I Found a New Way to Get Un-Stuck From My Wish-Fulfillment Mental Loops

A photo of a wall with a neon sign that says "we are all made of stories"
Photo by Social Cut.

I don't know about you, but when I'm not happy with how something is going in my life, my brain (or maybe my heart?) often goes ahead and imagines an alternate reality where it just magically works out. It's nice in theory, except that I inevitably wind up getting stuck in this little wish-fulfillment story as my brain cycles through it over and over, getting sad over and over that it's not really happening.

This can materialize over anything - work, friendships, my home, but it's the stickiest when it comes to dating. Probably because dating involves an outcome I powerfully desire (finding sweet, sweet love) that requires both random chance and a whole other person whose actions I cannot control and thoughts I cannot read and may or may not ever show up in my life.

In the past, my efforts have mainly been focussed on shutting these stories down. I remind myself that they aren't real and that I have to act based on what people are doing, not what I imagine they might be secretly thinking. (To quote my book, "actions speak louder than the stories you make up in your head.")

HOWEVER! I have found a new strategy that might be more effective than forcefully shutting my imagination down: coming up with a whole bunch of alternative stories.

Because here is the real issue: I get stuck on one made-up story when I don't see a real path to whatever it is that I want.

Since hope is a thing that helps us get through life, my brain looks around, grabs ahold of the closest approximation, and says, "Here! This could be it! It just needs to be tweaked in a couple of small-but-completely-unrealistic ways and then it will be transformed to fulfill your deepest desires!"

This means my brain is trying to help me when (for example) it observes the completely bereft landscape of potential dates before me and comes up with a story where someone I dated that one time hasn't been able to stop thinking about me (but for some reason can't bring himself to follow through on that desire). And that story is going to have a strong gravitational pull regardless of how unrealistic it is because I don't have a viable alternative in front of me to balance it out.

So instead of trying to turn that story off, leaving myself with a handful of nothing to cling to, my new strategy is to make up some of those alternatives, viable or not. It's a little brainstorming session, as if I was writing a rom com and needed to come up with a meet cute.

This way, instead of trying to claw my mind back from the magnetic attraction of the one and only narrative of (false) hope in front of me, which generally involves being unsuccessfully stern and disciplinary with myself, it's a sort of playful "I am Spartacus" of stories that really takes the pressure off.

Who knows how useful this will be in the long term, but in the moment, it's dang effective!

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