si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: self-improvement

Tetris Relationships

There’s an amusing saying:

“If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear.”

I don’t know a better quote for describing the effect of holding grudges.

Where this is particularly noticeable, and damaging, is in the area of relationships.

Everyone is growing. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone is occasionally tired, thoughtless, distracted or careless.

Things happen and people get hurt – no matter how careful we are towards the person we love (see also: every parent ever).

This is a normal part of life, and to be expected.

Where it all gets messy is when our partner makes these mistakes and we choose to hang on to those mistakes instead of letting them go.

Eventually, this will kill any relationship. How can it possibly survive when every time we look at them our head and hearts are filled with the thousand awful things we remember them doing?

As always, it’s helpful to keep things simple. Make a choice:

Do you want to have a loving, happy relationship …

… or do you want your relationship to die?

I realise that sounds melodramatic and a prime example of either-or thinking, however on a long enough time scale, that’s your choice.

Of course, if you’re only in the relationship for the short term or you really don’t give a shit about the other person, then feel free to ignore everything I’m saying.

The thing is, if we don’t proactively choose to let go/heal/whatever the myriad of minor (and not so minor) bumps and scrapes that eventuate from any average relationship, then we are actively choosing to let the relationship die.

No one can sustain under that much pain. Eventually, the traumatic blocks stack up until they hit our ceiling and it’s game over for that relationship.

If we refuse to learn, if we refuse to let go of these blocks, these hurts, we’ll be doomed to live the same relationship over and over. Watching blocks build up, experiencing all that pain until eventually we’re forced, once again, to quit.

The other thing here is – much like Tetris, you have to keep working at this constantly. Couples counselling once a year or once a decade isn’t going to cut it. You have to get up every damn day with the intention of letting go of whatever pain comes up.

If we don’t let it go, we’ll be doomed to think about it again and again, letting that wound fester like a rotting abscess.

Every time we rethink about something that has wronged us, to some degree we are reliving that trauma. We’re strengthening the neural pathways. We’re making it worse for ourselves.

What may have been a fairly minor misunderstanding, after we’ve thought and rethought about it dozens or hundreds of times can expand into a soul crushing trauma of biblical proportions. How on earth can we be expected to remain loving towards someone with that kind of storm raging through us?

Plus, of course, much like Tetris, small hurts or mistakes lead to larger ones.

Why is this? Because we look at events through the filter of our minds. If we decide (for whatever reason) that a person is, say, untrustworthy, then everything they do will be viewed through that filter. Every little word and action will be judged and suspected. Grudges lead to judgement.

In short: once we have a belief, we use our brains to find data to validate that belief.

Now sure, some people are untrustworthy, that’s fine. But a lot of the time we paint people incredibly unfairly, simply because of some trauma or other that we’re carrying around. Half the time it really has nothing to do with them at all.

On top of that – this is someone we’re supposed to be in love with. Shouldn’t we be at least trying to be loving towards them? How can we do that if we’re harshly judging every little thing they do and say?

The key, of course, is not too get too carried away with our minds. Realise that it’s our belief that is making us “find” supporting evidence. Once we drop that belief, voila, most or all of that evidence will fall away with it. We’ll see that our prejudices have been colouring our observations. Our pain has been creating more pain around us.

The great thing is – when we knock out a grudge or limiting belief, it’s like knocking out a line in Tetris. Except it also ensures that it will (almost) never come back. When we heal the hurt that caused us to believe someone was untrustworthy, we will have learned that lesson. For a start, we’ll be able to accurately interpret their actions. Secondly, we’ll stop attracting seemingly untrustworthy people into our lives. We won’t need to; we’ve learned what we needed to learn, the universe can now move us on to our next lessons.

Best of all, unlike Tetris, the more we let go of the slower the blocks stack up. It’s a game which starts insanely hard and gets easier and easier the more we play.


    Holding A Grudge

    Holding a grudge is one of the dumbest thing we can do.

    That said, it’s also one of the easiest things to do.

    In essence, what IS a grudge?

    When we believe someone has wronged us, and we hang on to that memory.

    Notice some key things here:

    • It doesn’t matter whether they did actually wrong us or not, just that we believe they did
    • It doesn’t matter what their intent was (or even if it was intentional)
    • Along with the memory, we hang on to a huge chunk of negative energy
    • All this colours any future interactions with that person

    So why do it?

