Breaking an unhealthy thinking pattern
August 30, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

How can I encourage myself that it's okay to do something even if other people have done/experienced that very same thing?

For the past couple of years, I've noticed that I feel quite sad when I see other people that have something that I've wanted but didn't pursue. I don't feel jealous of the person, instead I feel happy for them. However, I feel sad for myself because I feel like I can't have that thing anymore or do something anymore because another person has now done or experienced what I wanted like traveling somewhere during a specific season, moving somewhere that I've always wanted to move to, getting body modification like a nose piercing or tattoo, etc...

I think I feel sad when this happens because my sense of self and individuality feels lost or like I'm not acknowledging it because I'm letting other people's actions get in the way of my own life. But, there are many things that I want to do and I don't want to limit myself in life because of this unhealthy thinking pattern. So, my question is what can I do in order to move past this?

(P.S. sorry for writing such a disjointed and incoherent post...)
posted by livinglearning to Human Relations (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
When you have these thoughts, consider how you'll feel in 5 years' time. Will you be more contented if you have the experience you've wanted or if you held back because someone else did it before you?

No matter what we do, someone, somewhere has pretty much always done it before us.

You are no less deserving of an identity or experience than anyone else. Be you, unapologetically. Don't base your decisions to do or not do something on other people. That's what individuality is all about.
posted by gohabsgo at 7:48 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Start pursuing what you want. I wonder if some of what you're feeling is regret at your own inaction.

Also, have you talked with a therapist about this?
posted by J. Wilson at 7:56 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe it would help to think of these things as collective experiences, that just don't all happen to everyone simultaneously?

Surely you enjoy collective experiences with other people, right? Going to a concert, a sports event, cheering in a crowd. Or maybe attending the country fair and eating corndogs and watching fireworks, everyone looking up at the sky and going "ooooh aaaah"? These sorts of wonderful events can't happen without lots of other people doing the same thing at the same time with you.

It's replicated in religious experiences, too. Have you ever enjoyed going to a church service? Maybe singing along with friends during a Passover seder? Much of the sacredness of group religious experience is derived from other people doing the same things as you, with you, and is something that can be found without any actual godliness being involved at all.

Every shared cultural touchstone is kind of like that. There's value in doing something nobody else has done, sure. But there's a huge emphasis on accomplishing the same achievements as others, and being able to let them say to you "ah yes, I've been there, too." Like going through puberty. That's a collective experience. So is reading and talking about a book you love with other people who were affected by its prose, or reminiscing about their grandma's desserts, or sharing stories of Paris in April.

So other people have gotten their nose pierced before you. That doesn't devalue the experience of making that choice for yourself at all. What it does do is connect you to all the other people in the world who have done the same thing. And human connections are what make life interesting and worth it.

Instead of thinking of someone else's achievements as a slash through your personal bucket list, think of them as an encouragement, a call for you to join them in their happiness. It's just that instead of it happening to you both at the same time like you went on vacation together, you're doing it a little later.
posted by Mizu at 7:57 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Merit Badges! First, you need to write down the things you want to do. Who cares if anyone else has done it; then, as you accomplish each one, you give your self a merit in some way. Each accomplishment/experience should be recorded- possibly in a scrapbook or journal and tied back to some tangible thing you can look back at to remind you that you are making progress. The token need not be anything huge- just memorable. I am guessing you have done a few things in your life that were important to you, perhaps if you had a reminder you are capable then you will be spurred on to accomplish the next adventure.

Now, just start the list and you are on your way. Make it small and manageable- pick three things you know you can do and want to do and then do that. Expand the list as you build a foundation of accomplishments. It is pretty easy if you view it the right way...

"Life is hard by the yard but by the inch life is a cinch"
posted by bkeene12 at 8:31 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is no new thing under the sun.

Whatever you want to do, someone else, somewhere in history, somewhere on the planet, maybe even right now, has done or is doing exactly what you were considering doing.

You know who hasn't done it? Who hasn't had that experience? You.

