During my flight from Canada to Hong Kong, I was listening to an audiobook called Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius. The book dissects the minds into simple parts and illustrates how it works and how one can achieve happiness by understanding the sources of negative thoughts. Throughout the book, the author mentions these 2 terms: the “First Dart” and the “Second Dart”.
The First Darts describe negative stimuli, such as physical pain, or receiving bad news (for example, you failed your exam). The Second Darts are the negative stimuli that we throw at ourselves, such as the angry feeling of blaming the chair that was put in your way causing you tripped over it, which results in causing the physical pain, or the disappointment of yourself for drinking the night before taking the exam leading to the poor performance during the exam.
The Second Darts can cause a cascade effect, creating more Second Darts because the mind associates more and more self-created suffering. For example, when you blamed yourself for drinking, you might blame your friends for asking you out to have a drink with them too. In addition to feeling guilty and angry about this one blunder, it may trigger long-term despair by making yourself remember more past failures.
If we always tend to lose control of our emotions, we can easily allow this spiral effect to happen and bring us into a depression state.
The key to being able to overcome and take control is in understanding how the mind perceives and then alters the way of thinking.
Recognizing the First Darts – The True Sufferings:
In general, there are only a few negative physical sufferings or physical pains.
For example, this is usually associated with physical trauma, extreme cold, and burns. These are the things that you feel and you cannot change the fact that you feel these sufferings. This is what we call the First Darts.
For the most part, this is difficult to manage, but not impossible – For example, we can use Tylenol for headaches, or we can try to focus on other things to make us distracted from the pain and thus feel less painful, etc.
The brain is designed to feel pain so that it can allow us to react and escape from danger. In fact, it’s good to feel the pains. It is essentially a survival skill.
However, most of our pains are not in this category…
Recognizing the mind believes there is the first dart when there is none:
In the audiobook, it gave an example of coming home to a mess made by the kids. Where is the negative stimulus?
- “The kids are naughty.”
While this may be true, it still doesn’t cause any pain. You might have an expectation of how they should have behaved. Therefore, now you feel disappointed. You may see the long road ahead to teach them to be better. But obviously, this also can’t cause a true painful feeling.
- “I have to clean this up.”
Sure, there will be a bit of physical exertion involved. However, this physical exertion still can’t be so much that it causes true pain. What’s bothering you is that if they didn’t make a mess, then you wouldn’t have to clean up. Similar to the previous case, your mind creates this emotional pain.
- “My spouse should have pulled his/her weight in this.”13
Now the blame game begins. Again, there is an expectation to what your partner should have done. There is a disappointment, but again, the mind creates this emotional pain.
By now, you probably understand that all the above emotional pains are self-created.
There is a Chinese saying that roughly translates to “No expectation, then no disappointment”.
I cannot expect people to always understand me, the only thing I can do is not to expect; so if I find out that you don’t understand me, then it means that I haven’t explained myself clearly enough and that I should find a way to do better.
Recognizing that it is not a “must” to create negative emotion based on these stimuli:
One would argue that I have to feel disappointed because the kids are naughty. There is a difference between just feeling disappointed and recognizing that there is a feeling of disappointment. The moment you see the mess, the natural mind (subconscious) quickly fills the mind with the thought of disappointment. This could lead to anger towards the kids, yourself, despair and helplessness from thinking you can’t change your life, etc.
However, after the immediate initial feelings, the conscious mind can take over at this point by recognizing that you are feeling the disappointment. Then ask yourself why I am feeling the way that I am feeling. Write it down if you have to. This recognition is the key to being able to change the way you react to the negative stimuli.
Recognizing that even the emotional pain is a survival skill and it just means that it’s telling you to do something about it:
The mind going into a vicious cycle is a glitch. It’s like a computer going into a frozen stage because it gets into an infinite loop.
By now, you have recognized why you are feeling the way you are feeling. Now go down to the root of this emotion. Remember that this emotion should be the basis that you telling yourself to do something about it. You feel disappointed because you feel that it is your duty to fix the problem, for example, to try to make the kids not as naughty. You are disappointed because you have not yet achieved this task.
Therefore, instead of dwelling on the emotion, recognize that the emotion is telling you something. Just like how positive emotion is telling you something as well. For example, when you get 100% on your exam, this gives you satisfaction, proud and happiness. This positive reinforcement may make you want to achieve the same thing in the future, or it may give you the persuasion of studying harder to keep getting good grades at school. So, similarly, the negative emotion conversely is telling you that there should be something to change.
Now we realize that most of the time, there is no true pain. We also recognize that the emotional pain is usually self-created and that this emotional pain comes from your subconscious trying to tell you something is wrong so that you know that you should do something about it. Therefore, you have the power to control over most of your pains. Pick the paths wisely. You are able to control your emotions, and then use what the emotions are trying to tell. This can guide you to find a solution to change the situation and avoid having the same negative emotion in the future.
Always Remember WHY
Be Well, Be Happy, Be You