The Elegance of an Elegant Solution

by Josh Dredze, Psy.D.

Dr. Albert Ellis believed in the elegant solution. Instead of disputing or reevaluating our problem, we should accept it as true. Rather than worrying I’ll get sick or ill, just accept that you will. The question, though is how is this elegant? If anything, wouldn’t the elegant solution have us feel worse?

Recently in my social life, I faced a decision within a romantic relationship. Do I keep dating this individual or not? While I had many reasons to continue the relationship, part of me knew it just wasn’t the right fit. But then came the nagging voice: What if you never meet anyone else? You’ll be unhappy forever! While in the past I may have made my decision with this worry, this time, I opted for the elegant solution. “Yeah, Josh, unhappy forever. You’re right. You will never meet anyone.” As much as initially telling myself these words was uncomfortable, I could almost feel my thoughts snap back into place. Forever? Maybe, not. Even if I do feel I’ll never meet anyone, I can’t continue with a relationship that isn’t right. Once I accepted the worst-case scenario, I started to realize it was layered in untruth. The nagging voice subsided.

I’m not sure how Dr. Ellis would have addressed my concern in the therapy room, but I now understand how the worst-case scenario can be elegant. Elegance is not necessarily dressed in promise and optimism, but rather realism. While cognitively we fight to resist realism, once we accept it, we can more effectively embrace a rational perspective. Did I make the wrong decision to end the relationship? I’m not sure. But by accepting the possibility I did, I now see it as a less probable eventuality. So maybe, sometimes, we can try accepting the elegant solution. Assuming the worst, may enable us to hope for the best.

Josh Dredze, Psy.D.

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