It is time for me to work on leaving behind a particular tendency.
I tend to focus, moment-by-moment, on problems.
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This isn’t quite the same as “catastrophizing” because I don’t usually descend into a downward spiral that makes things seem worse and worse. Well, not usually. There have been one or two occasions in life when this has been the case, but I’m not talking about exceptions here, I’m talking about the general case.
It’s also not the same as being a pessimist. Because on the whole, I’m not. Instead, big picture, I tend to be the ridiculous optimist. “Everything is going to be okay.” “It’ll all work out.” “I don’t quite know how this will get solved, but it will.” Anyone that knows me well knows this part of me. Some find it to be infuriating.
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What I mean is that in the moment-by-moment of life, my attention is drawn toward anything that helps me to answer these questions:
- What are the most imminent risks?
- What needs to be done next?
- What fires need putting out?
And so, my general method of approaching a task, or a day, seems to consist entirely of finding and naming problems to solve and issues that need resolving. Even if in the end I tend to assume the optimistic view, and see problem-naming and issue-resolving as a way of getting to the good place that I believe will be the destination, the moment-by-moment thus has a way of being far too dark.
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Put another way, I tend, moment-by-moment, to have trouble noticing, naming, and being pleased about the good things. Because the good things—well, they don’t “need” attention. They’re already “solved.”
Instead, I have traditionally reserved happy attention and commentary for destinations. Once everything is said and done, I stand up and say, “Gosh, that was awesome and the result is good!” But along the way, I tend to be critical and negative. “This needs doing.” “Why hasn’t that been done?” “Damn, that’s a problem.” “Shit, gotta attend to that.”
It’s an old habit and in some ways a productive one, but it is not a happy one, and it is not helpful in particular in relationships. Because there is no final goal or outcome in a relationship; there is only the moment. So if I’m not noticing or appreciating the good enough in the moment in a relationship, then I am not noticing or appreciating the good enough in the relationship, period.
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I don’t mean to make this into My Special Problem[TM].
Only to comment on it for myself, in my own case. Moment-by-moment, I’d like to take more time to say, “Gosh, you’re a good friend,” and “What you just said was amazing,” and things like that. This applies to conflicted moments as well. When someone says, “I’m pretty happy today, but I also have a couple of problems,” I need to resist the urge to jump straight for the problems.
I’m trying to learn to be more empathetic, yes—to go to “I’d like to listen about your problems” rather than “Let’s get to work solving your problems,” but it’s at least as important to take the step of valuing the first half of the sentence, which I tend to set aside as “solved, no attention needed.” That move of setting it aside is wrong.
Because if someone says “I’m pretty happy today, but I also have a couple of problems,” and I jump straight to the problems, no matter whether empathetically or in the problem-solving frame of mind, I’ve completely erased their happiness.
And just embracing and focusing on the happiness, too, often outweighs anything that can be done about the problems, be it listening or fixing.
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In short, I need to move from “I think life is pretty good” to “I embrace the good details in life.”