accepting the things i cannot change
May 10, 2017 4:46 AM   Subscribe

How do you stop yourself from being ground down by the frustration of everyday things that are not going to change anytime soon?

I have certain things going on in my life which generate a fair amount of frustration, and they can't change anytime soon. I've investigated a number of possible solutions, spent hours and hours trying to figure out ways to solve the problems, and I just have to accept that whatever I do will not change the everyday suckitude of certain aspects of my life. Nothing life-shattering, but I'm not going into specifics because this isn't a question about how to fix those particular things.

I am very much a 'fixer' by nature and I usually expend vast amounts of emotional and intellectual energy on figuring out how to fix problems. So it can be very disheartening to realise that certain things just cannot be fixed and you just have to live with them. How do you go from active frustration to a sense of neutrality about things, from "GOD THIS SUCKS" to "I suppose it might be considered to suck but I don't really care/it doesn't really register with me"?

Ugh it makes me sad to ask this question.
posted by Ziggy500 to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
As a fellow obsessive fixer, I too, have been frustrated by things that I can't control. In these contexts, I've found it to be helpful to come to a plan of how to fix unfixable thing, but I can't fix it because of (x,y,z conditions) out of my control. When those conditions change, I will be able to focus on it again. That gives me some sense of peace about it, and I'm able to forgive myself for not being able fix that crappy thing.

Key also, while in the midst of sucky thing, the key was turning my brain onto other things that I have the capacity to fix (even if difficult and long winded). I can work on those things and plan on how these things should be resolved, and it takes my mind off.

Last, I started a meditation practice (5-10 minutes a day of sitting quietly and learning to let go and clear my thoughts) that I found immensely helpful - when I find intrusive thoughts coming in again about sucky unfixable thing, it's not hard to use the same techniques in meditation to "pop" the thought bubble of crappy unfixable thing.
posted by Karaage at 5:08 AM on May 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Read DBT literature about Radical Acceptance.
The 12 steps urges you to recognize that your lack of acceptance is making your life unmanageable.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:09 AM on May 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Exhaustion. In my experience, eventually you will just burn out, get tired, and stop caring. If you live with shitty chronic problems for years and years that can't be fixed or even helped a little, your soul will learn to stop fighting and give up.

I know that last bit sounds...questionable at best. But sometimes it's the only thing you can do to continue surviving in the shit. Remind yourself every time that there's nothing you can do about X, no matter how angry you get or how "This can't continue!" you get. (It always can continue.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:45 AM on May 10, 2017 [5 favorites]


I admit, I'm a recent adopter of meditation, so I have the convert's gleam every time it comes up, but this is exactly the kind of stuff I've found it most helpful in dealing with. I recently described the internal change I'm getting from meditation to be like my emotional tetherball pole is more firmly planted, so when people hit the ball, I don't get yanked around the way I used to.

I started with Headspace, which was super helpful in getting started. I now mostly use Insight Timer for independent meditation and guided meditations from Tara Brach.
posted by spindrifter at 6:12 AM on May 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

While I do tend to compartmentalise past the point where it's helpful in general, I've found it useful for stuff like this. Our current house is pretty terrible for us (too small, bad layout, too much noise from neighbours, the parking is a kind of a pain), but it's only now that we've committed to moving this year that I can really think about/process that. When it was my as-good-as-forever house (a rental but with no specific plans to move), I just couldn't afford to spend time dwelling on how much it sucked - it would have dragged me down all the time. And now we've committed to moving I'm like "jeez this house is terrible!", but it's okay because there's a fix in sight. But when there wasn't a fix in sight I did not have the emotional energy to process the fact that I hated my house all the time.

I've also had some luck recently stopping ruminating thoughts by focusing on something specific and boring. I took a mental walk the other day through my mother's dining room, considered every ornament and boring candle that she has, and then ended up visualising one of the boring candles for long enough that I fell asleep again (when I'd been awake for about an hour in the early morning with anxious, spiralling thoughts about a thing I don't feel well-equipped to fix at the moment). I suck at most kinds of meditation I've tried (my body feels weird and irritating, I get fixated on counting breathing or fixated on the act of breathing in a way that's not helpful, how the heck is clearing my mind a plausible goal etc.) but something that is a) boring and b) semi-guided (I know the house I grew up in pretty well; can't name every book on that shelf but I can name a decent chunk of them, all the boring ornaments are v familiar) seems to actually work.
posted by terretu at 6:16 AM on May 10, 2017

I've been trying to practice mindfulness, sitting quietly, deep breathing, noticing things around my immediate surrounding, "What can I smell/taste/hear/see/feel," and telling myself, "I can't change the past. I can't control the future. The only thing I can control is the present."

It helped me calm down last night after recent U.S. political bullshit sent me into a tizzy.
posted by Aquifer at 6:16 AM on May 10, 2017

Take extra good care of yourself in other areas where you can. When I've had problems at work, for example, I try to get a good amount of sleep and eat better because I find that annoyance is building and sometimes when I'm frustrated I give up on good habits.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:23 AM on May 10, 2017

Meditation, yoga, living in the moment, all that stuff - it does help, but the only times in 2+ years that I've successfully not ruminated over my Things I Cannot Change are when I've been too busy to think about them. So, stay busy. Take up hobbies. Distract yourself. Maybe this isn't a healthy long-term solution, but when you're in disaster recovery mode you do what you have to do.
posted by something something at 6:26 AM on May 10, 2017

Serenity prayer, first paragraph. There is grace in acceptance.

