How to Keep Your Everyday Negative Emotions in Perspective

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 11/10/15 •  6 min read

Recently, I had one of the biggest scares of my life.

No, no one was hurt or anything like that, but judging by the way I felt, you might have thought the world was coming to an end.

I had an early flight out of Boston to head back to Portland, and these days I travel with quite a bit more than I used to.

Sean 5 years ago: Nothing but a North Face Surge backpack for 7 months abroad.

This is all I took for 7 months in Thailand..

This is all I took for 7 months in Thailand..

Sean Today: Rolling suitcase, camera/laptop bag, golf clubs.

I hopped on my shuttle, and was happy to arrive at Logan Airport and find no one in line at the American counter. As I always do, I checked my clubs with no hassle, and walked to security.

“Sir, you’re going to have to check that.”

I’ve never had to check this bag, but admittedly I’d crammed a bit more in there than usual, as on this trip I was also attending a wedding. (Congrats Peter and Nicole!).

I protested for a few minutes, searched for another security gate I could go through, and tried to rearrange some stuff – all to no avail.

This bag was getting checked whether I liked it or not.

I was really angry at having to pay an extra $35 for my second bag – especially since I knew if I’d made it through security I’d be able to check it at the gate for no charge.

As I’m walking back to security, I noticed something. The laptop case I’d had in my hand earlier was gone.

You see, the previous night the zipper broke on my backpack, leaving me with no way to zip up the computer in my bag – so I was carrying it by hand.

Or at least I had been until I realized it was gone.

A minor panic ensued, but I was sure it’d be back at the ticket counter.

“Nope, we haven’t seen it. Check security.”

I went back to security.

“Nope, haven’t seen it.”

It had literally been 5 minutes since I lost it, this thing could not have gotten that far!

I then spent the next 20 minutes walking back and forth between the ticket counter and security, retracing every step I made and talking to everyone I met.

No one had seen it, and the best advice they could give was to go through security and see if someone had returned it on the other side.

Immediately that $35 became unbelievably insignificant. The prospect of losing everything on my computer hard drive, having to spend over $2k for a new one, as well as losing my iPad that was also in my case took over.

I was panicked, and was about 30 seconds away from resigning myself to the fact it was gone – and whether I liked it or not, I had a plane to catch.

I walked back down towards the ticket counter one more time, and re-scoured every step I took.

Then I looked over at a row of black chairs, and perfectly blending in with the seat was my slim black case.

The sense of relief I felt in that moment was incredible.

I’d talked to two ticketing agents, and two other security people at least 3 times each during the process – so I marched back towards security holding it over my head like I’d just won the NBA championship – making sure they saw it, which returned warm smiles.

But this isn’t a story about losing a laptop.

This story is actually about the $35 baggage fee that had me so worked up beforehand.

At that moment, the $35 felt like such a big deal. And frankly, I think it was more on principle that I was so angry.

But it took nearly losing the most important tool in my life and business to help me realize how insignificant the baggage thing was.

Sure it’s annoying, and I would have much rather spent the $35 on, well, just about anything else – but it could have been much worse.

So how do you keep things in perspective in the midst of what might feel like a total meltdown?

1) Recognize Your Emotions

At a time when you’re getting frustrated, take a second and recognize that you’re being (overly) emotional.

Whether it’s sitting in traffic, getting a parking ticket, getting an upsetting email etc. Recognize that you’re getting frustrated or upset.

By first doing this, you’re able to do the next step more easily.

2) Build a “Ladder of Worse”

I started thinking about this concept immediately after this whole ordeal happened.

Once you’ve recognized you’re upset, take a minute to build a “ladder of worse” in your head.

So in this case, I had to pay $35 for my bag. What I should have done at that moment was, think through what could be worse than having to check the bag:

You get the idea.

By building a “ladder of worse” you think through all of the things that could be worse than what you’re experiencing in the moment

In the case of my bag, there is a TON that could have been much worse.

