How to not sweat the small stuff
If you haven't realized it yet, you can stop your worrying/frustrating/anxious thoughts.
How many times do you feel frustrated in a day? An overflowing inbox? The noisy neighbor? The traffic jam? Most of the time, these circumstances are inevitable. We will be feeling so tired if we always feel frustrated about it. But it doesn't have to be that way.
In his book, Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Richard Carlson, the author, psychotherapist, and motivational speaker describes that by not overthinking about the small stuff we will feel lighter, happier, and calmer. To let go of all the frustrating thoughts, he describes that we need to control our thoughts so our negative thinking will not spiral out of control.
But sometimes, even most of the time, we struggle even to recognize our thoughts. Our thoughts pop automatically and we reactively act based on it. How on earth we can stop fretting over the small stuff, then? We need to master our thought patterns first. But how to do that? The answer is quite simple.
Journaling can help us to master our thoughts.
Well, some person--maybe you--might think, but I don't like to write! I can't write. I don't have time. Some people even think journaling is for girls. And so on. But do you know that the great Roman emperor and the Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, write in his journal regularly? Two thousand years later and we can still learn his insights from the book Meditation. It is his personal entry! But of course, we're not going to publish our personal journal as a book (maybe Marcus wasn't expecting this, too), so you don't need to worry if anyone will ever read your journal.
If Marcus Aurelius can spare some time to write, in between wars, senate meetings, or emperor affairs, so can we.
Journaling can help us to recognize our thought patterns. One thing that helps me to change my mindset, especially in a depressive period, is the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) journaling technique. David Burns, enowned psychiatrist, award-winning researcher, and author of the phenomenal book, Feeling Good and Feeling Great, introduces several CBT journaling technique that can help us to change our mindset and (as the name suggest) change our mood to feel good. Although this book is intended for a depressive person, a normal with no sign of depression will also benefit by reading these books. I will not spoil the entire book (it's seven hundred pages anyway) but there are a few simple takeaways that we can use to recognize our thoughts.
"You FEEL the way you THINK... When you can change the way you THINK, you can change the way you FEEL."
David D. Burns – Feeling Great
What we need to know is that our thoughts and feelings may not represent the actual fact that happens. For example, when we think we are a loser, even if we just nailed a good business presentation, we will feel bad about ourselves. Or when we thought that the one who crossed us in the traffic is a moron, then we will screw the person. But when we know that he is taking his wife to the hospital, we won't see him as a moron again. How is it be the case? Because everything is about perspective, and we might be thinking the wrong things. Burns calls this a dysfunctional thought. Understanding this, we can tweak our thoughts so that we won't fret over the small things.
A simple journal method to change your dysfunctional thoughts
Whenever something happened and we feel bad about it, we can just write these down: (note that things in the bracket are examples)
- Actual fact/event/circumstances
________ (I'm late at the meeting today. OMG.)
- Automatic thoughts
________ (My boss or other people must be mad at me... Ugh.)
- Feeling or emotions
________ (I feel so anxious...)
After we write those down, then we can see things more clearly. Then, the next step is to write a solution:
- Response or solution
________ (It's only one time, and turns out, no one bothers about it. So, actually I can relax.)
That's it! When you try to write this in your journal, you might be surprised to know what your response is. The more often you write this, the more you can recognize your thought patterns and make constructive solutions. Your mood will be elevated, too.
The good thing is that you don't need much time. 5 minutes will do! You also don't need a Moleskine journal or a sophisticated journaling app. A pen and paper or a native note app on your phone will do. Or sending an email to yourself. You have every resource to try this journaling technique.
We have the power to control our thoughts, so we can avoid feeling bad all the time. Writing this way will help us to gain more clarity. You will be glad you did!
(Note that the method above is just a mini version squeezed from the book, so it would be better if you read the Feeling Good or Feeling Great book by yourself. And this is not a sponsored post.)