It happens to everybody; it happens more often to some than to others. The universe promoted me to the 'privileged beta tester' status, so I always get to play with the latest unstable versions of whatever is being released. I'm looking for various ways to adapt to that.
A new problem-solving strategy was born, its name is yet to be defined. Before I describe it, I think I should rather call it a problem-coping strategy, because it doesn't really solve anything, but it helps you get through the day and keep on keeping on.
The idea is simple - make a list of really bad things that you have been through and keep it around. It doesn't have to be visible at all times, but it has to be available within minutes, should you want to take a look at it.
Whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation, when you are facing a serious dilemma, or when you bumped into a challenge that seems to have no solution - take a look at the list.
Compare the items on that list with whatever you are facing at the moment, determine how the magnitudes relate to each other, conclude that your current 'problem' is trivial, move on.
You can simplify it to something like:
- are you alive?
- is everyone around alive?
- is your body ok?
If all the answers are "Yes", the problem is solved. For your convenience, I highlighted the path that covers 99% of possible scenarios.
If you rely just on these self test questions - they fail to work after a while, your mind becomes immune to the method. That's why you need to keep that list at hand. It enables you to remember the states you've gone through and identify with your N-years-ago-self. Suddenly it becomes easy to compare degrees of pain, or degrees of suffering (and you thought qualia did not compute, didn't you? ;-).
When the list is not immediately visible, you are not reminded of your past negative experiences, so life is beautiful.
Here are some items from my list (filtered):
- car accident, dad and I
- almost died in a lake (~drowned by 2 older boys)
- dad's N car accidents
- escalation of conflict within the family, case X*
- parting with a best friend forever
I began assembling a list of recent events that had a major impact on my inner-balance. With all due respect to whoever was involved, those events only bring up a semi-smile on my face.
Just a few samples from the other list:
- rejected in the context of a pupil-exchange program
- failing the entrance exam at the uni
- not getting a visa for visiting a foreign country (the response stated "you submitted fake documents, therefore the application was rejected"; can you believe that?)
- not getting a visa [same country, different embassy, different reason]
- broken relationship A
- broken relationship B
- broken relationship C (I think in this case it is easier to speak in terms of i and i++ :-)
All these failures were pretty big; plans were ruined, expectations were not met, spirits were dampened, poems were written. Despite all of that, today they feel like memories that belong to somebody else.
The drawbacks are, of course, there. I fear that if you use this too often, you will end up being insensitive. Nothing will seem to be of importance to you, because N years ago you've gone through something terrible. Here is an analysis by dr. Geekfighter, which explains the faults in more detail.
This problem-solving strategy you are working on on the basis of relativity of a situational gravity, like all things, has its downsides, as you said yourself. It is a great reality check tool, whereby you do not exaggerate the negative things that occur, so as to remind yourself that it can be worse.
However, it can prevent you from looking at a situation as an isolated event and analyse it on its own merit. And I don't think that it is a matter of gaining immunity towards it, as much as it is that it does not make the situation sort itself out, just because you know that worse things can happen. That's a bit of an obvious assumption anyways.
I could look at my list and say "well, at least he's alive", but suddenly being alive does not seem like such a big deal - better dead than such methodic self-destruction.
The broken relationship cases: here the relationship does not take the direction you intend. Yes, you're alive and your loved ones are alive and it could be worse, but does it really help you solve your issue?
Hardly. You need to look at each situation separately and realize that sometimes a heartbreak can make you feel as much as death can make another person feel. It's all relative. I am not talking about small things, like having a broken a finger nail or having someone do something to annoy you, but situations which make you unhappy, sad or uncomfortable in your own skin.
In these cases, whether it's seen as serious by the outside world is not the issue. The issue is how to get yourself out of that state, because the feelings of hurt are real and the desire for things to have gone differently is real, as
well as the re-running of events in your head and thinking what you could have done differently and so on.
So this problem-solving exercise helps you in as much as ascertaining that worse things have happened but it does not actually help you to restore your psychological balance.
It doesn't matter what events happen in your life, but the only thing that matters is how you interpret it and how you behave afterwards.
What happened with ******, is a horrific tragedy, but you had no control over it and thinking of it every time something bad happens, will only look everything else seem better, but won't actually help you.
That's a fresh dose of common sense, take it into account.
Given that this method is just a temporary workaround, it has to be combined with something else. How about some Tetris? ;-)
It turns out that playing tetris is a task that captures your attention in such a way that your mind is not able to deal with other assignments properly; assignments such as creating new memories and storing them in your conscience. There is a study that confirms that playing tetris after witnessing traumatic events reduces flashbacks. Here are some relevant excerpts:
First, computer games can have differential effects post-trauma, as predicted by a cognitive science formulation of trauma memory. In both Experiments, playing Tetris post-trauma film reduced flashbacks. Pub Quiz did not have this effect, even increasing flashbacks in Experiment 1. Thus not all computer games are beneficial or merely distracting post-trauma - some may be harmful. Second, the beneficial effects of Tetris are retained at 4 hours post-trauma. Clinically, this delivers a feasible time-window to administer a post-trauma “cognitive vaccine”.
