September 8, 2022
 min read

Mind Macros 33: Writing to process emotions, making assumptions, and the opinions of others

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Hello, friend.

Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.

Food for Thought

I.  Writing helps process emotions

“In one study, [James Pennebaker] divided people into two groups. One group was asked to write about their difficulties for twenty minutes a day, for three days; they wrote about sexual abuse, breakups, abandonment by a parent, illness, death. The other group wrote about everyday things, such as what shoes they were wearing. Pennebaker found that the people who wrote about their troubles were markedly calmer and happier than those who described their sneakers. Even months later, they were physically healthier, with lower blood pressure and fewer doctor’s visits. They had better relationships and more success at work.

“In another study, Pennebaker worked with a group of despondent senior engineers who’d been laid off four months earlier by a Dallas computer company. Most were over fifty and had worked at the company their entire adult lives. None had found new work. Once again, Pennebaker divided the men into two groups. One group wrote down their feelings of rage, humiliation, and fear of the future; the other group described neutral topics. And once again, the results were almost too remarkable to be true. Within months, the men who’d written out their cares were three times more likely than the control group to have found work.

“‘Expressive writing’ encourages us to see our misfortunes not as flaws that make us unfit for worldly success (or otherworldly heaven), but as the seeds of our growth. Pennebaker found that the writers who thrived after pouring their hearts onto the page tended to use phrases such as ‘I’ve learned,’ ‘It struck me that,’ ‘I now realize,’ and ‘I understand.’ They didn’t come to enjoy their misfortunes. But they’d learned to live with insight.” — From Bittersweet by Susan Cain (read my three takeaways)

Researchers continue to document the health benefits of journaling, a practice increasingly recommended by therapists and psychologists. Journaling provides us with a way to observe emotions rather than experience them, and begin unraveling their causes and resulting effects. This process might begin with a series of probing questions.

Here are a selection from Ryan Holiday's book, Stillness is the Key:

Where am I standing in my own way?

What’s the smallest step I can take toward a big thing today?

Why am I so worked up about this?

What blessings can I count right now?

Why do I care so much about impressing people?

What is the harder choice I’m avoiding?

Do I rule my fears, or do they rule me?

How will today’s difficulties reveal my character?

I have found the following ten elsewhere:

1. Will my faults die before I do?

2. Do I treat myself with love and respect?

3. Do I know my potential, do I know my worth?

4. Does my life reflect who I am?

5. Am I being less than I could be?

6. Do I believe I have something more valuable in me than the emotions which tug and pull me along?

7. What would my ideal self look like?

8. Do my habits and way of life align with that ideal?

9. What simple steps can I take to make them align?

10. What is my heart set on?

II. Making assumptions

“Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong. It is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption, because assumptions set us up for suffering.

“We only see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. We don’t perceive things the way they are. We have the habit of dreaming with no basis in reality. We literally dream things up in our imaginations. Because we don’t understand something, we make an assumption about the meaning, and when the truth comes out, the bubble of our dream pops and we find out it was not what we thought it was at all.

“An example: You are walking in the mall, and you see a person you like. That person turns to you and smiles, and then walks away. You can make a lot of assumptions just because of this one experience. With these assumptions you can create a whole fantasy. And you really want to believe this fantasy and make it real. A whole dream begins to form just from your assumptions, and you can believe, ‘Oh, this person really likes me.’ In your mind a whole relationship begins from that. Maybe you even get married in this fantasyland. But the fantasy is in your mind, in your personal dream.” — From The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (read my three takeaways)

Assumptions often lead to much of our suffering. The world is complex, and creating stories around events helps us make sense of this complexity. Yet, our lives are paradoxically made more perplexing by these stories. Many of us spend more hours creating fictional narratives than many novelists. Worse still is when we begin conflating fiction with fact and use these stories to justify our actions.

In Mind Macros 07, I gave this example of our cascading thoughts:

Imagine our partner doesn’t reply to our text for a few hours. They usually respond within 15 minutes. After a few hours of silence, our thoughts begin to cascade.

Why are they ignoring me? Did I do something wrong? Are they tired of being around me? Who are they with? Are they seeing someone else? Is our relationship over?

According to Occam's razor, simpler explanations are more likely to be true. In this instance, we might surmise that our partner hasn't responded because they haven't checked their phone, which may be due to several factors. None of them are likely to be as serious as we think. By using such a process, we can dispel the anxiety that arises from baseless assumptions.

Quotes to Ponder

I. Immanuel Kant on not practicing what we do not wish to become:

“Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.”

II. Arthur Schopenhauer on not valuing the opinions of others:

“We will gradually become indifferent to what goes on in the minds of other people when we acquire a knowledge of the superficial nature of their thoughts, the narrowness of their views and of the number of their errors. Whoever attaches a lot of value to the opinions of others pays them too much honor.”

Thank you for reading,

Matthew Vere

Share this with the right people!

If you've ever found anything here to be interesting or valuable- it would be a big help to get this to reach the right people and share it with someone that you think will appreciate it:

Thanks for joining our newsletter.
Oops! Something went wrong.

Latest newsletters

Hey, I'm Matthew 👋

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thanks for joining our newsletter.
Oops! Something went wrong.