Do you know a smart person who rigidly holds on to an irrational belief system? It could be something they “have” to do for no good reason. Or, it could be feeling angry with other people whom they don’t even know. Or, it could be feeling scared whenever anything changes. If you know someone like that, you know how frustrating it can be to understand how that person’s brain works — even if it’s your own.
Perhaps I can shed some light on it.
From childhood on, we all seek a set of rules which help us navigate the world we live in. It’s time to wake up, get dressed, go to work, come home, have dinner, etc., etc. Once the rules are in place, we don’t have to think all the time. We just follow the rules. Life is calm. Life is certain.
When the rules collapse, however, (i.e., you lose your job) you must think about a whole lot of things. “What do I do now? How should I do it? Whom should I speak to?” So much to figure out!
It’s then that you realize that so much thinking can become tiresome. Hence, you may become openly rebellious, “I’m not taking this crap anymore.” Or you may silently rebel, “Too much change! I want my old life back!”
You want to solve your problem. You want predictability. You want relief from the chaos swirling around in your head. You crave a new set of rules to help you manage your world without a constant need to evaluate, analyze, deliberate, study, and enmesh yourself in all this tiring thinking.
So how do you simplify things? Let me show you the ways:
- You numb your pain. So many ways to do so — from drinking, opioids, legal and illegal drugs, online gambling, sleeping all day.
- You hook onto THE ANSWER that banishes doubt, replacing it with certainty. “I lost my job because of those illegal immigrants! Because of women working! Because of … (however you fill in the blank).”
- You turn to a strict religion to replace thought, providing you with answers that leave no room for questions.
- You resort to dualism — bad guys and good guys. And, of course, we’re always the good guys and the “demonized others” are the bad guys.
- You follow a leader who has an inflated sense of certainty so he can do the thinking for you. You just have to rally him on.
As you hook on to any of these solutions, you find relief from your anxieties, relief from your insecurities, relief from trying to figure out how to navigate this complicated world of ours. But at what cost? You lose your ability to think.
“No pain, no gain” is not only a good message for physical exercise, it’s also a good message for mental anguish. You need to be able to feel confused, to feel anxious, to feel vulnerable and to figure out how to cope with those feelings. You need to use your brain. To think. To reflect. To separate fact from fantasy.
The challenges of the real world provide us with predicaments that don’t have easy answers. Even when we long for them. Yes, we’d love to rely on rescuers. But when we demand that someone rescue us, we leave ourselves open to demagogues who will be happy to provide us with short-term solutions without considering long-term consequences. And, most importantly, when we rely on rescuers, we miss out on the opportunity to manage our anxieties and grow from the experience.
So, if you sometimes get tired of thinking, take a break. Relax. Do something simple. But do not give away your brain power to others who entice you with simple, magical solutions. Instead, tolerate your uncertainty as you search for new rules to deal with new circumstances.
“Thinking is hard work,
which is why you don’t see many people doing it.”
– Sue Grafton
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