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  • Charlie Laurel, LCMHC

Counterintuitive #2

Problem-solving is one of the important functions of the human mind. Language is the primary tool of problem-solving. The mind symbolically represents the various elements of the problem and turns the relationships this way and that and voila! a solution appears in the mind's eye. It works pretty well for a lot of problem-solving tasks. I used to be a building contractor; sometimes the reality of the project didn't match up with the blueprints. For a while I worked closely with a foreman I had hired; we actually had fun, tossing around the most ridiculous ideas of how to solve the problem, cracking each other up in the process—and before we knew we had figured out the path forward. All this done symbolically, via language: identify the problem, try out solutions, take action.

Unfortunately, the problem-solving mind can also make a mess of of other kinds of problems. Like the problem of anxiety. Watch language at work here. “I am anxious.” The word “am” represents a frame of equivalence. So, “I” equals “anxious,” and that sums up your, or my, existence when engrossed in that anxious thought. The mind will have likely already augmented the anxious thought along the lines of being, “too anxious.” That thought is now cognitively networked with all the things you can't do because you are too anxious. What happens when the mind sets about problem-solving the complex experience of anxiety—that swirl of thoughts, feelings, body-sensations, memories, associations, urges... What solutions does the mind urge? Very likely the quick fix solutions to anxiety, urged by the mind, will be avoidance or control. Avoid the things that prompt the anxiety, or control the emotional/mental reactions. Strategies that may work, in the short run, but what about the long run? Has avoidance or control solved, done away with, the problem of anxiety? Coming up in the next Counterintuitive blog posts—counterintuitive responses to anxiety, at www.charlielaurel.com

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