Tell Yourself a Story From the Other Side
A mental exercise for when you’re feeling outmatched
Sometimes, when I feel outmatched by the thing in front of me, I do a little mental exercise: I pretend I’m on the other side and tell the story of what happened as if I’d nailed it. If I’m struggling to write, for instance, I might imagine being at some future book reading and telling the audience that I nearly gave up on the manuscript, but thanks to a push from my husband or an idea that came to me while I was making pancakes, I picked up the work again. I imbue my story with all the detail and color commentary that I might have otherwise attached only to the catastrophized version of my life. Call it a success fantasy.
This morning, I waited 54 minutes to check out at Safeway, standing in a line of carts that snaked up in the pet food aisle. The woman behind me, her hair and makeup perfect, had seven bottles of Martini & Rossi and nothing else. The young man behind her wore a full-face double-ventilator gas mask. No one was being particularly nice to each other, and I felt overwhelmed. So, right there, next to 25-pound bags of dog food, I told myself the story of the 2020 pandemic and how, in the end, we nailed it.
My success fantasy went like this:
At first, it was awful. Nothing but bad news on top of bad news. A horrifying one-two punch of contagion, illness, and death, followed by unemployment, bankruptcy, and poverty.
But then we rose up.
We shared what we had. We made stews and soups for old people and dropped them off so they felt included and secure and nourished.
We read books to children over the internet.
We stepped outside our houses and clapped so each of us could see and hear that we were not alone. For the same reason, and others, we played saxophones from windows and pianos from balconies.
We sent pizzas and Chinese food to emergency rooms to sustain both our hospitals and our restaurants.
We walked every day, twice a day, six feet apart, saying hello to every neighbor and neighbor’s kid who had always been there but we were too busy to greet before.