A piece of wisdom popped up in the midst of a recent David Brooks column.
Addressing the problem of how to give yourself advice, Brooks wrote:
We’re better at giving other people good advice than at giving ourselves good advice, so it’s smart, when trying to counsel yourself, to pretend you are somebody else. This can be done a bit even by thinking of yourself in the third person. Work by Ozlem Ayduk and Ethan Kross finds that people who view themselves from a self-distanced perspective are better at adaptive self-reflection than people who view themselves from a self-immersed perspective.
Fair enough, I’ve recommended this before.
Still, it makes good sense. It tells you that you cannot solve your problems by getting in touch with your feelings. It tells you that introspection is not the way to go.
In truth, these two bad mental habits, promoted by the therapy culture will make it more difficult for you to address and solve a problem.
If you want to give yourself advice, thus, to solve your problems, deal with your issues and manage your life, step back and ask yourself what you would advise a friend who was in the same situatoon. Get out of your solipsism and observe yourself objectively.
I grant that this is not very easy. We have been trained, through our culture, to look within and to seek out our hidden motives, not to analyze a situation objectively and dispassionately.
These culturally prescribed habits of thought make it more difficult to manage our lives.
But, if you have learned them, you will find that it is not very easy to overcome this habit of thought and to look at yourself as though you were someone else.
How can you do it?
First, write things down. Not in the sense of writing a story, but in the sense of taking notes.
The mechanical process of writing distances you from a problem. After you have written down a problem’s parameters you can step back from it and examine it as though it were being experienced by someone else.
All writers know that their ability to edit and revise their work derives from an ability to look at their drafts with fresh eyes… that is, as though it had been written by someone else.
Second, don’t ruminate or introspect.
When dealing with a problem you need not look deep into your mind to try to find your Self. It’s a fool’s errand. And it will distract you from the issues at hand.
The solution will often be staring up at you from the page.
Third, God is in the details.
When writing about a problem try to look at it as an objective observer. That involves focusing on the details, on the facts, regardless of how irrelevant they seem to be. People who are adept at solving problems have done the extra work needed to amass all of the facts, relevant or irrelevant.
Think of yourself as an artist who has focused on his model, not as an artist who thinks that he is pouring out his soul onto his canvas.
Great artists are great observers of detail.
Fourth, don’t narratize.
Don’t turn your problem into a story. You will end up as a skilled storyteller who cannot deal with reality. Or worse, you will become your own worst literary critic.
As it happens, this advice runs directly counter to that offered by an expert named Timothy Wilson. One does not quite understand why Brooks, after correctly suggesting that you look at your problems as though they were someone else’s shifts to Wilson, who wants people to look deeply into their souls.
In the interest of fairness, we will examine the Wilson approach, as presented by Brooks:
Finally, there is narrative. Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia suggests in his book “Strangers to Ourselves” that we shouldn’t see ourselves as archaeologists, minutely studying each feeling and trying to dig deep into the unconscious. We should see ourselves as literary critics, putting each incident in the perspective of a longer life story. The narrative form is a more supple way of understanding human processes, even unconscious ones, than rationalistic analysis.
Wilson writes, “The point is that we should not analyze the information [about our feelings] in an overly deliberate, conscious manner, constantly making explicit lists of pluses and minuses. We should let our adaptive unconscious do the job of finding reliable feelings and then trust those feelings, even if we cannot explain them entirely.”
These paragraphs explain well how NOT to solve your problems.
First, Wilson is suggesting that we can solve our problems by ignoring them. He wants us to delve deeply into our unconscious minds to discover what we really, really feel.
This will, he suggests, make us all into literary critics, offering sage commentaries on our life narrative. He should have noticed that literary critics are non-participants, they are not creators.
This is a variant of Freudian approach. One does not quite understand why Wilson is offering up a recycled version of a treatment model that is not designed to help you solve your problems.
Note well, Wilson wants people to analyze the information about their feelings, not the facts at hand. His is a perfectly solipsistic approach, one that will make it impossible for you to look at your problems objectively or to solve them.