Solving The Wrong Problem

One of my oldest memories as a child is cleaning the house. I remember clearly how I started to use a broom – which seemed like a giant toy – and how I slowly gathered together piles of dust from all areas of our small apartment. It was something new and exciting. Although I was a kid (not older than 3, I guess), I know I wasn’t playing, because I had the task to take out all the dirt from the floor. I used the broom as a tool to get out all the dirt and did it consciously. At some moment, all the piles I gathered with my broom were loaded into a trash bin. I clearly remember how good I felt after the whole action. I eliminated the dirt. Did something by myself.

Fast forward 35 years: I’m writing a blog entry about one of the most subtle, yet incredibly important setbacks in our lives: inverse evaluation. The name sounds strange, but behind this name lies one of the most popular approaches in our world. It can be found at any age, in any culture, at any education level. It makes more bad than smoking and it’s more popular than drinking. Many people still consider it like something normal, although is one of the worst thing you can do to yourself. It’s the evaluation of things by the opposite of what you want to happen. Or, to be shorter: inverse evaluation.

It’s The Other Way Around

The best way to explain it is to analyze my first memory described above. As a kid, I felt this huge satisfaction when I took out the dirt from the floor. I finished a task and the result was great. I felt so good, that I was eager to repeat it instantly. Only there wasn’t anymore dirt in the house. I had to wait for a while until I was able to do the trick again. But when I did it, I had the same satisfaction. To be honest, the satisfaction was even bigger.

Now, suppose you’re trying to lose weight. You have something like 10 kilos over your normal weight. You start to exercise, control your eating habits, get slow on your sugar, and so on. In 3 months, you’re out of 10 kilos. Wow! What an accomplishment! You lost 10 kilos!

You run your own business. At some point, you want to cut some costs in order to streamline a little your cashflow. With a little bit of attention, you’re able to cut 5000$ from your expenses. Wow! Can you imagine that? I just cut 5000$ in expenses from my own business! Am I good or what?

Started to understand where I’m heading? Not yet? Then read on.

You don’t want a bigger pile of dirt, you just want your house to be clean.
You don’t want to lose 15 kilos next time, you just want to keep your weight at a normal level.
You don’t want to cut 7000$ nest time from your business expenses, you just want to naturally grow and maintain your business.

That’s inverse evaluation. You measure things by their opposite.

The real goal is to have a clean house, not to produce (and happily eliminate) more and more dirt. The real goal is to be healthy all the time, not to lose more kilos every few months (after you worked hard to put them on you, of course). The real goal is to provide value through your business, not to measure your success by your economies.

It’s the other way around. And still, we don’t get it.

Shift Your Course

Measuring things by their opposite is very dangerous. It’s tricky because is closer to us than the real stuff. This inverse evaluation is easier to understand because it’s measurable. It’s easy to understand that single atomic action of getting out the dirt from your house every two weeks. It’s so convenient. Every two weeks you get your dose of self-respect and satisfaction. Clean your life. Lost extra weight. You see?

Seeing things as they are is difficult because you’re inclined to get satisfaction from atomic actions. You trained yourself to react to small doses of actions instead of being part of a continuous flow. Keeping a clean house – as opposed to get the dirt out every two weeks – means making small adjustments all the time. You’re doing a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow. You don’t let the dirt to accumulate. In fact, you lose completely the notion of dirt, and you’re only working with the notion of clean. You don’t do single atomic actions. You’re in a continuum of cleanliness.

It’s the same in all other areas: be healthy (instead of focusing on weight), be successful (instead of focusing on money). And it can go all the way up, to the top of your life.

Let’s start another example here: suppose you have a lot of enemies and you decide it’s time to convert them to friends. In abstracto, this is a very healthy choice. It will be really good for your soul and it will win some karma points on the side. So, you start to practice compassion, you start to learn how to apologize and in a very short time you convert several enemies into friends. It feels so good, that you want to do it again. But, surprise: you’re out of enemies! You converted them all! Now what? You start making some new enemies, of course.

The real stuff means not having enemies at all, eliminating the very concept of enemy. Being friendly is the thing, not converting enemies to friends.

Indulging versus Being

Some of you may think already at concepts like polarization or attachment, in its buddhist acceptance. If you do that, good, it means you know where I’m heading. But knowing the concepts is a thing, applying them is another one. For me, one of the easiest way to alleviate my inverse evaluation episodes is to assess if I’m indulging or being.

Ok, let me explain. Indulging means you’re doing something to balance a situation: you come from work, you’re tired, you need some relaxation. Forget about the outside world, have a drink, a chat with your spouse, maybe some sex. Or a dinner out. Or a quick gym session for some endorphins. In a few hours your energies are back to normal. That’s indulging.

