Heuristic 1: A mental shortcut for less stress and anger.

Heuristic 1: A mental shortcut for less stress and anger.
Photo by Sage Friedman / Unsplash

My biggest pet peeves

Think of the things your partner or children or roommates do that annoy you.

Long hairs in the drain, Beard clippings left on the countertop, lids left un-tightened, Crumbs on the counter top, Legos left scattered in the dark of your living room, Dishes unwashed, laundry left to mildew, food for ants to eat under the dining table, Cabinets and drawers left open, finger nail trimmings where they don’t belong, Cups left in the living room.

These things aren’t such a big deal at first, but they snowball. They have the ability to enrage us, to make us “hate” the people in our life (or at the very least to feel exceedingly angry).

“it’s not that big of a deal, I’ll clean it up later” is a response that may prompt even more anger. It is a big deal you tell them, This does matter.

For you, this may as well be an attack on you personally. You have told them 100 times how much their behavior bothers you, and they just don’t seem to care.

You yell, you get upset, you become cold toward them. You punish them with silence, with a loss of connection, with lectures.

No matter what you do they will not change. This built up aggression is enough to lead some couples into counseling or therapy.

The human brain is not built for rationality.

It has been shown in study after study that our brains do not make decisions based on rational thought; rather, we use our rationalism to come up with reasons why we acted the way we did.

The truth is, our emotions make decisions for us. It is only after the fact that we come up with our rationalization for them.

Your child drops a glass cup on the ground and you panic. You yell at them “how could you have done this?”. You tell them you are angry because broken glass could seriously injure someone, but the reality is you panicked because something deep within you reacted to the sound of breaking glass. You were yelled at for breaking things as a child. You are simply regurgitating the same tired line to your own children. “how many times have I told you not to _________?”.

When our emotional self takes control we begin to act automatically. We rarely think about the origins of our actions and choices. We rationalize the emotion and tuck it back away feeling justified. I am acting reasonably and rationally, It's the rest of the world who is emotional.

You are two

The brain and consciousness are not fully understood, however we do have a deep understanding of the way in which the brain is fragmented.

Damage to a particular part of your brain can cause the inability to remember names of people, yet still remember the names of tools. Damage another part, and you make lose the ability to speak but still maintain the ability to write and understand others speak (this condition is known as expressive aphasia).

If you want to dive deeper into the fractional nature of our brain, this video shows some terrifying (but deeply interesting) examples

Patients with damage to the ventromedial sector of the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for processing emotion) become unable to make decisions.

It has been discovered here that it is simply impossible to make decisions (with any kind of efficiency) without the ability to feel emotion.

There is no decision you have ever made that was not guided by your emotions. The more rational among us have simply mastered the art of regulating their emotions, and use tools to push past their initial emotional response so they can make better decisions. Mental Models, Heuristics, etc.

Thinking Deeper

Most of us do not take the time to do the cognitive work of thinking about their thinking.

There is a kind of delusional confidence in the opinions that we hold and the decisions that we make. Most people do not have the time to think 2 or 3 levels deeper than their initial reaction.

We are busy, no one can become an expert on everything. Support for Israel or Palestine seems to come out of a partisan group-think rather than a careful consideration of the moral and geopolitical details, for example.
For many, its a simple matter of loyalty. Most decisions are analogous to sports team affiliations. Pick your team, and defend them no matter how poorly they perform.

The same holds true for our ideas. We commit to our perspectives and opinions on the world, and the longer we hold them the harder it is to inspect them.

Thinking with Heuristics

This same emotionally unregulated thinking plagues every corner of our lives.

But there is a solution, or at least some help to be found here.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut. It allows us to boil down a massive cognitive load into a single sentence so we can sidestep the emotional self and remind ourselves of what really matters, and what is really at stake.

In order to use heuristics, it is important that you maintain introspection, and radical accountability.

Consider why you react the way you do to a broken glass when your child drops it, is it really because glass is dangerous? if they stand still you will have the floor swept and vacuumed back to safety in a matter of minutes. the danger really is quite small. This is being introspective.

Is it because your child should not have been so incautious? You have told them a thousand times not to hold their glass with one hand over the floor, they should have listened and this would not have happened… right?

Or you could buy them plastic cups and solve both of your problems. This is taking radical accountability.

This is thinking 2-3 levels deeper. the issue is not that your child dropped the glass and it shattered, the problem is that the cup should not have been glass in the first place.

If any of this feels untrue to you, if you still feel as though the shattered glass is a big enough deal to yell at your children about and to pound discipline into them, lets examine what is at stake.

Heuristic 1

The crumbs, cabinet doors, broken glass, beard trimmings, etc. that we spoke about earlier. Conjure them up in your mind. whatever it is that really pisses you off. the way they act, the refusal to fix their behavior. Bring those feelings up and let them fester.

How many times have you asked them to stop? the toilet seat should stay down! I am tired of sitting in urine!

Your life would be so much easier if they would just quit, right?

A drunk driver hit the school bus at 85mph in a school zone. Your child was holding their water cup with their backpack strapped onto their small frame. Today they were going to learn how to spell “Lizard”, and now you are planning a funeral.

Your Husband or Wife left the house a mess, they didn’t clean their beard hair off the sink, they didn’t shut the cabinets, and they were flattened on the highway by a 62,000lb Volvo Semi-truck manufactured in Dublin, Virginia.

When the people you love are turned into roadkill, these pet peeves of yours don’t just become insignificant, they are reframed entirely to the contrary.

Stepping on the toys your children left out can be painful, and the stress of having to clean them up over and over again mounts. Yet if your child died on the way to school, you would never want to clean those toys up… it would be all you have left of them.

Your husbands beard clippings would suddenly transform into something so sentimental you may want to save them and keep them forever. And a cabinet door left open would be a stark reminder that it will be the last time you get to close it after them.

My heuristic here is simple:

Do not hold onto anger which would be absolved by an injury or death of the perpetrator.

This mental shortcut allows your to sidestep much of the stress in life which is attributable to minor indiscretions.

They simply stop mattering. In this new light they can be something to cherish. It is a reminder of those in your life who truly matter.

In contrast, the shattered glass becomes entirely unimportant.

You can set boundaries with people who do not respect you, and there are toxic individuals who are not worth keeping around. For some people, their indiscretions would not be absolved by death or injury, and those people need be let into your life in any capacity. You can forgive them for yourself and still maintain strict boundaries.

But for most of the people in our life who we claim to love, this reframing heuristic can cancel out so much pointless bickering and stress. Always remember the stakes.

If something does not matter given a different set of circumstances, is it worth the upset? Is it worth reacting angrily?

How can you apply this to all of the belief's in your life? If we are being honest, we all have blindspots. Those who claim otherwise are lying or delusional.

Introspection, radical accountability, and heuristics to combat the emotion self are the beginning of reworking your mindset.

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