A model to help accept things without judgment or feeling sorry for yourself

May 14, 2013 by Joshua
in Exercises, Freedom, Models, Nonjudgment, Perception, Tips

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you find yourself feeling sorry for yourself and not like feeling that way? Do you get depressed or feel helpless when things don’t go your way?

Do you wish you could take things in stride better so you could move on from or solve problems and get on to better times?

A model to help accept things without judgment or feeling sorry for yourself: “Good thing bad thing, who knows?”

Here’s an old story that comes in many versions (here are seven, dating back to before most existing religions), but I learned from Srikumar Rao‘s book Are You Ready to Succeed (text edited from this blog).

An old man lived happily with his son. One day, the old man used all his savings to buy a young wild stallion, a beautiful horse for breeding. The day he bought it, the horse jumped the fence and ran off. The neighbors sympathized. “How terrible!” they said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

Ten days later the stallion returned. It came with a whole herd of wild horses that the old man was able to corral. “What good fortune!” the neighbors said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

His son started to train them. One threw him and stomped on his leg. It healed crookedly and left him with a permanent limp and pain. “Such misfortune,” said the neighbors.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

The next summer, the King declared war, forcing all the young men from the village into the army. They spared the old man’s son because of his injured leg. “Truly, you are a lucky man,” exclaimed the neighbors who cried over the loss of their own sons.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

I come back to this story and its lessons all the time. I can’t change what happened in the past. Calling a past event good or bad doesn’t change it. The model that we can’t tell if something is good or bad serves me better than labeling things I can’t change. It brings me freedom to live my life rather than categorizing or labeling things.

I find accepting (or celebrating) things without judgment and moving ahead with the situation as-is more productive.

Alternative perspective

Imagine you’re a pianist, conductor, actor, or some other performance artist. You’re performing in front of an audience. If you prefer, imagine you’re giving a business presentation. While playing, acting, presenting, or performing you make a mistake. You play the wrong note, miss a cue, … whatever.

You know you did something you consider wrong or bad. What do you do?

For the audience and probably yourself, the worst thing you can do is stop or call out that you made a mistake. In most cases, the best you can do is recognize it’s in the past, you can’t change it, you have other notes to play, continue in the moment you’re in now, and keep playing.

The same follows for the rest of life. Whatever happened that you didn’t like, once it’s in the past you can’t change it. It exists in the present only in people’s memories, all the more so for the more you dwell on it.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when something happens a way I don’t like. Instead of categorizing it as right, wrong, good, or bad, I skip judging it. It happened and I can’t change the past. All I can do is act in the present.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces judging and evaluating the past, dwelling in it instead of figuring out what to do in the present, and disagreeing with people over how to label events of the past.

It replaces feeling sorry for myself with living my life.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from past events weighing you down.

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