I waited for her, fidgeting, telling myself to play it cool. Straightened my shirt. Glanced at my phone again, nothing.
I had driven half an hour across town to meet her at a restaurant minutes from her office. No big deal when you like a girl.
She was twenty minutes late now. 12:20pm. Still no message. I sent her a text:
Are you coming soon?
Heyy. Are you there??
Coming now! Sorry missed the time
Are you a little flexi on time?
I got to run at 1:30pm
Oopsie, I will come by now then
Because I also have to leave at 1:30
She came 40 minutes late. I tried to smile as I ate my noodles. She barely ate. Turns out she had just lunched with her colleagues.
Can you take me back to my office?
I’ve asked many people about their perfect day. More than half mention having a clear mind, absent of frustration and anxiety. This would be part of my perfect day too. Tony Robbins calls this a beautiful state – when your spirit and heart are alive, when you feel joy, gratitude, playfulness, and the best of you comes out.
It’s easy to exist in a beautiful state when everything goes your way.
But what about when your crush forgets about you for the third time? After she promised to come to your birthday and then didn’t show? After she cancelled dinner last minute for a doctor’s appointment?
Ughh. Gut punch. And then the anger and resentment.
It’s easy to spread this suffering state to others. “Can you believe this girl?!” you tell your friends. “Hot girls are the worst!” you tell yourself. You start looking for proof that beautiful women are spoiled and inconsiderate, and of course, you find it.
Even worse, you carry that victimhood and toxicity with you everywhere you go.
How can we live in a beautiful state not only when everything goes our way, but also when someone screws us, injustice happens, everything goes against us, we lose something or someone, no one understands or appreciates us?
This might be the secret to a perfect day.
We chase money, experiences and relationships for how they make us feel.
What if we could access those states, right now, no matter what?
Here’s my five step process. The first two are reactive and the last three preventative.
1. Look Deeply at Your Suffering
When these feelings arise, you have to practice in order to use the energy of mindfulness to recognize them, embrace them, look deeply into them. It’s like a mother when the baby is crying. Your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
So many times we run away from our suffering, or numb it with distractions and drugs. Rather, we should breathe and be with our suffering as a mother would her crying baby. The mother’s presence gives the baby immediate relief.
Then the mother looks deeply at her baby. Why is the baby crying?
Why was I so hurt by this girl? Because we had an amazing first date. I hadn’t felt those butterflies in ages. She said she would definitely come to your birthday. She didn’t. Nor did she send any message. You tried again, arranged a dinner. She backed out last minute because of a doctor’s appointment at 7:30pm. Really? You gave her the benefit of the doubt and tried again, this time for lunch. She forgot… again! You’re pissed. Breathe deeply and be with the baby, the hurt, the resentment. Breathe.
You are not her priority right now. Her startup is her top priority. She’s just not that into you. Try to step into her shoes, super busy, running around, so much of life in flux. She just forgot about you. She doesn’t mean any harm. You’ve been there before too, when work was number one, and relationships secondary.
Being present with your emotions, and attending to them like they were someone else is such a powerful exercise. With distance you can see the cause and effect of your suffering with more clarity. You develop more understanding for others.
Thich Nhat Hanh uses the analogy of the mud and the lotus flower: “Your suffering is the mud that allows you to grow the flower of love and compassion.”
This starts with embracing your suffering. The baby only cries louder if you run away.
Some of you might scoff at my situation. He’s upset just because a girl blew him off a couple times? Weak. How about having cancer? Or having to flee a country? But this is precisely the point: the littlest problems can seem like life or death if we don’t take the time to look deeply. So much of our suffering is unnecessary.
2. Interpret Events in an Empowering Way
We can’t control events in our lives, but we can control what those events mean to us – and thus what we feel and experience every day.
There are many ways I could interpret my crush missing our lunch date:
What a bitch! Girls are so flaky in Vietnam. It’s so hard to meet decent girls!
She is sending clear signals about this relationship. You are not a priority for her. Time to let go and make room for women who truly value you. Thank her for teaching you about self-care and inspiring this blog post. 🙂 Drop the comfortable identity of being wronged. Wish her the best with her business and life.
My favorite quote right now is “Life happens for us, not to us.”
How can you organize and interpret references so that they empower and free you? Put you back in a peaceful state of mind?
