The time you’ve been looking forward to for so long is finally here: you’re booking a holiday, and as you really want to treat yourself, you book two weeks instead of your customary one. Holidays make you happy, and surely a holiday that lasts twice as long is going to make you twice as happy! Isn’t it?
Oh, if only it was that simple. We humans are not the logical creatures we like to think we are – and in this particular case, a phenomenon called duration neglect comes into effect. Duration neglect is pretty much what it says on the tin: when we evaluate the pleasantness (or unpleasantness) of an experience, the length of it has little bearing on our judgement. What we do unconsciously take into account is the intensity of emotion at its peak (how happy were you on the very best day of your trip?), and how it ended. That’s it – the peak and the ending will mostly determine how you remember the whole experience.
How does that help you on a practical level? Well, see, this is where your personal power comes into play – especially when it comes to endings. For example, if you’re faced with a list of tasks to do, you can save your favourite one for last, and that will help you feel better about it all. Or you could make sure that work meetings, or any social situations, end on a positive note – some nice feedback, or good news, or hope for the future… or cake!
We can also apply it to thoughts that make us anxious: instead of letting them circle round and round incessantly in your head, chase them down and make sure that you’re happy with the ending.
For example, let’s say you’re stressed about an upcoming social event: ask yourself, “What’s bad about that?”.
Your answer might be, I’ll have to meet people I don’t know.
And what’s bad about that? They might think me gauche and boring.
Keep chasing it down… what’s bad about that? I will feel unlovable.
Now, that feeling unlovable might be your “biggie”. So you can stop there and think of the strategies you have to tackle that feeling. What could you do? You could challenge your reasoning, for example. Are you really unlovable? What’s the evidence for and against? Or you could simply remind yourself of the people who do love and value you.
In doing that, the scary ending (I feel unlovable!) turns into something you can deal with, should you need to. You are ending the cycle of thoughts with a sense of relief, confidence and skill, instead of fear.