Who’s Bigger? You or Your Problems?

CaptureI remember when my younger son Finlay had the Mother of All Tantrums.

He was about four I guess. He had been a bit glassy-eyed all day, usually the sign of a cold or something similar coming on. At around 4 o’clock I announced that we were going to the supermarket. He insisted on wearing his gloves and scarf, together with some bright yellow swimming goggles we had recently acquired.

It was hot outside. But I didn’t argue.  

I looked in the rear-view mirror as I drove the mile to the supermarket. Fin was doing the 1000 yard stare…he was unfocused. He was somewhere else.

We got to Sainsbury’s and the Mother of All Tantrums kicked off. He stood still, stamped his feet and screamed like I had never seen before. His face went puce almost immediately. Some hellish mixture of anger and irritation and frustration exploded out of him like lava out of a volcano.  

All I could do was watch. I have never seen anything like it from any child before or since.

It was actually spellbinding. The ferocity of it.

Finlay was totally absorbed by his tantrum. It consumed him. It is all there was for him. His universe. There was no world outside of the tantrum.

Whatever it was that was consuming him remains unknown and irrelevant. The point is that it was at least as big as he was and probably bigger.  

He was a child.

Still is. He had no emotional control or perspective at the time.

He was simply consumed.  

As Finlay gets older of course he becomes more able to manage his emotions and to see things with perspective.

The bigger we are, the smaller will seem most problems.

The smaller we are, the bigger will seem most problems.

(Listen – I know very serious stuff can happen, I am not talking about that. I am talking about the stuff that we allow to ruin our day and stop us doing what will ultimately, drip-by-drip, change our destination.)

So what do I mean by big and small when I talk about how big or small we are?

I am talking about psychological resilience.

And I think it looks like this:

1. Have perspective

Convene a problem assessment committee in your head and ask them to assess your problem on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being it’s raining and 10 being angry alien invasion.

2. Realising it’s not about you

If the issue is coming from an individual, it’s easy to take it personally. But understand the issue is probably not about you.

Even if the problem is looking right at you and screaming. Because…

3. People act rationally…

…in accordance with their circumstance as they see it.

If you think they’re being a pain, imagine what they’re feeling that makes them be that pain.

4. Don’t be needy

You can never be happy if you need approval from someone else. Why do you care about what anyone thinks anyway?

5. You are the judge

No one defines you other than you. Be your own judge. Consider everything everyone says to you of course but be your own judge. What the hell do they know anyway? It’s nice to be liked but it’s horrible to change what you do in order to be liked.

Works for me. What do you think? Let me know in the box below. 

2 Responses to Who’s Bigger? You or Your Problems?

  1. David Campbell November 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    A very clever lady I know has pointed me to the lessons that cognitive behavioural therapy (‘CBT’) can have for all of us in our daily lives (not just people unfortunate enough to experience mental health problems) – including with regard to having perspective, defining oneself, etc.

    These are ten well recognised ‘unhelpful thinking styles’ (sometimes described in different ways, but essentially the same):


    We should all be able to recognise one, some (hopefully not all!) of these that we are all guilty of from time to time. If you can recognise that you get into or indulge yourself in these from time to time, you can start to notice when they are taking hold, and then challenge or distance yourself from those thoughts.

    For example, fortunately I am not often afflicted by ’emotional reasoning’ or ‘black and white thinking’, but i can be guilty of ‘mental filter’. In the past I was often guilty of ‘catastrophising’ – however I have got a lot better at challenging this and having better perspective.

    I actually have these taped up on the inside of a kitchen cupboard where we keep the mugs, so I see it often (I make tea very well, apparently)

    • Mark Nugent November 4, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      Thanks David.

      I agree that CBT is great. I even wrote a blog on it: http://drmarknugent.com/easy-as-abc/

      It should be taught in school. No one is free from this unhelpful thinking. I have the “should/must” thing in spades but awareness that this is bad for me is 99% of the battle.

      Thanks again, Mark

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