Tony Robbins shares his “90-second rule” in Unshakeable.
When he starts to suffer, he gives himself 90 seconds to stop and return to living in a beautiful state.
How? First by breathing, slowing things down, stepping outside the situation, and distancing himself from stressful thoughts. Then by finding something to appreciate.
By doing this he trains his mind to find the good in every situation. “What’s wrong is always available, but so is what’s right.”
The problem isn’t the existence of negative thoughts, what hurts us is the habit of believing or identifying with them.
3. Use Rituals to Return You to a Beautiful State
Playing tennis competitively as a junior and in college taught me the power of rituals.
Rituals were done in between points. I’d mentally and physically gather myself, especially after an unforced error. Let go of what just happened. Take a deep breath. Focus back on my racket’s strings, the score, the strategy, the next point. Recite mantras that get me back into the zone.
When we’re in a suffering state – feeling stressed, frustrated, angry, depressed, irritable, overwhelmed, resentful, or fearful – why not go back to rituals that put you in a beautiful state?
These are different for everyone. Tony Robbins has his 90-second rule.
My beautiful state rituals are:
First, making sure to eat nutritious food, drink lots of water, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. Putting aside work and social obligations to get these right. Addressing my most basic physical needs almost always puts me in a better state.
Second, using proven “medicines” to shift my state. For me, these are nature, music, and great friends. If these can be combined even better!
Most would consider Ho Chi Minh a concrete jungle, but even here, I can sip coffee next to the Mekong River or sit still on a park bench, surrounded by trees planted hundreds of years ago.
I have a playlist full of songs to which I visualize my best life. I put these songs on, and instantly my state picks up, gets positive, gets optimistic.
And what warms your heart more than laughing and sharing with good friends?
Third, designing flow into my day. Have you ever woken up hungover and down, not ready to face the world? Or maybe you received some awful news. Don’t lose those days. Just move a little closer to your most important goals. My friend Jimmy calls this “doing what deeply satisfies you everyday.” Dance for one hour. Write for one hour. Do 200 push-ups. Help someone in need. Make a daily practice of getting better at things you value and bring you joy.
Some of my most rewarding days are the ones that I turn around from sucking to trucking, from “my life sucks” to “what a great day!” How? By taking action, no matter how small, to living my best life and progressing towards goals.
What are your rituals that return you to a beautiful state?
4. Practice Gratitude
Every morning I wake up with a prayer on my lips, thanking God and the universe for another day.
My first steps outside I find three things for which I’m grateful. I can always find three.
Thank you legs.
Thank you breeze.
Thank you sun!
When eating I taste the elements in every bite, and consider all the hands and life that labored to get this food prepared and in front of me.
What are you grateful for? Make gratitude a simple part of your day, like taking a shower.
A gratitude practice changes your rules for what has to happen in order for you to feel grateful. Is it having one million dollars? Having a pretty girl like you? Or is it simply for your good health and being alive?
Soon, you can brush off things that used to piss you off. They don’t matter.
When you walk through a city totally present, earphones off, you see so much more: hidden food stalls, new venues for your next gathering, beautiful moments between friends and family. I could drive down a street one hundred times and never find these gems. I’m moving too fast.
Meditation, like walking through a city, allows you to walk through the garden of your mind, as well as the back alleys and dark corners. What seeds – positive or negative – are being planted, and what’s being watered? What’s triggering your suffering state?
I’ve found that a daily practice of meditation contributes to my sense of balance and well-being. Time slows down and once you identify your triggers for suffering, they lose their power.
You are not your thoughts nor your lightning strikes of emotion. You are the consciousness observing them.
Life’s Too Short to Waste Time Suffering
Think of your last bad day. Maybe someone important to you broke their promise. It’s easy right then to lose the day, and enter a spiral of suffering. You want to kill that driver who cut you off, and you curse the smog that is choking you. The sky looks darker, and everything seems to be going wrong.
In those moments, look deeply at your suffering. Be and breathe with it like you would a baby. Why is this happening for you? Get back to activities and people that make you feel great. Accomplish something that moves you towards your dreams, no matter how small. Be thankful for everything you have. Life is pretty darn amazing.
When everything is going wrong, how do you stay in a beautiful state?