The Minimalist’s Way To Overcome Adversity: Thinking is a Curse

Julianbasic

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I thought I was cursed for so many years.

“Stop overreacting, Julian!”, “It’s seriously not a big deal..”, “Why do you care so much about this? Just move on.”

My confession: I’m an obsessively deep thinker. Anything that comes my way, be it an insult, a second look, even the slightest negative opinion about me, I’d replay the scenario a million times in my head. I’d think about these things so much to the point where I started calling my mind ‘The Snowball’.

I would take all these minor issues and snowball them into a cascading avalanche. I was the self-saboteur to my own happiness.

After immersing myself in philosophy for the last year, slowly soaking up the thousands of years' worth of wisdom, I noticed a common theme. This common theme was to avoid overthinking at all costs.

Why would you dive into a black hole of progressive problematic thoughts when there is a simpler solution? One that I deem the ‘Minimalist Approach’.

This approach entails just accepting whatever it is at face value. Don’t try to interpret it differently, or find the hidden motive, just accept it on a superficial level, and move on.

“Avoid overthinking at all costs.”

Your Subjective Opinions Are a Hindrance

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Let’s say something negative happens to you, and obviously, the first reaction you have in your mind is to say “This is bad and it is a problem”. That’s what many of us do when we are faced with a negative problem, but it can be further broken down. It’s a matter of objectivity vs subjectivity. Here’s an example.

“I just broke up with my partner, this is bad.”

There are two impressions in this sentence.

Through altering your perceptions alone, you can shape the nature of the situation and how it will affect you going forward.

For example, I recently broke up with my long-term girlfriend. Sure, I was upset, I still am, but shifting my perceptions of what had happened massively helped me on my healing journey.

“Perceptions are the problem. They give us the “information” that we don't need” — Ryan Holiday

I changed my subjective opinion from a negative one (sadness) to a positive one (happiness). I told myself that happiness was the ultimate goal in life. Being genuinely happy is a universal desire, no one wants to be miserable. The relationship was making both of us unhappy, so to reach our ultimate state as human beings (happiness), we decided to part ways.

Right here you can see how I turned something people would call a ‘heartbreak’ into a situation that will grant me happiness, which is all I can ever want from life. I took the objective truth and shaped the subjective one through my perception.

“Through altering your perceptions alone, you can shape the nature of the situation and how it will affect you going forward.”

Superficiality Is Your Best Friend

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Rather than thinking too deeply about a situation, why not just take it as it comes to you, as it was presented to your naked eye? Don’t dig beneath the surface, this is where the pain and ‘emotional baggage’ is. Question what it is in front of you at the moment, not what is underneath the superficial wall.

“Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hit you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.” — Epictetus

The thing about our animalistic brain is that it will always go deeper than the surface requires. This ‘going deeper’ is called thinking, and we can’t just avoid it. Regardless of the situation, our brain always performs in the same way.

  • Think.
  • Perceive.
  • Act.

These decisions happen within milliseconds. We can’t tell ourselves not to do this because that’s how we are wired, but we can override this switch by examining the situation before we act. I did this by not applying judgments to things.

Instead of perceiving every possible negative scenario of the problem, I just observed it.

Observation is very different from the act of perceiving. Observation gives you a clear, unfiltered, and rational analysis of the situation at hand, whilst a perception just sees the potential obstacles and setbacks.

The philosophy of Stoicism echoes this idea of seeing things in their superficial and most raw form. This helps avoid the additional harmful emotions that can drive your decisions.

The Philosophical Exercise To Reveal Purity

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As we have established, failing to see things for how they truly are is one of the pitfalls of dealing with problems. At the earliest red flag, our minds throw us into a tsunami of overwhelming thoughts that engulf our rationality.

Marcus Aurelius had a good tactic to overcome this. It helped me to see everything how it really was, not the warped version that exists in our heads. It derives from the idea “to strip away the legend that encrusts them”.

“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Perceptions like that — latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time — all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust — to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations VI.13

Emperor Aurelius invented this exercise to strip away the glamour and luxury from these prized and sought-after commodities. As the emperor of the Roman Empire, he was swimming in wealth. Palaces, gold, banquets, everything lavish you can imagine.

Yet he still wanted to see his privilege in its raw, unattractive form. The aim of this was to see things as they truly are.

We should do the same when adversity strikes. Just view it how it is, nothing else is required. If you just got fired, you can choose to view it two ways.

  • “I’ve just lost my 9–5 job, I’ll go onto find a new, better paying one, or I’ll become an entrepreneur.”
  • “I’ve just lost my 9–5 job, I have no income anymore, I won’t be able to pay rent, and I’ll end up on the streets.”

Which one is the more pure perception? The first. Don’t dress up your ideas with robes of disastrous failure, just take them for what they are through your rationality.

Remove Yourself From the Problem

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Going back to the idea of objectivity, here is what objectivity actually means. It means removing “you” (the subjective part) from the equation.

We’ve all been in a situation where a friend approaches us with an issue of theirs. Their head is scrambled in a million pieces as they jut out their words as though an inter-galactic death squad has just come to exterminate all of humanity.

They then proceed to lay out their dilemma and you look at them, squinting your eyes and scratching your head as you say “are you kidding me right now? Just do this…” Then there it goes, problem solved. They treat you as a God-sent angel.

Do you know why this happens?

It’s because we are completely removed from their problems. You aren't involved and as a result, the solution is crystal clear. When we hear other people's problems, there is always a piece of the puzzle that is missing from when we face our own problems.

This puzzle piece is the term coined as “emotional baggage”. We take their situation at face value, with utmost clarity, and solve it, all because we are disassociated from it. Why can’t we reverse this then?

“Don’t dress up your ideas with robes of disastrous failure, just take them for what they are through your rationality.”

Take your own situation and try your hardest to imagine that it hasn't happened to you, but to the bloke you always see in the supermarket. If we could do this, we would be able to quickly and strategically solve the majority of our day-day obstacles.

Final Thoughts

Life will never stop throwing 200 mph curve balls at us. The way we learn to deal with them is the purest test of our character. The beauty of it all is that this control is rooted in the ability of your rational thought process. It’s deep inside every one of us, even if you think you are the most reactionary person on this planet.

This rationality is crystal clear, unfiltered, and sees things for how they are. It doesn’t dwell on what is not in control, nor is it driven by emotions. It’s pure. We can access it only in a calm and collected manner.

  • Start to focus on the difference between your objective and subjective thoughts, and remember, you can reshape subjective opinions into whatever you want. Turn “this is bad” into “this is a life-changing lesson”.
  • Face your problems at the surface level. Observe the situation for what it is, try to prevent yourself from digging deeper, for this is where a problem becomes serious.
  • Disassociate yourself from your own problems. If we can give quick and effective solutions to our friends' problems, we can do the same for ourselves once we remove the ‘I’ aspect.
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be.” — Viktor Frankl

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I am an entrepreneur from London with a passion for reading and writing about self-improvement, productivity, fitness, history, philosophy, and happiness.

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