Stop Rationalizing, instead, Embrace the Randomness of Life.
The liberating power of “I don’t know”
Most of us believe there’s a master plan: an invisible, mostly unintelligible thread that gives sense to the apparent randomness of our earthly lives.
We say things like:
„Everything happens for a reason” to accept a seemingly ‘negative’ experience.
“Nothing happens by chance” to describe a surprising or unexpected event.
“Someday everything will make perfect sense” to make peace with what doesn’t seem to have any positive side at this point, while we recognize that don’t know where these circumstances will eventually lead us.
Interestingly enough, whether we are part of this group of believers or not, we all share the same tendency of wanting to have it all figured out, in our own terms, particularly when things go wrong. In simple words: we rationalize pretty much anything that has an emotional content or that we hold important.
But let’s focus for a moment on the tough times. Challenges, struggles, failures, deaths, heartbreaks.
It’s hard to accept what hurts. Sometimes, it’s even harder when we cannot blame it on people: a debilitating disease, a natural disaster, a sudden death, you name it.
Is there a way to educate ourselves out of the continuous struggle to rationalize everything that happens to us? A conscious effort to dance with life even when it baffles our cognitive abilities?
What about this:
Embracing the Randomness of Life.
As illogical, inconsistent, unpredictable, volatile it is.
When I was struggling to recover from a relationship that fell from the stars to the abyss in a matter of a few weeks, I ended up heartbroken, angry, and disillusioned.
I remember spending an enormous amount of mental energy trying to explain the motives of my ex.
She has lost her mind. She’s overwhelmed. This must have something to do with her past relationship with her father. Probably the recent stress brought to surface the pain from her teen times and suddenly, she saw an enemy in me instead of someone that wanted to help.
And the likes.
The stories I was telling myself were an attempt to give a relief to the part of me that wanted to know, understand, clarify.
A portion of my identity was severely wounded… and desperately wanted a stitch.
I’m not saying these thoughts didn’t help at all the recovery process, but in hindsight, I can say that rationalizing what happened didn’t soothe my pain, nor it softened my anger. Acceptance and forgiveness eventually did.
I see the same pattern all the time when people talk to me about the aftermaths of their relationships… particularly if they’ve been severely hurting.
This attitude, of course, applies to any aspect of life, when our expectations are not met.
“The culture of that company would have never fit me”
“We lost because we were too arrogant”
“It wasn’t such a good deal after all”
“If I had accepted that job offer, I wouldn’t be in this mess now. What was I thinking?”
Our culture has slowly but steadily put the analytical part of our brain on the steering wheel of our lives. The scientific revolution and the enlightenment brought plenty of valuable paradigms to humanity; however, they also contributed to the diffused underlying pattern of using analytical thinking as the primary coping mechanism to solve any problem or dilemma.
I find it interesting when people have a gut feeling or an intuition, and instead of listening to what they could catch at a subconscious level, they dismiss it in favor of more intellectual interpretations and potentially get side-tracked.
When we end up trapped in the excessive rationalization of past events or people’s behavior, we lose precious energies that we could otherwise use to act, create, transform.
Rationalization is the device the ego uses to keep up its perception of the world and all the identities and the judging patterns it has manufactured for us.
It’s hard to admit we’re poor at something when it matters to us: job, relationships, sports, you name it. It’s also extremely difficult to grasp the complexity of people’s inner state when they make a decision or when they act.
In both cases, our ego wants a story that it could live with. It may not like it, but at least it has the feeling that there’s an order it can comprehend. Yes, in several instances this is an effective strategy to find relief and move on or even to frame our lessons learned and grow from them. Great.
But the reality is that way too often these thoughts can cause unnecessary mental strain. Not to mention, the explanations that we eventually accept as valid may cause us further disappointment — if not pain — in the future.
We can consciously exercise our ability to change these mental patterns when we spot ourselves regularly lingering on any of these:
- Analyse the motives of others (“he’s certainly doing this because…”, “she must have suffered some sort of trauma”, etc.)
- Meticulous scenario planning around different outcomes of our life (I call it “playing a mental chess game” — i.e. What am I gonna do next if…? And if…? Here’s what I’ll respond is she says this, etc.)
- Replaying over and over scenes from the past, imagining different outcomes (“If I had said/done that, here’s what would have happened/here’s where I would be now”)
Catching these mental habits is key for us to be able to work on them effectively.
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same” (Carlos Castaneda)
Reconciling randomness with intelligence
For the most, we can easily recover from trivial, daily hiccups: the obnoxious neighbor, the micromanaging boss, the unkind waiter. You name it.
These, however, can hardly touch the way we experience life: we get over them relatively quickly and carry on with the same belief system, self-image and perception of the world.
And we can also cope for longer periods with sadness, frustration, tiredness, dissatisfaction — as long as they don’t become recurrent companions for months or years.
At the same time though, atrocities, fatal illnesses and natural calamities keep happening in our world. Non-stop.
When these extreme circumstances hit us directly, they can shake us. In fact, if we believe in any sort of “grand scheme of things”, they challenge us to the point that it’s hard to keep up the faith that everything has a sense and a purpose.
We see a world that looks entropic, unfair, messy.
Our mind gets trapped into trying to arrange our interpretation of the facts into the compartmentalized boxes and categories it is familiar with, but it’s often unable to catch the complexity and fluidity of reality.
Notice how less prone we are to explain positive outcomes or favorable circumstances: an unexpected promotion, the new neighbor is super nice, unsolicited acts of kindness, buying a house below market price, that “accidental” meeting that changes our life… and so on.
In these cases, we somehow seem to accept the randomness of life without thinking too much. Or we call these events “coincidences”. Or we get away with the underlying idea that “we deserved it”.
I believe that educating ourselves to avoid rationalizing smaller and trivial events can be a training ground to learn to let go and better recover from the extreme challenges that life will inevitably present us.
So, perhaps we should add an important disclaimer to the quote:
Everything happens for a reason.
Many times, things are not comprehensible to our mind.
There’s an unintelligible intelligence behind the apparent randomness that oftentimes seems to govern the world. It’s the same intelligence that has run this universe for the 13.8 billion years of its existence.
We can tap into it through surrender and acceptance.
Sometimes in life, the most liberating inner narrative is:
I don’t know. I cannot possibly know. The logic is beyond the reach of my mind. The causes are unfathomable to me. Therefore, I accept “what is”.
There are seasons in which I may not like what’s going on in my life. Or in the world. There are days when I despise the current circumstances.
So, I mourn what needs to be mourned. I grief what calls for grievance.
I cry. I melt in sadness. I find myself in the dark night of the soul.
I embrace my humanness and let my emotions flow.
Without judging myself for experiencing them.
When my mind perceives randomness, I know that within me, there’s a space. A land with no words. A place where I can intuitively trust the primordial intelligence of the universe.
I let go of my impulse to rationalize. And I’m free again.
Vale is an experienced leader, coach and storyteller — and founder of InSpiral, a club designed to “Inspire through Storytelling”.
You can reach Vale at firstname.lastname@example.org