The Mistakes We Make

Last week, I talked about how people had to fail at things in order to eventually succeed at them. This week I’m going to go more in-depth on that, based on what I have read recently in Psycho-Cybernetics: how to avoid a situation where you’re just banging your head against a door in hopes that it will open, or at least, eventually, break.

Today, I was playing Super Smash Brothers again. I play online, in max-6-minute 1-on-1 matches with other people online, in what is essentially a martial art. For a long time, I have not felt like I was improving, despite how much I play. I started to wonder why I was playing this game. I stopped playing for a good long while. A good friend of mine, who we’ll call Taylor, never stops playing this game, so naturally I am exposed to it once in a while. Recently I began using it as recreation again, and this week I read the next chapter in Psycho-Cybernetics. Entitled, “Letting your success mechanism work”, it expands on the same ideas I described yesterweek.

Let’s say I’m that baby from last week and I’m trying to pick up the thing from the coffee table. The only idea present in my head is the possibility of picking up the thing. It dominates my psychic energy. When I accidentally punch my sleeping mom in the mouth instead of picking up the thing, suddenly she, who is now surprised, possibly swearing, is in my head as a big negative idea. Clearly, I am not to blame, since I simply suck at picking up stuff and needs to improve; that was the whole point of picking up the thing in the first place. So what I need to do is acknowledge that I punched Mommy, and correct my course.

If you think about it, the way free will works is: first, we have an idea. Who knows where that came from, but it is potential. Then we decide whether we want to bring that possibility into reality. There’s a principle in Physics called Potential Energy, which is what objects have as a result of being in Earth’s gravity field. Any object gains Energy proportional to how much mass it has, and gets pulled down “by gravity” and gain the potential to “fall”. Thoughts we have begin to exist within the orbit of our consciousness, and gain the potential to “drop” into reality. Where Physics and our brains differ is that everything is variable in our heads. We can, by mental effort, effectively change the “mass” of those ideas, or change how strongly we resist/accept them. And if we view ourselves as weak, negative ideas will swell, and we will be powerless to stop them from happening.

As Baby, I am confronted now with these two ideas, and my psychic energy is divided between them. They are not the same size: Mommy is making sounds, emoting, which hugely contrasts to the room’s previous tranquillity. The thing is just a thing it’s been there for a while and I wasn’t really going to do anything with it. I am unable to cope; I can’t get this negative idea out of my head, and abandon the activity. In cases like this, experience has taught me crying is a good way of getting picked up and touched, which feels nice, so I’m going to cry.

Now I could be a foolish baby and decide, “last time I tried to pick up that thing, I punched Mommy in the face, so I shouldn’t even try, for fear of repeating the error!” In this case, the negative thought stays around my psyche like a miasma, reducing my ability to focus, impacting my normal habits of chewing on plastic and peeing. How can I relax and let it flow if I can’t stop thinking about that miserable failure? Even if I do try again, because damn, now I NEED the thing: I’m hungry and it’s food, this thought distracts me and I miss again, this time hitting my hand on the table, causing more pain, and further thickening my doubt. Now it’s more like a molasma.

You know, reading this, that the correct thing to do is put the negative thing out of my mind and grab the damn thing, get it over with. But this is an incredibly simple problem. As with all problems, the more complex they get, the harder they are to solve, and the more tries – and therefore failures – we’ll need. The important thing is that we practice actively flexing the “muscles” we use when we push those negative ideas away and nurture positive ideas. It’s sometimes called “thought control.” By meditating, or exerting self-control, or practicing whatever, we can get more selective about what thoughts occupy our current, conscious self. Maltz suggests we spend time actively confronting our negative ideas once they’ve served their purpose, and we have succeeded (either for real or in our minds), and kicking their ass, reject them so they don’t come back.

This is what I’m doing now, when I play Smash Brothers. When I lose a match, I immediately go through my head, imagine what happened, in detail, and correct the mistake I made. I create a registry of successful plays rather than failures, which is a much better well to draw from, in my books.

Another thing I want to point out is this doesn’t only apply to “activities”. Temptations, habits, split-second decisions, actual physical ability – all these are controlled by our ideas. Imagining oneself being successful, and forgetting your failures, are key to improving one’s abilities.

I gotta say, it has been a lot of fun drawing these parallels between physics principles I learned a decade ago to psychological principles I taught myself. If you’ve read this far, thank you, I hope you’ve understood them and they help you somehow.

Have a great Friday, and don’t sweat the small stuff (spoiler: it’s all small stuff).

-T

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