The reality is, even had I not found my computer, I live a very blessed life, and I could have experienced much worse.

Had I gone through this process though, I would have been calmer and probably not lost my laptop in my first place.

3) Be Grateful

I talked about the importance of gratitude in a post a few weeks ago.

So at this point you’ve:

The final thing you should do is focus on something you’re grateful for.

In this case, I’m grateful for my amazing wife Tate and my incredible friends and family.

When you think about what could be worse, and focus on the good things you already have, it becomes much easier to gloss over the minor annoyances in life leading to less stress and a greater sense of happiness.

How do you deal with the minor stresses of everyday life? Let me know in the comments!

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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27 comments on "How to Keep Your Everyday Negative Emotions in Perspective"

  1. Alejandro Mendoza says:

    The less attached we are the easier it is. Maybe you can have everything on the hard drive backed up in a cloud so if you lose it it is not as big a deal. You are so right about perspective. We need to value our life and friendships so much more than value things that are replasable by choice. Friends and family can not be replaced or backed-up.

  2. Sally says:

    Amazing .. as just today I have been reminding myself to step back from the anxiety & sadness I’m feeling and to observe them as emotions which will pass .. I’ve also noticed the same issue arising in my clients today .. Something in the air ? .. A quick reality check of our lives compared to what so many of our ‘brothers and sisters’ around the world are dealing with right now brings gratitude back PDQ ! ..

  3. Scott Crosby says:

    Great post Sean,
    Yes, Perspective is everything. Having lived and traveled in over 50 countries I can’t tell you how many times I have seen some poor unfortunate being and said to myself “there but by the grace of God go I”.
    When something upsets me I try to remember to take a deep breath and quote James 1: “Give thanks in ALL things, for when the way is rough your patience has a chance to grow and when it grows you will become full and complete—ready for anything”.
    What a great promise God has give us—remember it’s through our trials and difficult times that we grow and become the full and complete person that God intends us to be.

    1. Sean says:

      Couldn’t agree more – thanks for the thoughts Scott!

    2. Christina says:

      Beautiful response Scott, my mother has a similar saying “there but by the grace of God go I.” Appreciate the James 1 reference: putting that one in my phone.

  4. Scott Crosby says:

    Oh Btw congratulations and have a super honey moon.

    1. Sean says:

      Thank you, we will for sure 🙂

      1. Katherine says:

        Yes, congratulations on your new spouse. Have a fantastic honeymoon! Kat

  5. Christina says:

    Sean I liked that you gave a us process/checklist for to help us not go from 0-100 unnecessarily. Glad everything worked out!

  6. Chris Kennedy says:

    I recently heard a 17 year old student on this subject. When she started boarding school she cried for the first six months. Eventually, her mother rang her and said “Emily this has to stop. From now on, rate everything from 1 to 10 where 1 is a slight graze on your finger, and 10 is the death of a close family member”. Emily said that she stopped crying that day, and still uses this method to keep perspective.

  7. Sara Param says:

    Very good piece of advice for everyone.

  8. Great post and a great lesson to really appreciate what you have, what you’ve accomplished and who you have in your life.

    A lot of people focus on what other people have that they don’t, but forget to realize that there are people out there that have less than us.

    The key takeaway for me is, “The final thing you should do is focus on something you’re grateful for.” Taking a step back and gaining some clarity can help in so many situations.

  9. Colin says:

    Losing your laptop, the deepest and most primal of all traveling entrepreneur’s fears!

    When I remember to do it, I cope with stressful situations by asking myself “How will I experience this 5 years down the road?”

    Usually, the answer is that I will hardly remember it, and it becomes part of the story of the journey I’m on to reach my current goals. Looking at it 5 years down the road after I’ve achieved those goals, often, it hardly seems like a big deal. 5 years is even being pretty agressive. A 1 year perspective is plenty of time for most things.

