Today was a slow day, so I ambled down to the nearest greasy spoon and ordered a cooked breakfast and coffee, sat down and started reading my good (if a little dense) book.

Imagine my surprise when no more than two minutes after ordering my breakfast arrived! It didn’t look like I thought it should, but in truth I couldnt actually remember what I ordered in the first place. I tucked in. It was adequate.

About 10 minutes later, the chef brings out another order. “Number 6!” He calls. I ordered a number 6. Fuck. I know how this schema plays out.

He takes it to an old gentleman, who is notably irate. He starts jabbing his finger at his written order on his table, points at me (it seems I am eating this mans breakfast. He should thank me. It’s shit). And apparently he can’t wait for it to be cooked again. He gets a refund and leaves.

What struck me most about this whole encounter is just how much this old man invested in the inevitable outcome. I have no reason to eat his breakfast over mine – dude didnt even order a sausage, FFS. There were a grand total of four customers in the whole place, in a space about the size of a large living-room. He could have said just about anything, given a little wave, and the breakfast he wanted could have been his – “oh, I think that’s mine”, “glad you said something old-timer, I was about to brown-sauce this bitch to death”.

But he didn’t. He clammed up, stewed, ruminated, and finally detonated his ball of negativity like an emotional grenade. He chose that outcome. An infinity of small gestures at his fingertips, each ending with him actually getting what he wants, but that feeling of righteous anger is just so… nourishing. If he was alone in this ultimately self-defeating pattern, it wouldn’t be so bad, but I see this game played out repeatedly. I play it myself.

There an old NLP maxim that states “the person with the most flexibility has the most power”. If something doesn’t go your way initially, and a 3% course correction makes it all better, you would course-correct, right? Well, you think you would, but how good is the emotional payoff if I don’t? Do I get to yell (righteously)? Feel vindicated? Earn some public sympathy? Fuck the breakfast, give me a moan instead.

Think about this. I can guarantee you’ve
run this programme at some point in the last month. We all think we actually want what we profess to want. The scary thing is you might be more fulfilled with the story.

you could be happy too, if you weren’t so invested in being unhappy

– The Last Psychiatrist