This post is gonna be about something I’ve noticed about the way I think—something I imagine many other people can relate to.
Paradox is an intimidating word, but this is the definition:
The last definition is the most simple, so that’s what I’m gonna go with. So how do our thoughts follow a pattern wherein contradictory features or qualities are both seemingly true?
When we ruminate, whether it’s about ourselves, our past, our future, or a situation that made us uncomfortable, the patterns our thoughts take are very predictable.
It’s the reason I so often draw “cycles” in these posts: because I’ve come to believe that everything we do or think feeds into the next thing.
When we’re thinking, we debate ourselves. For example, say I’m ruminating about whether or not I should meditate. On the one hand, I say to myself: “It’s an excellent opportunity to develop a habit. You’ll thank yourself later. It’s good for you.” On the other, I say: “It really won’t do much, you’re not even good at it. Only crazy people meditate. It’s not worth the time you’ll spend.”
Ok, awesome. So now what do I do?
It sounds like self-sabotage to argue against doing the things that are best for you. But this is even more sophisticated: this happens in those moments when you understand fully both the pros and cons of doing something. When your mind will supply more or less of one or the other to ensure you don’t do anything outside of your comfort zone.
When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, it’s not that nothing does happen. It’s that stagnation happens.
How to Avoid These Paradoxes: i.e. How to Stop Debating with Yourself
Although debates between two people of different mindsets are notoriously useless for causing a change in either debater, debates we have with ourselves are entirely effective.
By deciding whether to do something, we make more and more sure of the fact that we won’t.
And it’s not because we consciously decide not to do something—rather, we are stagnant, frozen by worry, and we don’t do that thing as a consequence.
By not taking immediate, concise, and decisive action, we accidentally ensure that we will always make the wrong choice.
But that’s scary! It sounds like I’m advocating for impulsivity instead of logical reasoning. But I really only think it’s important to recognize when we make logical reasoning impossible for ourselves.
And that’s as soon as we start ruminating. So I’m gonna suggest something that can certainly help, and it’s interactive, so get out a pen and paper.
How to Recognize When You’re Ruminating
It’s pretty easy to recognize when your thoughts aren’t being helpful to you. And that’s any time they:
- Worry about something in the future
- Worry about something in the past you can’t control
- Ruminate on one topic for a while
- Are failing to make a decision
- Are pitying yourself without offering action
- Dwell on issues to which there isn’t a solution
So, what we need to learn to do is listen to ourselves when our thoughts are helping us and ignore them when they’re not.
So right now, make a list of things you can do that are helpful to you. If you don’t have a clear head right now, take a break, have a nap, whatever, and come back to this. But if you do, make a list like this:
- Have a cup of tea
- Go out and ride your bike
- Give someone a compliment
- Work on a project
- Have an apple
- Take a bath
This is really simple self-care stuff, but having a list like this is powerful.
The next time you feel yourself ruminating on something and you feel like your thoughts are driving you to inaction, look at this list and pick something.
You’ll know that when you made the list, you were thinking reasonably and logically, and now, you aren’t.
So whom do you want to listen to? The present version of yourself riddled with fear and rumination or a slightly past version of yourself with a clear and present head?
The answer is the latter.
So when you realize that a more logical version of yourself suggests you do one of those things, it becomes easier to do them and disregard your present thoughts.
Being decisive is more important sometimes than being necessarily correct.
Remember: it’s better to make the wrong decision sometimes than to not make any decision at all. By not making a decision, you’re always making the wrong one.
Why We’re Obsessed with Making the “Right” Choice
As sufferers of anxiety, we feel it’s better to not do anything than to do the wrong thing. When it comes to the trolley problem, many people with anxiety would struggle to pull the lever.
We expect ourselves to do the right thing so often that we neglect the process it takes to get there: and that is, trial and error.
So if we want to be interesting, full people who lead fulfilling lives, we need to be brave and fail a lot. Failure gives us flavor. It gives us just a little bit of spice: when we hear that other people fail, we empathize with them and even respect their ability to cope.
But when it comes to ourselves, there is often only hatred after failure. But that’s ridiculous and fully within our control.
So next time, be decisive. Ask someone out or start a risky project. You very well might fail, but by not doing something, you’ve already failed, and you won’t even have the interesting story to tell.
And if you fail, be gentle with yourself. Even if you can’t yet be gentle with yourself mentally, which I often struggle with, be gentle with yourself physically.
I remember when I got home from a high school dance: my date was super pretty, but I felt I didn’t use the night to my advantage. I think she might have liked me, she showed me how to slow dance, and it was mostly nice.
But I just didn’t talk to her that much, and I felt I could’ve done better.
When I got home, I was swimming in a pit of self loathing. But you know what? I was there! I had a decent time and learned to slow dance. But I showered, drank a cold glass of water, trimmed my toenails, had a cup of tea, listened to classical music, and went to bed.
The more gentle we are with ourselves after failure, the faster the emotional pain wears away. And it will, every single time. Because remember! All feelings will pass.
So remember, next time you ruminate, be prepared with advice from your more logical self and make a decision. Even if it’s the wrong one, at least you’re not stagnating, which will always be the wrong move. If you have any suggestions or want an accountability buddy, leave a comment or message me.
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