Living the Life We Never Had

“I have lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened.” Mark Twain

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

“I have lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened.”

Mark Twain
I know what you mean, Mr. Clemens (Mark Twain being his pen name). Just like the way I was seized with certainty that I was going to be roped into a family thing last weekend which I didn’t have time for but which I would definitely feel guilty about when forced to draw the line. My future weekend was tainted from the moment the thought sprang from my mind.
It’s a mild example of the trouble I’ve lived through. There have been so many ghastly things I’ve despaired over that never happened, far surpassing in volume those that did. When we could so easily live our lives of delusion in happy ways, envisioning ourselves as movie stars or saints, whatever our inclination may be, instead we rehearse the injustice, the tragedy, the disaster. How often do we question what we think we know? Oh, the stories I have made up in my head about what other people are thinking, as if I’ve opened the lids to their heads and read the transcription.
Of course, we all know by now that this struggle is thanks to our negativity bias, the wiring in our brain that, for survival purposes, compels us to tune in keenly to every conceivable danger rather than every conceivable delight. There is probably a downside to over-correcting with delight, but seeing reality for what it is would be an excellent compromise. To that end, I very usefully came across a fact-checking metric that helps with this. It’s simple. Every time you catch yourself pre-living misfortune or supplying someone with thoughts and intent, ask yourself:
“Is this happening right now?”
Because if it isn’t happening right now…wait for it…
It. Isn’t. Happening.
For instance:

  • Until someone comes along and asks me to do something, I have nothing to defend. (For the record, no one attempted to rope me into anything last weekend. My service is not nearly so crucial as I pretend it is.)
  • Unless someone lets me know they think I came off idiotically, for example, it is impossible for me to know they think I’m a dodo.
  • And one last example, something that has gripped me quite hard over the years: Unless someone credentialed diagnoses me right now with the dread Parkinson’s disease my mother has, I don’t have Parkinson’s. Period.

Multiple times a day “Is this happening right now?” has put a stop to my nonsense. I don’t know how I automated it (at least some of the time) because not every wellbeing technique I’ve come across and tried to implement has taken hold, but this one clicks and sticks. I hope it will do the same for you and whatever nonsense you have going on. Because if the story in your head it isn’t happening now….
It. Isn’t. Happening.
On top of being able to save ourselves from pointless despair, anxiety, anger, paranoia, resentment and so much more over things that never came to pass, in this process I’ve also found it deeply illuminating to discover just how many stories we spontaneously generate without ever questioning the credibility of our narration. That’s enough to give me pause.  
To life as it actually is right this minute,