There is a movie called, The Lady in the Water, by M. Night Shamalon. I enjoyed it, but that’s not really the point. There was a character, in the movie, who had worked out only one side of his body; half his body looked like a body builder and the other half was a normal guy size. This does have a point… really!
I have been talking with people in the last few weeks, a lot, about their negative versus positive focus. We humans are hardwired for survival, and noticing what is odd, dangerous, out of place, etc, is a survival strategy. As we scan the world with our senses, we can notice the tiger in the tall grass, and it helps us survive. But, in some people this wiring is very strong and very deep. All the focus gets turned on what isn’t working, how bad we feel, where the problems are, what’s wrong. There is an imbalance toward the negative. And, that isn’t realistic, any more than only seeing the positive is realistic. This week when I was walking out to my car, I tripped. Not a big splatter type of trip, but a drop all my stuff and end up on my knees type of trip. “I am so clumsy!” “I am the clumsiest person!” In that moment I probably wasn’t thinking, “I take about 5000 steps a day, over the average month I take 150,000 steps, and I tripped once.” People rarely focus on the 150,000 good steps, but will instead create a laser focus on the one bad step. Does that really make sense? I am not saying go to some perfect pollyanna extreme the other direction, what I am saying is that we need to work on using the muscles on both sides of the situation.
I think, that much of our sense of self-esteem and our internal conversations, are created with this same negative laser focus. It is really hard, to shift our focus to something neutral, when we’re in the middle of something that’s maybe painful. As we’re in the middle of whatever the painful process is, we chew it around and around, knawing at all the bad parts. If I’ve gotten into an argument, say with my husband, and he did something that hurt my feelings, it’s very easy to focus on that, solely. What that focus doesn’t remind me of, is all the times if he didn’t hurt my feelings. It doesn’t remind me of the times he’s done really nice things for me, in fact it doesn’t remind me of anything good at all. And well, that isn’t the whole truth. At that point my focus is lasered on something negative, I’m missing out on the whole other side of the truth. So, in order to challenge the negative focus I have a couple of ideas to share with you:
First – take time before responding, wait to see how you feel in about 2-24 hours. Not every situation is a crisis just because we feel the pressure to try and resolve it. So this first step is really about doing no harm until you can have a good conversation.
Second – while you’re waiting, to do no harm, start remembering all the positive things the person has done for you. Really create a list of all the things you like about that person. You don’t need to make up anything, just really notice an honest reflection of who they are and what you like. It’s an interesting thing, but we treat people differently based on how we think of them, friend or foe, makes all the difference.
Third – when you’re ready to actually talk to the person, try to come from a place of only talking about your feelings. Feelings are very difficult to argue with, because they’re yours. If you only focus on what their behavior was that you didn’t like, you run the risk of shutting them down. We tend to be masters at triggering other peoples defenses, especially in long relationships. Acknowledging what you like about the other person, along with what you need to address, may soften the conversation and keep them listening.
Fourth – make sure to hear their side of the story. Listening is a two way street. If you have something to say, make sure you are also doing what you ask of them, Listen. You don’t have to agree with their side of the story, but try and put yourself in their shoes, if only for a moment. Look for what their intention was, if their intention was not to hurt your feelings, remember that.
Fifth – Pay attention, your feelings may offer you a place to address issues in the relationship. If you find yourself feeling a negative feeling with your partner or friend regularly, you may need to pay attention to what that feeling is trying to tell you. But, if it’s something that only happens very rarely, don’t go overreacting.
One of the super secrets in life is that emotions are not good or bad, but rather they are roadsigns, they tell you something, and our job is to learn how to read our own map. I will be talking more about this in a future blog. So, before I leave you, don’t be the character in The Lady in the Water, instead practice working out both sides if your perspective.