You might think that being human, you are a member of the alpha species. However, when you use the word “human,” people often think of traits such as faulty, fallible, or guilty. It might just be that we are at our most fallible when we get in our own way.
One of the most common ways that we can get in our own way is by not seeing the world as it really is. Too often we see things only from our perspective, the “it’s all about me” type of thinking. Of course, over time we learn to recognize other perspectives do exist and often carry some validity. The ability of seeing things objectively requires experience and an open mind. Usually we wonder, like when we finally see the path through the woods, why we didn’t see this sooner. So here are some things that no one ever taught me, and that as a life coach, I wish everyone knew. Yep, it would mean less business for me, but in the end, people would be so much happier.
Even when it happens to you, it isn’t always about you.
My daughter, a director/producer, deals in a world where her associates often star in their own plays. Everything is a stage and it all happens to and for them. For the rest of us, when the company has a hard quarter, or our partner is in a foul mood, or if you live in a city, you get caught in that traffic jam of the year, being human, your first reaction is “why me?” That it happens to you alone, in a vacuum. It is all about how it affects you. Therapists call it “egocentric bias”and it causes all manner of problems for people.
My friend James finds that the more he personalizes experiences, the more empathetic he is. They help him understand the story about what is happening around and to him, but not justtohim. Let’s face it; your experiences, like James’s, are all that you have, and in some cases, all that you are. They are really the basic building blocks of your identity as a human being, and the more experiences you have, the more you learn to understand everyone else has their own personal experiences too, all of which equally matter to them as much as yours do to you.
Now just to make things worse, this egocentric bias can trip us up in relationships too. It almost completely undermines empathy and just burns energy as we struggle with maintaining all the psychic energy required to recover from say insults that were never even aimed at us. Your boss is pissed, therefore you don’t get the promotion; your girlfriend is cranky, and you take it personally and get sucked into your own emotional quicksand as you delicately nurture imagined slights, maybe even making things worse with actions that undermine all that you have worked to build. Again, it’s all about you, right?
So, how do you be less reactive, how do you detach and see things objectively? First you need to park that delicate ego of yours and look outside your “me” box. Then, mindfully decide, once again, that your own perspective isn’t the only one, maybe not even a good one. If you can detach long enough to look clearly, then refine in your own mind what you have just witnessed, you can, with clarity, see things as they are. You might even see them from the other person’s point of view, even better. There are events that naturally tone down the ego. Events such as the birth of your child, experiencing the death of a parent, music, prayer, and so on. What they do to your ego is to knock it off its pedestal and give you moments of clarity and a recognition of the impermanence of life. You recognize the truly important experiences that will, again, add to your life, slowly creating a healthy perspective. Then you continue to descend that imaginary center stage where you never belonged in the first place.
You don’t have to act out how you feel.
We all get old, we all suffer disappointments, and from time to time, direct opposition from people around us. Sometimes it really is just a bit too much. You know, that time you let yourself down about that thing that really mattered, or that time that you let what was happening around you drag you down and eat you up with sadness or anxiety—it is natural.
You see, in spite of what you think, people misunderstand you just about as often as you misunderstand them. It is not hard to imagine how peoples’ inability to see inside of us allows us to the opportunity to preserve dignity, privacy, and self-respect when we aren’t feeling up to snuff. That’s right; they don’t really need to know how you feel, and in most situations, don’t deserve being contaminated with your negative mindset. Remember, you’re not five years old, you don’t need to let the world know that you’re not 100 percent today, you don’t need to throw all your toys out of the cot. And an adult temper tantrum is very unpleasant to watch.
You don’t have to let your feelings completely ruin your interactions, social or otherwise. Choose to not be snappy, moody, nasty, or even antagonistically distant. Try and be gracious, but how do you do that?
Jocko Willink uses the description of “detach, look, then refine… and repeat,” while others use phrases like “self-distancing” to describe the technique. It all comes down to shifting your mood at will. Just pretend you’re at a party with a bunch of people you really dislike. You are still polite, right?
With some people, self-distancing can be achieved with just a little pep talk. Others need coaching, while others need counseling. Creating some distance can give your poor suffering self some mental space to react less emotionally. The better you learn to self-distance, the better you can deal with the emotional quicksand that life puts in front of you.
How well do you reframe?
