Burnt Toast Theory

Practising a different type of mindfulness
Dear Reader,

Something that I believe I’ll be working on for the rest of my life is maintaining a sense of inner peace, no matter what situation I’m facing. As a generally anxious person, I’ve noticed that I fuss over things that people don’t think twice about and I waste a lot of time and energy  worrying. I’ll place “what if” scenarios on things that are going perfectly fine until the event itself or the possibility of it going wrong has passed. I definitely get suspicious if things are seemingly going “too well”, as if some calamity is going to hit because I’ve used up my happiness quota.

I’m always holding my breath. 

It’s uncomfortable, and feeds into unrealistic perfectionist tendencies, but I accepted it as a part of my temperament until I learned how bad cortisol can be.

Of course, after all these years of ruminating, I've developed a quick fix antidote to turn to, and I never had a name for it until I saw it on TikTok. I present to you: TikTok’s Burnt Toast Theory. The scenario behind the name is that you’ve burnt your toast, leading you to run out of the house a little later than usual. This delay ends up saving you from a car crash that you would have been involved in had you left on time. Or you can twist it in other ways where the delay meant you wrapped up work a little later in the evening, and you end up bumping into an old friend and reconnecting on the way home. The whole idea can be summed up as blessings in disguise, whether this inconvenience prevented a negative event or led up to a positive outcome. 

A Chinese idiom for it is: 塞翁失马, 焉知非福

The literal translation is "the old man lost his mare, but it all turned out for the best."

In short, it tells the story of an old man who loses his horse, but it eventually returns with another horse. While riding the new horse, his son breaks his leg falling off. Later, due to his injury, he was spared from fighting in a war where there were many casualties. 

Perceptions of fortune and misfortune can change with time. 

This is a coping mechanism I love and employ regularly. Instead of blowing inconveniences out of proportion, I try to put my imagination to better use. I make up scenarios to explain why this issue could be for the better, telling myself it may have prevented this or that from happening instead. Befitting the TikTok trend these days, being delulu is the solulu ✨. Of course, we’re doing our best with what we have in any given moment, and it’s not an excuse to be sloppy about keeping up with responsibilities and preventing negative consequences. I see its main function as putting to rest things that have already happened, and are out of our baskets (as my friend's mother taught me to label situations that have never been or are no longer in my control). Dying inside while running late on the MRT won’t make it go any faster, so I’d rather pretend I’d been saved from a much worse fate than being late. Since we’ll never know what would have happened if things went “right", we may as well give our current situation the benefit of the doubt. 

Something that I would like to expand on with the Burnt Toast Theory is the power of perspective and attitude. Now that I’m in my early 20’s, I feel as though my worldview has settled some. But every now and then, usually when I complain, I get an opinion that shifts my perspective completely. For example, I used to hate taking flights on my own. The airport anxiety just seemed to be heightened, and I missed the convenience of having verification that we’re going in the right direction. Furthermore, I realised I took for granted the luxury of having someone sit outside to watch our bags, while we take it in turns to use the bathroom. Being alone meant that I had to deal with everything that could go wrong, and in my mind I wasn’t safe from any last minute hiccup.

As I sighed about my journey home one day, a friend expressed pleasant surprise saying that she loved the peace that came with travelling alone. Apparently that was all it took to flip a switch because I instantly felt better. When I moved through security and played the waiting game, wondering if I was a wanted criminal and forgot; or if my flight would suddenly be cancelled and what I was supposed to do in that situation; or if I was in fact waiting at the wrong gate for an hour; or if my appendix would burst right before boarding; I would remind myself that someone actually finds this experience pleasant and it would put things into perspective again.

I don’t know if TikTok has a name for this effect too but, like the Burnt Theory, it broadens my perspective and changes my attitude for the better. Life is crazy as we all know and sometimes it seems like we’re being tested. However, if there’s one thing we can control it’s how we react to our circumstances. I like that, personally, it’s as simple as acknowledging what I’m feeling and thinking a little differently to my default (and unhelpful) catastrophising. I thought I would share my experience with this mindset rewiring hack for funsies and I hope it’s added something to your inventory in this game of life.

P.S. something comforting that the team at Ethos says is "no one's going to die." I'm not a doctor so I repeat that to myself whenever things go awry.

With careful optimism,  

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