005 How much do my problems matter?

This is something I’ve wondered myself, and I know for sure it’s something that other people have wondered too. “Am I overreacting here, or is that like… the worst?”

Sometimes our problems feel like the most important thing in the universe, when in reality, the problems are so small, they’re inconsequential. In fact, most “problems” don’t exist – they’re just created in our mind. Consider the fact that nothing inherent in any situation is “problematic”; it’s our personal perceptionthat defines or characterizes something as a “problem.” Don’t believe me? Suppose I were to describe a situation that happened to someone. How would you be able to tell if there were a problem or not? What criteria would you use?

Now let’s suppose you could get an answer to the question of whether or not there’s a problem. Do you think everyone I ask would come up with the same answer to the same set of circumstances? If not, then problems are inherently subjective: that means problems are open to interpretation. In other words, we get to choose what constitutes a problem or not. I’ll say that again: we get to choose what constitutes a problem. Once you realize this, you can set yourself free of a lot of emotional baggage: baggage from the past, the present, and the future.

I’ll share with you two tricks for keeping my own sense of “problems” in check. The first has been shared by many people over the years, but I first remember hearing it from Joe Rogan. He said something to the effect of, “Whenever I find myself worrying too much, I try to remember that we’re all just a bunch of talking monkeys on a giant rock hurling through space.” I love that. It really puts things into perspective. But if that’s too “far out” for you, and you think, ‘yeah, but my life ismeaningful, and humanity isimportant,’ then try this second technique: it’s what I call the story-from-a-stranger technique. Whenever I have a problem in my own life, I try to imagine how strongly I would react to a stranger telling me about the same problem in his or her own life. For example, let’s suppose my car breaks down and needs $800 worth of repairs; that can be devastating to someone who hasn’t had a job (or any income) in the last 6 months (e.g. me), but rather than stress out about it, I would pretend a stranger is telling me theirstory, and I consider how strongly I would react to their“problems.”

The stranger says, “I haven’t worked in 6 months, and my car just broke down and will cost me $800 to fix it!” And I feel some sympathy for the person, because of course I don’t want anyone to suffer, but honestly, that doesn’t sound like a big deal to me. I have confidence that the person will recover from this minor setback, either through their own creativity and hard work, or through help from friends and family, or perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise and the person will come to realize that having a car was actually a shackle on their freedom, and living without a car is completely liberating. I have no idea what will happen. But honestly, I’m not going to lose sleep over a stranger’s broken car or financial setback. It’s unfortunate, but the “problem” is not really a problem. Therefore, I’m not going to lose sleep over my ownbroken car or my ownfinancial setback. If I care about my own situation more than I care about a stranger’s, then I’m letting my ego control me; a much healthier relationship is one in which I control my ego. And if the idea of “ego” is tricky for you to wrap your head around, just replace the word “ego” with “emotions” and you’ll get the general sense of it: If I care about my own situation more than I care about a stranger’s, then I’m letting my emotions control me; a much healthier relationship is one in which I control my emotions.

Please let me know what you think in the comment section below! More to come soon.

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