Swimming pools and pressing problems

“Why can’t I feel like this all the time?”

That’s what I thought as I sat in the pool, in the south of France, with the warm water sloshing gently around me.

We all know the feeling we experience when we go on holiday to a place we love. The lightness. The tranquillity. The problems that seemed so immediate, so urgent, take on a different form in our new surroundings. They don’t seem so pressing.

And we all know how that feeling evaporates as we begin the journey back home.

When we step off the plane we pause. We take a moment to steel ourselves and we reluctantly step back into the brawl that we call our lives.

Why can we not attain the same calmness we have on holiday when we are at home?

Perhaps being so physically distant from our problems, hundreds of miles away from them, helps us to cultivate mental detachment?

The key words here are ‘distant’ and ‘detachment.’

In my commons I have a section entitled “Success/Happiness.” One of the cards has the words “birdsong & running water.” I’ve always found these two things to be soothing. They invite memories of the summers I used to spend in France.

And right now, as I type, I’m trying to recreate that feeling of lightness I remember so intensely.

In a subreddit which lists websites everyone should have bookmarked, there was one called A Soft Murmur. It allows you to create “ambient sounds to wash away distraction.” I’m currently set up with a combination of birds, waves, fire and crickets.

In the world of body language and psychology, it’s been shown that you can hack how you feel. If you are naturally shy, you can become more self-confident by pretending to be more self-confident.

Stand up straight. Pull your shoulders back. Don’t tuck your chin. Take your hands out your pockets. Force a smile onto your face.

Acting as if you already are works, at least when it comes to body language.

If you feel sad, make yourself laugh. If you feel lazy, make yourself move. The physical dictates the mental. If we act how a happy and confident person acts, we start to feel more happy and confident.

By being physically distant from our problems, we can be mentally distant.

But we can’t run away every time we have an issue. So the obvious question is, can we get the mental detachment without the physical distance?

Yes. But it takes practice.

One of our chief errors is that we try to solve a problem before we’ve really looked at it. Looking at a problem and solving it are two distinct steps, not one concurrent action.

Have you ever heard the quote, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It’s mistakenly attributed to Abe Lincoln. I have a similar rule that I find easier to remember.

Spend 95% of the time understanding the problem, and 5% solving it.

When we are going about our lives, our issues seem so vivid. They are standing there, jumping up and down, shouting in our ears, waving their arms, doing everything they can to get our attention.

It’s hard not to react to the provocation they provide. And when we do react, it is based on half-knowledge, on impulse, on a shallow understanding of the complexities and the factors at play.

What if our problems weren’t right in front of us, but down the road? Or on the other side of the world?

Physical distance equals perspective. Physical intimacy is visceral. Overwhelming. It gives us only a snapshot of what’s going on.

It’s like when you go to an art gallery.

Putting your face right up close to a picture allows you to see one colour, an individual brush stroke. On it’s own it makes no sense. It looks ugly. But by taking a couple of steps back we can see how all the colours and all the lines interact to create a work of art.

It’s the same for our problems.

We spend our lives with our faces rammed up against them. Only by removing ourselves, by practicing detachment, can we see how they all fit together.

Shadow Divers is a book about divers who used to hunt shipwrecks. It was a dangerous game. Their breathing apparatus could malfunction. A wreck might not be structurally sound and they could cause a collapse and get trapped. They could spend too long at too deep a depth and suffer from nitrogen narcosis, where emotions are intense and amplified.

Or all of the above could combine to create a real shit storm.

“A diver lost or tangled inside a shipwreck has come face-to-face with his maker. Corpses have been recovered inside wrecks—eyes and mouths agape in terror, the poor diver still lost, still blinded, still snagged, still pinned. Yet a curious truth pertains to these perils: rarely does the problem itself kill the diver. Rather, the response to the problem—his panic—likely determines whether he lives or dies.”

You can’t control your problems but you can control how you react.

Slow down. Create distance. Look at the problem. See it from many angles. Understand it.

Then calmly put a bullet in it’s head.