emotions ethics goals language living objectivism philosophy psychology values

Getting Off The Ladder of Abstractions to Solve Problems

Don't worry about it! The worst advice you can get :) The cognitive solution to worry

When people encounter problems within their lives, such as specific fears, conflicts, etc, much of the time finding the solution, particularly to complex situations, is very difficult. We’ll be focusing on a specific problem though, which is worrying about what other people think of you or worrying about the outcome of a situation, which can seem insurmountable for some.

Being told or telling yourself “just don’t think or worry about it” is the usual go-to, but this goes against how your mind actually works. It’s probably the worst way to solve the problem because in order to stop worrying about it, you need to remind yourself of what you’re worrying about. So if you want to stop thinking of cheese, you have to constantly remember that you’re not thinking about cheese today, in which you’ve already failed! Anyone who has been given the advice to “not worry about it” knows this feeling well – because the feeling seemingly intensifies more and more over the course of time. So what IS the solution?

It’s surprisingly simple, but takes a little work to get to. You have to get off your ladder of abstractions. What do I mean by this?

Let’s consider existence as a whole for starters. The only things that exist are things. Concretes, entities, etc. You exist. The PC or smart phone in front of you exists. These are all things. We call these concretes, and in order for these things to exist or be even be recognized, a consciousness is required. That’s you. You’re conscious, and you’re conscious of some things. You also have identity, as does everything else. The PC in front of you can’t be a chair. Trying to call your PC a chair is a bizarre feeling, because your mind is telling you “no that’s not it”. You’ve already established that the concept of “chair” within the language of English pertains to a particular concrete, and that is well..the thing you’re sitting on!

So, existence exists, things exist, everything has a specific identity, you’re conscious of those things, and you have identity. You then use your reasoning mind to understand the world around you. You form concepts, and those concepts are abstractions. The word “chair” doesn’t actually exist. It only pertains to a particular entity, which exists.

This part is the important part. “chair” doesn’t exist, as in the WORD ITSELF, NOT THE THING. Touch the thing you’re sitting on now. Feel its texture. It exists! It’s right under your butt! But the WORD ITSELF does not exist. It just RELATES TO THE CONCRETE.

Now where on Earth am I going with this chair example and philosophical thunderstorm? It goes into what I call the ladder of abstractions. You have a problem that you’re worried about what others think of you, and you seem to be entangled in a lot of ideas about it. Here’s the thing: you’re entangled in the abstractions which don’t actually exist, and you have to climb down the ladder so you can get to the essentials. And that’s where things can actually get very simple when solving problems.

Somehow, somewhere, you developed the idea that “other people’s thoughts matter”. Your job now is to reduce that down to what exists – things, which includes people. Now it’s your job to think about how you exist, what you need to survive, what benefits and doesn’t benefit you, and then attack the ideas you hold from there. Is it really true that other people’s thoughts matter? Why would they matter? What facts of reality, separate to ideas and abstract thought, give rise to the need to value such a thing?

It all comes down to values..specifically, what you value as a human being. Why are others thoughts valuable to you? Are they all of the same value? What do you get out of the valuing? Maybe you believe that all people are equally valuable…a problematic thought, because you really don’t believe your spouse is as equally valuable as a criminal, right?

Values are in relation to you, and only you. Everyone has them. And to solve your problem of worrying about what others think, you need to cut out the crappy ideas you’re holding that make you think worrying about what others think is a good idea. This is part of what good cognitive therapy is. To help you filter out the poor ideas you’re holding, and replace them with new, life affirming ones.

Note that I said replace. You don’t “delete” thoughts. If it were that simple “don’t worry about it” would be the perfect solution, but again..try not to think of cheese.

So to summarize, start climbing down the ladder of abstractions that you’re on. Get down to the essentials, the root of your worries, which is where reality is. You need to understand that your emotions all carry certain held beliefs and ideas, and you can actively change them with the right approach. It’s surprisingly simple once you get there, it just takes a little work and some journaling to reach it.

Hopefully this helps any of you out, and if you’d like to support my work, you can donate any amount down below. Thanks!

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1 comment on “Getting Off The Ladder of Abstractions to Solve Problems

  1. Pingback: Understanding Ideas Is Not Hard, Integrating Is. – Frog Machinery

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