Monday, January 2, 2012

Sitcom Wisdom

Before we get into today's post, I'd like to wish you all Happy New Year! (We'll save the "when do you stop actually saying that?" debate for another post, okay?) I'm not as eloquent about it as My Secret Boyfriend Neil Gaiman*, but it's no less sincere for all that.

Though, now that I think about it, bringing up MSBNG (yeah, that acronym isn't working for me either, internets—sounds too much like a news channel and my adoration for Neil is hardly news—my bad!) was fiendishly clever of me because the linked post above is thematically tied to what I want to share today. (I love it when my brain has a plan and doesn't let me in on it until the very last nanosecond!)

I'm feeling a little more reflective lately, internets. Perhaps this was induced by the dizzying possibilities and potentialities of a brand new calendar year, or perhaps it's due to bidding adieu to the old year. Though I'm not a big believer in New Year's Resolutions, being more of the Do It Now! Live the Life You've Always Imagined! sort, there is something seductive about assigning an otherwise arbitrary start date to such things. For me, there tend to be more pitfalls and disappointments when I follow that path, but I don't judge. If it's your thang, good on ya. Get down with your bad self.

In the inevitable looking back process, though, I find myself doing mental inventory of the things I've learned. I'm middle aged (Good Lord, when did that happen?!?) but in my relatively short-ish life I have managed to amass a small stash of wisdom—mostly through the usual I-Don't-Think-I-Wanna-Do-That-Again trial and error method most of us employ.

It comes down to this: Your brain is NOT your friend. It can be fooled in so many, many ways. Your memories aren't really what you think. And even scientific observation to reinforce our own conclusions fall victim to Confirmation Bias (unless we're actual scientists... but even then, I'm dubious). This kind of sucks since it's your tool for interacting with the world in a meaningful fashion.

Oddly enough, the solution can be found via George Costanza in Seinfeld: Just do the opposite.

It's brilliant, really. George decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong, and that his life is the exact opposite of what it should be. George tells Jerry, who convinces him that “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right”. George then resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally. He orders the opposite of his normal lunch, and he introduces himself to a beautiful woman who happens to order exactly the same lunch, saying, "My name is George. I'm unemployed and I live with my parents." To his surprise, she is impressed and agrees to date him.

George was really onto something. We get so enmeshed in our habits—whether or not they're actually good for us—that it becomes easy to sleepwalk through life. We stick with what's comfortable, when getting strong means hurting a little. That's how you build muscle, right? Little micro tears heal, leaving strength in the wake of temporary aches and pains.

It may be my own Confirmation Bias working here, but that seems to support some of my Working Hypotheses for Getting Through Life in a Less Miserable Fashion (like Captain Barbossa, I don't have rules or codes... mostly just guidelines).

Mentally and spiritually the process isn't that different. For myself, I've discovered that fearing something probably means I should run towards it. The caveat to this, of course, is that one must be facing irrational fears, phantoms of the brain and such. Running towards dangerous predators like Alaskan Brown Bears or Evil Cartilage FishTM sharks is probably not wise; fear of those things is utterly rational and life saving.

But for pernicious Brain Weasels that lurk in my grey matter and seek to only maintain the status quo (even if it isn't quo!), I look at it like this: if I'm afraid of something, then it must have meaning or else I wouldn't feel anything (sort of like how the opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference). The fear probably springs from the fear of either losing the thing of significance, or of actually getting said significant thing. If it has meaning to me, though, that's counter-intuitive at best which means I should run towards situations that I fear because they have meaning and significance for me. And since my brain can't be trusted, voilĂ ! It really does make sense, in a Zen-ish paradoxical kind of way.

It's the same with powerful emotions—especially painful ones. The more you struggle to avoid them, the more they trap you like the proverbial Tar Baby. When it comes to pain, the only way through it is through it. You can bury it or avoid it, but it never goes away. In fact, these strategies practically guarantee that it will get much, much worse before it gets better. It's natural to shy away from pain, but you only get rid of it when you own it and process it; then you can move on and heal. See how that ties into the muscle building analogy?

I love what I read on a post on Tiny Buddha recently: "Fear is an emotion, not a fact." Based on that, it's hard to imagine why we'd want to let fear rule our emotional lives.

I have no scientific basis for any of these theories other than my own meandering experience, but so far it seems to be working. Really, the efficacy of a thing is the ultimate indicator, don't you think? This could be a great informal experiment, internets! Try your own Opposite Day! Let me know what you learn! Ohhh, the things we could unleash... the (good kind of) havoc we could wreak!

Then again, this is wisdom gleaned from an episode of Seinfeld. It's all relative.

* If you didn't read Neil's journal post, you really should. Because 1) I spent the time to embed the links, and really internets, there's no need to be so selfish!; and D) it's a really, really good post—inspiring, warm, and wonderful. And who doesn't need more of that in their day?


  1. Fear, have had a lot of that in my life lately. Loved the post and will ponder your wisdom.

  2. I try to approach things that scare me with a question; What's the worst that can happen?

    And then, once I've answered that to the depth of my lurid little sicko paranoiac imagination's satisfaction, I ask another question: And then what do you do?

    Because that's the point, really, isn't it? Unless it kills you, the worst that can happen is STILL not the end, just a beginning of something. And beginnings I can handle.