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Mental Loops and How to Break Them
Bar Harbor
Human beings are capable of complex, abstract thought. This is usually a fine thing, but can lead to problems as well. Sometimes ( more for some folks than others), thoughts get into loops, and have trouble breaking free of them. "What's my purpose in life?" "Why do bad things happen?" "Where did the universe come from?" And so on. These questions are fundamentally unanswerable, and spending lots of mental effort trying to answer them is, at best, a waste of time, at worst, a ticket to serious mental illness.

I know four broad strategies for breaking free of such loops, which I will discuss in presumed order of when they evolved.

1) Physical. Do some physical activity to distract your mind from the loop. Eat, exercise, have sex or masturbate. Even playing an action-y videogame will do. Anything that gets the blood pumping and the muscles humming.

This method is extremely effective in the short term, and recommended. It won't stop the loops from coming back, however: for that, you need one the later methods.

2) Follow the Leader. When you need the answer to a looping question, defer to your preferred Alpha to get a definitive answer. This could be a priest, a politician, a media celebrity, a boss. It could even be a specific book, such as the Bible, or Das Kapital.

Personally, I find this method repugnant and dangerous. While it does give answers, they are often demonstrably false or harmful answers. Still, quite a lot of people use this method, an it is undeniably effective.

3) Gnosis. This method is almost the exact opposite of method one. Avoid anything physical for several days. Fast, remain still, avoid contact with others. Turn the troubling loop over and over in your head, doing your best to make the problem *worse*. Eventually, you will trigger a rare but potent neurological quirk that I like to refer to as 'God Mode'. You will experience a feeling of contact with one or more potent supernatural beings, and they will tell you the answers to your problems. You will be filled with peace and enlightenment -- and certainty. Your loops will not bother you for a long time, and may even be permanently banished.

I can't recommend this method. For one thing, it necessitates significant, dangerous physical stress on the body. For another, the answers produced by this method are just as likely to be false and/or harmful as those produced by method two. Last, and far from least, there is a risk of becoming a religious prophet, not a career I would wish upon any of my friends.

4) Self-Awareness. Learn to monitor your own mental state. Watch for precursors to unwanted mental loops, so you can catch th before they start. Practice mental exercises that distract you from these loops, so you have them 'on call' whenever you need them. This is the mental health equivalent of the classic joke: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "Well, don't DO that!"

This method takes time to learn, but is highly recommended. You can use it any time, even when you can't use method one. And it hasn't got the dangerous side effects of methods two and three. Once you become proficient at this technique, your loops will rarely trouble you. It is not a permanent cure, but it is a potent management technique.

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I am working with #4 now and finding it ... eh, let's say more promising and already more productive than anything else in the last six decades of my experience.

Generally I agree with your opinions, but I'd make one adjustment to #2. Well, two. In general, different Alphas for different kinds of loops. And in specific: The person with whom I've shared the last four decades and a bit knows me, in many ways, much better than I know myself, and often she can recognize when I'm in a loop -- from outside, as it were, while I can't see it just because I'm trapped inside it. When she tells me to do X because I'm in this loop, she's almost always right.

Since a very long time ago by my personal standards, I have assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the ability to extricate oneself from a loop simply by noting that one is in a loop was a normal part of consciousness.

On the other hand, I seem to have a peculiar mental architecture, which may be genetically inheritable. In computer terms, I have a front-end processor which moderates access to my mainframe. The FEP is usually transparent, but if I'm busy with some long-running process, the FEP can maintain minimal conversational signalling and retrieve some bits of knowledge in response to external queries. It usually signals me when someone has asked a question or the world has posed a problem that requires more resources than it has available. Most of the time it passes me a pointer to recent history...

Song viruses infect the FEP, by the way.

"I have assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the ability to extricate oneself from a loop simply by noting that one is in a loop was a normal part of consciousness."

I don't know enough statistical details to say which of the states under discussion is 'normal'. I do know that many people lack the 'extrication-by-notice' ability.

Good points, all.

#2 and #3 are definitely problematic. Probably use of drugs should be in there also.

I have recently been wondering if my existential loops might actually be mental illness in a formal sense, but I've been keeping them under control by #1 and #4 for a long time. And some of dsrtao's "I'm in a loop so we'll just stop right here."

My loops are not so much question (well, it's all the same loop) but a fear, and the fear is that all this apparent consensual reality is a complete illusion, as real as a movie on tissue paper. Because this produces despair, it's hard to get out of if I get into it, because it's not worth bothering to get out.

"You said that my manner...was not serious enough -- that I made people laugh
 in my most earnest moments.  But why should I not?  Why should humor and
 laughter be excommunicated?  Suppose the world were only one of God's jokes,
 would you work any the less to make it a good joke instead of a bad one?"
        -- George Bernard Shaw, in a letter to Count Leo Tolstoy

Interesting. You express that well.

Mine are usually more feeling loops than mental loops; (I get depressed.) Using #4 to notice joy helps, and exposure to other people also helps me lots, being an extrovert. And counting blessings.

The few times I've gotten into mental loops I think I disconnect by thinking "there is no answer to that," and/or "it doesn't matter--either way you still want to hug people and eat."

Ayep. #4 is pretty much the specific reason why I have my wristband, which reads "Live in the moment, and enjoy it". It gets put on precisely when I'm having loop issues, because most loops are either retrospective ("I shoulda") or prospective ("I need to"), but rarely have to do with what's in front of my face right now. When I observe that I'm having loop issues, I put it on as a deliberate reminder to myself to stop...

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