[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.
Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.
A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.
Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.
What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.
A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.
Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.
When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.
Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.
Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it
I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)
Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.
People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.
Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want
Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.
You can always focus on your breathing
No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.
I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head
- Boring waits
- When someone bothers you
- When you get angry
- When in pain
When I use this belief
I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.
What this belief replaces
This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.
It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.
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