“And… and… and-ing”

by Annie Kaszina on November 13, 2011

Last week, I listened to an interview on Desert Island Discs with Lord Victor Adebowale, who started his working life as a street sweeper and went on becoming one of Britain’s rare black life peers.  It was an inspirational interview, thanks to Lord Adebowale’s mental attitude.  You can listen to the interview here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/castaway/40871661#b016kgtz

When asked about his failure to leave school with any decent qualifications, he mentioned being ‘in love’ at the time.  Then added words to the effect that he could “and… and… and” about it, but there’s no mileage in it.

There may be no mileage in it, but there is a point in “and…and…and-ing”.  And most of us make a habit of doing it.

The scenario goes something like this: something bad – or all consuming – happens and we mess up.

And then we start to review what happened and we embroider: actually, there wasn’t just that bad thing, there was this one that happened first (and that other one) and then there were a few more bad things that followed.

With all of that going on, it’s no wonder we messed up.

So why did Lord Adebowale object to our very human habit of “and… and… and-ing”? And why was it like a light bulb going on for me?

Let me tell you how it works for me.

My daughter is taking a sabbatical from my life at the moment.  Having wanted nothing to do with her father for the best part of a decade, her loyalties have now switched.  Was this painful for me?  Of course it was. (I say “was” because I’m learning to feel at peace with her choice.)   Then there’s been the very real problem of my partner’s health.    There have been a fair few other problems in the last year or so, as well.

It isn’t hard for me to go into “and… and… and-ing”.  I’ve done it often enough to be rather good at it.  “And.. and… and-ing” is a simple technique that goes something like this: “This has happened to me (which is pretty awful), and my daughter’s not there for me, and then there is this, and this, and that, and…”

Listening to Lord Adebowale today, I finally realized what I’d been doing.  Sure, I was telling myself my “Poor Me” story – which isn’t calculated to make anyone feel any better.  But I suddenly realized that – technically speaking – I was “stacking negative anchors”.  I was piling one bad-feeling experience on top of another, and another, and another.

And I was making associations that are not necessarily true.  The only way that those bad experiences stacked up, one on top of another, was in my own mind.

We all do it.

And before you go off on a “But, but, but..” tangent, let me prove it to you.  How often do you sit down and stack good experiences in your mind?  How often do you remind yourself that this good thing happened today, and so did that thing, and that other one?

(And if you argue that only bad things happen to you because your life is so bad right now, I’d like to challenge you on that.  If you’re in a bad place, of course there is a lot of bad stuff going on.  But there are also good things that you aren’t really registering, because your focus is elsewhere.)

The net result is that we make ourselves feel far worse – that worse might be more powerless, more resentful, more victimized, or whatever.

So you’re brilliant at negative “And… and… and-ing”, too.  That doesn’t mean you should carry on doing what you always have done.  Or, at least, if you want to carry on “And…and…and-ing”, now you know, it comes with a health warning.  “And… and… and-ing” can be very bad for your health.

Equally, it could be very good for you, if you simply change your focus from stacking the bad, to stacking the good.

What will you do? 

If you’re still in doubt, why not listen to the Lord Adebowale interview here, and see what inspiration you find in it.

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