Fake Problems

Adam Mastroianni shares a catalog of mental traps that get people stuck in “So you wanna de-bog yourself.” I think Floor is Lava is my favorite.

Every kid learns to play the “floor is lava” game, where you pretend that you'll get incinerated if you touch the carpet. Even toddlers can pick it up, which reveals something profound: very early on, we acquire the ability to pretend that fake problems are real. We then spend the rest of our lives doing exactly that.

Often, when I’m stuck, it’s because I've made up a game for myself and decided that I’m losing at it. I haven’t achieved enough. I am not working hard enough and I am also, somehow, not having enough fun. These games have elaborate rules, like “I have to be as successful as my most successful friend, but everything I've done so far doesn't count,” and I’m supposed to feel very bad if I break them. It’s like playing the absolute dumbest version of the floor is lava.