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#43 Why I ignore my problems

Conventional wisdom tells us that the mature thing to do is to face our problems head on. That it’s immature and cowardly to run away from things and just shut the world out. But what if there are cases where this is exactly what helps? Recently I’ve been adapting the ‘shut it out and run away’ solution to many of my problems, and it’s surprisingly effective.

There are some things in life that we cannot change, but the memory of which makes us go through such emotional and mental distress that we are almost in a state of constant suffering. Not all good choices feel great at the time, and flashbacks to our pain and discomfort can be almost incapacitating. Outside of healthy, controlled environments such as therapy, I found very little use for reliving difficult memories. But I found I was so used to doing this.

I would spend hours every night I was alone going through needless self flagellation. Replaying negative memories, the worst things people had said to me, the worst things that happened to me, tiny little stupid things I did every day that were embarrassing, moments of cringe and discomfort and annoyance that varied from unsettling to making me cry.

And for what?

I now am brutal with my memory. Anything that is not a happy past memory, has to go. If there’s a lesson somewhere, I’ll write it down and think of it when I can do so productively, but I’m no longer allowed to wallow in my past pain. If I can’t change it, it’s gone. And I’m so much happier for it.

Furthermore, the story we tell ourselves about what has happened to us is so important. Especially if you have a tendency to blame yourself, or to paint events in a negative light, you cannot be trusted. Why would you let yourself be the storyteller? We believe what we think, and we often shouldn’t.

We often see how different people can react to the exact same event, and a huge part of this can be the story they tell themselves about it. I’m trying to be a more positive person, and in the meantime, I recognise that my mind just cannot be trusted, but that it’s also super-powerful in dictating the way I feel about my life and myself.

Knowing I can naturally have this negative bias, I’m on ban when it comes to using it. I have a mental checklist:

  • if something is making me feel bad, is there any action I can take? If the answer is no, I’m not going to torture myself by holding onto the pain. I’m on a ban from thinking about the thing

  • i’m much better at meditation now, so I can distract myself from thinking about painful events quite effectively, but in the past I would use other methods such as distraction or work to stop sitting in pain

  • the next step would be therapy to help me change the story I tell myself

I’ve become an expert at avoiding painful memories and it’s honestly changed my life and I consider it a superpower I would definitely recommend.

The better the world gets, the more we have to lose, the more we have to lose, the less we have to hope for.

— Mark Manson, with Readwise



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