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October 6th, 2020
This episode is dedicated to the individual who operates the twitter handle @IDreamOfYasmin who was curious about a particular idea and how it works.
Imagine for a moment being enmeshed in a mysterious puzzle. Say for example, every few nights, a chicken is disappearing from the chicken coop. The first time might be a surprise, and a disappointing one at that. The second might cause even more frustration, but is perhaps likely to focus attention on what exactly might be going on. To ignore the possibility that the theft might happen again is, naturally a mistake, but it’s this sort of mistake that many make very often. We fail to set ourselves up for the future in a way that helps things most. But even if we unconsciously fail to set ourselves up properly, we are still unconsciously settings ourselves up for potential misery. To believe that chickens will stop disappearing might be fool hardy, though many problems do clear up if left alone. What’s truly fool hardy is to get upset about it without doing anything.
Though it might seem particularly apt in recent time, it’s likely a perennial flaw of people that we get bent out of shape over things that we consistently fail to change. We take passionate action feeling certain that something will change, but this is nearly always due to the experience of being passionate: it feels sure, it feels impactful, but, it is only a feeling.
Imagine a different sort of individual who sits down and has a talk with themselves. This person decides to take an action to fix a problem, say by reinforcing the chicken coop, but also decides that the likelihood that this solution will actually fix the problem is small, and that it should be no surprise if another chicken goes missing. Most people don’t think this way. Most people reinforce the chicken coop and smile in self-satisfied glory that they’ve done something, and that something solves the problem. Often, such misperceived efforts only add fuel to the next emotional fire that erupts when yet again, another chicken goes missing.
But the individual who doubts the curative powers of their own solution will be unsurprised. We might call this person pessimistic, but when the time comes and another chicken is missing and this person is calm and ready to further contemplate what the issue might be, does this still smack of pessimism? Or does this hark of a subtle middle road? Most pessimists are hard pressed to even take action in the first place, because action is inherently optimistic: it encases a faith that something new might work. Most, however, take the hope involved in action a bit too far and twist it into a faith that something new will work. But of course, this hope and faith sets up an expectation, and expectation is both mother and father of disappointment. Without expectation, we sidestep disappointment, and without the emotional experience of both, we see things through a lens of calm and peace.
Whether we do a good job or a piss poor mindless one, we set ourselves up for the way we react to the future.
Setting ourselves up in a way that’ll not just be more pleasant but also allow for faster progress through a more tempered demeanour, requires having an incisive understanding of one’s emotions. It’s the ability to forecast answers to the question: how will I react if this or that happens? And then further prompting one’s self with the subtle follow-up: how do I want to react regardless of whether this or that happens? With this second question we cast ourselves into an active role as opposed to a merely passive one that is forever at the whim and will of fate. By asking how we’d like to react to all manner of situation, we can begin to explore the wide field of possible answers.
One answer is simple pessimism: it won’t work and it’ll be bad.
Another is jubilant optimism: this’ll surely do the trick!
And then there is a middle way - a form of optimism that seems as though it’s tempered by pessimism but in fact derives it’s even keel from a deeper insight: problems rarely concede to the first solution we throw at them, and so what will help the hopscotch from attempt to attempt to solution be as unencumbered and effortless as possible?
Surely boisterous emotions don’t do much to clear our minds in order to see the details we need to notice to piece together what’s really going on?
We are best to think of ourselves as traps that we set to be sprung by future circumstance. Some carelessly leave this trap set on a razor’s edge, ready to snap at the slightest disturbance. Others, however, recognize who this trap is set for. We are a trap set for ourselves. We become caught by our own sprung trap. Those who see this, start looking for ways to dismantle the trap as opposed to setting it. But of course, such individuals are quick to find that their initial efforts to dismantle their own trap have not succeeded, and again, anger wells up with surprise, and this is when anger can suddenly collapse into laughter. An individual who is mindful of their mind’s state can never feed anger for very long, and having decided long before to watch out for such things, can only smile at the predicament of being caught in their own trap. It’s that smile, that subtle laugh that eases the trap’s jaws, and after enough run ins and attempts, slowly, the trap is dismantled, and it’s pieces used to assemble the calm smile of an even temperament.
donating = loving
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