As I was laying in bed the other night, I had a thought.
It went something like this: “Tonight was pretty fun…but I really wish things had turned out differently".
After a few moments, I realized what an absurdly useless thought this was! It was a huge breakthrough for me, and I wanted to share with you guys what I learned from this experience.
Although I had a specific thought about my circumstances that night, it was just a manifestation of a particular thought pattern.
All the time, we think things along the lines of: “This situation is ok but not as good as…", where we compare our current situation to some hypothetical alternate reality.
This one particular thought pattern is so detrimental to our mental health that we should completely eradicate it. It takes us away from an experience we should be savoring.
But couldn’t these thoughts be useful to us in some way?
For example, maybe this type of comparison is what motivates us to do something to improve our situation, leading to us being happier in the long run.
The problem with this reasoning is that the thought is unnecessary to improve the situation. In fact, oftentimes, improvement is simply beyond your reach.
Let’s say you decide to watch Jurassic Park 2. As the credits start rolling, you think about how you enjoyed it, but then you think “Wow, the first Jurassic Park is way better. I should have watched that one."
You’re enjoyment of the situation just decreased considerably, but it’s too late to do anything about it.
All that happens is you feel worse. The thought was not necessary; you enjoyed the movie a certain amount, and next time you’ll watch the first Jurassic Park instead of the sequel.
What about a scenario where you need some motivation to change your situation for the future?
Let’s say you get an 80 on an exam. This grade is acceptable to you, but you really would have preferred getting a 90 or above.
If you focus on how you wish your score were better, you will be unsatisfied with your current score despite it being acceptable.
On the other hand, if you accept your situation, you are just as capable of “realizing" that you want to do better simply based off the degree of satisfaction you have.
There is no need to beat yourself up over it; clearly you would prefer a higher score. The motivation is already there, and you should allow yourself to be content.
From now on, I plan on paying much more attention to this thought pattern.
It’s hard to catch it every time one of these thoughts pops into my head, but simply being aware of the problem is a major first step.
If I constantly remind myself to be vigilant of these thoughts, it will become a habit, and eventually the thoughts will go away completely.
In the meantime, I notice an impressive boost in mood each time I have one of these thoughts and I see it for what it is: a useless drain on my happiness.