Many years ago I made the decision to untether my emotions from my circumstances. It is one of the most important decisions I have ever made and has served me well in life and at work.
What motivated me to make that decision was a pattern of behavior I observed in some people. I noticed that when confronted with challenging or difficult situations, some people were quick to get irritated, frustrated, or angry. Instead of being intentional and thoughtful about their response, they were impetuous and impulsive. They reacted to negative events with negative emotion, which made an already bad situation even worse, and then they got even more upset.
It was a Doom Loop, and I became acutely aware that sometimes I also got caught in the negative cycle. My heart told me it was not a very effective way to live.
When I was growing up, my Mother used to say, “Timothy, no matter how bad a situation is, you can always make it worse. So don’t.” That was great advice from a very wise Mom. Later in life, I learned that at the beginning of their careers, physicians make a commitment called the Hippocratic Oath. The Oath begins with the pledge, “First, do no harm.”
It occurred to me the pledge “first, do no harm” isn’t just good for doctors, it’s good for everyone. The big insight that changed the course of my life was accepting the reality that while I could not control negative situations, I could control my attitude in response to negative situations. I got a lot of help from Viktor Frankl on that one.
So I made the decision to work toward becoming a person who brought a positive and productive mindset to challenging events and difficult situations. Becoming that person — that is, untethering my emotions from my circumstances and adopting a mindset of “first, do no harm” — wasn’t easy. It still isn’t easy. But it is definitely worth the effort.
If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to make the same decision. Don’t let your emotions get hijacked by negative events. Like everyone else on the planet, you will experience challenging and difficult things, and you will be tempted to react with irritation, frustration, or anger. Don’t take the bait. Resist the temptation and remember …
No matter how bad a situation is, you can always make it worse. So don’t.