DEFEAT Emotions & SOLVE Life Problems

Jul 02 / 2015 Comments
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Warning: This is a long post; but one that must be read and was definitely worth writing. Enjoy, and no need to thank me, you deserve this.

Purpose of this post

Everyday I see people: relatives, friends and acquaintances suffer from problems and not knowing how to deal with them. They tell me that I am good at dealing with problems, and it is indeed one major role I play in my job.
I manage people and KILL PROBLEMS, make them disappear, just like that.

I am TIRED of seeing people suffer because of this and I would like to solve this problem for everyone: ONCE AND FOR ALL, the way all problems should always be solved.

I am not your psychiatrist or anything but facing issues like that is unpleasant, specially when you can deal with them.

Problems and Obstacles

Listen ladies and gentlemen: Life will keep throwing problems at you, it will NEVER STOP. How you deal with this fact makes the biggest difference in your life!

You must have a solid plan and recipe on how to deal with them or else they will make you suffer and lose energy and focus. Here I will present to you my ideas and strategy for you to get there.

In doing this, our goal is to be elastic and have resilience and ideally, snap into antifragility against the problems that will come up. You must have the attitude partially prescribed in Sia's song "Elastic Heart", better described in its chorus:

Well, I've got thick skin and an elastic heart,
But your blade - it might be too sharp
I'm like a rubber band until you pull too hard,
Yeah, I may snap and I move fast
But you won't see me fall apart

'Cause I've got an elastic heart

Sia Kate Isobelle Furler

Once and for all

Since problems will keep popping up forever, your list of problems will continue to grow as you live.

How do you make sure it doesn't grow enough to overwhelm you? Put strategies in place to take care of each of them ONCE AND FOR ALL. I call this approach OAFA.

For example, why am I writing this blog post? So that everytime someone has a problem that can be solved by this post, instead of wasting time and effort explaining this to him/her, I can simply send this blog post to him/her and have her problem solved. It lets me scale the solution to affect a lot of people so that each of them can benefit from it, without being subjected to the time limit we all have everyday. It solves this problem OAFA style, the way all problems should be handled.

Once a problem is solved OAFA style, it is no longer a permanent or repeatable problem, EVER.
It is much better to keep suffering on a problem WHILE we work on a permanent solution, than it is to keep wasting effort to solve it urgently in a temporary matter.

So what are the steps we need to go through to solve a problem OAFA?

Step 1: An energized and efficient body

You solve problems with your mind; but your mind live inside your body. So first you must start by having an efficient body with good energy levels.

How do you do that?

  • Comfort: If you're hungry, tired or depressed your body will repel. Fail to take care of your basic body needs and your body will scream and refuse to cooperate with your mind.
  • Environment: Design your environment to be distraction free and confusionless. Separate places by function: Do not relax in the same place you work, and do not work in the same place you relax. If you do so then your body will instinctively overlap the environments and not give you total focus and control over what you're trying to accomplish.
  • Understand Emotions: The language of the body is emotions, not logic. It does not understand what is good for you and simply wants to take care of itself if you are not provided the care needed for it. Are you hungry? Your body will refuse to let you do what you want until you feed it. Are you tired? Your body will refuse to let you do what you want until you rest. You get the point. Your body's emotions must be in-control and well tamed before you can think and accomplish what you want.

An analogy i'd like to give between cell phone batteries and sleep: Let us assume that when you wake up in the morning your cell phone is only charged at 30% instead of 100%; The only way to get through the day while not having your cell phone run out of power is by using it less during the day. You end up using it for the next 16 hours but you can do much less with it than if it were at 100%. Same for the body. If it is tired, you can keep yourself awake until the night comes, but the lack of energy you have will make you be less efficient and get less done than if it was fully energized and ready to focus on doing what you want.

Thus it is always a bad idea to be awake during the day's hours while not having the maximum energy you can. So whenever you are tried: SLEEP. Gain your energy back so that you will get the most you can out of the hours you will be awake in.

