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December 8th, 2020


Pet peeves are a particularly pernicious part of human psychology.  Merely having a pet peeve seems to be an act of deliberate self-torture.  It certainly can’t be masochistic because the activation of a pet peeve is universally regarded as a particularly unwanted grating of nerves. But with just the smallest pause to consider, the source mechanism for this annoyance is very easy to locate.  It’s certainly not located in or around that external phenomenon that is driving our own mind crazy.  No, any pet peeve is a feature of the mind that gets annoyed.


Consider just how self-destructive this phenomenon is: say a loved one does something that becomes quite annoying over time and with exposure.  There’s likely no intention to be annoying on the part of this person.  The pet peeve develops within the observer, and yet how do we try to solve this?  Do we try to edit the issue at the source - that source being our own mind where the pet peeve actually exists?  No, we try to change other people to suit our constantly shifting fickle mind, and then of course the game of squashing pet peeves becomes a never-ending game of whack-a-mol, and soon enough a loved one has a terrible impression of themselves as simply a constant source of annoyance, despite not an iota of intention.  


Most of our self-destructive behaviors function on this structure.  We are inspired to look for a solution in every place except where the actual problem exists.  But instead of opening that flood gate wide to examine all the knotted strands that constitute the effect of stress on thinking, the problem of pet-peeves serves as a reliable proxy for much such effects.  So the question begs: how exactly do you get rid of a pet peeve?


Within the discussion of love and pair-bonding, one signal of success that is often reported is the ability to gloss over unimportant flaws and to highlight the good, without ignoring truly terrible characteristics.  This is a tricky balance, and one for the most part that is achieved by luck more than anything.


But, it need not always be luck.  There is a way to consciously gloss over the unimportant things in a way that is actually effective.  At first glance this might sound similar to the modern misconception of stoicism: to simply suppress one’s feelings on the topic.  But this is the misconception.  Stoicism, much like mindfulness practice in the East is about a proper integration and regulation of emotion.  The result might look like a suppression.  As in, something that would anger you happens to someone else and yet they still seem calm as a kitten.  But this is simply ignorance to an invisible process of full emotional acknowledgement and conscious decision about how much the emotion should impact one’s reaction to the world.


The stoics had the all sorts of thought exercises to help create a frame of mind that can pull off this trick, but it was the buddhists who developed an explicit cognitive training to achieve this sort of harmony between mind and feeling.  As with most everything, it’s a training that takes some time to yield results, but when the reward is a life devoid of pet peeves, it’s hard to stop that training once some of the fruits are tasted.

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Podcast Ep. 968: Conscious Gloss

Tinkered Thinking

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