Second darts

One powerful concept from Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (affiliate link) that I have already made good use of is the concept of second darts. What is a second dart?

Authors Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius describe things that happen to us as the first dart. Our reactions to the first dart become the second darts, and these second darts are the ones that cause the most suffering. These second darts are usually the ways in which we begin to ascribe meaning to the first dart.

For example, let’s say that I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch, and my friend never showed up. Her non-appearance is a first dart; it is what happened. If I go on to tell myself things about this first dart like “she is so irresponsible” or “she must not value our friendship” or “she doesn’t care about me” or “she sure is rude to me,” these would all be second darts. These are all stories and meanings that I am creating in my thoughts to explain to myself why the first dart occurred. And it is these second darts that cause me the real suffering.

Even worse, we sometimes create second darts even when good things happen to us. Perhaps someone compliments us, and we automatically dismiss their praise thinking that they must not be seeing the situation accurately. “Surely if they really knew me, they wouldn’t say anything so nice,” we think. (Goodness knows how often I’ve done that!)

The book provides a good deal of detail about what happens in our brains when we do this. It’s fascinating stuff, but I won’t even try to cover all that here. They go on to talk about how we can change this pattern, which is enormously useful information.

So far, though, I am just noticing these second darts when they occur. Even just the noticing a second dart for what it is gives me enough distance from it to keep it from causing as much suffering. It gives me that space to consider whether it’s really worth holding onto the thought embedded in that second dart. Most of the time (perhaps all of the time?), it’s not.

Watch your thoughts this coming weekend. Where are you creating second darts?