Relativism. (Like I am super frustrated by our house but since my house is not in Syria I've let that go.)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:30 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing meditation. It feels like a really time consuming thing to do, but it's not that bad and it helps to ground me and calm down my mind, which is always looking for problems to solve. Also Nthing the 12 steps -- even if none of your problems are addiction related, they might help you get some clarity on what you are and are not responsible for.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:37 AM on May 10, 2017

Meditation, reading material about letting go, and zooming in. For example, I am a bit of a clean freak meaning, I find it mentally exhausting and "itchy" to have lots of mess in my home space. I am also a new mom. I have learned to zoom in to other points of focus, so that this "itchiness" does not overtake me.

This is a grounding technique, effectively. Rather than noticing the strewn about dirty dishes, I zoom in and notice those cute tiny toes, or how much I like the shape of my own feet, or the way the light comes in through the window this time of day.

Grounding also has the added benefit of bringing you out of your head where all that obsessive fixiness happens.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:53 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Meditation is generally a beneficial thing. But it doesn't have to be sitting for 30 minutes. You can meditate while walking. For example taking a walk in the park and noticing the sound of your feet as you step. Noticing the wind in the trees. The sun on your face. Your breath.

I say this because the idea of having to sit to meditate is off putting to some.
posted by jtexman1 at 6:55 AM on May 10, 2017

In part, recognizing that what I'm feeling about those things may be understandable, but not useful. For example, bouts of intense anxiety about the outcome of the recent US presidential election. Completely understandable, it's not irrational, but it's also not helping the situation at all. Reframing things that way is something that we can do which is very personally empowering. And I still care about what's going on, I don't stop caring, but my approach shifts to a much more spacious place that is more capable of cautious, patient, realistic optimism. Mindfulness and single pointed concentration meditation practices are helpful for working this out.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:57 AM on May 10, 2017

These days I often find myself putting things aside after I've mulled them over with a sentiment like "now is not the right time" or "I'll accomplish this but it is a long term thing." Some things just take a while or require the external situation to change. I can't fix something next week but I'm still going to see it change over five or ten years, even if my role may be often doing not much over that period.

There are a ton of pithy little sayings along those lines, from old-timey stuff like "those also serve who only stand and wait" or knowing that sometimes fields should lie fallow to a bunch of sanity-preserving responses everyone's developed at work.
posted by mark k at 8:10 AM on May 10, 2017

Developing a habit and sticking with it, no matter what happens. For me that's committing to getting up every weekday morning and going to the gym. Even if I'm tired. Even if I don't feel like it. Even if I'm really pissed off or generally upset about The Thing I Cannot Change. Seeing people first thing in the morning kind of forces me to get out of my anger about not being able to fix X. It forces me to get into a positive, better frame of mind. It helps me feel like I'm controlling how I start my day, not Twitter or CNN.

The only exception is if I'm sick or have out-of-control allergies, because no one wants me sneezing my germs all over the place. On THOSE days, I tell myself first thing when I wake up that 1.) it's okay to not go because I'm taking care of myself and my body needs rest, and 2.) I promise myself sincerely that I'll try again tomorrow.

The key in all of this? Radical acceptance. No judgement. Today is a new day, and every moment brings the possibility for more acceptance and peace in the present moment.

If all of that fails (and it sometimes does), I read The Power of Now and it brings me back to feeling peaceful, no matter what passage I read from it. If THAT fails, I read Hyperbole and a Half until I feel better.

Also, never underestimate the healing power of a long, hot bath at night and, if necessary, a Benadryl. When I'm all spun up, a good nights' sleep can work wonders.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:15 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Lots of great suggestions.

What works for me is finding other things to do that I can change.

Literally almost every single thing in the world is beyond your control, so if you can control any of the entropy, say by organizing something or growing something or writing or building or feeding something, you've asserted some tiny amount of control over the chaos.

Me, I compose/play/perform bad music, garden, and work on the house.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:15 PM on May 10, 2017

Please do not be sad to ask this question, if more people would, they could save themselves a great deal of needless suffering.

The real issue here is not the seemingly intractable and chronically protracted problems you have been grappling with, strictly of their own account. The actual culprit is the ego, in that the feelings and labels you are attaching to said problems cause you the fear and upset you're having. You are smack dab in the ego's playground, so to say.

How best to cope, is to instead view the problems as neither positive nor negative, but simply as experiences you happen to be having right now. Taking this clinically detached angle not only erases the emotional associations your ego is attempting to project onto the situations (in its desperate need for control), doing so simultaneously allows you to approach things through a prism of greater clarity. Which, ipso facto, can finally lead to possible mitigations -if not outright solutions- you weren't being permitted to see prior. Put another way: try to look at the problems the way a child might. Seriously.

Playing Devil's advocate, say the problems are TRULY unchangeable/unsolvable. Well then, "It is what it is, que sera sera." Throwing more mental energy at something immutable is precisely what the ego wants you to do, because the mental is its complete domain. You have the added difficulty of being a self-confessed 'fixer'... pleasure to meet you, same thing here. Shared natural tendency aside, achieving acceptance of permanent life conditions is hardly impossible. You are the real boss of your ego, remember your own dominion of agency, and find the shift in logic and perspective that works for YOU. Once found, hold your position as immobile as the problem holds its own, an emotional 'Mexican stand-off'. Give the ego no quarter to encroach again - I actually recite Winston Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches" speech to myself, when forgetting my original resolve.

This technique takes practice, but can become your standard response to adversity, in time. Hope this has helped you, even a little. Wishing you peace. :)
posted by Amor Bellator at 7:00 AM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your thoughtful responses.

It is a salutary realisation to come to, that so many people are in the same boat as I. You tend to make the mistake of believing that you're the only person with a particular problem but actually it's so common as to be well-nigh universal.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:49 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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