Happiness by Removing “Second Darts”

We’ve all been there before…sitting at the airport…patiently waiting at the gate for our flight to board…excited to kick off our “much needed” vacation…then the announcement…

“This flight has been DELAYED” Of course, just as soon as you hear the word “Delayed” a series of negative reactions ensue:

“I told her to book the earlier flight, why did she not listen and book this one!”
“This always happens to me!”
“Who is responsible for this!?”
“There goes my vacation!”[sound familiar?]

These reactions are referred to as Second Darts. Second darts most often serve no real purpose and disproportionately harm us compared to the inevitable first darts. Simply, they are a result of the mind reacting negatively to the experience.


When first darts don’t even exist

One of the saddest parts of all is that many first darts don’t even exist — they are entirely drummed up in our mind.

Have you ever thought about the scenario of your boss calling you into their office to tell you that you’ve been laid off. Perhaps you’ve been called out in meetings the past few weeks and are feeling less than comfortable about your work product. On top of that, you’ve heard rumors circulating around the office that layoffs are coming soon! So what do you do???
Naturally, you fire off a first dart → I’m going to get laid off. Then, the second darts ensue….

“How am I going to pay for my son’s school!?”
“We are going to have to move in with my parents because I can’t afford our mortgage!”
“The market is terrible, how the heck am I going to find a job!?”
“My wife is going to think I’m a failure!”

Wait. Wait. Wait. You are now thinking about moving in with your parents (which is more than likely depressing you and affecting your current mood) based of an entirely hypothetical situation — getting laid off. Doesn’t this seem crazy?


Negative reactions to positive events

Sometimes we actually react negatively to situations that are inherently positive in nature. Think about a time whenever something that was supposed to be great for you actually resulted in you thinking about it in a negative light.

So your boss just offered you a great opportunity at work to step up and take on a bigger role → you can’t stop thinking about whether or not you’ll fail and disappoint (second dart)…

“What if I look dumb in a meeting with Executives?”
“I’m not supposed to be in charge of something this important?”
Am I even smart enough to do this?
“So what’s happening in the brain”

​It is extremely important to realize that even just thinking about a first dart kicks off a series of effects on the body. To paint the picture a bit more, here is the chain of events that occur once a first dart is set off in the untrained mind.


First Dart: Getting laid off from work…

  1. The thalmus (this is the “relay station” in the middle of your brain) sends an alert signal to your brain stem — causing a release of norepinephrine throughout your brain.
  2. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) sends signals to your major organs and muscle groups preparing them to“fight or flight”.
  3. The hypothalamus (the brain’s main regulator of the endocrine system) prompts the pituitary gland to signal the adrenal glands to release epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol — better known as the “stress hormones”.


How to avoid second darts

The good thing about all of this is that with a little bit of self-awareness and positive filtering of your thoughts, you can save your body and mind from the negative physiological and psychological impacts.Here are a few ways:

  • Accept the inevitable (first darts) — no use crying over spilled milk. Pain and heartache are some terrible aspects of life, but are outweighed by the greatness of it all.
  • Look on the bright side — find the positive side of what just happened. Your flight got delayed…go walk around the airport and get some exercise before you have to sit for 4hrs. You are getting laid off…finally you get a chance to find a job you actually want!
  • Be mindful of your thoughts — start by noticing when a second dart (or hypothetical first dart) arises and just acknowledge that it’s there. Over time, you’ll notice the second darts won’t try to come in anymore because they know you won’t grasp on to them. Try MeditateBot to start forming a daily meditation practice.
  • Practice makes perfect — your brain is a muscle and needs to be trained. The more you act or believe a certain way those neural pathways are strengthened.
  • Think about what’s happening in the brain — just knowing that these negative thoughts are sending signals to your body and causing unnecessary stress is sometimes all you need to catch them before you start.
  • Relax your body and breathe slow — by doing this you will activate the calming part of your nervous system and halt the fight-or-flight area.
  • Understand second darts are unnecessary — our brains have an evolutionary bias to focus on the negative. This was of course back when we roamed with deadly lions and bears and needed to focus our attention on what might harms us.

