By Steven G. Mehta

Going to vacation for me is always a fascinating experience.  The week before the vacation you go crazy to try and get ready for vacation, and the week that you return is crazy trying to catch up.  But that week or two that you are gone is blissful.  And you feel that it is all worth it to take that torture for the week before and after.

Well as you can guess by the lack of my posts for the last week or so, I have been on vacation.  Thinking of vacation and the packing and unpacking, though, made me think of the effects of the saying “pack up your troubles and move along….”

Well I found some research that proves that you can actually pack up your troubles.  A new study from the Rotman School of Management suggests you might want to stick something related to your disappointment in a box or envelope if you want to feel better. In four separate experiments researchers found that the physical act of enclosing materials related to an unpleasant experience, such as a written recollection about it, improved people’s negative feelings towards the event and created psychological closure. Enclosing materials unrelated to the experience did not work as well.

“If you tell people, ‘You’ve got to move on,’ that doesn’t work,” said Dilip Soman, a professor of marketing at University of Toronto, Rotman School of Managment, who co-wrote the paper with colleagues Xiuping Li from the National University of Singapore and Liyuan Wei from City University of Hong Kong. “What works is when people enclose materials that are relevant to the negative memories they have. It works because people aren’t trying to explicitly control their emotions.”

Well packing your troubles or losses or desires regarding litigation works also.  Recently, I had the experience of seeing how packing the troubles can work in mediation.  In a recent slip and fall case, a client found it difficult to comprehend the difference between her injury and the fact that there was very bad liability for her case.  One party simply was unwilling to let go of the case.  she felt she was getting a very “unfair deal.” I helped her pack her negative feelings away  by doing two things.

First, I took her brief that she had been holding on to during the mediation and gave her an envelope in which to put that brief.  At the right time, I asked her to let go of the case.  I asked her to put the brief away and pack it in the envelope; which she did.

Then I explained to her that she could take all the documents that her attorney had sent her in the case (discovery, depositions, etc.) and pack them into one box and then have a bonfire with them or shred them.

I asked her to visualize at the same time how that would feel to shred those troubles.

As she started to visualize that process, I could also see her physically letting go of the case in her mind and moving towards resolution and settlement.

Little did I know that there was research on this issue.  But I am glad that I found that research because it also helps to understand why that concept worked.

So the next time you have a client that is unwilling to let go, maybe you should ask him to pack his troubles away.

Journal Reference:

  1. Xiuping Li, Liyuan Wei, Dilip Soman. Sealing the Emotions Genie: The Effects of Physical Enclosure on Psychological ClosurePsychological Science, 2010;