Who isn’t met with an occasional annoyance? Who doesn’t get frustrated every now and then? We all experience situations that take us out of our comfort zone. But some of us are better than others at keeping our cool in discomfort. It’s all a matter of perspective.
When something unwelcome is beyond your control and not immediately solvable or improvable, the only choice you’re left with is to whether or not you can tolerate it. Here’s your dilemma: it’s a frigid and gusty day in Chicago and all you wanted that day was to spend a few pleasant hours at the park with the dog. You’re left feeling disappointed or ticked off that the weather isn’t accommodating. At this point, you can choose not to put any more emotional energy into it, or you can get so caught up feeling that winter in Chicago is so intolerable that you start to spiral down into depression or spin out of control with rage. Whenever we have the impression that a situation is intolerable, the feeling it triggers in us—sadness, irritation, concern—snowballs into the most intense version of that emotion. Disappointment turns into sadness, which in turn becomes self-pity or depression.
But here’s something to keep in mind: when you feel conditions are intolerable, you’re actually wrong. If it hasn’t killed you, you’re tolerating it, whether you know it or not.
Whether dealing with an everyday annoyance or in the face of serious hardship, you can take steps to develop greater tolerance for life’s irritations and adversities, and increase your happiness by doing so. Here’s how:
- Notice your thoughts. Are you rejecting what is because you’re holding on to an idea of how it should be? Are you stuck thinking that things are unfair or that you’re being treated badly? Are you thinking the situation is the end of the world? If you can answer yes to any of these, you’re either digging your heels into a stance of non-acceptance or you’re catastrophizing, or both.
- Keep reality in perspective. Ask yourself, “Is this situation really so bad for me?” “What’s so catastrophic?” Most things are not life-threatening. When dealing with an unpleasant development in your life, change your view of it. You might prefer your reality to be different, but nowhere is it written that it should be. It’s disappointing when something isn’t they way you’d like it to be, but you can stand it — especially if you don’t demand an alternative and let your frustration get the best of you.
- Practice acceptance. See the world for what it really is: imperfect. Remind yourself regularly that not everything can go according to your wishes or plans, and that people are not perfect, nor are they on this planet to please you. When you can’t help but get frustrated, don’t let yourself exaggerate the negative emotions. Note your annoyance, stay cool, and try to move on emotionally. Practice being satisfied with less-than-perfect situations that are beyond your control.
Consider this: Stop catastrophizing. Every morning put your mind to accepting any stressor that may come your way as something that you might not like but you will survive. Tell yourself, I can tolerate it. And you will.