Have you ever read a thought that hits so closely to home you feel as though someone is reading your mind? Someone is articulating your feelings and putting them into words, in a way you never could. In fact, you may not have even known these were your feelings until you read this. That is the feeling I had many times when reading Matias Dalgaard’s novel Don’t Despair.
Many of Dalgaard’s ideas resonated with me, as I think they will with many people regardless of their life situation. The author has framed his novel through a series of letters from a Lutheran priest to his nephew Rasmus, who has just been left by his wife and child and is in the midst of an existential crisis. I found myself identifying strongly with the following portrayal:
“It seemed as if you always secretly had one eye fixed backwards while you moved forwards.”
When people have a backwards- facing eye, they are constantly analysing everything that happens around and to them, both past and present. They do this in the mistaken belief that they can protect themselves from bad fortune and thereby assure happiness in the future. The irony is that when you practice this kind of thinking, it prevents you from being able to truly live in the present. Your life has no “present” because life is constantly being projected into a never-ending series of “what-if’s”or “if-only’s”. As Dalsgaard says:
You never seem to be fully and completely present in life. Your secret, backwards-looking eye has grown and grown, and today it seems that you almost see through this eye exclusively. You live in restraint’s double-vision of nervousness, ulterior motives, and escape plans.
This backwards-looking eye is an attempt to protect ourselves from the realities of the present moment—therein preventing ourselves from being vulnerable. By not being completely present in life, we are removing ourselves from the responsibility of dealing with life’s current issues. Our focus becomes mired in regrets, second-guesses, and contingency plans.
As the priest makes quite clear, Rasmus has achieved a great deal of success in his life, even going so far as describing it as a “life which is envied by all”. Underneath the professional success, the impressive house, and the seemingly idyllic life was an unhappy individual.
Dalgaard’s Don’t Despair opens the readers’ eyes to often unconscious thinking patterns that can be very self-destructive. Awareness of this unhealthy approach to life is the first step toward change. Many people who read this book will have a “light bulb” moment like I did.
So we spend so much effort thinking, only to end up nowhere in the end. This is a problem when making business decisions, for example, but also in life because we spend our time thinking about what has been said and done and no time actually DOING anything – inertia becomes a way of living.
What does it mean for us when we live with a backwards facing eye?
our Problems seem bigger than they are
When you constantly spend time and mental energy on a problem, it grows and grows in your head until it is much bigger than the reality and seems insurmountable. We think that if we can analyse something, take it apart and scrutinise the pieces, we can figure out what went wrong. Somehow, this will give us all the answers for the future which we can use to control and perfect upcoming situations.
we experience ANALYSIS PARALYSIS
When we are constantly analysing everything and living in a state of nervousness, we risk running into analysis paralysis. Analysis paralysis is a state which occurs when we are overanalysing something so much that we are unable to reach a conclusion or decision, and action is never taken. This is often a problem found in business but also applies to everyday life.
we ARE ONLY LIVING HALF-HEARTEDLY
When we have one eye always looking backwards, we are living with restraint and are living a life of distrust. This makes us live half-heartedly and prevents us from being present in the moment. Our actions are merely a means of hedging bets, filling time, or working a job until something better comes along.
For more insights, check out Don’t Despair.
by Matias Dalsgaard
Available in print and digital.
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Image from here.