Move on. Think Positively. Don’t dwell on it. All of this is much, much easier said than done. It’s possible, though, and here’s how.
Relationships end, we lose people, we fail at our goals, all of which and more threaten to drag us into a recursive spiral of rumination, misery and, possibly, depression. The mind is all we have in dealing with the world as we experience it and, fundamentally, we can pitch our minds, in the short term, and, in the long term, teach them, to be resilient to our failings and misfortunes.
The mind is a self-affecting system: thoughts generate new thoughts, trains of consciousness inspire ideas, well used mental routes become worn, like a garden path, while novel routes stay grassy; as a result, it’s easy to walk to same, firm, well-trodden journey again and again without intending to or realizing it. The mind, like the brain, is plastic: it may seem impossible to avoid self-destructive thinking but, with effort and repetition, those well-worn paths will grow over and become forgotten, with new paths becoming the natural route to take.
Given this, everyone should practice what I call mental selectivity. It’s simple: there are thoughts that you do and don’t want to think. There’s no use in egalitarianism or naturalism for the thoughts that condition your mood and your mind. Just like you wouldn’t keep any clothes, other possessions or software that you didn’t need or want, why should you not be selective about your thoughts? To be precise, a bad shirt will take up space in your wardrobe, but a miserable thought is corrosive.
Put it this way, as Mike Cernovich observes in this book, Gorilla Mindset: most of the thoughts you think don’t even come from you. Some people refer to the thoughts we think to ourselves as the internal monologue, but calling it an internal dialogue seems more apt. How many of the thoughts, ideas and feelings that you express to yourself are actually yours, or actually originate from people whom you like?
Rather, every day, we find ourselves in dialogue with a character, rather like Legion from Red Dwarf, a composite of your parents, teachers, media personalities, enemies, politicians, friends, exes, etcetera. There’s nothing to suggest that the things that this Legion says to you will be useful or even true. The result is that you have to be selective, you must literally to audit your thoughts, come face to face with the things that you say to yourself (much of it is so common that we forget we’re thinking it) and make a rational judgement as to what should stay and what should be forgotten.
One day, soon, as you go about your business throughout the period for which you’re awake, make a mental note of the thoughts you think and the things you say to yourself. If you’re anything like me or a great number of the people to whom I’ve talked, your internal dialogue will range from insightful to absurd, supportive to abusive.
Be selective. When you find your self thinking or saying something to yourself that is wrong, destructive, unproductive or depressing, think about something else. It will be like standing with good posture, it’s about realizing that your slouching, correcting your posture and moving on, keep noticing, keep correcting and, one day, good posture will become natural.
You’re banned from saying certain things to yourself (I’d share some of the ridiculous things I would say, but I don’t want this to turn into a Trent Reznor pity party). Figuratively, walk on the sunny side of the street as often as possible. Analyse which of your thoughts are just stupid bullshit that you recycled from ex or that mean teacher from school, ideas that you’ve never analysed critically, and steer your self away and towards plans, ambitions, philosophy and thoughts that motivate you.
How many times have people told you to move on from a loss or a failure or a problem. Those two words summarize a task requiring, mentally, the skill of a clock-maker and the strength of a powerlifter, but they’re so easy to say. Part of the trouble is that when, say, your having been dumped after a long relationship looms so large in your mind, unanswered questions plead for you to ruminate on them, the missing presence, that is, of your ex, begs for you to return them to your thoughts by whatever means, it’s almost impossible, when alone, to be free of endless rumination, like you’re a frustrated radio listener trying to avoid the same, saccharine payola single.
Solitude, peaceful walks, settling down to sleep, all threaten to end with as a stroll down a familiar mental pathway that always leaves you feeling worse.
Try this: go for a walk, and let the environment occupy every one of your senses. Look at the buildings, what sort of architecture is that? Are they worn, ugly, symmetrical? What’s the weather like? Is it sunny? If so, really enjoy the feeling of the sun on your skin. Imagine that this is the last time you’ll be able to enjoy that sensation. It’s raining, well, damn – but my friend who grew up in Saudi Arabia says that, when it rains over there, they all go outside and enjoy it because it’s so rare. What must that be like? Pretend that the rain is something you enjoy. Let your mind inhabit your skin and ponder how it feels when the raindrops plummet and settle there.
What can you smell? A bakery? Why does bread smell so good? No bakery, but lots of cars. Think about the oil that they’re burning. Maybe it’s from the North Sea, it’s millions of years old, refined, purified, transported and now people burn it in their cars. What can you hear? Birds: listen to them, are they communicating, talking to their young or their mates, or are they just making noise? People having conversations: what are they talking about? Plans? Gossip.
Walk, and focus on the input from every one of your senses, it should be too much information. If you want to go pro, focus on your breath also. It’s easy to say, ‘don’t dwell on it’, but the action itself is about as easy as trying not to thing about something you’ve been told not to think about. So, dwell on the indescribable experience of consciousness in this world, an experience that we ignore most of the time in favour of flogging some the long-dead horse from our past, worrying about gossip or idolising some consumer bullshit. Open yourself to experience in real time to the extent that there’s no longer any room for self-destructive thinking.
When you’re not doing this, think of your mind as a landscape garden: the more you walk the right paths, the easier it will be to walk them; more and more, you’ll be building the green which you would want to inhabit.