Gaining emotional distance
When a friend approaches us for advice on their problems, we generally can offer good advice in an objective manner. We are able to evaluate facts, weigh pros and cons, and suggest potential solutions. We are able to do these because of the emotional distance between their problems, and ourselves. Yes we may get emotional over a close friend’s recent divorce - but not as emotional as if we were the one getting the divorce.
But when we are brooding over our own problems, we lose that emotional distance. We become embroiled and entangled in the all emotions - emotions within ourselves and others. We lose objectivity. We become irrational. We make decisions that allow the experiencing self to feel better. We think more short-term. We may procrastinate and delay some inevitable decision in the future.
To gain this emotional distance when we are solving our own problems, we need to see ourselves from a third party’s perspective. When we do that, it is easier to extract ourselves from the current circumstances, and work on these problems - problems that have been plaguing us for weeks, months, or years.
Seeing ourselves from a third party’s perspective gives us emotional distance. And because of this emotional distance, we gain clarity of thought.
Today is Day One
One way to gain this third party’s perspective is this - today, right now, is not one day in your life. Today is not a day where there was a past, where past events accrue into today’s situations. Rather, today is Day One. Your life simply began today, right now, as if you have merely came into existence moments ago. All you have are the current moment, a number of possibilities into the future, and memories in your mind.
When we are able to take on this perspective, we gain emotional distance.
Be careful with memories, though. Many of us often associate the word “memory” with a sense of nostalgia and warmth. Because of how our brains are wired, we tend to remember the good things, and subconsciously choose to forget the not-so-good. So our memories are typically depicted in a more pleasant light. Our memories are also a subset, or incomplete representation of our actual experiences. The peak-end rule suggests that we only remember the highlight and the ending of our experiences, while duration neglect suggests that we do not remember how long- or short-lasting our experiences were.
From now, towards the future
Therefore, when we treat today as Day One, all we have is the moment now, some possibilities into the future, and preprogrammed memories that are biased in some manner. Taking on such a perspective can be liberating, because it gives you the emotional distance from what that has happened.
You and everything else only came into existence moments ago. There is no personal attachment to the past, because there is no past. There were no past actions that resulted in today’s effects. None at all.
This allows you to focus on two things - what you have right now, and what you would like to achieve in the future. This future refers to both long-term and short-term future.
What you have right now includes your material and immaterial possessions, as well as problems that you need to solve. Remember, today is Day One - these problems came into existence moments ago, together with you. Your job is to solve these problems, or at least chip away at them, one bit at a time. It doesn’t matter if these are emotional problems, financial problems, health problems, or whether you feel personally responsible, guilty or attached to them.
Today is Day One - look to the future, visualize where you want to be, chart a course towards it, and solve the problems as they are.
Besides your problems, whatever resources or advantages or strengths or possessions that you have right now, also came into existence moments ago. Make use of them. Don’t whine or complain about the lack of money or skills or knowledge or time. Today is Day One - make use of what you have, be grateful that you even have these resources when you came into existence today.
As we adopt such a perspective and gain emotional distance, we may start to take both problems and resources less personally. We view them as simply problems to solve, using the resources that we have - all while charting a course towards the long-term.