Have you ever grappled with the same problem for so long that you started to lose your sense of perspective? Maybe what was once only a moderate annoyance slowly grew until it dominated your life. On the other hand, maybe something you were once determined to change grew so embedded that you felt forced to just make your peace with it. In either case, after a while it can be difficult even to say where the problem begins and ends, and what its true root might be.
One of the first things I ever learned about the profession of psychology is that “the problem is never the problem.” Simply put, most people have no idea where the root of their problems really lies. Or to be more accurate, they have the wrong idea. Today, if you’re up for it, we’re going to undertake a little experiment together: I’m going to attempt to teach you how to find the real root of any problem. By the end of this post, you’ll have a couple of very simple mental techniques you can use to (hopefully) gain a much clearer and less biased view of where you’re at right now. Let’s jump right in.
What we’re essentially going to do is try to create a high contrast between your feelings of peace and joy, and the painful memories relating to whatever issue you choose to work on, then use that to get a better “image” of your problem. Let’s start with the positive. What I want you to do now is close your eyes—well, actually you should finish reading this paragraph first and then close your eyes—and think of your favorite, most treasured feeling in the world. Something like joy, or peace, or the love of a close family member. Think back to the time in your life when you experienced that feeling the most strongly, a time when you felt, “if I could go on living like this, I would never need anything else.”
In the past, I’ve sometimes recommended using memories like this as a kind of “power source” to give yourself a shot of positive energy, and it works great for that, but for today, I want to focus on the feeling itself. Ask yourself how you felt about yourself in that moment, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Ask yourself how you felt about others, and about what you might think of as the driving philosophy behind that moment. For example, if your memory had to do with a close family member, then it’s safe to assume there must have been some sort of associated belief about family or about that person which helped define that moment, even if it was unconscious at the time. Try to think about what that might have been.
Have you got that? Alright, now for the contrast. Think of your chosen problem and try to remember any significant memories that strongly evoked the same emotion—this is relevant because memories relating to the same emotion tend to activate one another anyway. A common rule I’ve found is that the first occurrence of a problem throws you out of balance, and the rest are simply a result of being out of balance. Imagine, for example, a young man who tries to talk to a girl for the first time, and she laughs in his face. It may not have been his fault. In reality, it probably says more about the girl than it does about him… but it can be hard to convince yourself of that, and that experience will tend to color all his future attempts at talking to women until it’s sorted out.
Follow the chain of memories relating to the emotions and feelings associated with your current problem, looking especially for the earliest related memory you can think of. Once you have those in mind, you can compare them to the positive, peaceful feelings of your love memory. Look for a progression from one negative experience to the next, and if there’s ever any doubt whether a decision or an aspect of your life might be part of the problem, or contributing to the problem, ask yourself whether you can picture that part of your life being compatible with your love memory. Sometimes, this can reveal things about us that we didn’t even realize needed fixing!
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd