I was biking to work last week in the wee hours of the morning. I was heading east down Adelaide and about to turn onto University. I was waiting for the light to turn green and decided I had enough time to make the jaunt across to the other side of the one way street. I ended up crossing in front of a fellow cyclist right as the light was turning green for her to go. Whoops. I apologized and scurried to get out of her way. But it was too late. I had set her off.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU (bleep)ING MORON!?" she yelled.
Whoa. I looked at her stunned.
"YOU HAVE TO MOVE" she yelled furiously.
"Calm down!" I shouted back.
She biked off mumbling more profanities.
I biked to work feeling really shaken up. I can’t say I’ve ever been called a bleeping moron in that context before. Or in any context. I took it personally and my feelings were hurt.
Later on that day I was standing in line waiting for my coffee. The man ahead of me was losing his mind at the Tim Horton’s cashier about messing up his bagel order. “How ridiculous” I shook my head the looked around to see if anyone else was noticing the scene. I could tell the cashier was flustered and defeated. Everyone around was starring including myself. This man’s horrible attitude was ultimately negatively affecting us all.
This happens everyday. We take people’s problems - whether it is their lack of patience, their cruel demeanour, or whatever else they might be struggling with… and we internalize it. And by doing so, we make their problems our own. We let their problems drag us down. Whatever that cyclist was dealing with that morning that caused her to fly off the handle wasn’t my problem - it was hers. And whatever was causing that man to be such a douche bag to the cashier at Tim Horton’s, that definitely wasn’t any of our problems.
If you really stop to think about it, a large percentage of the problems we are dealing with are really not our own…
Here’s a common example. We’ve all been left out before and we all know how crappy it feels when we are that one person not invited. We tend to assume the worst. We assume we were left out intentionally because of something we have done wrong. But in actuality, it likely isn’t our problem that we were left out. The fact we were left out may simply be a problem or insecurity of somebody else. Think about it.
Another example is when someone makes a mean comment that really gets under our skin. We tend to take the remark and replay it over and over again in our minds - each time becoming more angry and hurt. But again, this remark isn’t our problem. It isn’t our problem that this person doesn’t think before they speak. It isn’t our problem that this person feels it is okay to put others down.
I struggle with this a lot. I realize a lot of my stress comes from internalizing other peoples problems and I’m trying to change this. Here’s how:
1. I ask myself, “What’s really bugging me?”
First, I identify what’s bothering me. Then I ask myself, “Is this my own personal problem?” Be honest with yourself here.
If the answer is yes, it is my own problem, then I need to reflect on that and figure out how to address it. More on this another day.
If the answer is no, this is not my problem, procede to step 2.
2. I tell myself, “This isn’t my problem”
If this isn’t my problem, I need to believe that and move on. By doing this, I stop stressing out over issues that are beyond my control. In turn, I feel lighter and happier.
3. What’s The Lesson?
If I am certain that this is indeed another person’s problem, I better make darn sure it doesn’t become my own. Even if the situation has made me feel hurt or angry, there’s always a lesson to be learned. I ask myself, “What can I learn from this?” For example, some lessons to be learned from the above situations:
Don’t lash out at people even if they are strangers, it might affect them more than you know.
Be kind to each person you interact with. Your negative interactions are not only harmful to those in direct contact, but also to those around you.
Think before you speak. Make sure you are not making jokes at another person’s expense.
When you make a commitment, follow through with it.
4. Chin Up & Carry On!
Don’t obsess. If it isn’t your problem, it isn’t your problem. End of story. Now move on.
If you are like me and tend to internalize other people’s problems too often, it can be a difficult habit to overcome. Sometimes it is just easier to blame ourselves. But I can guarantee with a little practice and self-reflection, you will realize that a lot of your stressors are really not your own problems. And once you realize this, you can become much more peaceful on the inside and with those around you.