Some ways of viewing and interpreting reality (or certain parts of it) can make you much more productive and happy than others, although they are not less accurate than other, more “pessimistic stances” of viewing and interpreting the world 1.
In this post, I’m going to outline two such stances of viewing and reacting to life events, particularly stressful events, that are especially important for effectively dealing with (and overcoming) stressful situations while remaining productive and avoiding burn out.
I) The first such stance is not original and can be found in the teachings of the old stoics: Whenever one is confronted with a stressful, unfair or otherwise hard situation, one should resist the urge to be upset or angry, but instead view the stressful event as a test of one’s abilities, a challenge (maybe even a playful one), an opportunity to grow as a person, develop one’s skills (particularly the skill to handle stressful situations), build one’s character, become stronger, and to train one’s mind; such that one will be better able to handle even more stressful situations in the future.
II) The second way of reacting to stressful situations combines (my limited understanding of) Updateless Decision Theory and the multiverse hypothesis:
In short, by one’s decision to not off oneself and to continue to play the game of life one agreed to the existential rule that shit is essentially guaranteed to happen. To be precise, one accepted that almost all of one’s copies (or better: almost all of the instantiations of one’s decision algorithm) will live in parts of the multiverse where things will turn out suboptimal at times (of course in some parts severely suboptimal occur very often…). Choosing to adopt the decision algorithm to get angry, upset or “should at the universe” whenever one is unfairly treated by stupid people, confronted with stupid tasks, stressful situations, somehow suboptimal circumstances, etc. is just a stupid and counterproductive policy: by adopting such a decision algorithm one condemns almost all of one’s copies/instantiations in the multiverse – except those living in the exceedingly rare “perfect” parts of it– to feel angry, annoyed, stressed, depressed and to burn out 2 3.
One last point I have to mention: It is of overwhelming importance to repeatedly practice these ways of interpreting stressful situations until they become habitual, i.e. get automatically activated whenever one is faced with a stressful event. That’s why I often preach to only focus on installing a few new habits instead of several at once. It’s much more effective to spent 30 min per day on learning one new habit such that it really becomes second nature than spending trying to learn 10 new different habits at once which won’t get activated if one is stressed or one’s willpower is otherwise depleted (i.e. exactly then when the habits are most needed).
1. I use the word “stances” as my concept resembles Dennett’s stances to some degree: The different stances are all equally correct, and simply different ways of viewing reality (and the behavior of agents in Dennett’s case). However, some stances can be more useful in certain situations than others.
2. I’ve used a similar thinking pattern to stop feeling depressed about the fact that I’m not extremely intelligent or have a great positive impact on the world.
3. As an aside, this mental reframing bears also some resemblance to Nate’s post “Simply locate yourself“: “Your observations are not messages that the world is full of terrible unfair luck. Your observations are simply indicators as to where you are. They’re the data that you need to locate yourself [in the multiverse].” And this might be in the shitty part of reality-town. But you always had known in advance that some of you have to live there.