how to handle people who bring you down, part 3

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(return to Part 2)

FIND SOMETHING BETTER TO DO

All human beings have two main drives. Everybody wants to be happier, and we don't want to be sad, mad or anxious. Given your own devices, you, like every other human being, would like to do things that are fun to do, that make you happy, that bring you up, that improve your spirits. And you shy away from anything that brings you down or has some pain to it.

I know something else about you: You want to make progress. There might be a few people sitting in a monastery someplace, totally content with their lives, but I'll bet you're not one of them. You want to make progress. You want to make gains. You want to have something more in your life than you have now. You want to make more money, you want to have a better relationship, and you want your body to feel better. Those are the big three. You want to make gains. And when you're making gains, you feel good about yourself. We do not want to have loss, or trespass or danger.

When we say "Find something better to do," we're saying, "Look, you only have 16 hours in your day (given a 24 hour day and you sleep for eight). How you fill these up, and what activities and people you put into those 16 hours is what your life ends up being." So the ideal, the most incredible, wonderful thing you can do with your time is toward what you want (that is fun and pleasurable to do) and that makes gain. That's the very best place to spend your time — doing something you enjoy doing and that simultaneously moves you toward something you want.

Given the two vectors — 1) you want to feel good, and 2) you want to make progress — you have four possibilities. You can do something that feels good and makes progress, you can feel good without making progress, you can make progress without feeling good, or you can do something that doesn't feel good and doesn't make any progress. We'll call those four possibilities the four quadrants.

One time a friend of mine and I were sitting around one afternoon having a great time talking to each other, and I noticed she seemed distracted. Turns out she wanted to get her lawn furniture painted because she was having in-laws over for a party. So we decided to do it together. We had a wonderful time because we were in this quadrant — getting something done she wanted to get done and we were having fun talking with each other while we were doing it. That's a wonderful place to spend your time. And if you can spend hours of your life doing things that are fun and move you toward a goal, the more of that quadrant you can use, the better your life is.

Of course, we have to be realistic. There are some things in life you have to do that aren't any fun, maybe even painful or frustrating. Do you like doing your taxes? But you have to do it. So there are some things that move you ahead but they're not very much fun to do. But when you're done with them you feel pretty good. Licking the stamp and putting it in the mailbox feels pretty good. You may not have liked the several hours of trying to figure out, or even comprehend the form, but when it's over, you have the satisfying feeling of Ground Gained.

The point is, there are things in your life that are unpleasant to some degree, but they move you ahead, and they're worth it. Sometimes telling the truth is painful, but when you do it, your life is better off. Exercising, working at your job, etc. There are things you do in your life that are going to cause you a little pain or stress, but if they leave you better off, they're a good thing to do.

You can also do something that's fun but it has no gain to it. It's just fun to do. We're entitled to do that as human beings. In fact, it can have a positive effect on your health to do it, so I guess in that sense, there is a gain. But it is not directly gain-seeking. When it is, it isn't in this quadrant. This is stuff you do just for fun, not for the gain in health.

An afternoon out with a friend, having tea and going shopping, would fall into this category. It doesn't accomplish much. Going to the movies or going out to dinner doesn't get the dishes done at home, doesn't get the IRS forms done, doesn't make you any money or help you lose weight, but it lifts your spirits, and there are some valuable things about lifting your spirits.

The one quadrant that we should avoid at all costs is moving in a direction that is no fun and produces no gain. And that's where you'll find the people who bring you down. They're not fun to be around and not only do you not gain much being with them, but sometimes you're actually put back a little bit and have to recuperate from the damage they've done. When you find yourself in this quadrant, when you find yourself in a bad mood and not making any progress, find something better to do! In other words, do something any one of the other three quadrants.

The very best thing you can do is ask yourself if there is something fun you could do that would help you make progress toward your goals. If you can't think of something like that, find something unpleasant or at least non-enjoyable and productive and do that. It is something better to do. It's better to experience discomfort and have something to show for your trouble than it is to experience discomfort and use up your time and gain nothing at all. It will at least distract your mind in a productive way. You're better off going to a movie or reading a book than being around someone that brings you down.

