When things don’t go well, those of us who are receptive/prone to self-doubt wonder why and whose fault it was. We toss and turn the hot potato of guilt. We want to hand it off quickly but the potato comes back. So we cycle.
People say “don’t over-think it,” and I understand. You can think too much about something, trying to squeeze lessons out that aren’t there. Of course you can also under-think things and not learn lessons worth learning. How much we think about things isn’t governed exclusively by what the situation demands. It’s also a function of what our minds supply. Some people say “you think too much” merely because they are up against the limits of their own ability to think, or because they don’t want to go there.
How much we ruminate is also a function of what other demands are being placed on the mind. When they say “get a life,” they often mean you wouldn’t be focusing on this problem if you had other things to think about. They also might mean when life is going right, by definition you don’t wondering what made it go wrong. Success is the best revenge, but better yet, it’s the best way to get over wanting revenge. The people I know who in late life dwell most on their parent’s shortcomings have the most present-day dissatisfaction to somehow explain. Therapy is wonderfully useful, but sometimes the real peace comes from getting a life.
Of course the people who say “get a life” might also mean please shut up because I can’t afford to go there, I don’t have the brain power, I’m afraid of what’s out there, I ‘m dismissing you because your concern is a threat. I can’t afford to learn new life lessons.
That’s the problem with all advice, counsel, feedback or guidance: It can be true or useful or false and harmful. I’ve never met a truth that couldn’t be put to abusive use.
Dwelling on why things didn’t go well can be the source of great insight, how we come to understand or “get” our lives, or life in general. Life is like being dropped down by helicopter into a strange land with a mission to take notes and figure out what the deal is. If you never reflected on why things turn out disappointingly you’re not likely to adaptively adjust expectations and figure out much about what this place called life is like.
As used typically “Get a life” is a halting move, a way of saying stop thinking about that. Halting moves are necessary. We can’t think about everything always. We must prioritize. A skill worth cultivating is the ability to decide what deserves more thought and what deserves less. And then of course it takes other skills to implement your decisions, because it’s not always easy getting your mind to focus where you decide it should.
I’ve tracked the slang that has accumulated around halting moves, the new phrases that say don’t go there and the ones that say do. For example, on the don’t side there’s get a life, get over it, talk to the hand, get over yourself, don’t worry be happy, it’s all good, no worries, peace, it is what it is, whatever, too much information. And on the do think of it side there’s how’s that working out for you?, more about that, let’s double click on that. I think we collect more ways to say don’t go there than do.
I’ve decided to try to write shorter pieces for now, so I won’t double click on why we need more ways to say don’t go there, at least not in this piece. Next week I want to talk about another factor that goes into deciding how much to think about whose at fault: The fundamental limitations on accurately attributing fault, guilt, or blame in longer intimate collaborations. I call it the F.U.D.G.E. factor: Fundamentally Unattributable Distributed General Error.