How to maintain your sanity in tough times?

I’m almost happy, unfortunately, I’m just not. That said, after reminding myself of the the following useful stoic principles and ways of thinking, I felt better almost instantaneously. Perhaps, it could also help you if you are just not having a good day and facing many obstacles right in front of you.

1 — Stop desiring those beyond your sphere of control

This includes how you are being perceived by others, how you want yourself to be perceived, how others treat you, how you are being compensated for your work, the situation that you are in due to external factors (e.g. social systems, economic status) and more. Truth is, no matter how hard to try to change and no matter how much time to spend thinking about it, these are all beyond your control. The more you want these, the more you will be at the mercy of others. When your life is dependent on the mercy of others, it’s almost impossible to remain peaceful and calm. I won’t even touch “happiness” at this point.

2 — Be grateful of what you have rather than what you don’t

It is natural for human beings like us to compare our successes, our relationships, our material goods, our net worth,… Well, the list is endless. In my humble opinion, this is also part of the reasons that I think advertising companies like Google and YouTube are earning so much these days. We are always looking out for the latest and the greatest. Only a minority of us seems to value things we currently owned and possessed. Relationships also seem to follow the same concept. It’s easy to forget about treasuring the current relationships that we already have, especially when you are leaving (school, work or country). By spending time frequently to think about the things that you currently have, and imagine what if you woke up the next day without all these things that you have today. You’ll probably be grateful and satisfied with what you already own.

3 — Understand that you are in control of your internal feeling and response to any external stimuli

Everyone in this world is born with a choice: how you choose to see the world and the things around you. You are in control of that. A simple and widespread example is whether a glass is “half-filled” or “half-empty”. In every obstacle lies an opportunity. Do you see an opportunity?

I see no harm sharing with you. I’ve just reported to a new job today. It was my first day of work. I’m without a work desk, and had to work on a probably 40cm by 40cm makeshift desk. I was given a loan laptop to work with. In addition to that, I was assigned tasks on my very first day with no knowledge of where to find the information. No matter who I ask in the office, I have gotten no direct answers where to find the information I need to complete the tasks. Half-way throughout the day, the one-third of the task was assigned to my peer who had been working with the organisation for quite some time. As I overheard their conversation, the manager had patiently gone through the step-by-step approach to completing the task with my peer, which I instantly knew how and where to find the information and go about completing the task. This ugly thought creeped into my mind, “why am I being treated like this on my first day of work?”

At this point, there are just two ways of thinking: (1) “How unlucky for me to accept this job. No matter what I do, I might not be able to learn and get much help from these colleagues. I’m sure my work won’t be appreciated nor evaluated fairly. I don’t think I will be able to stay long in this organisation”; (2) “Well, no use thinking about others. It’s probably an opportunity for me to test my capability on how much I can achieve in this challenging circumstances. I could definitely treat this as a challenge and see how much I can do while I complete my part-time studies. Set a goal of 6–12 months. If I still find things difficult at that point, I could always look for an alternative then.” I reminded myself of the stoic principles that I deeply believe in and chose the latter. Remember, we are always in control and have a choice of how we want to react.

I believe that 90% of the world that we’re living in are filled with sufferings. There is no guarantee that the next place I go or next job that I land will be better. In fact, it could likely even be worse (i.e., I’m just grateful that I’m not in a life-threatening situation). That’s also the reason why stoic principles prove themselves relevant and useful even till this day. Apparently, humans still seem the same (no matter the past or now).



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