger At Life
In a journal, write down those five letters and your answers to the following questions:
Start by spelling out the nature of your “Adversity.” Describe the who, what, when, and where of the situation. Think of yourself as a reporter writing down the facts and nothing but the facts. Be as objective and as unemotional as possible.
What “Beliefs” has your Adversity triggered? What type of person does it make you feel like? What kind of life does it make you feel you are leading? What kind of world does it make you feel you live in? For example, “I suck.” “Human beings all suck!” “You can’t trust anyone!” “It’s because I’m fat that this happened!” To identify your “Beliefs,” slow down and listen to your self-talk, specifically for comments that sound “permanent, pervasive, and personal,” for example, “I’ll never get a job” (permanent). “This always happens” (pervasive). “I’m an idiot” (personal). It takes practice and lots of self-awareness to identify your “self-talk” or “story,” but it’s important that you learn to recognize your self-defeating (and inaccurate) Beliefs. Take some notes on the chatter in your brain. Listen to yourself. Write it down. Capture it.
Describe the “Consequences” of your Beliefs. How are you feeling? How are you behaving? Become aware of how your wrongly held beliefs might be triggering negative behaviors. Is there anything you’ve stopped doing? Any new habits you’ve picked up? For example: Pigging out. Drinking alcohol. Yelling at loved ones. Not trying new opportunities. In other words, how has your Adversity changed you?
“Dispute” what you’ve written so far with specific evidence that points out the flaws in your Beliefs. Question the reality and accuracy of your interpretation. For example, “I’ll never get a job.” (Is that true? Says who? Have there been times when you have thought you’d never find work and did?) “This always happens.” (Can you think of an exception?) “I’m an idiot.” (Compared to? What is your definition of idiot, anyway? Have there been times when you’ve shown practical or academic smarts?) Come up with an alternative (and more realistic) way of looking at what happened. For example: “Maybe I didn’t get this job because I was overly qualified or they hired someone’s sister.” “Maybe this person broke up with me not because I’m fat, but because they have fear of commitment. After all, he (or she) is 50 and never married!” Restate your beliefs so they’re more accurate. Start your sentences with “My original beliefs are not completely true because . . .” Or “A lucky outcome from all this might be . . . and I can do that because.”
“Energize.” Disputing often puts us in a resourceful place. When you have been effective in disputing the beliefs, you feel a surge of energy, a sense of renewed hope. Write about how your answers to #4 improved your “Energy.” What happened to your mood? Are you are now more psyched to create positive results?
Stop the “negative loop” of self-defeating self-stories. Swap feeling like you’re wearing a “KICK ME” sign – to feeling like you’re wearing a “KICK ASS” sign!