This happened just yesterday. We’re driving along, literally I-80 from Colorado to Minnesota, when a neutral conversation got turned on its’ head…by me. The actual back and forth conversation isn’t helpful to replay but recognizing the thoughts going through my head is.
The conversation outwardly was about the airbnb we were going to and all of a sudden, the thoughts in my head were, “That’s not how I’d have done it”, “I’d have said this” and “That’s wrong, why aren’t we doing it this way?”
Before I knew it, blammo, the easy going conversation came to a screeching halt and became, shall we say, not so easy going.
It was a total bummer and the way the conversation deteriorated could’ve been avoided altogether had I not fallen prey to the obvious but slippery fact: what’s going on in a person’s head effects how they respond to people and situations.
Obvious? Yes. But why is it so hard to keep this front and center? Better yet, why is this fact of life so hard to actually use in the moment and stop us before we make things harder for ourselves? I have a few ideas why we have such a hard time with them. And a few suggestions on how to change them.
- Conserving resources. Life is so busy and full we often conserve mental energy by just skipping along, taking things as they come without much awareness of our internal state of thoughts and feelings. When our internal stream of thoughts are good, we‘re generally ok. However, when we’re super busy, stressed, annoyed, angry or anxious, “Houston, we have a problem.”
- I’m too good for this. We feel as though by virtue of just being a successful adult we shouldn’t have to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. Afterall, we didn’t become successful adults by accident!
- I’m right. Yep, common hook. Feeling right feels so darn good! Neurotransmitters and hormones strike again making this one particularly habit forming.
- Everything but the kitchen sink. Sometimes we’ve let so many irritations go without healthy communication and problem solving that our need to be right might not have anything to do with the conversation at hand. This one is particularly stealthy and stinky.
- Winner and loser. Seriously, sometimes our competitive nature doesn’t know when to let go or to stay out of things entirely.
Do you recognize yourself in any of those? I know at least one that reared its’ ugly head during my conversation yesterday as we were navigating our way past Des Moines!
Now, the question we all want answered is “How do we avoid those traps?”
Here are some suggestions to help you avoid the above that’ll be worth your while attempting:
- Each morning or every time you walk through a door or each time you brush your teeth, remind yourself: “I value being happy over being right in my relationship.” If this is statement is more true than not, you need to explicitly remind yourself of this. Regularly. As many times as you can.
- Recognize if you’ve accidentally conflated ‘being happy’ with ‘being right’, meaning you really think those two things are the same. This is a surprisingly common and easy thing to do btw, again thanks to certain neurotransmitters and hormones. If this is your case, realize that there’s work to be done to separate out the two. This will take time but with practice you’ll reap the rewards. When you find you’re getting sucked into a happy=right situation, remind yourself that you’re starting to act out of habit and that you have other choices. Recognize that you enjoy being right and that isn’t the same as being happy. Decide if you want to continue driving your point home to be right or if a different angle would serve your ultimate purpose better.
- Know the implications of your ignorance. Our thoughts and feelings will dictate our reactions if we let them. If you aren’t working on recognizing them as they are happening, you’re running the risk of falling into the same traps over and over. It is only when we become more aware of what going on in our head, in real time, that we have the opportunity to choose different ways of responding to people and situations.
- Lastly, know you can stop a conversation that is going south as soon as you realize you’re going down that familiar road. It’s hard and it takes humility but it’s possible. You don’t have to pull any awkward about-faces. If you’ve gotten sucked into wanting to be right, gently start changing your words and tone of voice to be more open. As you keep the conversation going, allow yourself to find a way out and take it.
These things work for me. Well, most of the time :-) Leave me a comment, I’d love to know what works for you!