I'm 48 years old. I said to my son the other day that I was only a 28 year old wiser than he was, which isn't saying much one way or the other. The most valuable lessons I've learned, I've learned over the last few years paying for therapy. If you haven't had therapy before, I highly recommend it. Just be prepared to 'shop around' for the right person to talk to.
If you don't have the spare income to pay for therapy, here are three basic lessons I've learned that will go a long way in helping reduce your suffering load. Suffering is basically any time you spend not experiencing or seeking joy.
Lesson One: Be Present
There a crap ton of stuff on the Internet about being present. The way I think about being present is to focus on what's happening around you right this very second. Examine something in your field of vision closely. Watch small insects buzz around your backyard. Notice how the water runs down a plate when you are washing dishes. Pay attention to the reality around you. I challenge you to do this for 5 minutes.
Be warned: Being present is fucking hard.
It takes brain power to focus your attention on this moment. Your brain, if it's like most brains, is way happier simulating a reality that is nowhere as complex as the one you perceive around you. Your brain is fantastically good at filtering out a lot of that input as well, so thinking about what's around you takes practice and focus. This is the spirit of meditation, yoga, and a hundred other mind-clearing techniques developed by cultures all over the world to make people more present.
When you (or more specifically your brain's ego) attempts to simulate something-that-has-yet-to-happen, or something-that-just-recently-happenend-alternatives, you consume a good quantity of the total operating capacity of your brain on simulating that reality. The fact is, that reality isn't real, it's internal to you, and nobody else can know it like you do. Treating that alternate reality as important (given you are allowing yourself to think about it) removes processing power from being present in the reality we all share.
This is the basis of real world phenomenon like Distracted Driving and our tendency to be Hooked on Gadgets. Be aware your attention and ability to be present is affected by thinking about things that are less important than what is immediately around you.
If you've ever had your computer run slow because of a misbehaving program, you know what I'm talking about here!
Lesson Two: Say How You Really Feel
There is also a crap ton of stuff on the Internet giving advice to about saying how you feel. Most people are pretty bad at saying how they really feel about something because our feelings tend to be 'locked up' with a bunch of memories about past experiences. It would take an immense amount of brainpower and concentration to be consciously aware of all your memories over the last year.
Feelings don't have that restriction; they can easily bubble up to the conscious level with very little effort.
In order to determine what you are feeling (emotion) and why you are feeling it (cause of emotion) you have to practice a technique which is iterative in nature. The most important part about the iteration is that you try hard to be present while doing it. That's why being present is step #1!
To start, realize that most negative emotions are lead by anger, so they tend to be the ones that confuse us the most. Anger allows you to get shit done, but it rarely tells you why you are doing it. Figuring out why you are angry is the first step:
- Realize irritation, annoyance, rage, or raw anger are all basically the same emotion. Don't nitpick the level of annoyance when in a discussion with someone - that's simply your brain trying to rationalize what action to take based on the level.
- State why you are angry by saying "I am angry because...". I'll use the following statement to illustrate: "I am angry because someone moved my cheese."
- Search for an emotion that seems appropriate for you in response to realizing someone moved your cheese. An easy way to do this is simply go around the horn on the Plutchik wheel. In my case, "I'm bored and sad people keep moving my cheese."
- Ask yourself who is responsible for making you feel the way you do. Nobody makes you feel any way. People do shit to each other all the time, but nobody climbed inside your head and made you sad about moving your cheese.
- Run through steps 1..4 a few times until you feel certain you understand why you feel the way you do. Be sure to substitute the root emotion for 'anger' in step 2. "I'm bored because Joan keeps moving my cheese. I think I have trust issues with her."
One you exhaust exploring your emotions and have arrived at a statement that isn't blaming (i.e. pulling crap out of your alternate reality by not being present), try telling the person who is involved with the memories behind these emotions how you feel.
Step 3: Fucking Shut Up and Listen
"There is a complete lack of anything meaningful on the Internet about listening because the Internet is full of blaming statements."
If you'll look closely, you'll see I made a huge blaming statement there. There's not way I can look at all the Internet and even if I could, I sincerely doubt that everything written has a blaming statement in it. Avoiding blaming statements will help someone hear you and, conversely, help you listen to someone work through the bits in step #2.
As with the other steps, it's important to be present when listening to someone. If you thought being present was hard, just wait until you try doing it with someone else. Two people being present is more than twice as hard as just doing it alone!
The end goal of listening is to acknowledge a statement of feelings from someone which itself is devoid of a blaming statement. If you note a blaming statement from someone, simply state "I think you may be making a blaming statement". Attempt to guide the person talking back into the workflow in step 2 and see what happens. They may get stuck, or they may get free. Try to remain unbiased and present in your listening activity.
Shutting up and listening is probably the hardest thing you'll ever do. It can be very difficult to listen to someone openly when they are struggling with being present and making blaming statements, especially if those blaming statements blame you personally.
That's it. If you can successfully execute on these three steps, your trust levels with the people you practice these steps with will increase beyond all expectations, or alternately, you'll find yourself moving on from those who are incapable of practicing them.
Sometimes moving on is the only solution the the problem.