You will have a certain amount of the fourth quadrant. People who bring you down already occupy a certain amount of your life. There's no way you're going to have a life that doesn't have people like that in it. But if you worry on the way home about them, you've given them more of your life. And if you go home and talk to your spouse about them, you've given them more of your day. And if you sit in the bathtub that night pondering how you can get even with them, you've given them more of your day.

You're not going to be able to eliminate all of the moments in the fourth quadrant, but as much as possible, crowd them out of the rest of your life. When you find yourself upset about someone, tell yourself there's got to be something better to do. Ask yourself, "Can I do anything that's fun and moves me ahead? Can I do anything that just moves me ahead? Can I do anything that's just fun?" And then find a tactful way to go do that. Just find something better to do. If Aunt Mildred is on the phone, and she does nothing but whine and complain, you can tell her, "I promised myself I'd get that closet clean today, so I've got to go clean the closet now because tonight I won't be able to because I have to take the kids to soccer practice. Sorry Aunt Mildred, but I've got to go." Realize it is more important to you and you'd probably be better off if you went and cleaned the closet rather than talking to Aunt Mildred.

Do it graciously. But find something better to do. That is the key core technique.

 

TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF

If you have spent time with a person who brings you down, you have been damaged. To be fully responsible for that, you need to say, "Okay, I'm in a bad mood now after interacting with that person. I need to do something to compensate for that." An automatic, natural response to these people is to try to find a way to diminish the person who is bringing you down, to make him smaller and less capable, because if he's smaller, he'll hopefully have less energy for stinging, berating, complaining or crazymaking. You want to stop him from bringing you down. If you're not careful, you'll focus your time and energy on how to make less of people who bring you down. But that approach is self-defeating and counter-productive, because you have to take part of your 16 hours to do it and the process itself will bring you down.

You can't fight your way out of quicksand with effort. In fact, you dig yourself in deeper the more you fight it. In the same way, you can't bring another person down enough to make him stop bringing you down. It will just get worse. You're not only wasting a precious portion of your sixteen hours, but you are compounding your problem by trying to fix it.

It's like trying to fall asleep because you have to get up early. Have you ever done that? You toss and turn and keep looking at the clock and get more and more upset that it's getting later and later and you will be tired tomorrow and you really need to get some sleep! You are compounding the problem by trying to fix it. The more you try to go to sleep, the more awake you are.

With some things in life, the more you try to make something better, the worse it becomes. This is one of those. The activity of trying to being someone down to prevent him from bringing you down will bring you down. And the other person will tend to retaliate by bringing you down even more.

It is very difficult to change someone else. Have you ever noticed that? It's as if they are inside a room and the only key to that room is locked inside with them. They can change their life when they decide to change their life, but probably you're going to put out dollars and dollars and get back maybe a couple pennies worth of effect. It's a poor investment of your time to try to change somebody else. What you can do, and what you have total control over, is making yourself higher (improving your mood) so you become a bigger, more capable person.

Let's make it like physical size. When you improve your mood, it is like getting bigger. You become smarter, stronger, healthier, more successful, and have more integrity. There is more of you. And when you come down, you get smaller. Using this as the analogy, let's say when you meet someone who brings you down, you are equal in size. If they bring you down, you become smaller. If you try to handle it by somehow suppressing them, it will bring you down — and they will bring you down all the harder. The more you fight it, the worse it gets. It is more effective and much easier to simply take good care of yourself.

You know when you're in a really good mood, things don't bother you as much. You can be in such a good mood that people can't get to you. Think of something that would make you supremely happy: Winning the lottery, meeting the perfect mate, whatever. Imagine someone trying to bring you down in that state. You are immune.

Taking good care of yourself if like building an immunity to people who bring you down. They are less able to infect you.

As another example, let's say you keep pulling back muscles every time you pick something up. So you start a weight-lifting and back-stretching program. When your back is strong and flexible, you can lift the things you were lifting before, only now there's no pain.

Concentrate on bringing yourself up and you strengthen and immunize yourself against people who at one time could bring you down.

The same principle applies to the part of you who brings you down. You know that radio station in your head that never stops and is always commenting? You have things about yourself you don't like, right? And there are also things about you that you like. Imagine a balance scale with a pan on each side.

