When something happens and you have a negative reaction, it is because of what you think the event means.
If someone gives you a dirty look, you might feel sad because you think it means they don’t like you any more. But what you think it
means is only one possibility. The meaning of the event occurred to you
automatically, and it's not necessarily the best thing you could come
up with if you really thought about it.
What else could it mean?
the key question. Ask yourself, and keep asking, "What else could it
mean?" Think of some alternatives and often it will change the way you
When you are upset and you want to feel less
upset, this is a great question to ask yourself. Ellen Langer, the
researcher and author of Mindfulness,
says a key to mindfulness is to question old mindsets. You have thought
in certain ways for a long time and it has produced a kind of
To question those ways of thinking opens you up to new possibilities. The question, “What else could it mean?” can help.
someone is diagnosed with a malignant tumor, says Langer, some people
immediately sink into depression because they have the mindset that
cancer is powerful and they are helpless to stop it.
But that mindset is not the only possible way to think about cancer, it is certainly not the best one, and it isn’t the most accurate one, either.
Ask yourself often, especially when something happens you think is bad, “Is that the only way to see it?”
Try to come up with different possible ways you could view the same situation.
it’s a dumb question. No matter how you’re looking at the situation, it
is never the only possible point of view. Probably a better question
would be, “What other way could I look at this?”
Or notice what you think the event means, and ask yourself what else it could mean.
down with paper and pen and spend an hour coming up with different
points of view you could take on the same event. That’ll shake you out
of your automatic, upsetting opinion.
Now look at your
list. What do you think is the most sensible point of view? Which one
would help you handle the situation the best? Which one would your best
friend think is the best point of view?
You can use
this question with smaller events too, and you can do it on the fly. If
someone treats you with less respect than usual, and you feel a little
bothered by it, ask yourself what you think it means.
For example, "I think it means she is mad at me for some reason."
ask yourself what else it could mean. For example, "Maybe she is tired.
Maybe she drank too much coffee today. Maybe she is jealous because I
look so good today. Maybe she is pregnant and has morning sickness."
only takes a minute or so to come up with some alternative meanings.
And when you do, it will change the way you feel about it. You won't
feel as bothered. It is a simple method that takes very little effort,
but it has a real impact on your mood.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.