Ethan Fast

Go Meta

9 September, 2012 -- Menlo Park, CA

It’s easy, sometimes, to become frustrated by events or circumstances outside of our control. Since frustration is rarely useful, I’ve developed a strategy which, with high probability, will make it go away. I call this strategy go meta.

We tend to think and get annoyed about things we perceive through direct experience. The dog barks too loudly, perhaps, or your grandfather just told you to shut up, or your spouse left the garage door open. These are all surface reactions to your environment, causes which justify your irritation.

But I don’t like to become annoyed without deciding to be annoyed, nor play the puppet to environmental stimulus (or possibly human intention, if you’re dealing with someone who enjoys manipulation). So I step back and think thoughts about thinking.

If you’ve become frustrated, you can examine that frustration. Does it benefit you? Not usually. Can the situation be spun in your favor? The act of introspection, itself, is often enough to get rid of unwanted emotion.

So when the dog barks, you don’t get annoyed, or maybe you do, but first you catch yourself. You think: I’ve become annoyed, and do I want to be the sort of person annoyed by a barking dog? The dog’s barking may be unfair, and you may even decide to take steps toward a remedy (buy a shotgun?) but there isn’t any need to feel personally invested — unless of course you want to be.

This strategy can be useful in other kinds of situations, though the principle is the same. Ever felt disrespected? You should ask yourself whether it’s of any benefit to feel that way. Second order (or third order) thinking can present you with freedoms otherwise absent from your surface interactions with the world.

People and circumstance and fate may do things you don’t like, but you can always control your reaction. Just go meta.