The object of the game is to make it so there is more good than bad. There are two ways to go about it and the way that comes most naturally is to try to get rid of what's wrong. It's human nature to be negative. That's why people complain so much. That's why you find fault with people so easily. It's why people watch the news even though it's depressing.

So you see what's wrong with you and you try to change it. If you spend all of your 16 hours on this, you will have a pretty miserable life. Plus, when you're finished, even if you manage to eliminate some of the things you don't like about yourself, you've diminished your life and made it smaller.

The other way to go about it is to say, "Okay, I'm not perfect. But I like some of these things over here that I do, so I'm going to try to make more of it. I'm going to try to make the best of that strength or that asset. I'll take a class or spend some time practicing. I'm going to keep trying to make there be more good to me."

So one way is to take away things on one side of the balance scale (the things you don't like), and the other way is to add to the other side (strengthen the things you like).

Trying to put more good in your life is, first of all, a pleasant process. Most of the time when you're doing something that makes you happy, it's a pretty good time. So you fill up those 16 hours with enjoyment. And you end up with a bigger life with more options, more abilities, and more possibilities.

Over a period of time — have you ever noticed this? — some old people have tiny, narrow little lives. They got it by getting rid of what didn't work, getting rid of what they don't like, getting rid of people that disagreed with them, and so on. Now they've got a tiny life that works pretty good. That's one way to go. In our opinion, life is too short to waste that way.

There's a billionaire in the United States that always wears cowboy boots because he never learned to tie his shoes. Is he a dope because he can't tie his shoes? He didn't let it stand in his way. And you're always hearing success stories of people who have major faults — Thomas Edison was such a trouble maker in school, he was kicked out after three months. He became the world's greatest inventor with a total of three months of schooling! Some of Galileo's friends thought he "ruined himself by being so much in love with his own genius, and by having no respect for others." Walt Disney went bankrupt three times.

Remember we were telling you earlier that good moods strengthened your immune system and bad moods weaken it? In an experiment by Arthur Stone at the University of New York, a new angle has been uncovered. A good event like an enjoyable time with a friend or getting a compliment on your work increases your body's production of immune cells for two or three days. On the other hand, something negative, like criticizing yourself or arguing with someone depresses your immune system, but only for one day. That means it is in your best interest to focus your attention on the good stuff — it is twice as powerful!

Other research has shown that you are less likely to catch a cold because of an increase in unpleasant stress than because of experiencing fewer pleasurable experiences. The things that bring you up do more good than the bad of things that bring you down. So fighting the bad is unwise. Enhancing the good is the way to go.

There are four things you can do to make yourself bigger and more able to handle the people who bring you down:

1. Do something good for your body because your body has been damaged.

2. Do something good for the world you live in because depression is a conviction that you're helpless.

3. Do something to learn so you're more able to handle the situation you're in.

4. Get it said.

 

YOUR BODY

The first one is do something good for your body. I used to deal with depression quite heavily, so much so that for a brief period of time in my life I was suicidal and under psychiatric care and taking drugs so I wouldn't kill myself. When you're at that state in life, first of all, you're very aware of who brings you down because they are the ones who push you closer to the edge. So you have an advantage. You look at people differently when you're that far down.

And you start noticing also what takes you away from the edge. Walking is literally, for me, a gateway to sanity, because when you start walking, first of all, you get a new perspective. If you're in a room or an office, and you've got trouble in that room, one of the best things you can do is get out of that room. Change your perspective. Go for a walk.

When you first start going for a walk, don't worry about how fast. Don't worry about what you look like or how far you're going to go. Just get out and start putting one foot in front of the other and maybe notice some things on the ground. As you start to walk, raise your sights a little bit and start noticing some bushes and trees, and you'll start changing your attitude. Sometimes when you are bummed you have a tendency to look down. Looking up changes your attitude all by itself a little.

They took clinically depressed people and told them to stand up straight and look up. That's it. You know, there's an emotion that goes with that. And what they found was, simply standing up straight and looking up made them feel less depressed.