Every Buddhist knows that emotions are not an accurate reflection of reality. Feelings are passing and as such, aren’t dependable anchors upon which to base your actions. You have a date, and you or your date falls short and you feel disappointment. Is that a crisis? No. If you get to work late and get a comment from your boss. Is it an indignity or grounds to quit?
Most people give themselves the latitude to see their challenges and setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve. They have learned that failure is an event, in a large group of events, and need not become an identity. And yes, people vary in their ability to tolerate stress, but mental resilience can be cultivated.
Those same distancing tools I mentioned previously can be used to build resilience. Sometimes you do have to call on that quiet, cultivated self and ask it about your disappointment or failure.
What could you have done differently?
Where did you lose control?
If your best friend came to you with the problem, what advice would you give?
Will you even care in two weeks?
When you go over it again, you have the opportunity to “reframe” the event as a strengthening experience. You didn’t get the promotion; good, you have the opportunity to learn more. You don’t have what you need; good, you have the chance to excel with less. You can indeed learn that there is good in all of those negative situations. You don’t have to beat yourself up with catastrophizing, personalizing, or falling down the pit of primitive, black and white thinking.
Mental resilience is using the techniques of distancing and practice reappraising, reassessing, and reframing what has happened and allowing your brain to calm down and focus on the future, not the past, or the last thing that went wrong.
Don’t focus on how other people see you.
If you live like the star in your own movie, you will indeed think that everyone is looking at you. Sorry; it just isn’t true for most of us. When you have that mindset, you will likely think that you are the center of everyone’s world, as I’ve already mentioned. What comes of this fallacy is that you think less about the people around you and more about what they might think of you. Are you being confident enough, well-dressed enough, too ungainly, maybe too shy?
Life will soon show you that the spotlight you think yourself under isn’t nearly as bright or as direct as you think, or even there. People—for the most part—just aren’t looking as often or as deeply as you think they are. People usually think that their gaffs and mistakes are noticed more than they actually are.
Give this some thought. When you care a little less about your fictional self, your curated self-image, you make way for real interactions with real people and you open yourself up for emotionally balanced real relationships. And guess what; when you do that, people usually respond the same way. You open a bit, and so do they. After all, they all think they have a personal spotlight also. You drop your fiction, they drop theirs. Then before you know it, that narrow spotlight you imagine becomes a flood light illuminating your whole world and you will be amazed what you see when you look.
Look for honest feedback.
“There are the ones who think they’re self-aware and the few who actually are.”
If you only how others see you then criticism or bad exchanges wouldn’t come as such a surprise. There are actually times when other people are better at predicting your next action than you are, even people that don’t know you particularly well. Ms. Eurich says many times, very introspective people really aren’t aware of what others think about them or their actions. They don’t really know why things go wrong then make up reasons that aren’t accurate.
The skill I am talking about—and suggesting that you need—is having the nerve and the self-effacement to actually ask other people how they see you and/or what you are doing. Life isn’t just about you and your feelings (which by now you should realize), but you still need accurate info regarding how others perceive you. Take a gamble: pick out 4-5 of what Eurich calls “Loving Critics,” i.e., friends and coworkers, and ask them. Ask them things like:
“What should I stop doing?
What am I doing that I should do more of?
Is what am I doing that pisses you off, and why?
What am I doing that you think is really a good thing?”
If you actually have the nerve to ask such questions, you better make time for a break. It can really shock you so get ready. But once you have absorbed it, then you can take better actions moving forward. And by the way, the more of this kind of asking you do, the easier it becomes.
Stay true to your values…stay true to your values…repeat.
A life lived with meaning requires that you mindfully practice your passions and skills. That, of course, presupposes that you know what they are and are willing and ready to live by them. Knowing how other people see you doesn’t mean you have to change anything. The problem is when you run into conflicts between what others expect of you and what you want.
This is all about reconciling who you are with who “they” want you to be. Reconciling what they expect and what you desire is a stable way to live your life without feeling resentment and feeling pressured to please others. Decide whether or not you derive your meaning and identity from others or from inside yourself. We all want to please the people we care about. It usually makes us feel good to do it. So the weaker your values, or internal self-awareness of them, the more you care about what others think, and then rather than using that knowledge for a self-check, you use it as a map for choices not your own.
What do you want for yourself and your family? When you ask that question, it is a good idea to skip the question “why” for a minute and go with the “what” questions. What the heck am I doing? What should I be doing? When you hear the answer come from your own mouth—you will know.
