You got 99 problems... but really, you only have one — the way you think.
We hardly ever realize it, but all the problems in the world exist in the six inches between your ears. That is to say, as Eckhart Tolle writes in his perspective-altering book, “The Power of Now”: “All problems are illusions of the mind.”
According to Tolle, what we perceive to be problems are situations that exist in the world. But, situations are what they are — they become problems through the filter of human cognition. When a situation arises, we mentally judge it to be a problem.
“Narrow your life down to this moment,” Tolle instructs us. “Not tomorrow or in 10 minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?”
Well, do you? Is there a fire in your apartment? Is someone in the process of kidnapping your sister? Is someone attacking you with a knife?
The odds are, if you're reading these words, there is nothing in your present circumstance that is truly problematic. You have food, water, shelter and Instagram. Nothing is causing you physical pain or threatening your well being at this specific moment in time. If you reflect on your daily routine, you will see that this is the case 99.9 percent of the time.
However, when you ask people about their problems, the list amounts quickly: bills, dating, homework, work, that thing Susan said to Tiffany about Millie and why the Giants suck.
In the Baz Luhrmann song “Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” we are advised: “Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind — the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”
We waste an immeasurable amount of energy fighting the world in our heads without actually doing anything to change our reality. “Problem,” Tolle explains, “means that you are dwelling on a situation mentally without there being a true intention or possibility of taking action now and that you are unconsciously making it part of your sense of self.”
From now on, when you use the word "problem," realize that what you're really talking about is your negative interpretation of a set of circumstances that exists in the world. Circumstances are neither positive nor negative — they just are.
“Ultimately, this is not about solving your problems,” Tolle writes. “It's about realizing that there are no problems. Only situations — to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted as part of the 'isness' of the present moment until they change or can be dealt with.”
Let's say, for instance, that you overhear someone at the water cooler talking about how, in a couple weeks, your job may start laying people off. You could — and many people do — freak the eff out.
You could start criticizing your performance, comparing yourself to your coworkers, sucking up to your bosses and gossiping about those you perceive as threats. You could lock yourself in your room and cry for hours, assuming that you'll be let go and reflect about what that will mean: You'll have to move in with your parents. Your significant other will dump you. You'll have to sell your possessions for beer money.
Or you can take a deep breath and ask yourself: “Do I have a problem now?”
Of course you don't. You never do. Even if someone is attacking you with a knife, it's not a problem — it's a situation. Your mind doesn't have time to think, “well, this is a problem.” You simply react.
With the work example, the situation is, in the present moment — which is all there is — out of your control. You don't even know at this point that anyone will be laid off. So what can you do about it now? You can go back to your desk and work. Or, with a level head, you can begin to constructively examine options for what you'd do if you were let go. But don't turn it into a problem by obsessing and ruminating about it all day.
Let's pretend, for argument's sake, that in two weeks, you do get let go: Is it a problem? No — it's a situation!
With every situation, ask yourself whether or not you can do anything right now to resolve — or at least improve — the circumstance at hand? If so, do it! If not, don't waste a second of your thought on the matter until you can do something about it. This will allow you to take effective action without causing yourself undue stress and angst.
“When you create a problem, you create pain,” Tolle tells us. “All it takes is a simple choice, a simple decision: no matter what happens, I will create no more pain for myself. I will create no more problems.”
In short: problems exist in your head— pay them no mind.
Or, as *Bob Marley put it, “In every life we have some trouble. When you worry, you make it double. Don't worry — be happy.”
*The song “Don't Worry Be Happy” is actually by Bobby McFerrin — not Bob Marley.
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