I’ve just read something completely transformative in terms of how to deal with what might be at first glance negative situations. Rick Hanson describes an internal set of triggers that lead to negative cascades (and how to overcome this problem). For example, imagine that you’re home cooking dinner for you and your partner. Earlier in the day, you asked your partner to stop off at the store for some milk which you need to make dinner. While cooking, your partner comes home having forgotten the milk that you asked them to pick up. Hanson describes four stages ranging from war to peace. In Stage 1, you would be caught up in thoughts and dialogue that stresses how the situation of making dinner has been inconvenienced leading to negative communication between you and your partner (how could they have forgotten such a simple task – now what are we supposed to do?!). In Stage 2, you realize that you’ve succumbed to this negative feedback loop and remain persistently annoyed at your partner having forgotten (and perhaps even at their reaction to your own outrage). In Stage 3, you might feel irritated at your partner having forgotten the milk, but you don’t act out knowing that getting cranky will only make things worse. In Stage 4, a negative reaction doesn’t even come up: you understand that there is no milk and calmly figure out what to do next. Ideally, in my own view, you would respond in a way that acknowledges that your partner forgot the milk and present them (and yourself) with options. You say, “Well we need milk to make this meal, so we either need to get some or we need to make something else. What should we do?” Suddenly the irritation has been taken out of the equation, and we’ve constructed an opportunity to 1) be compassionate toward our partner who forgot something and is probably feeling bad about having done so already, 2) collaborate together toward a solution, and 3) given them an opportunity to be compassionate and helpful in return. So, yeah. I’m ALL about Stage 4.

Hanson, Rick, and Richard Mendius. “The First and Second Dart.” Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009. 49-63. Print.