- Human memory differentiates visual and verbal components
- Pathological trauma flashbacks consist of sensory, visual images (i.e. vivid visual memories such as the sight of the blood-spattered body of a fellow soldier)
- Cognitive science shows that visuospatial cognitive tasks compete for resources with visual images
- The biology of memory consolidation suggests a 6 hour time frame post-trauma within which memories are malleable
- Thus, visuospatial cognitive tasks given within 6 hours post-trauma will interfere with visual flashback memory consolidation, and reduce later flashbacks, as demonstrated in our previous study
- In contrast, verbal tasks post-trauma will not reduce flashbacks as verbal tasks compete with verbal, conceptual processing of the event but not the visual images that make up flashbacks
- Further, verbal tasks post-trauma will compete with the type of verbal-conceptual processing necessary to make sense of what has happened and from clinical models may serve to increase (rather then reduce) later trauma flashbacks
What that means is the following - if you play tetris shortly (the sooner, the better) after you've gone through a rough experience, it will help you get past that easier. If things go by the plan, you won't manage to store the memories in your "long term storage" area, because tetris consumes 100% of your CPU, metaphorically speaking.
The conclusion is that it is a good idea to keep a copy of tetris at hand; say, in your mobile phone, or on your computers. (can someone recommend a nice one for Symbian S60?)
Of course, like any other method, this one has drawbacks too ;-)
Another method that seems to work is playing music. It varies from person to person; I observed that:
Combining these approaches gives you the warm feeling that an older version of you is holding your hand and helping you out.
What are your methods?
Comment from: m [Visitor]
i sort of agree with dr. geekfighter. also, qualia are only quantifiable after you assign values to them (so this is a form of question-begging; also, it’s not easy to decide how much pain units experience x is worth; also, i’m aware you didn’t say this was easy).
my method is to think about IT on and on. i’m always afraid of sweeping things under the rug (i mean, who needs fake neatness?). but i don’t mean to pose as a stoic hero. for me it works better to live it out and exhaust it. of course i become exhausted before IT is exhausted, and the emergency escapism mode takes over temporarily. clearly, escapism slows everything down. if we had endless resources for suffering we would suffer less.
I would add running to that list. There is something about physical effort that makes other kinds of pain diminish temporarily.
Comment from: gr8dude [Member]
Constantin, I tried that method and my experience is that it has a quick, but ephemeral effect. My experiments involved bikes, but I ended up with the thought of writing a poem that ends with “but you cannot pedal away from the truth” :-)
m, this method relies on a shortcut derived from how the brain works.
Yes, it is difficult to measure pain, but it is easy to compare pain, if the following assumptions are correct:
- they are experienced by the same person
- an exact result is not needed
For example, I am not looking for an answer such as “toothpain = 67.23434 pu, while hunger is 30.0007 pu (pain units)", I am looking for a simple “toothpain > hunger; is it so indeed?”
Thus the problem is simplified, because I do not need to look for formal methods of measuring something, nor do I need to measure exactly.
To put things in perspective, this is not a “poveste cu zmăi", it is something that is supported by evidence :-)
Daniel Ariely writes in “Predictably irrational” about the fact that people are confronted with a difficult challenge when they have to choose one out of two options. Loss aversion is so strong that we are reluctant to make a choice, being afraid of the fact that if we do not chose the best option, we will lose the benefits we could have enjoyed, had we made the other choice.
Things become much more simple when you add a third option - which is designed to make one of the other two look better. Once that is done, suddenly all the metrics are in place and the decision becomes trivial.
Imagine you have 2 options:
- A and B, they are roughly equal
- then you add another option C, such that C << a (obviously worse than A)
A human’s rationale is as follows:
A and B are tough to compare, so I cannot know for sure what to choose. But one thing is certain though - A is much better than C. Final decision = choose A.
If your goal is to bias people towards choosing B, then option C much be chosen in such a way that C is perceived as much worse than B.
His experiments demonstrate that this principle works when people have to choose “the prettiest face out of 2″, as well as when they have to “choose the best TV model out of 2″.
In this case, what matters is not that we actually chose the best option (the opposite can be true), but the fact that we think we chose the best option ;-)
So, perception plays a greater role than reality.
Although some new painful experiences can be worse than older ones, if we trick ourselves into believing that whatever we’ve experienced in the past is more significant - the method works.
I never tried your approach, and from what I can figure - it surely is not the shortest route to inner peace. However, I am not sure I interpret your idea correctly.
You say “if we had endless resources for suffering we would suffer less”, and I cannot make sense of it. If “of course i become exhausted before IT is exhausted", then if we had endless resources - we’d never become exhausted, so IT would not be over, ever.Thank you for the music. a>
Comment from: m [Visitor]
Alex, I wasn’t saying the method fails because it’s impossible to measure pain exactly. I wasn’t saying the method fails. I was just making a side remark about how there’s not much of a measuring going on, because we just assign values to experiences here and now, such that the comparison is already made by the time we assign those values.
Yes, sometimes it only matters that we think we’ve made the best choice. But there are times when it matters to make the best choice. I guess you’ll say this method is devised for those who’re about the get crushed under the weight of the choice without getting the chance to say neither A nor B. Fair enough. I guess I have trouble understanding the scope of this argument. Is it supposed to be rule of thumb? Or is it a consolation (oh, but it could be much worse - C )? Or can it be either depending on the case? That’s also fair enough.
Yes, well, my approach relies on some basic assumptions and, well, facts about me that need not be true for others. And it’s true, i had a particular kind of problem in mind. Conclusion: we all need to be explicit about our pluralism.
As for suffering endlessly, I meant that I find it plausible that with an appropriate amount of suffering (pardon the quantitative language) a problem can be exhausted. Sometimes we need to suffer longer than we have the capacity to. Therefore we must do it in stages, which makes the process longer. I can’t be too sure of this though. All assumptions are up for critique here.
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