Whenever we encounter a person who makes us unhappy or annoys us, the usual reaction to have is “Why is the person behaving this way?” or “I can’t believe he is acting like this!” After thinking this way, something inside of us gets riled up and our happy mood soon turns sour. If this keeps happening, then it’s time to break away from the vicious cycle.
Leo Babauta, a blogger, journalist, and author of Zen Habits, has published an article offering advice on how to stop oneself from getting annoyed by others.
The answer is simple—change yourself.
“The best practice is an internal shift rather than trying to change the other person’s behavior,” Babauta wrote on his blog. “That suggestion in itself can be frustrating for some—why should we have to change our own behavior when it’s the other person who is being aggravating?”
Babauta explains that we will be “miserable” if we try changing everyone that we are unhappy with, and he illustrates his point with a metaphor from Shantideva, an 8th-century Indian Buddhist monk and scholar at Nalanda.
Shantideva once said: “Where would there be leather enough to cover the entire world? With just the leather of my sandals, it is as if the whole world were covered. Likewise, I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind. What need is there to restrain anything else?”
The metaphor, according to Babauta, is that one should “just cover your own feet, and you can walk around just fine” as it is impossible to “find a covering for the whole world.”
Then, how does one change the mindset? According to Babauta, one has to reject the narrative.
He believes that our minds will start “to create a story of resentment” of those that we are irritated with, and when that happens, one should stop thinking this way.
Here are the steps that Babauta has written on his blog to help you achieve this:
1. Recognize that you don’t like the way the person is behaving and that you are not happy with your current experience. In this way, you are rejecting this part of reality, rejecting a part of life. Consider opening up to all of life, without rejecting.
2. Reflect on a river that flows downstream … imagine wishing it would flow upstream. It would just bring you unhappiness to wish that the river were different than it were. Now imagine that this other person is the river. Wishing they were different just brings unhappiness.
3. See them as they are and open your heart to them, just as they are. See them as a suffering human being, with flaws and habitual ways of acting that can be irritating, but are actually very human. How can you love humanity just as it is?
By doing so, it will allow you to accept the person as they are—fault and all.
“See the suffering human being in front of you, and love them fiercely, as they are,” Babauta wrote. “See how it shifts you. And see how it opens you up to connecting to your fellow human beings, and the vast experience of life, just as it is.”
With such simple advice, why not give it a try the next time you are angry with someone? This small change in mindset might make you a happier person.
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