Today (03/25) I was cleaning the street: nothing unusual. However, the weather was dry, and it was quite dusty around. So while I was sweeping, the dust was rising up and the wind was carrying it to the windows of the nearby building (some of which were open).
So while I was doing it, a detailed dialog took place in my head. I imagined people in this building get irritated by all the dust that floats into their rooms. Someone sticks his head out the window and starts yelling at me.
After this dialog took place in my head, my emotional state changed dramatically. My good mood disappeared without a trace and I got angry at that person I was arguing with in my mind, and who I didn’t even know!
After I calmed down I started thinking rationally again: “WTF?! How come I ruined my good emotional state and got anger at that hypothetical person by simply simulating a conversation inside my head? Is it fair that I’ve changed my attitude toward him/her, from neutral to hostile, without even talking to her/him? How come that I made a decision that person doesn’t like me or what I’m doing for him/her?”
Legacy of Ancestors
Evolution has given us a terrific advantage over other creatures. I am talking about the ability to predict the future.
Of course, it was made for a reason. The ability to forecast what happens next, which results our actions will lead to, has allowed human species to survive.
We can evaluate risks both in short and in long-term perspective. This mechanism hold us back from taking wrong steps which may have deadly consequences.
However, the mechanism which might save our life in a really dangerous situation appears to be quite clumsy when it comes to the modern society world.
It works well in those situations, where it is supposed to work, but as it has already happened with a number of animal instincts, what helped us to survive 10,000+ years ago, now does more harm than good. (And we cannot switch it off when we don’t need it!)
Here’s another great example, which vividly illustrates the point of this article.
Last Saturday my girlfriend and I took a trip to Saint-Petersburg. We wanted to visit the Hermitage museum. I never was there, so that was my first time. And it was awesome, especially the Ancient Siberia exposition.
After that, we had some free time before the train departure, so my girlfriend went shopping, and I was intending to have a snack at some fast (or should I say, junk?) food restaurant (yeah, I do it from time to time).
However, all the seats were taken, so I had to change my plans and went to not so cheap place, where I ordered a beer, and as soon as I made the first sip I found out that it was more expensive than I assumed.
In fact, I had enough money to pay for it. However, working as a janitor, my budget is really tight. So that beer was beyond my means.
This silly mistake made me feel rather annoyed and guilty at the same time. What happened next?
I imagined how my girlfriend blames me for being so irresponsible. So when she was done with shopping and entered the restaurant, I was ready to strike back the phantom menace from her side I thought up a few minutes earlier.
It turned she was not going to blame me for anything and was surprised that I’ve already made that decision for her.
In the example provided above I predicted that my girlfriend is going to blame me. Why did I do this? Why was I expecting this scenario to happen, but not some other one?
The guilt for wasting money that I was experiencing is one of the core feelings we are manipulated with since childhood. When a child is old enough so the parents cannot limit his/her actions physically anymore, they begin making a psychological impact on the child’s behavior. The desired result is achieved by invoking the feeling of guilt in the child.
Next, this feeling of guilt restricts the person’s actions on behalf of a Parent component of his/her personality when literal parents are not around anymore. The bad thing is that it stays with a person even when s/he grows up.
Guilt arises when we do not do what someone wants us to do. In the beginning these are wants of our parents, but as we go through life, they become wants of other people.
Our parents invoked guilt in us when we did not do what they wanted us to do. So now, when you get into a similar situation, your brain makes a parallel with the previous negative experience, and provides the similar response: you bristle at the potential threat of feeling guilty again. Dialog inside your head develops according to the previous experience.
We do not want to feel guilty once again, so our brain tries to predict every possible scenario that may lead to it in advance.
The Power of Thought
Consciously focus on creating the opposite conversation with your opponent in your head. Imagine, s/he, instead of trying to make you feel guilty for something, encourages you for you actions, or just calms you down, saying: “That’s OK. Nevermind.”
In other words, on behalf of your opponent, give yourself a permission to act as you want to and do what you think is right to do.
So here’s one more example (the last one, I promise!). It describes how to put this idea into practice:
On Friday, inspecting the area I was responsible for, I came across a piece of pipe near the sewer manhole. I threw it in the trash. (As I have always done with pieces of pipe. ). A group of plumbers arrived an hour later. They began to carry out some repairs to that hatch.
I started worrying if they needed that piece of pipe I had thrown away. I imagined a dialogue in which they blamed me and I snapped. When noticing that this conversation was taking place in my head for more than five minutes, I stopped and concentrated on creating the opposite situation: I asked them if it’s OK that I had thrown away that piece of pipe. And they replied to me: “Yeah, that’s OK. Don’t worry. We don’t need it.”
Surprisingly, after I did it, the accusatory conversation in my head stopped, I calmed down, relaxed and continued doing my janitor job.
Playback of the same negative dialog scenario in your head over and over again doesn’t make you any good.
You loose your focus. It distracts you from work, or other more productive thoughts.
It’s a high chance that you may accept wrong attitude toward a person simply because your assumptions on how the conversation will evolve are rather shaky. The dialogue you are so carefully working at may not even take place.
And the third, the most important one actually, is that when you make a decision for other person, you play a game against yourself.
When you assume that you are wrong in advance, it makes you feel guilty whether that person wanted you to feel that way or not. It doesn’t matter anymore, because you’ve already outstripped him/her by taking the hypothetical blame.
Whenever you notice that you are making a judgment about you on behalf of other person, whom you even haven’t talked to yet (regarding the issue you worry about), pause and turn the flow of thoughts in the opposite direction. You may get quite surprising results…