“There is only one way to happiness,” Epictetus taught the Romans, “and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
― Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Decrease Stress and Anxiety Now With 10 Simple Tips

Anxiety is another way of saying excessive worry about future events. Worrying is literally one of the worst things you can do to yourself because it doesn’t help anything and only makes you feel worse. Those anxious thoughts are not only causing stress on your mind, but also causes a stress response throughout your entire body – not good!

Below are 10 quick and easy ways to stop anxious thoughts right now:

1. Take deep breaths 

Yes, this is super simple, and that’s the point! Stop thinking, just take a few very deep breaths and focus on your breathing for a minute or two. This focus on your breath allows your mind to focus on something other than your anxious thoughts, even if for just a couple minutes, can be greatly beneficial and make you feel less stressed going forward. Try it anywhere!

2. Take a walk

This is a great one for work, when you have been sitting all day and need to stretch your legs anyway. Walking just ten minutes gets the blood flowing and releases feel good hormones and decreases stress hormones. Get up and go for a walk now or take a walk at lunch time rather than just sitting at your desk.

3. Take a workout class

Go to a workout class at your gym or watch a video on YouTube or DVD. This way your mind is actively engaged in the workout rather than whatever you are stressed about. I don’t advise running or some other type of steady-state cardio because sometimes this causes you to think too much – I know that’s true for myself! Being told what to do in a class makes you focus on the workout and not on your thoughts. Working out also increases the feel good hormones and suppresses stress hormones, increasing focus and mental clarity.

4. Meditate 

This goes along with deep breathing, but if you find yourself unable to focus on your breath, try a guided meditation which tells you what to do! Anytime of day works great for this, but most individuals will find the morning or right before bed to be the best time. Again, this does not have to be long, taking just 5 minutes to meditate really helps to reduce stress. Try MeditateBot found in Facebook Messenger which sends you a daily reminder to meditate.

5. Watch mindless television 

When you don’t want to think, mindless TV (aka all reality shows) can be great. Instead of thinking about your own stressors, watch someone else’s! Not only will it get your mind off your own anxious thoughts, but might also make you think of your stress as not such a big deal compared to some of the stressful situations we see in the silly TV shows.

6. Avoid the news

Of course it’s great to be informed about the world, however, the news can be extremely depressing more often than not. You are not helping anyone, including yourself, following every news story out there, all it does is cause more stress and worry that may not even directly affect you.

7. Avoid caffeine

Coffee has many awesome health benefits, however, stress relief is definitely not one of them. Avoid caffeine if you are super stressed, because when your brain is already bouncing off the walls with thoughts, caffeine is just adding fuel to that fire. Caffeine is highly stimulatory which is great for certain situations, but not for when you are stressed out.

8. Avoid sugar

When you are stressed, the last thing you need is a roller coaster blood sugar level. When you eat sugar, it raises your blood sugar which gives you a short bout of energy, but then your blood sugar quickly shoots back down even lower than with what you started with. When you get super low blood sugar, that’s when the dreaded hypoglycemia kicks in which physically causes a stress response in your body. That stress response presents itself as restlessness, jitteriness, MORE anxiousness, sweating, feelings of anger and hunger. So what do you do to calm this stress response fast? You eat sugar, and yes you will feel immediately better, however, the cycle above continues. Instead of sugary foods, reach for protein and healthy fats that keep your blood sugar nice and stable to prevent the dip in blood sugar.

9. Make a list

Physically use a pen and paper and write down things you need to do rather than making a mental list. The act of putting your thoughts onto paper helps to get those thoughts out of your brain and helps you to stop thinking over and over of all the things you need to do. If you are keeping your list of things to do in your head, this means you are going to have to constantly remind yourself of each and every one of them.

10. Take Action

Ok great, you made your list, now take action! Procrastination is one of the greatest causes for stress and anxiety, the longer you wait to do something means the longer you have to think about the thing you don’t want to do. If you are dreading making a call, or dreading a  presentation and keep putting it off, the best and only way to relieve that stress is to get it done. Tackle your to-do list now and feeling amazing after.

Try one or more of the above today! Your mind will thank you, we promise.