On Choosing Otherwise

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed; easy to say, harder to do; specialized tool for a specific problem)

As some of you know, I have an unfortunate tendency to get into pretty fierce moods at times; frequently in these moods, I will end up in a very emotionally stormy place and be unintentionally hurtful through my pain. This is not exactly a great thing to do, so I’ve had to develop tools to mitigate this. One of my newest and most favorite of these tools is the concept of Choosing Otherwise.

The idea of Choosing Otherwise is simple: If I am in a bad mood, my instinctual response is likely to be damaging to whatever relationship or conversation I am in. Therefore, I should interrupt that immediately and choose something, anything else. I may still pick suboptimally but I’ve stopped myself from doing the literally worst move. Largely, it’s installing a high level of confidence in your first instinct being incorrect under certain circumstances – it requires you to notice antipatterns and rather than accepting them as fact, actively learn from what has gone wrong and iterate in a different direction.

Choosing Otherwise is a specialized form of having empathy for your future self. A good example was a situation I had a couple days ago, where I felt like I was on a downward trend – I decided to let my friends know that I expected to be feeling pretty bad in a few hours and that I might need someone to reach out and talk to me. What normally would have happened if I had noticed that trend is that I’d reinforce it without reaching out, my self talk largely being focused on how bad I feel and how everything is terrible and how I hate the trajectory of my life. I’d hit a boiling point and likely attempt to cry for help in a much lashier way, forcing emotional labor demands on my friends without warning them or giving them time to prepare. By having Chosen Otherwise I broke a pattern in that instance and created a much more positive sum reality, for myself and my friends. It actually turned out my mood was fine by the time I had specified, partially because I predicted that I would have a connection rather than being uncertain and predicting isolation.

Unfortunately, having the tool and not using it increases the post episode guilt when I do make a series of errors out of moodiness. I have a concept I call downcycling, where I notice something that annoys me, fixate on it, and find more annoying things about it, and eventually just reach a point where my entire affect is contaminated. Choosing Otherwise is a way out of downcycling (choosing not to fixate on the annoyance) but what makes downcycling pernicious is the feeling that the annoyance MUST be redressed. A recent downcycling situation could have been resolved at several points by Choosing Otherwise and I didn’t – subsequently, I felt greater guilt than usual at my behaviors because I should have had control.

Overall, Choosing Otherwise is a powerful tool but also an increased responsibility. It’s easier to just keep working in the same pattern and optimize around containing that pattern to do the least damage when you’re outside of it – at least then you don’t have to feel as much guilt when the pattern plays out as expected. Choosing Otherwise is creating an active metastructure to act in the moment and take a deeper responsibility for your actions despite your mood state.

Discussion: Have you ever had a situation where Choosing Otherwise would have helped? Have you ever successfully Chosen Otherwise? Do you see applications for Choosing Otherwise outside of reducing the damage of a bad mood? Does this concept provide you with new approaches to handling bad days?

One thought on “On Choosing Otherwise

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