Whenever you take a decision to sleep, no matter what time it is, it is ALWAYS a good decision because you gain back energy which lets you accomplish more in the next hours you'll be awake in.

Step 2: A focused and worry-free mind

Once your body is taken care of, you will have the luxury of using your mind efficiently. So always make sure you have the maximum energy levels you can have without ruining the logistics of your life and work.

Here's what you benefit of when you have a focused mind:

  • You can focus your thoughts on what problem you want to solve and follow rules and processes that get you to your goals, whether they are daily, weekly, monthly or yearly goals. If you cannot focus, you are half living.
  • You can see and organize your thoughts clearly. A relaxed mind can see the big picture and visualize the components of what you're trying to accomplish.
  • You can follow a plan. The focus and clarity you gained will enable you put a detailed plan and follow it.

Step 3: Apatheia and  Equanimity

When emotions control you, you are ruined. Emotions can take you to places you would not want to go. If they can control you, you have a big problem. You must learn Apatheia.

What is Apatheia? According to Wikipedia:

Apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια; from a- "without" and pathos "suffering" or "passion") in Stoic philosophy refers to a state of mind where one is not disturbed by the passions. It is best translated by the word equanimity rather than indifference. The word apatheia has a quite different meaning to the modern English apathy, which has a negative connotation. According to the Stoics, apatheia was the quality that characterized the sage.



This will let you experience Equanimity. What is Equanimity according to Wikipedia?

Equanimity (Latin: æquanimitas having an even mind; aequus even animus mind/soul) is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. The virtue and value of equanimity is extolled and advocated by a number of major religions and ancient philosophies.



Step 4: Defeating Emotions

I would like to share with you a long piece from Ryan Holiday. In it he describes how to deal with emotions and problems:

In space, the difference between life and death lies in emotional regulation.
Hitting the wrong button, reading the instrument panels incorrectly, engaging a sequence too early - none of these could have been afforded on a successful Apollo mission - the consequences were too great.
Thus, the question for astronauts was not How skilled a pilot are you, but Can you keep an even strain? Can you fight the urge to panic and instead focus only on what you can change? On the task at hand?
Life is really no different. Obstacles make us emotional, but the only way we'll survive or overcome them is by keeping those emotions in check - if we can keep steady no matter what happens, no matter how much external events may fluctuate.

Don't let the negativity in, don't let those emotions even get started. Just say: No, thank you. I can't afford to panic.
This is the skill that much be cultivated - freedom from disturbance and perturbation - so you can focus your energy exclusively on solving problems, rather than reacting to them.

A boss's urgent e-mail. An asshole at a bar. A call from the bank - your financing has been pulled. A knock at the door - there's been an accident.
As Gavin de Becker writes in The Gift of Fear, "When you worry, ask yourself, What am I choosing to not see right now?". What important things are your missing because you chose worry over introspection, alertness or wisdom?
Another way of putting it: Does getting upset provide you with more options?
Sometimes it does. But in this instance?
No, I suppose not.
Well, then.
If an emotion can't change the condition or the situation you're dealing with, it is likely an unhelpful emotion. Or, quite possibly, a destructive one.
But it's what I feel.
Right, no one said anything about not feeling it. No one said you can't ever cry. Forget manliness. If you need to take a moment, by all means, go ahead. Real strength lies in the control, or, as Nassim Taleb put it, the domestication of one's emotions, not in pretending they don't exist.
So go ahead, feel it. Just don't lie to yourself by confusing emoting about a problem and dealing with it. Because they are as different as sleeping and waking.
You can always remind yourself: I am in control, not my emotions. I see what's really going on here. I'm not going to get excited or upset.
We defeat emotions with logic, or at least that's the idea. Logic is questions and statements. With enough of them, we get to root causes, which are always easier to deal with.