    Generally, we hang on to grudges for some combination of the following reasons:

    • We feel justified (“It’s fair” or “They deserve it”)
    • We think it’ll keep us safe in the future
    • We think this is how we learn from the experience
    • We feel they owe us something (payback, restitution)

    However, there’s some flaws in this reasoning (well, duh)

    For a start, really what we’re doing is making ourselves feel crappier. Why even do that?

    We’re carrying around a huge bundle of negative emotion/energy, such that every time we think about that person, we feel bad. Also not smart.

    On top of that, it’s damaging our relationship with that person.

    If someone has done something bad to us and we can completely remove that person from our life? Well, that’s great. Really though? Most people we interact with aren’t like that. We often don’t have that freedom (workmates, friends, family, lovers).

    The final nail in the coffin? It’s never going to make the original pain go away. All it does it make it suck longer and harder (and not in a fun way).

    Now, as well as the original hurt, we’re attaching all this additional negative energy on top of it.

    Over time a grudge can and will take on a life of its own. The original hurt becomes more or less a footnote, but every time we’ve thought bad thoughts about that person, it’s added a little more to a giant pile of nastiness that is building in our minds. Witness how grudges between families (or countries) can survive long after the original participants have died.

    Holding a grudge won’t help us accurately interpret a situation. Suddenly, every interaction with that person will be filtered through the pain of that grudge. Every possible word and action will be (mis) interpreted as similar to or adding to that pain.

    All it’s doing is maximising our own suffering and damaging our relationship.

    Why do this?

    If we’re smart, we have to remind ourselves that we’re the boss. We are not our thoughts. We are not our feelings.

    We need to re-assert ourselves over this noise and choose to let the pain go.

    Obviously tools like EFT or releasing can help with this process, but even things like good old fashioned (genuine) forgiveness can do the trick. If you’re truly genuine about letting it go though, it’s important to acknowledge the pain we’ve caused that other person too.

    Something as simple as imagining the person in front of you, and saying “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” can be enormously powerful for healing the damage we’ve done even by holding a grudge (let alone anything else we may have said or done).

    Remember though – really, you’re not doing it for the other person’s sake. If they’ve hurt you that badly and they suddenly died, you wouldn’t be THAT bothered, would you? No, the real reason you’re doing it is for your OWN sake. To permanently get rid of all that crappy energy.

    The real test is if you can think about that person, think about the situation, and feel nothing but calm and loving. Asking their forgiveness is a super powerful way to deeply and completely clear out the last vestiges of crappy energy.

    We all carry grudges around. Some big, some small. Start with the biggest and work your way down the list. Every single one you can drop will result in your own life feeling and genuinely being better.


      Secret Anger

      My family has a bit of a history with anger.

      Nothing too awful but the men on Dad’s side (and myself) are definitely of the work hard, play hard, kick ass and don’t take any bullshit variety.

      For years growing up I genuinely thought I never really got angry.

      Well (so I thought), I did get angry, REALLY angry, but only once every few years.

      The worst extent of this anger was twice ever, about a decade apart, I’ve punched a wall. I don’t recommend it. It’s more than a little stupid.

      Fortunately the last time I did this was about 15 years ago, and I haven’t come remotely close since.

      So anyway, I’d always seen THAT as “angry”, but other than that I thought of myself as fairly chilled (ha ha, oh boy).

      It’s taken a lot of healing but I can see things a lot more clearly now.

      See, I might not have been punching walls, but I was still angry, and I mean ANGRY angry. Pretty much all of the time.

      Looking back, I can see that many of my long suffering girlfriends (and my family) walked on egg shells so as not to upset me. (Yes, I have gone back and apologised to several of my exes for this).

      How did I not see it at the time?

      It was only after I’d got rid of the vast majority of this anger that I could see it for what it truly was.

      Turns out, humans lie to themselves. A lot. Not intentionally, but we all do. Nobody wants to feel like a bad guy.

      In this case, what was actually anger I had about a thousand euphemisms for:

      • Being annoyed
      • Being irritated
      • Being moody
      • Pissing me off
      • Getting up my nose
      • Someone being fucking retarded (and no, I didn’t mean mentally handicapped)
      • Stupidity
      • Being fucked off
      • Bugging me
      • Bothering me
      • Them being morons (of course, it’s always them, right?)
      • Irking me
      • … and so on

      All of these, in hindsight, were me being angry.

