How to deal with shit

When in trouble and not sure what to do, consult this list.

“When you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.”

To avoid falling into a slump or to get out of one, you need to know how to deal with shit.

Here’s how.

Self-monitoring
Observe what’s going on in your mind. What sort of program does the radio inside your head play? Sometimes things that go on in your head will change by just looking at them. Pay attention to thoughts and opinions. Notice early warning-signs of wrong kind of thinking, the earlier the better.

Return to here and now
When you notice the early-warning signs of dread, anxiety, worry or rumination, return to “here and now” by turning your attention inward, observing carefully physical sensations, sounds, feelings or thoughts. Alternatively, divert your attention to doing something positive and take immediate action.

Pay attention to what is under your control and what is not
Put all your efforts in things that are under your control; the quality of your actions and deliberate thoughts. Practice indifference towards automatic thoughts and external events. Ask: “What aspects of this situation are under my direct control?”. Use the influence you have, in a positive way.

Use the Reserve Clause 
Do things with a reserve clause, and do not expect things to go your way. Say: “I will do thing X, fate permitting”.

Accept
Accept willingly all the things that are beyond your control.

Objectivity
Ask: “is it really that bad, is the worst-case scenario really going to happen?” See what things are in themselves, do not get caught up in appearances. Do not add value-judgement to things. Take the right action, do what needs to be done in this situation, without lamenting.

“The gherkin is bitter. Toss it away. There are briars in the path. Turn aside. That suffices, and thou needest not to add: Why are such things found in the world?” (Marcus Aurelius)

Abandon rhetoric
State your situation and your problems to yourself (and to others) in a simple matter-of-fact way. Say just the facts, recite only what has actually happened. Do not use emotive language.

Remember that it is temporary
Whatever it is, it will not last. Remember the transience of everything. Situations change. Every pain and humiliation will fade and eventually become completely irrelevant. The universe will die a heat death and there will be no-one to remember and nothing to be remembered.

Memento Mori
Remind yourself that you can only act now that you live. You were “dead” for a very very long time. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence and inaction. Do not fear failure or death, fear not starting to live. It is urgent.  Also, do not take yourself too seriously. In a while, you will be only a name, and soon after that, not even a name.
“Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori! Nam mors indecepta”. 
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” (Marcus Aurelius)

Lower your expectations
We have expectations. Life of others seems sometimes so interesting and full of adventure (it probably isn’t really…), that we may feel like we are missing out. Advertisements and popular culture sets the scene that life should be this or that. Everyone talks about “meaning” like there is some. Some at least seem to live a fulfilled magical life. Just lower your expectations. Be happy that you are alive now and that you have this day. Don’t expect things to be fabulous or amazing. Many problems will be solved by just doing this.

Practice gratitude
Remind yourself of things big or small to be grateful for. It is really hard to be bummed and grateful at the same time.

Gain Cognitive Distance
Imagine looking  at the events through coloured spectacles (the spectacles of your opinions, values and judgements).  Cognitive distance means looking at the spectacles, instead of looking through them. Speak to your impressions as if you would speak to another person. View your problem as if it was someone else’s. What would you advice them to do? Instead of saying: “This is a disaster!”, pay attention and say “I notice that I was thinking that this would be a disaster”.  Sometimes things that go on in your head will change by just looking at them.

“You are just an impression and not at all the thing you claim to represent.” (Epictetus)
“I bear you no hostility but just go!”

Remember where your suffering really comes from
“What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.” (Epictetus)
Buddhists talk about the arrows, first and second. The first arrow is a thing that life throws at us. We can not avoid that one, most of the time. The second arrow we are struck by is shot by ourselves when we react poorly to the first one. The first arrow just hurts, the second arrow is the suffering.

Stop avoiding adversity

Realise that dealing with adversity, facing it head on, you become stronger and better. Prepare to face adversity, realise your potential to rise above it.

“Misfortune borne nobly is good fortune” 
“What stands in the way, becomes the way”.
“Be like the headland against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it. “
(Marcus Aurelius)

Practice voluntary discomfort 
Sports, cold, dieting etc. Deprive yourself of something, for a limited time. Pay attention to how little things you really need.

Worry postponement
Sometimes shit can overwhelm. You should not run away from it, but once in a while it is smart to decide to deal with it later, when your feelings have cooled down a bit.

Get Downtime
Get “downtime” daily by retreating to your own mind, having a brief moment of introspection, remembering the fundamentals; the dichotomy of control & the transience of everything. Build the “inner citadel” by using helpful dogmas, practice to become “like a rock against which the waves of fortune crash impotently”.  Practice sitting mediation as taught by Buddhist and mindfulness teachers. Do not attempt to relax with drugs.

Practice Premeditatio Malorum
Imagine a loss or setback happening to you. Visualize how you would it feel, what would happen then and how you’d respond. Make it vivid. Repeat until the situation starts to feel familiar. Practice responding with Virtue.

Practice View From Above
Imagine being lifted up to the sky and seeing all the life going on below you, in your hometown and in your country. Then higher and further so that you see the whole planet, then seeing the solar system, galaxy, etc. Get a broader perspective on humanity. Meditate on the vastness of time and space. Put your worries in perspective. Then return in your mind back to where you started, to your place, to your seat.

Understand that you’re going to be ok
When we fear something, we actually think that what’s going to happen is so horrible we can’t handle it. However, most of the time, should even the worst-case scenario take place, we would be able to recover from it. Many times it would not even be that bad, it just seems so when entering the anxiety-causing situation. Example: You need to perform. You are nervous. You fear that your performance will be a disaster and you will be humiliated. That is unlikely to happen. Even if your performance actually was a disaster, people would probably not treat you like shit anyway. They have messed things up too, right? But. Even if they would treat you like shit and you would suffer a humiliation, you’d be fine after some time. You would recover. You would possibly even be stronger because of it, at least if you decide to look at the incident constructively and learn from it. You would not be destroyed forever. That’s just the drama-queen doomsday-prophet inside you talking. Most of the time, you can handle the consequences of your actions.

Ask: “What would a Sage do?” 
Sages get scared and blush too, but what happens then? Who’s wise? Who’s brave? Who’s kind? Who’s got a self-control of solid steel? What would they do, faced with the situation you are in?

Build a Coping Plan 
Describe the worry or troublesome situation with no emotive language, think of how to notice the signs, how to respond, “instead of doing , I will do , question your beliefs about the situation, rehearse responding.

Freedom is in the discipline
Life has limitations. You can decide, in a given situation, if you want to have limitations set by you, or limitations set by circumstances and consequences. When you lack discipline, you are in the mercy of your own unhealthy passions. Searching your happiness from externals and from immediate pleasures will be disappointing and can lead to fear and addiction.
Endure and renounce! (Epictetus)

Freedom is in the doing
When you are in a rut, the fastest way to improve your situation is to take action. Stop the pondering and planning already, do something! “What should I do?”, you ask. Well, something positive. If you can’t think of anything spectacular right now, just do the dishes!

Fundamentals
Eat, sleep, exercise, meditate. If you are feeling off, make sure you got these right. They may not solve your problem but you need to be as strong as possible and here’s where it all starts. If you use intoxicants, stop.

Clarify your values
Take time regularly (monthly?) to clarify what is most important to you. What kind of person you want to be. Contact your actions against this vision. Do your actions align well with your values? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Sources, inspiration and more information

Books, YouTube-videos, online courses, blog-posts by Donald Robertson and Modern Stoicism, many writings of Massimo Pigliucci, videos by Brian Johnson from Optimize.