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July 28th, 2018
If RESPONSIBILITY is the ability to respond to things that happen in our lives, we must also think about the manner in which we respond.
Ability to respond should not be mistaken for merely responding in any capacity whatsoever. Being able means being effective, which means selecting the appropriate response and executing it diligently.
Just because we can muster some kind of action in response to a life circumstance, does not mean we are necessarily picking the correct response.
This call-and-response dance that we must engage in with our life can breed a bad habit of responding in a canned number of ways, like a pull-string toy.
If we experience anxiety about our station in life, do we respond the same way by buckling down and working harder longer hours at the same dead-end job? Doing this repeatedly does not simply perpetuate the problem. It’s recreating the problem anew.
Think about this for a moment.
The response to anxiety becomes the thing that creates the conditions for anxiety to arise. How backward is this? We like to regard ourselves as smart thinking human beings that would not fall for this kind of silly trap, but this iatrogenic habit is everywhere keeping us imprisoned in the lives and personalities that we wish to grow beyond.
Another example that really makes this sort of bad cycle obvious is the experience of looking in the mirror and not liking what we find. How do we respond? Well if the response is to quell feelings of depression and little self-worth instead of the underlying problem, then we are more likely to make ourselves feel better with short-term solutions, like a bowl of ice-cream. The dopamine fix will make us feel better faster than anything. But as we all know, it doesn’t last. More importantly though, the response to the problem helps perpetuate the problem, indeed, once again, it creates the problem. This is like the pull-string on a toy. Repeating one of a few rotating responses to things that happen in life.
How do we begin to unravel this ever-tightening knot? How do we rip the pull-string out, root and stem and become smarter and more agile with our responses to circumstance?
The first piece of this puzzle is to recognize what exactly the response is addressing. The answer is more obvious in the second example. The response of eating ice-cream is addressing the depressed feelings, not the cause of the depressive problems. Addressing the actual cause would require the opposite of what we feel like doing in the moment.
The analysis is the same for the first situation. The response is geared towards the feeling of anxiety and not the cause of that anxiety. Recognizing the difference between an unpleasant emotion and it’s cause is the first step to loosening this vicious cycle knot.
The second is to think carefully about a better response to the initial circumstance, the real problem at hand.
Both of these require only one thing: a thoughtful PAUSE. Before reacting, we must regain a sense of calm. Only then are we most likely to think clearly about what would actually make our life better.