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

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