The erase or dwell response problem

For most of us, an unpleasant situation typically results in an “erase or dwell” response. Here’s an example – I was recently reminded of a small incident that felt unpleasant. Now, I could choose to do one of two things – erase it from my memory and aim to completely forget it happened or dwell on it for a long time.

I’ve come to find that this choice is one we generally make based on our personality. The more extraverted folk tend to erase while the introverted ones typically tend to dwell on it.

The two approaches have one thing in common – they both suck. That’s because erasing an unpleasant memory implies we walk away without learning anything from it. And, on the other hand, dwelling on it for long periods of time mean we make ourselves very unhappy by regularly making mountains out of molehills.

Here’s a suggestion – replace the “erase or dwell” response with a question – “What did I learn from this?” Then, if you feel like taking it a step further, write or type down what you learnt.

This simple question solves both problems with the erase or dwell response. First, it helps us squeeze the learning(s) out of an unpleasant situation. The general rule here – the more unpleasant the situation, the more there is to learn. Second, processing the learning helps bring closure and allows us to let go. Writing/typing it down helps greatly with the closure.

Unpleasant situations, even minor ones, are generally filled with learning – both about ourselves and others. Learning to not waste them is critical to our growth. And, just focusing on the learning enables us to look forward and learn to let go. That, in turn, is critical to our happiness.

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