So when you go out, try to raise your spirits up a little bit and start looking a little farther and farther away. As you walk, you'll find that you'll start feeling a little bit better. I think you'll be impressed with how well this works. I've gone for a walk feeling so bad I was crying, and 45 minutes later I'm smiling. That's an incredible transition to make in only 45 minutes. The more you walk, the better you feel, and the better you feel, the more you feel like walking, so don't worry about how fast you go in the beginning. Just get started.

For anyone whose body is fully grown, moderate exercise will give more of an improvement to you than strenuous exercise. Strenuous exercise damages you slightly, which you then have to recuperate from, and leaves you open to injuries. This is not my opinion, but a tested conclusion based on well-conducted scientific studies. So if you're going to go out and walk to exercise, you should always be able to talk, to carry on a conversation while you are walking. If you can't talk, you are walking too fast.

If you're uptight, or upset and you need to mellow out, go for a slow walk. They did a study where they gave one group of people a tranquilizer and another group went for a slow 20 minute walk. The slow walk was more tranquilizing than a tranquilizer.

On the other hand, if you feel sluggish and you don't have any energy, go for a brisk walk. Walk so you feel warm and you're breathing deeply, but not panting, not hot, not out of breath, and that form of moderate exercise will give you more gain than trying to go faster, harder, heavier. When you exercise like that, your body produces encathalins, which are mood elevators and mood stabilizers. By exercising, you've raised your mood and stabilized it.

The second thing that happens when you exercise enough to be aerobic is that your body starts producing extra endorphins. That's a coined word meaning endogenous morphine. It means morphine that your body medicates itself with. The wonderful thing about endorphins is that they soothe physical and emotional pain.

When you walk briskly, you will experience less physical pain — your back or hip that was bothering you when you first started out probably won't bother you as bad when you come back (if it hurts worse the more you walk, stop; if it happens every time you walk, make an appointment with a physical therapist), and it will help ease your emotional pain. If you're going through trouble, it' is a great therapy. You'll come back in a better, more stable mood with less physical and emotional pain.

Anything you do to improve your body will help you counteract someone who brings you down.

Get enough sleep. That's another way to do something good for your body.

Eating healthy food is another way. When you change something like your eating habits, try small changes rather than large changes. A little upon a little. If I decide to improve my diet a little bit and I decide to go from 2% milk to 1%, I can probably keep that change in my life long enough to get used to it — so much so that later I'll drink 2% and it won't taste good to me. It's a small change. Not drastic, but a move in the right direction. And it is better to move a little and keep it than to move a lot only to lose it. You will feel a little better knowing you've improved your health. Yes, you may be able to make a bigger change and feel even better, but greed is not good — even this kind of greed. It pushes you closer to the edge where you are more likely to fall off. Don't be greedy about it, don't be impatient about it. Go for the small changes and keep them. This is sane, practical, hard-won advice.

Three things to stay away from are white sugar, white flour, and chemical additives. These are bad for your mood. They conspire with other people to bring you down. The largest nutritional research project ever done was on over a million students in the New York City school district. They chose a school district because the researchers can control what food is served there. They found that when they increased the amount of complex carbohydrates and decreased the amount of white sugar, white flour, and chemical additives, there was a dramatic improvement in the students' attention spans.

Another place where nutritional intake can be controlled even more tightly is in jails. Stephen Schoenthaler, Ph.D. has been studying the diets of offenders doing time in jail. He found that when the subjects ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less refined carbohydrates, sugary desserts and chemical additives, there was not only an increase in attention span, but a significant decrease in depression, anxiety, tiredness and confusion. In other words, it improved their moods when they improved their diet.

Treat your body well: soak in a hot tub, get a massage, get a haircut, take a shower, have your nails done — do something to make your body feel better or look better.

Just ask yourself, "Is there anything I can do for my body that will put me in a better mood?" When you're in a better mood, you're better off, and the people you love are better off. And it makes you more able to deal with the challenges you face.

If you can't make the challenges smaller, you can make yourself more able to handle them. You will definitely be more able to handle them well rested and feeling good.

How to Handle People Who Bring You Down, continued...

Author: Klassy Evans
editor of the books, Principles For Personal Growth and Self-Help Stuff That Works
and editor of the blogs, CrushPessimism.com, and MoodRaiser.com
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