      The trouble is, if what you consider real anger involves punching a wall, then merely spewing invective for a few hours doesn’t even register.

      Interestingly, most of these come back to wanting control (ie feeling out of control). Someone didn’t behave the way I’d want them to, and I’d get angry.

      Of course, it’s much easier to see the small stuff once you’ve got rid of the big stuff.

      This week I noticed a new variation.

      “Things getting under my skin.”

      Subtle, very subtle.

      I may not be screaming about whatever-it-is, but I can definitely feel my energy shifting.

      I’m slightly tenser than usual and my thoughts are overly focused on the issue.

      Not the end of the world by any means, but since I’m fully committed to dropping ALL non-loving thoughts, this has to go too. Yes, I realise that’s an ambitious goal, but it’s worth aiming for. Every step improves my life and that of those around me.

      The way I figure it, if you’re automatically thinking about something you don’t enjoy? There’s something there worth looking at.

      Ultimately, anger is something that is primarily detrimental to the person feeling it.

      We often delude ourselves that anger can propel us into positive action – but the same action taken from a place of love is always far more effective. Even if the correct response is punching someone in the face (which I also don’t recommend), any tension in your body will radically reduce the power and speed of your punch. I’m serious.

      Same goes for everything.

      As the old saying goes – being angry is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

      Even this deep, subtle, secret anger is worth rooting out and removing, if you genuinely want a long, peaceful, happy life.


        I’m The Boss

        I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s always worth a reminder.

        Ever heard of the concept “monkey mind“?

        It comes from meditation (in various eastern traditions).

        The basic image is this:

        Learning to meditate is like learning to train a monkey to sit still.

        Our mind IS that monkey.

        So, to start with our delightful little monkey is hopping around the room, scratching its arse, and so on. You know, all the usual monkey shenanigans.

        We gently and lovingly bring it back to sitting on a certain spot. It sits still for a few seconds, then jumps up again.

        Each time, we lovingly bring it back to the spot, and get it to quieten down. Each time, it stays sitting for slightly longer.

        There’s no point in getting angry at it, or impatient – it’s just a monkey. We stay patient, stay loving, but persist.

        And this is how we train our minds to meditate.

        Another (slightly more boring) description for this might be “learning self discipline.”

        Now, there are a few tricks that can help here.

        For example, if you’re trying to develop a habit, don’t make it something you have to choose to do every day, make a choice once and stick with that.

        I’ll give you an example.

        When I was training Aikido regularly, I would go to EVERY training session.

        It could be 6am and so cold we trained in hats and gloves; I’d go.
        It could be pouring with rain (we trained outside); I’d go.
        It could be 42 degrees C; I’d go.


        Because I knew if I had to make a choice every day whether to go or not, I’d be weak. If I was feeling down, or hung over, or tired, I wouldn’t go.

        If I made that decision ONCE, and never questioned it, then it would never be a matter of self discipline or having to choose – it was simply “something I always did.”

        I’m a fan of January experiments. Rather than New Year’s resolutions, I just try something for January.

        So, whatever I’ve decided, I’m just doing it for that month. No questions, no choices, I just am.

        Therefore, I never have to make another decision (during January).

        Eg, one year I read a book a day, every day. One year I ate nothing but raw vegan food (which was so awesome I ended up doing it the whole year). This year I’ve done no caffeine.

        By making one decision, rather than 31, it makes the whole thing much easier on me.

        You can ALSO use EFT to radically reduce the amount of repetition required to learn a new habit. First tap OUT what you’re currently doing. Then tap IN the new behaviour you want. It works a treat – that’s how I passed my first major Aikido grading.

        But let’s get back to our monkey.

        Some things you simply can’t side step with the “one decision” approach. Eg, learning to meditate. Or to be kind to ourselves.

        In these situations, we really do have to constantly (as much as we can remember) go back and repeat, and repeat and repeat the same action over and over until it sinks in.

        What are we ACTUALLY doing here?

        Yes, we’re training our monkey mind.

        We are also, in a very real sense, exerting our authority over ourselves.

        We’re reminding ourselves of the truth that “I’m the boss.”

        Remember how we’re not our mind, not our body and not our emotions?

        Well, when our thoughts or emotions start going haywire, this is when reminding ourselves that we’re the boss becomes super important.