Don’t be dogmatic.
Things change…yes, things change…oh how things change…. Nothing in life stands still for long. So when you get attached to your decisions, regardless of how good the choice was the other day, there comes a point where you need to reassess. If you refuse, you risk becoming inflexible.
Whatever happens, you don’t want to become rigid in your thinking or your actions. It happens to us all from time to time, but guarding against it is important. As you get older and regularly gain more knowledge, you tend to become locked into how you see things. When you find new stuff that conflicts with your current view, you just ignore it, right? That is called “confirmation bias.” That is how your views become fixed. Then you search for and believe only the information or opinions that confirm what you think.
Don’t be too troubled; you can train yourself to be more flexible. Exercise is a good place to start; it increases your oxygen levels. They there is intentionally trying new things and making forays into ventures you know nothing about, such as engineers trying writing for fun, writers looking into physics for enlightenment, travel to see another culture is another fabulous way. Anything where mastery takes a back seat to curiosity is ideal. Look for activities where the outcome doesn’t matter and you are on the right path. It makes you more adventurous and in the end, more successful in opening your mind.
In the end, dogmatic, inflexible behavior can be situational. The more at risk you feel, the more likely you will resort to making past choices. The better you feel about your experiences, about yourself, the more likely you are to be open to new possibilities. Remember, there are times when your beliefs derive from your values and make you who you are. There are other times when clinging to your beliefs in the face of new evidence, the more intractable and less creative you will be.
What do you feel you are missing in your life? You never really know if the grass over there really is any greener than yours. You don’t know what your partner is thinking, much less your opponent, and negotiating with them only brings that challenge to the forefront. Which decision today will be the one that makes or breaks you? Or will any of them?
Now add to that how rapidly things change, and you have a bunch of decisions made with incomplete or definitive information. Does it make you feel anxious just thinking about this? But in spite of that anxiety, it is just part of the human condition. You will never have complete knowledge. Period.
But there is a tradeoff. I am suggesting that you embrace ambiguity, but know that very choice comes at the expense of precision. However, when handled with practicality, the rewards are magnificent. You can shift gears or perspectives quickly. You can accept information that others reject out of hand, and you will have the ability to let things play out in front of your eyes without feeling any need to engage until the moment best for you presents itself.
So, you say you hate uncertainty and don’t know what to do about it; here is an idea. Look beyond the present moment. Ask yourself about what the consequences of an impetuous decision were and write them down. Soon your need for clear-cut closure will pass quietly away. You learn that clarity develops over time.
“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.”
Only when you embrace ambiguity do you see that clarity only comes over time. Things that remove you from the present moment and out of your fixed mindset allow you to see what is going on around you and hopefully make better choices
Find a way to just “do it” anyway.
Who doesn’t have those days when you can’t get up, you can’t motivate yourself, you seem cursed to get nothing done? Think writer’s block. Writing things down is supposed to help, and it does for some. Visualization is a go-to solution for others. Some people make a game out of it. All have some value, but for most people, it is just plain old habit that takes the award. And the fact that you have to do it so just DO IT.
Think of all the things you do out of habit rather than passion. It is about determination that goes beyond intrinsic motivation, that aching desire to do something. Determination doesn’t either. Habit and determination together depend on your force of will. Your willingness to “just do it anyway.” Some people make it easier on themselves by setting little goals, measurable and relatively easy to achieve, but goals all the same. Still, it can boil down to that intense determination to get something done to make it happen.
Sometimes it takes the lessons learned during the baby steps that you take rather than the magnificent successes you achieve to learn how to get into your stride and get those things done you aren’t particularly excited about.
Be open to new ways of looking at things.
Life events are guaranteed to change, as you now know. Regardless of who you are or what you do, you don’t want to get caught in the trap of rigid thinking.
What you are looking for to prevent this rigidity is called “cognitive flexibility” and you can learn it. Curiosity needs to win out over mastery. In fact, when you can manage to not be attached to the outcome, you can have more of a learning and growth experience than when you force an unnatural outcome. You can be more effective if you explore a little.
Give it a try and see how your life changes….
So, what do you think? Are you having some issues with choices? It can happen to any of us…
If you are, give me a call so we can talk about it… Schedule a time for a free call and tell me about it.
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