We lost money.
But aren't losses a pretty common part of business?
Are these losses catastrophic?
Not necessarily.
So this is not totally unexpected, is it? How could it be so bad? Why are you all worked up over something that is at least occasionally supposed to happen?

And not only that, but you've dealt with worse situations than this. Wouldn't you be better off applying some of the resourcefulness rather than anger?
Try having that conversation with yourself and see how those extreme emotions hold up. They won't last long, trust that.
After all, you're probably not going to die for any of this.
It might help to say it over and over again whenever you feel the anxiety begin to come on: I am not going to die from this. I am not going to die from this. I am not going to die from this.

Or try Marcus Aurelius' questions:
Does what happened keep you form acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness?

Then get back to work!
Subconsciously, we should be constantly asking ourselves this question: Do I need to freak out about this?
And the answer - like it is for astronauts, for soliders, for doctors, and for so many other professionals - must be: No, because I practiced for this situation and I can control myself. Or, No, because I caught myself and I'm able to realize that that doesn't add anything constructive.

Ryan Holiday

Recognizing that an emotion might be controlling us is the starting point. That point allows you to stop the destructive process before it even begins and gain control.

Step 5: Divide and Conquer Problems

ALL problems are dividable into sub problems and put into succession. Once all the sub problems are dealt with the OAFA way, the main problem disappears forever, freeing our mind to focus on the next problems.

When faced with a main problem, our main reaction should not be panic, but gaining composure. Once composure is gained we can focus on analyzing the problem by dividing it into sub problems and putting an Action Plan on how we are going to tackle each one of the sub problems we listed. It can ALWAYS be brought back to simple, logical, explanations and actions.

Let's take the example of analyzing the problem of not getting enough sleep. Here's how it goes.

You notice that you are tired. You can either complain that you are tired constantly or do the following:

  • Ask yourself, what needs to happen for you to not be tired?
  • Figure out that you need to sleep 8 hours every night.
  • This means that 8 hours out of the 24 hours in the day must be dedicated for sleeping.
  • For example if you want to wake up at 7am then you MUST go to sleep at 11pm. There is no going around that.
  • Then put it inside your daily system/routing/plan that at 11pm you must be heading to bed.
  • If you do that, then you will be relaxed the next day.

And you solved the problem! All you need to do to ensure that the problem remains solved is to make it a habit, a part of your routine, like a rule, to sleep everyday at 11pm.

It's that simple!

Step 6: Simulate the Future

One important skill and process that everyone must constantly go through to be efficient at problem solving is simulating the future.

For example, you still want to sleep 8 hours and wake up at 7am. One afternoon you decide to go out at 10pm.

Here's how you simulate that:

  1. 10:00 Leave home
  2. 10:30 Arrive to a venue
  3. 12:30 Leave the venue
  4. 1:00 Arrive home
  5. 1:10 Sleep

Simulating that future gives you what? 5h50m of sleep. Not the goal you were after.
Next day: You are tired again.

If you do not simulate that future, you will wake up next day tired, and regret it and complain about it.
Isn't it much better to just simulate the future before you take that decision?
If you do, then you would have two clear choices:

  • Go out tonight, not sleep enough, be tired tomorrow.
  • Do not go out tonight, sleep enough, be energetic tomorrow.

After thinking about it this way, It is really a simple choice. There are no uncertainties. It is pure logic.

This process can be applied to longer processes and goals, such as ones that affect you long-term (months or years ahead).
It can also be used to compare two courses of actions.


So here is the conclusive summary:

  • Give your body what it needs, be it rest, food or a good environment.
  • List your problems and focus on one at a time
  • Divide your problems into sub problems
  • Focus on each sub problem one at a time
  • Put an action plan to solve it
  • Simulate that action plan on a specific future duration
  • Decide what action to take to eliminate the problem OAFA

And there you have it. A problem solving recipe made easy.

You're always welcome to place a comment if you have any feedback.

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