        If we remind ourselves who’s in charge, it strengthens our power over those parts of ourselves that are causing problems.

        Every time we let go of a non loving thought, say, or relax and let go when we get upset by something, we’re strengthening our control over our monkey mind.

        We’re strengthening our authority over ourselves.

        We’re becoming MORE the boss of ourselves.

        And, like any muscle, the more we exercise it, the stronger we become.

        The stronger our self discipline. The more authority we create. The easier it becomes for us to retain control over ourselves and our situation.

        The more we remind ourselves that we’re the boss, the more true it will become.

        “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

        Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz survivor

        So. How do we do this?

        Typically the times when we need to remind ourselves of this (and thus train our monkey) is when our thoughts or emotions are off in the corner hooting ‘n hollering, scratching their metaphorical arses and flinging shit around.

        We are NOT our thoughts or emotions, so by stepping outside these for a moment, we can regain control.

        The simple act of reminding ourselves “I’m the boss” will often be enough to help calm us and help us drop whatever is bothering us.

        The usual suggestions apply, of tapping (if possible – or even just the chest point) will help damp our energy systems enormously, or releasing, if we’re slightly more in control.

        We can remember that our reaction is simply a picture, and drop that. As Viktor Frankl points out: “The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” We may not control our external situation, but we always, always have control over our reactions to that situation.

        It may seem like an impossibly long road, but remember: every step is a step closer to our goal. Even tiny improvements each day will add up to huge shifts over time.

        Every time we remind ourselves, “I’m the boss”, it becomes a little more true, and we step ever closer to inner peace, where no-one and nothing bothers us.


          Assume People Are Good – For Your Sake, Not Theirs

          Before we even get into this, let’s do a thought experiment.

          Let’s pretend people are bad. They’re ignorant. They’re willfully nasty. They want to hurt you.

          So, say someone cuts you off in traffic. Why is that?

          • Because they’re selfish?
          • They don’t care if they kill you?
          • They’re rude?
          • They’re bad drivers?

          the list goes on.

          Now, how does that make you feel, experiencing that?

          1. Awful?
          2. Angry?
          3. Violent?
          4. All of the above?

          The truth is though – you have no proof of any of the above. It’s all assumption.

          And those assumptions have left you feeling crappy.

          Let’s look at this another way.

          Say you’ve just cut someone off, why did that happen?

          • You forgot to check your blind spot because you were distracted by work or the kids?
          • You were feeling crappy and not paying attention?
          • You were tired?
          • You just made an honest mistake?

          Notice how often we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt while assuming the worst in others.

          Of course, driving is only one example. We do this everywhere.

          Does our boyfriend actually hate us? Probably not. So why interpet what he says as if he does?

          It doesn’t help our relationship, and it makes us feel shitty.

          Are our workmates really conspiring against us? It’s highly unlikely.

          But when we’re suspicious we become moody, which makes people less likely to want to connect with us. Which may make them look like they’re conspiring, when really they’re just avoiding our crap. Hello! Self fulfilling prophecy!

          Really, we go around all day every day making assumptions about the behaviour of the people around us. Interpreting what we see to fill in gaps in our understanding of the world.

          So, if we’re going to make assumptions, why not make them in our favour?

          If instead of assuming people are bad (lazy, assholes, etc) we just assumed they were good, how would that work?

          • If we see them doing something wrong, we’ll assume they made a mistake
          • If they say something that could be interpreted as nasty, we’ll assume they just didn’t phrase it well
          • If something they say could be taken two ways, we’ll decide they meant the good way
          • If we see them not doing something, we won’t decide they’re lazy: just busy, or distracted, or forgetful

          All these things are more compassionate (which is always good), but here’s a more immediate benefit:

          They all make us feel better.

          And the bottom line is, who cares why they did something? Is that really any of our business? If we must know, we can always ask them. Radical, I know.

          In the meantime, we’ll just see the world as filled with fallible but well meaning humans.

          Good people.

          Much like ourselves.

          And all that anger and vitriol we generate when people don’t behave or talk the way we want them to will dissipate with it. After all, we’re not the boss of their lives; they are.

          It’s not our job to control or change the people around us, and the sooner we let go of thinking we need to, the happier we’ll be.

          We can start by adjusting one basic assumption and get more peaceful right away.