We are told, by behavioral economists and psychologists and whoever, that humans are self-delusional, rationalizing, and generally unreliable introspectors.
Yet I constantly enjoy the experience of asking a client why they didn’t do something they’d intended - or even committed - to do, then of receiving an honest yet totally mundane response.
I didn’t send that email because it was already late.
I didn’t read that book because it wasn’t on my Kindle.
I wasn’t sure whether to do X first or Y, so I did neither.
I was in a good/bad mood, so I told myself I couldn’t do anything tedious.
Are these clients of mine the self-honest 1%?
Have they all accidentally derived the fundamentals of Gendlin focusing?
Do I have some special sauce that compels honesty?
There must be multiple mysterious causes. But, in any case, the effect of clients making these admissions is quite positive - once they’re over the cringey hump.
Like deeper psychologized reasons, cringey reasons are unflattering. But at least they’re approachable and coachable - no Freudian psychoanalysis required.
Deep vs. Cringey Reasons
What do I mean by a “cringey” reason? Well, I know it when I see it:
- You didn’t start updating your resume because finding and opening the aging, outdated file feels icky.
- You didn’t work on your taxes because you’re going to have to email someone to replace a missing document.
- There were dishes in the sink, so you skipped breakfast. There was rotting food in the fridge, so you didn’t buy fresh usable groceries.
- It’s cold in your room, so you snoozed 18 times.
- When you opened your text messages there were like 34 spam messages so you closed it instead of texting back your best friend.
- You forgot to choose something to do the night before, so you went completely without planning your day… for 5 weeks.
- Your notes/task management app is disorganized, so you didn’t write anything for 2 months.
- You lost your place in that book and stopped reading it… forever.
These reasons are absolutely related to other kinds of productivity/personal development/mental phenomena: attachment issues, procrastination as a mood management device, sunk costs, cognitive dissonance, identity crisis, and so on.
But cringey reasons have a certain common denominator: they’re genuine reasons not to do the thing but - for whatever alchemical reason - your mindbody took them too seriously. Thus, the cringe in saying them out loud.
Deep reasons, on the other hand, are an exquisite double-edged sword that reveal the Human Condition even as they jeopardize it. They may feel rich and significant to excavate, explore, discuss. But it’s not clear how deep reasons can be solved (not straightforwardly, anyways). Some may, in fact, not really be solvable at all.
Deep reasons don’t make you cringe. But what do they invite you to do? Like, today?
Are you going to give up on texting your friends until you literally heal your attachment issues?
Will that ever-elusive healthy money mindset you’re trying to develop throw away the wasted groceries for ya? Will forgiving your ADHD slob of a mother clear your sink?
Maybe if you can stop grasping at knowledge and self-inflicting informational overload and denying mortality, then your Notion will get organized. Right-o.
Did you “forgot” to plan your days in advance because of some sinister hidden defense mechanism that requires tedious excavation, or because you’re a screen-dazed meat monkey coursing with janky neurotransmitters in an increasingly bizarro dystopia, like the rest of us?
To be fair, some deep reasons may well be true! Humans really do contain depths. But deep reasons occupy an irrelevant level of abstraction for most day-to-day purposes. Thinking about them is more like dessert than the main course. Starting with dessert is fun, but it’s a mistake to expect it to satiate you or to fulfill the energetic purpose of the meal.
Plus, there’s no true dichotomy, in practice. By experimenting in your life and coming to do the right things in the right ways, you are indirectly moving towards deep resolutions all the time. You can’t swim to the depths of the ocean except via the shallows, and you’ve got to keep coming up for air.
Facing Cringey Reasons
Look, if I had One Neat Trick for dissolving cringey reasons forever, I wouldn’t be writing this from my pleather office loveseat - I’d be dictating it to my assistant on a yacht.
People (my people) clearly like deep reasons, because they sound good to others or they make you feel important or they better excuse your failures. But do you want to impress the wordcels, or do you want to live well? Why let Freud live rent-free inside your head?
In contrast, because cringey reasons are phenomenologically accurate , at an appropriate level of abstraction, they are more likely to self-suggest solutions that are practically actionable. If something feels bad, find some way, any way, to make it feel a little better. Move things around in the world so that affordances nudge you in the right direction. Accept reality, accept your frailty. You don’t have to like it in order to work around it.
Hang some damn sticky notes, choose the neon ones. Have a friend open the email you’re dreading. Schedule a time to respond to all your message backlog in a batch, then ignore it all again for the rest of the week. Buy a fuzzy robe, put a coffee maker next to your bed. Give yourself permission to re-read that abandoned book, or to skip ahead to the good parts.
Sometimes just knowing your cringey reasons is half the battle, other times it’s the whole battle, or only one tenth. But the humility in facing them is worth the pain. Coming up from the depths to cringe, then troubleshoot, isn’t avoidant - it’s responsible.
(Ready to identify and tinker with your own cringey reasons? Book an intro session with me)
Pamela J. Hobart - Philosophical Life Coaching Newsletter
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