Seneca wrote that greatest peril of misplaced worry is that in keeping us constantly tensed against an imagined catastrophe, it prevents us from fully living.
This insight is particularly appropriate for the experience of making mistakes. Because for many of us, committing simple errors, gaffes and blunders can make us so absorbed in thinking about how completely fucked we are, that it compromises our ability to be present in the moment.
And that’s no way to live.
Take it from someone with a lifelong habit of beating himself up into a bloody, pulpy mess. It’s never a fair fight. Nor is it a useful fight. It’s just torture.
One technique that helps me from tumbling down the ruminative abyss is something called a mindfulness sequence.
Here’s how it works.
Imagine traveling halfway across town for a big job interview, only to show up and realize you had the wrong address the whole time.
The first step in the sequence is the release valve. Allowing ourselves to feel and express our anger or frustration in the moment. Perhaps literally shaking our fists to the heavens and cursing loudly. Fuuuuuuuck!
Once that raw energy is discharged, the next step is acknowledging the sheer absurdity of the moment. Allowing ourselves to laugh about how this crazy world works. We might exclaim to ourselves, wow, isn’t this ridiculous? Isn’t life just so unbelievably baffling sometimes? Christ on a cracker.
The next part of the sequence is proving to ourselves that the consequences of our slipup are not life and death. We can recall situations in the past when we made similar mistakes, but survived nonetheless. Reminding ourselves that being late for job interview will probably not result in us going broke, getting divorced, losing our families, getting kicked to the curb, becoming homeless, having a mental breakdown and eventually dying a horrible painful lonely death.
Finally, we close the loop of our mindfulness sequence by oxygenating the conversation inside our heads with optimism. Perhaps using our imagination to perceive the positive contribution of the moment. Where is the gift in this? Could any good, however fleeting, come from this?
This mindfulness sequence, discharging, laughing, remembering and questioning, might sound like a lot of work. But then again, being constantly tensed against an imagined catastrophe is work too.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What’s your favorite way to beat yourself up?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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