Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Beautiful Method to Find Peace of Mind

Post written by Leo Babauta.

How many times have you gotten upset because someone wasn’t doing their job, because your child isn’t behaving, because your partner or friend isn’t living up to his or her end of the bargain?

How many times have you been irritated when someone doesn’t do things the way you’re used to? Or when you’ve planned something carefully and things didn’t go as you’d hoped?

This kind of anger and irritation happens to all of us — it’s part of the human experience.

One thing that irritates me is when people talk during a movie. Or cut me off in traffic. Or don’t wash their dishes after eating. Actually, I have a lot of these little annoyances — don’t we all?

And it isn’t always easy to find peace when you’ve become upset or irritated.

Let me let you in on a little secret to finding peace of mind: see the glass as already broken.

See, the cause of our stress, anger and irritation is that things don’t go the way we like, the way we expect them to. Think of how many times this has been true for you.

And so the solution is simple: expect things to go wrong, expect things to be different than we hoped or planned, expect the unexpected to happen. And accept it.

One quick example: on our recent trip to Japan, I told my kids to expect things to go wrong — they always do on a trip. I told them, “See it as part of the adventure.”

And this worked like a charm. When we inevitably took the wrong train on a foreign-language subway system, or when it rained on the day we went to Disney Sea, or when we took three trains and walked 10 blocks only to find the National Children’s Castle closed on Mondays … they said, “It’s part of the adventure!” And it was all OK — we didn’t get too bothered.

So when the nice glass you bought inevitably falls and breaks, someday, you might get upset. But not if you see the glass as already broken, from the day you get it. You know it’ll break someday, so from the beginning, see it as already broken. Be a time-traveler, or someone with time-traveling vision, and see the future of this glass, from this moment until it inevitably breaks.

And when it breaks, you won’t be upset or sad — because it was already broken, from the day you got it. And you’ll realize that every moment you have with it is precious.

Expect your child to mess up — all children do. And don’t get so upset when they mess up, when they don’t do what they’re “supposed” to do … because they’re supposed to mess up.

Expect your partner to be less than perfect.

Expect your friend to not show up sometimes.

Expect things to go not according to plan.

Expect people to be rude sometimes.

Expect coworkers not to come through sometimes.

Expect roommates not to wash their dishes or pick up their clothes, sometimes.

Expect the glass to break.

And accept it.

You won’t change these inevitable facts — they will happen, eventually. And if you expect it to happen — even see it as already happening, before it happens — you won’t get so upset.

You won’t overreact. You’ll respond appropriately, but not overreact. You can talk to the person about their behavior, and ask them kindly to consider your feelings when they do this … but you won’t get overly emotional and blow things out of proportion.

You’ll smile, and think, “I expected that to happen. The glass was already broken. And I accept that.”

You’ll have peace of mind. And that, my friends, is a welcome surprise.

Leo Babauta - Zen Habits

Liz July162009 at 7:55 am

I understand this concept and it seems like it would help a person accept the little irritations of life. However where do you draw the line between accepting that bad things are going to happen, and expecting them to happen all the time? It seems like this could make your thinking patterns mostly negative. And negative thoughts bring negative results - a self fullfilling prophecy.

Leo July162009 at 8:01 am

@Liz: Good question! My thinking is that you shouldn’t see these things as negatives … just a part of life. Accept them without judging them as something bad.

Adam July162009 at 9:53 am

This is a great article that really brings clarity to frustrations in life.

It reminds me of Dennis Prager’s equation for happiness:

Happiness = Reality - Expectations

So if reality is a “7″ (which is great), but you were expecting an “8″, your happiness turns out negative.

Thanks again for the article.

Pace July162009 at 10:05 am

I think your point about not getting attached to your expectations is an excellent point, but I’m surprised that you took it so far as to advise expecting the worst.

What’s your take on the Law of Attraction? Or, to be more psychological and less woo-woo, what about the power of visualization?

If we expect failure, won’t we visualize failure, and thus attract failure?

Leo July162009 at 3:24 pm

I think some of you misunderstand my meaning, and that’s probably my fault — I wasn’t very clear. :)

This isn’t a fatalistic, pessimistic, or negative view of life. It’s simply accepting of what is.

Don’t see this as expecting bad things to happen — just see it as expecting things to happen.

The word “bad” is a judgment. The problem comes when we judge things as good or bad … just accept that they are.

If your friend doesn’t show up … that’s not bad, and you haven’t been expecting something bad to happen … it’s just what happened. A part of life. And these things do happen — if you see them as bad, you will not have peace of mind when they happen.

Accept all things that happen, without saying they’re good or bad, and smile when they do. :)

Jared | July162009 at 4:45 pm

Great point.

Liking something and accepting it are two different things. Just because we accept something does not mean we have to like it.

Today’s expectations are tomorrow resentments. I’ve found the key to happiness is expect less… starting with myself. Then everything is all adventurous and truly amazing. Especially on vacations, days off… be open to whatever!!