Closing Your Own Loops

by Dan on October 3, 2009

There’s a term in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) called “the open loop.”

It’s an unfinished story, an unresolved issue, and incomplete circle.  The idea is that of you have a loop that’s open, you are off-center, and antsy.  Once the loop is closed, you can return to peace and move on with your life.

In my experience there are three types of open loops in life,

Open Loops of Information (What really happened?)

Open Loops of Apology (He/she hasn’t apologized or admitted that they were wrong)

Open Loops of Justice (The criminal hasn’t been prosecuted yet, or hasn’t been convicted.)

The last one is a very heavy topic, so I’ll just focus on the first two for now.

When there’s an open loop, you set up a rule that you cannot feel complete until the issue is resolved.  The matter can be as tiny as missing a half a sentence of dialogue during the movie.

Do you ever find yourself doing that?  You miss a little sound byte, and absolutely have to rewind and hear it?  Maybe you’re watching with a couple people and hesitate about requesting a quick rewind.  Five minutes of indecision later, the movie has gone on and for the remaining two hours you keep wondering if you missed a crucial part.

The open loop can be a lot more significant as well.  Maybe you had a long term relationship and suspected your partner of infidelity, or at least of being attracted to your best friend.  You are scared of what the truth might be, but still can’t be at peace if you don’t know for sure.

Maybe your parents did something inconsiderate or downright awful to you while growing up, and they’ve never acknowledged the offense.  You might have brought it up, or you might have hoped they would say something.  Maybe you did say you were unhappy with their actions, but they have refused to apologize.  You can’t be comfortable with them until they admit they were wrong.

These issues are almost universally common, and luckily, very solvable.

First, you have to recognize that it is your own choice to make this an open loop in your life.  While someone else may be denying you an answer, only you can deny yourself closure.

I noticed that if I miss a line of dialogue in a movie theater, I’m far less likely to worry about it than if I’m at home.  Why?  Because I know I don’t have the option to rewind.  Might as well just let it go, right?  I realized this means that I am cognitively able to just “drop it” when I’m watching a DVD at home as well.

As a practice, do your best to build a tolerance of ambiguity in your life.  If a headline at a newsstand catches your eye, try walking past it without ever finding out what it was about.  If someone is telling a joke and gets interrupted, see if you’re ok with not hearing the punch line.

If someone has wronged you and won’t apologize, just let it go.  Don’t do it for them; do it for you.  Remember that you can forgive someone without wanting to hang out with them again.  Whenever I’m angry with someone, I remind myself, “Staying friends with them is optional, feeling negatively about them isn’t.”

You don’t help yourself at all by holding negative thought energy.  Most of the time, the other person doesn’t even feel your grudge.  They just go on with their lives and figure you’re being upset for no reason.  You might as well let it go so at least you’re feeling good.

This also becomes a whole lot easier once you realize that these answers and apologies you need are usually completely meaningless.

Why do you need to know if your husband was attracted to your best friend?  So you can be sure your marriage a good one.  Now you’ve just created a rule “If my husband lusted for my friend, our love wasn’t real.”

And what if he did cheat?  In fact, what if your love wasn’t real?  What would happen then?

Usually the conclusion is that you’ve missed out on a key point of life, and that you’re an unworthy person.  This gives you an opportunity to be self-critical and beat yourself up.  No one wins.

At a core level, all your rules about life are self-created.  Others may have suggested them to you, but you chose to make them real for yourself.  You also can discard them whenever you see fit.

If you want to give yourself some real empowerment, add a rule that no information and no apology is important enough for you to put your life or happiness on hold.

Every moment of your life is a decision to feel good or feel something else.  If you have a choice, why pick the bad?

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