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Comment on "Life Feel Overwhelming? Lessons From a Dishwasher"


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Hi, Dr. Goldstein. Well, you’ve put an interesting spin on a problem we all have, at one time or another. I know that dishes are definitely a problem for moi. I think one of the worst things about it is that it’s such a trifling little task, the fact that I avoid it gets me concerned that I can’t handle the big ones. And then I get even MORE tense. One more layer of tension, I guess.

On one side of the argument, you have people like my old friend, who once confided in me that at the end of her life, she probably wouldn’t be lying on her death bed, saying, “Boy—am I glad I did all those dishes!” But, one the other hand, there’s people like my ex-father-in-law, a sweet guy, but a consummate “hoarder,” who threw dishes away because it got that out of hand. He had stuff, lots of stuff, including unpaid bills, stacked from floor to ceiling. He wasn’t quite at the point where he was saving all his garbage, but he was close.

When I asked him about it, he told me that mundane chores seemed “like such a waste of time.” Lying on his death bed this March, I think he probably wished his affairs had been in a little better order. I know his kids did. They inherited five houses, but at the cost of cleaning them out, fixing plumbing that supplied only hot water…quirky stuff like that, plus $100,000 of debt.

Even if I hadn’t talked to him about it, I could tell how he operated: He viewed day-to-day chores as something to be avoided, because he had built them up in his mind as being such painful drudgery. It’s easy to be judgmental of someone with a problem like that without considering his circumstances, because they remind you of untidy parts of yourself. So by condemning that person you can cut that part of yourself out like a tumor. Facts are, he had been through some hard knocks, and running away from dull care was his way of coping. But…like an alcoholic, he wouldn’t allow himself to consider how his coping mechanism might be hurting him.

Sometimes, when we imagine people who have it all together, we imagine them being as stoic as soldiers, which when you take a step back and look at it, doesn’t make any sense. Keep yourself under that much tension over getting something done and anyone, no matter how stoic, will snap, and probably rebel.

Speaking of soldiers…I have two guy-friends who both served long-term stints in the military. They both have almost identical personalities, and they’re both nursing almost identical pot bellies. Thing is, I’ve seen the photos, and they used to be soaking wet stud-muffins. But, after getting shot at and forced to do push-ups, they’d much rather eat twinkies and watch Smallville. Not to be disparaging of the military, it taught them a fair number of tricks. But, at this point, they choose not to do a single sit-up. Not one. Because they associate doing them with so much tension.

To be fair, re-training themselves to think about sit-ups differently would be no small task. But it’s clear that’s the solution: to let go of the tension you associate with a task. It’s so obvious, I wonder why so many people resist it? We get hooked, I guess. We think we’re taking care of ourselves when we’re not.

It’s really crazy, when you think about it…in gap-thinking, you’re comparing yourself to a future that doesn’t exist and isn’t a part of reality. What kind of disjointed existence is that? Never mind how making yourself feel inadequate effects you, gap thinking is completely unnatural, like a mental amputation. I’m thoroughly convinced that humans are just smart enough to get themselves into trouble.

It would be a much better life—certainly a less stressful one, if we could just live in the moment…paying attention to the bubbles and warm water, in other words. :-) A friend of mine who teaches martial arts tells me that he can always tell the people who will get a black belt from the ones who won’t. The ones who won’t never stop talking about the black belt. They fixate on it. The ones who do just come in and practice, even the basic stuff, everyday.

I’m with you on being in relationships you don’t like…but, I’m tying one-handed now, thanks to a sleeping cat. It’s back to late-night studying for me... or maybe I should do the dishes. Oh, screw it. They can wait until morning. :-) Thanks for the article.

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Hi 2002, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this article. But, gap thinking is not all bad because it allows to think of ways to go from the situation that exists at the moment to the situation we want to be in. This kind of thinking allows us to brainstorm what to do to go from point A to point B. Of course, if one focuses on gap thinking to the point that they become agitated and distracted, then there is probably little value to continue gap thinking.

So, to add a few examples of my own, like a general about to go to war, once the gap thinking stage of planning is complete, all of one's focus should go to what they must do with their bodies to get the desired results. Imagine yourself as a player in a game of chess. Each game begins with both sides fully invested. This investment is symbolically represented by the fact that both players begin with all their pieces set up on the board. The very moment the gap thinking/planning stage is complete, the player takes action by moving the relevant piece. For a person to fully invest themselves to a task in real life, he can shift all of his focus into his senses, becoming as completely aware of the information coming through these senses as possible.

Another example is to consider what it would be like as a hockey goalie. Pucks are flying towards the net at close to 150 KPH. All of your focus is on your senses in order to follow the puck amongst all of the players, and to determine its course after any given pass. Try using the same sense focus a hockey goalie probably uses while following the puck with your next task.

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Hi, Kaudio. How are you? Well, I agree, if gap-thinking leads to brainstorms about what we can do at the present moment to increase the likelihood that things will turn out well, it would be an advantage, hands-down. The disease I think a lot of people catch—and this is what I understood the doctor as trying to say—is that people become so caught up in their ideal future and where they’re supposed to be, that it incapacitates them. They focus so much on the end result that they become incapable of enjoying the work involved to reach it, in other words. That was my understanding of gap-thinking, anyway.

But I agree with you that it’s vital to make a distinction between this and healthy planning.

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Likewise, finding! Thanks to 2002's posts, I have taken up an 'all in' kind of mentality to my activities lately. The feeling is really refreshing and gives me a deja vu of the way I handled tasks when I first began university. My parents were difficult at the time, and I began to doubt myself and questioned how I dealt with problems. I tried to find something that explained what I was doing was wrong. But, now I realize that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing: fully investing myself into trying things out.

This mentality does not make the tasks I face easier, but these 'intense' feelings I receive when I am fully invested in something are very well missed. So, I am feeling great now, 2002! My thanks to Dr. Goldstein for the article as well.

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