I just had a fantastic session with a new client this morning, where I finally put into words something that I had been working on for a long time, I call “The Caveman Method”.
One habit that highly intelligent Men often have that causes them no end to grief is that they make things too complicated by far. They start connecting unrelated problems into any problem they are trying to solve. Something as simple as “I left some stuff at my ex’s that I want to have back,” can become an incredibly sophisticated problem where you worry about what she might say if she asks about where your relationship is at, or wonders what this means. One can get all tangled up on what your last communications were like, how your current kinda-breakup status hurts, and how this might or might not affect the relationship.
After a little bit of time, worrying about these things, a man can start playing movies from his past or what he imagines the future might be like. These terrible movies can create emotional responses, a man can feel rejected by conversations he had months ago, or fear of responses the people in his life haven’t had yet. This can lead to paralysis or procrastination. The stuff left at the ex’s can lead to feeling like the relationship is finally dead, even though no words of finality were spoken except in the guy’s head.
This is a prime example of the human mind going overboard and sabotaging a man.
Most feelings aren’t meant to last for more than thirty seconds, and thoughts are something we are meant to have in response to a problem. Just like everything else, they are designed to be tools that let us survive and thrive, not weapons of self destruction to tie our guts into knots and prevent action.
I use the example of a baboon trying to steal from a cave-man’s food supply for the sake of simplicity. The first response of the caveman will be anger. Anger in this case is good, because it forces him to figure out how to deal with the anger, in this case, how to get rid of the baboon, and make sure this problem never happens again. The feeling of anger triggers thoughts that are useful. The thoughts turn into a plan: scare off the baboon and make a trap to keep him and his relatives away from the food in the future.
The caveman executes the first part of the plan with a clear mind – he cannot afford to get sloppy by staying angry. He doesn’t need to think at this stage, in fact, thinking might slow down his reflexes; he simply does what automatically comes to mind to deal with the baboon while being mindful of danger. Once it is gone, he stops and thinks a few times to design the baboon trap, but it doesn’t serve him to stay angry at the baboon, or think about how he felt. He collects up the materials and makes the trap with calm diligence – again he is not thinking, at this time, he is doing. Just like any craftsman he needs to have his focus on the part he is working on, thinking could cause his mind to wander, and cause him to make a mistake that might waste time or materials. He might stop for a few minutes every once in awhile to consider and evaluate his work, however.
If the caveman became obsessed with his thought he might tinker forever with his trap, and his food supply would dwindle. If he stayed angry, rather than addressed the anger, he might have just killed one baboon, and still lost food to others. Or he might have seethed and ground his teeth while he worked, leading to an upset stomach, sore teeth, and, most likely, an inferior trap. managing his thoughts and feelings was vital to his success as a caveman.
Once the trap is installed and tested, he can relax. There are no further baboon worries, no need to be angry, or to fiddle with the trap, unless inspiration leads him to devise a better baboon trap.
Life really is this simple. We become addicted to thoughts and feelings, and once we are, we find excuses to think and feel. We make problems complicated, play “What if” games, worry about how our behaviour might “make” other people feel (this is an absurdity by the way, other people choose how they feel, based on their interpretations of your actions, you can’t make them feel anything.)
The Caveman Method is a simple solution to over-thinking I teach to clients. It is a habit of asking yourself reflective questions whenever a negative feeling arises.
The first question is “What am I feeling?”
If the feeling is a good one like happiness or joy, sit with it; enjoy it while it lasts. If it is a feeling like sadness or anger, you ask the next question:
“Can I identify what is making me feel this way?”
If you can’t identify the source of the feeling, then set it aside, choose another one. If this happens to you often, it might be a good idea to speak to your psychologist about these negative feelings you cannot place, it may be a sign of a mood disorder like Depression or Anxiety.
If you can identify a thing or event that is causing your feelings, you have identified a problem to be solved. So ask yourself:
“Is this feeling coming out of a problem I can solve now?”
If you can’t solve the problem now, then promise yourself to return to this train of thought when you can solve the problem, and then choose another train of thought, or meditate and clear your mind of thoughts altogether.
It this is a problem you can solve when the feeling arises the next question is about solving it:
“What is a way I can solve this problem that would be simple, satisfying, and cut back on the chances of the problem happening again?”
This requires real thought and consideration. It can also require you to use creativity and intuition. However, it does not require you to keep feeling the feeling itself. Focusing on a solution usually takes the teeth out of the problem. With practice, you can learn to put feelings aside with simple meditative exercises if you need to.
Once you have decided on a solution that you find satisfying, there is only a couple of questions left. The next one is.
“What are the first few steps I can take right now to make this happen?”
Once you have the first few steps do them immediately. Focus on them one at a time. Don’t think about anything else… in fact pay total attention to what you are doing at each step, and do it to completion. After that the only questions you need to ask are:
“Am I done yet?” And if not, “What are my next few steps?”
If a solution doesn’t work you will probably experience frustration, doubt, or disappointment… this is another chance to apply the same process: “I am feeling doubt. It is a reaction to my previous solution not working. What could I do differently to solve the same problem quickly and to my satisfaction?” Repeat until the solution resolves itself.
This may seem simplistic, and it is certainly not a radical methodology, but I find it can be a very therapeutic one. By using The Caveman Method deliberately for a period of time, it can help men break out of very anxious, confused, and complicated thinking patterns. It can help them live in the now, and be happier for it.