    So, when I messaged you last week about my struggles with adjusting to location independence, shortly afterwards I had an attitude adjustment about this stress and saw it as being part of the path of growth, having a new career, full of travel and freedom.

    After I changed perspective like that, the stress has pretty much disappeared. Now, the turmoil I experience that comes with shifting to an entirely new life is brought with open arms as an experience of my own expansion. It even applies to crappy ‘losing your laptop’ situations, where from a 5-years-down-the-road-perspective, when I’m a different person, having achieved my current goals, it now becomes part of the story. It seems obvious when I’m writing about it now, but it’s a different thing to remember it in the heat of the panic.

  10. Chris says:

    This is really interesting Sean, especially because we are often so caught up in everyday life to notice these kinds of behaviors.

    I’ve found that a 5 minutes meditation in times of anxiety or when I have an headache, really helps me in clearing my thoughts. Adding all the points you mentioned will make it all more effective!

  11. Katherine says:

    Great article!! Thank you for this perspective. I put out an intention for my life as well, ‘that all things lost or misplaced come back to me quickly.’ When I remember this I shift into calm mode, relax a little, and then low and behold I find or see the thing I’ve misplaced. Or someone else will even point it out to me or return it. Also, things that are black, put an orange strip of tape on them. I had a scare with my professional camera. The camera bag is black and it blends in with car carpet and seats that are black. Literally I’ve looked right at it sometimes and not seen it. So now a little strip of bright tape solves the problem or dot of white paint or something like this.
    Again, wonderful article! Thank you so much Sean.

  12. Sean –

    This is great. And you have it completely right. We have to first recognize our thoughts/emotions. Only then can we think or act differently. And what could be bullet point 4 – be gentle with yourself. We all get upset, it’s natural. But it doesn’t help to beat ourselves up every time it happens. Have a great trip.

  13. I used to terribly overreact and still sometimes get caught up in the moment, but ever since I started meditating almost 2 years ago it became much easier to recognize when your getting caught up. This allows you to step back and objectively observe why you may be acting emotionally and effectively change how you react.

    I use Headspace and love it!

  14. Andrey says:

    I always think positive 🙂

  15. Oliver says:

    I read this article five days ago but after what has happen this weekend in Europe, especially in France (terrorist acts, train crash), I read it once again. It is very hard to stay positive at the momement.

  16. Maria says:

    Damn, Sean, you don’t know how much I needed this post right now. Thank you.

    1. Sean says:

      Glad I could help, Maria 🙂

  17. Scott Crosby says:

    Oliver you are 100% correct. What happened Friday night in Paris serves as a poignant reminder of the fact that there is real hideous EVIL in the world and that we need to be vigilant of that fact—-not fearful, not cowering but aware. To paraphrase, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing”.

  18. “Ladder of Worse” – ha! Great way to keep everything in perspective!

    Congratulations on finding your laptop. I’m glad this wasn’t a very different kind of story.

    Sometimes, I find negative thoughts taking too much precedence in my brain’s default prioritization. When this happens regularly, I start wearing a rubber band around my wrist.

    Every time I notice a negative thought, I give my wrist a painful snap. This works as a “pattern interrupt,” derailing the default neural habit, and allowing me to reset my mindset. After a couple weeks, the negative thinking habits usually go away.

  19. Tom says:

    Love the “Ladder Of Worse” concept Sean, will be implementing going forward 🙂

  20. Chris says:

    I know this is an older post, but thank you for this! I had a horrible day today and it took me a while to calm down, but reading this post really solidified the fact that my emotions are temporary.

    Thank you for helping me keep things in perspective.

    1. Sean says:

      Glad I could help Chris, and hopefully tomorrow is a better day!

  21. I really resonate with this, I guess because it happens to me regularly, but it’s usually my husband who is always bringing up the ‘ladder of worse’… he’s really good at that 🙂 He helps me to keep things in perspective, and he’s right (and so are you) — it could always be worse. And many people have things way worse than we do, like Syrian refugees.

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