Your experience will be unique not because you are the first to do it, but because you, the living breathing human that is you... you have not done it. Your experience doing something for the first time is different than the experience than anyone else who has ever done the same thing.

Every thing you experience is a unique because it is colored by the personal lens of your entire life experience. No one else has ever done exactly what you've done, because you are the first person be you doing that thing.
posted by erst at 8:37 PM on August 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

A bit further down the path erst is pointing: don't get so hung up on uniqueness in the first place. Do what you want to now, don't bother thinking about its degree of uniqueness. Uniqueness is an illusion anyways, a mental fabrication.

Sometimes you do a thing more than once, yes? Is it worse the second time, or better? Or is each time some mixture of other times, each person a mixture of other people? Is stepping in the same river twice the same river? Are you the same you?
posted by ead at 8:46 PM on August 30, 2012

There is no way you can be the first person to do anything. So. Is everything now ruined for you? I hope not.

So. Who, in your life, makes it impossible for you to do something if they do it first? And why? So your friend Jane gets a nose piercing; that wasn't the only nose piercing in the world or in the country or in the state or province or in the city or probably even in the shop done that day. Millions of other humans have gotten nose piercings. Now it's millions plus Jane.

I would really encourage you to look at what's going on with this dynamic.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:05 PM on August 30, 2012

You will very rarely be the first person to do any one particular action or activity.

However, you are the only person that has completed the combination of all the activities you've ever done over your lifetime. Huzzah!
posted by Simon_ at 11:11 PM on August 30, 2012

Buy the ticket, take the ride! Your experience will inevitably be different because they are not you, and you are not them. Fasten your seatbelt!
posted by XhaustedProphet at 1:34 AM on August 31, 2012

Let go.
posted by benbenson at 4:14 AM on August 31, 2012

I have had these concerns too. I was considering moving to a new city then one of my good friends took a job there and I gave up on the idea. Another friend came up with something he could do in his spare time to make money and my thought was “I wish I had thought of that" not “I could do that too" (even though there was no danger of competition).

In my case it was that I wanted to maintain my individuality, I didn't want to do things just because everyone else was doing it. The answers here about communal experiences, especially the religious-oriented ones would have turned me off as that was exactly what I was trying to avoid.

For me, for the examples I listed what would have helped me was realizing that I knew I had thought of moving before my friend did and that it really didn't matter what other people thought. And that it would be great to know someone in a new city. And in both situations it was one friend that did the thing I was no longer interested in, not “everyone", I was catastrophizing.

These were just excuses and they helped keep me from doing much at all. You can be an individual, you can think for yourself but that can include deciding to do something a good friend, etc has already done.

I hope at least some of this was helpful!
posted by mountmccabe at 5:08 AM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Define what you want to do more specifically. If someone's already moved where you want to move, research the neighborhoods in that area and pick another one--you could even go as far as picking particular houses you like, if you really want to. If the season you travel during is important because of the weather conditions, get a forecast; or if it's important because of what's going on at those times, find a particular event you want.

This only works so far, but the point is that you can always find differences if you look for them. Insofar as it's true that there's nothing new in the world, it is also true that everything in the world changes, and frequently.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:33 AM on August 31, 2012

I wonder if you actually want to do the things you think you want to do or if you just want to be the person who has done them. That would explain why someone else doing them kills the appeal for you.

I'd focus on trying to separate what you actually want to do from how you want to look at yourself (or have others look at you) based on what you have done.
posted by callmejay at 9:56 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are defining yourself based on how others might view you, or how you see yourself from someone's view that you imagine, and not on who you yourself are. If you hear that someone has done something you have already done, do you think of that poorly? Or did you have siblings that discouraged you from being interested in anything they were doing?
posted by Dynex at 10:48 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the answers so far. I really appreciate it (as always).

I've been thinking more about why I feel this way and I think it's because of my insecurities with how others will perceive me and who they will compare me to for doing certain things (although these are things that I cannot control).

But, having this type of unhealthy thinking limits me and I feel like that's where a large part of this sadness comes from..
posted by livinglearning at 12:02 PM on August 31, 2012

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