Being is different. You’re ok as you are. If you’re tired, that’s ok, you don’t need any reward, nor a miracle medicine for that. Just let the body recover in its own terms. If you’re stressed, let the stress dissolve by itself, don’t apply an antidote. If you’re happy, don’t think at something sad, to “balance” it. Just be happy. Don’t try to balance your current situation for the sake of equilibrium. There is no such thing as equilibrium, you’re moving all the time. If you really want to go to the gym, just go to the gym and feel good about it.

Don’t go because of something, go for something.

Indulging will always call for more and more imbalance in your life. Just being will take your life as it is.

Indulging will always create inverse evaluation: you’ll need more dirt to make your house even cleaner, more fat just to feel better about losing it, more enemies just to have more and more epiphanies of converting them into friends.

Where are you right now? Are you indulging yourself? Or are you just being, with all the good and bad of your life?

15 thoughts on “Solving The Wrong Problem”

  1. You know, I just remembered a Soviet cartoon. There is a cat and a dog and the cat is complaining that they are spending too much on water because the dog always needs a bath. And the dog asks, “How can you keep clean then?” (without water). And the cat says, “You shouldn’t get dirty, that’s how!” LOL

  2. Hi Dragos,

    thank you for the post. When I first started reading, I couldn’t feel where you were going to go with it. Dirt – bad, cleaning the house – good (what’s wrong with feeling good about good?) was my thinking. Very duality-oriented, western way of thinking, but then I wasn’t born into Buddhism. I see now that just being can eliminate the whole concept of ‘struggle’. Trying to balance adds something that takes what you are trying to balance out of harmony. It’s like with pitchers in baseball – after injury, they try to compensate for the pain/change by changing their motion, and it affects the quality and location of their pitches. But how do you deal with injury otherwise? After injury you are not the way you were before. So your reactions and actions are going to be different as well. Of course, there is thing called ‘resiliency’… This is very interesting, thank you.

  3. Dragos, this was a very interesting article. I had to read it twice to get it 🙂 I am finding myself getting into being much more often than I used to. It’s making my life a lot more peaceful and serene.
    .-= Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog ..In Defense of Thinking For Yourself =-.

    • Lol, I guess I should have break it in two parts then :-). From what your write on your blog I always had this feeling that you’re doing a lot more “being” than “indulging”.

      Thanks for being around (and for counting twice in my visitors log 🙂 )

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  5. For me, it’s my own ego that makes something “unpleasant” into a problem that needs to be solved. Then it cannot be solved without going to the “source” which is the mind that created it initially.
    Nice post
    .-= Doru´s last blog ..Out of control and the Libet experiments =-.

    • Totally agree about that ego stuff. You’re what you’re telling yourself you are, hence you’re the only one capable of making something pleasant or unpleasant.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. WOW~ This is amazing.

    I personally know the feeling of roboto and try to keep a ware of falling into a familiar daily routine so I have become more spontaneous.
    With work, I find it necessary to reboot my scheduling so Sunday evening, I try to make a weekly task of the important projects then because the smaller ones are less significant they get done when my time is free. The is more stress management for me. All tasks need to be done but since doing things this way. I am faster and more productive.
    Exercise has always been a rejuvenating factor in my life so I look forward to that even if I am tired, I know I will feel better after.
    As far as enemies go, I don’t feel I have any. Maybe a few rivals in business but that seems normal.
    I believe the term having balance in your life means, how you achieve pleasure and a feeling of fulfillment. It is different for each individual. Some people are content working 9-5 jobs, others are happy being managed instead of managing others. When you come down to it the difference in every person is what is important. Loving yourself and accepting who you are comes first.
    .-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Eleanor Roosevelt: Speaking Volumes, Part 2 =-.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bunny. I also know the feeling of running my own life, those episodes of planning, balancing and reloading at certain intervals. This is exactly what I was saying about being and not indulging. When you allow yourself to just be, things are falling into their place naturally.

  7. Hello Dragos,

    How are you?

    Lovely post. I enjoyed reading it. A very important fact here and i felt you hit the nail right on the head ….. Don’t try to balance your current situation for the sake of equilibrium. There is no such thing as equilibrium, you’re moving all the time.
    .-= ayo olaniyan´s last blog ..6 Ways to Break Out of Prison =-.

    • Thanks for the nice words, Ayo. The point is, while trying to “balance” our lives in search of an illusory equilibrium, we create those habits, those indulging activities, which, on the long run, makes us their prisoners.


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