“Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience.“ – Mark Manson
I first time I encountered the phrase “The Backwards Law,” was during an Alan Watts recording.
It’s the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.
In his book, The Subtle Art If Not Giving A Fuck, Mark Manson writes:
The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.
It seems to me, that the less I care about something, the better I am at it. When I don’t care if the beautiful woman is into me, I’m more authentic and conversations are effortless. When I have enough work, I keep getting offered more work. When I’m not concerned about messing up during a musical performance and just let it rip, I play better than I thought possible.
Once I really wanted a summer job playing drums for a show at a theme park. The audition went well. Really well, actually.
I was nervous and excited. Hopeful and attached. Basically obsessed.
But as the weeks wore on and I didn’t hear from the director, I figured I didn’t get the job. About three days after the date that they said I would be contacted if I’d gotten the job, I gave up.
I wasn’t really sad by then. Mostly I was glad to be done with the stress of waiting.
Two days after that, the phone rang and I was offered the job.
And then I made them wait three days while I thought it over. Because after all of that, I wasn’t sure that I still I wanted to do it.
This sort of thing has happened plenty of times. When I’ve given up on things, they’ve arrived!
When I give up on someone getting back to me, they text. When I leave extra travel time to get somewhere, there is zero traffic and I’m early. When I think she’s just being fun and cordial, she gives me her phone number.
The most important thing we can give any situation is space, room to breath. In addition to lowering stress and expectations, it also gives our minds some freedom.
Maybe we’ll reframe our desires. Maybe we’ll see other possibilities that we wouldn’t have seen living in such a constricted and tense state.
Oh, and I took that summer job at the theme park.
And it was one of the best summers of my life.
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* Photo by James Gummer