“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
The other day I found myself bothered by the actions of another person. How dare another human being not act exactly in line with my expectations… right?!
As much I could have tried not to be bothered, the truth is, I was.
My experience over the past few years of learning to better understanding human emotion and behavior has shown me that trying to feel anything that is insincere to you just leads to a bunch of confusion. It’s the fight of your reality versus what you think should be… and fighting against my reality has proven to be just about as successful as me trying to figure out how in the hell bitcoin works. #notatall
And as much as I am a big believer in gratitude, I know first hand that you cannot gratitude yourself out of a shit storm. If you don’t believe what you are thinking (e.g. you try or force yourself to be grateful when you don’t actually believe it) you aren’t going to feel that way. You can do some things to feel more grateful but it has to be deeper than telling yourself that you should be.
So instead, I have found it to be a much better action plan to let whatever I am feeling come up (without judgement) and rather than fight against it, get super curious about it.
While this plan of action is by no means rocket science, it has time-and-time again allowed me to:
- Move through, rather than run from, feelings of discomfort
- Stay unstuck in certain emotions
- Find appreciation for all that comes my way, even when it’s tough
- Look within when it’s tempting to blame around
- And, hopefully be a better friend/daughter/human to be in a relationship with
So, when this particular bothersome feeling presented itself, as much as I wanted to push it down and not deal with it. I know that repression is pretty much just fuel for resentment (of others, yourself, life, etc.). It may stay dormant for a short (or very long!) while, but you cannot bypass it, it eventually will present itself, so I think it is better to save myself a bunch of wasted time and simply face it now rather than later.
Additionally, I knew that this action was simply a trigger. A trigger that caused a pattern of thinking, which resulted in a series of feelings. The action did not actually cause those feelings, my thoughts did.
Trigger → Thoughts → Feelings
To give an easy to digest example:
If your best friend forgets to call you back, you may not think twice about it. If you’re going for a job you really want, you simply can’t check your phone enough, right?!
The trigger from these two scenarios is the same (unreturned phone call) but that trigger produces different thoughts. With your best friend, you may just assume she is busy with the kids or work but if it’s the person you are waiting to hear from about the job, you go down the rabbit hole of every possible worst case scenario. Your insecurities show up. You feel worrisome and fearful. The idea of being rejected for the rest of your life somehow manages to consume your thoughts, even though you haven’t yet been rejected. But you begin to create meanings around yourself, your worth and your value—and those thoughts lead to uncomfortable feelings. This is not a fun place to be!
So to get back to my situation, this particular action did trigger a series of thoughts and my own thoughts are what created the feeling of being bothered. I was, I noticed it, and I honored it. And then I did something so simple, yet so important.
I took a moment to pause between that stimulus and my response.
And because I did, I got to have a discussion instead of play the blame game. I got to use this scenario as a way to get closer to a person I adore instead of potentially chip away at that by saying harmful things. I got to cherish the precious time I have been given with the people that I love. And I got an unexpected reminder of the power and fulfillment that comes when you choose to lead with love over anger.
So, here’s what I reflected upon about how to not be bothered… so that you can cultivate more meaningful relationships with the people you love:
No one makes good decisions from an unresourceful place. This is why we have talked about intentional decision making over and over at LYL. Decisions that are made from a place of desperation, anger, scarcity, etc., are never our best decisions because rash or fearful decisions usually lead to those same types of outcomes. So, as difficult as it can be, it is a much better long term play to check our ego at the door and take a few moments, and a lot of deep breaths, to compose yourself before assessing the situation so that you can come at it from a more neutral place.
If you want a resourceful outcome (see point 4), give yourself space to get in a resourceful place. If you don’t want a resourceful outcome, give yourself space until you do.
Replace Explanation with Exploration
As humans we will rationalize almost anything so if you want to see that your partner is an evil selfish monster with three heads, you will find ways to believe that. But playing devil’s advocate, if you wanted to (which you probably don’t) you could also find reasons why your child is selfish and, at times, acts like three headed monster, couldn’t you?
I could have rattled off a lot of reasons why I felt what I felt—and it would have made sense to most people. But instead of trying to defend, or explain my feelings, I decided to instead explore them. I chose to get curious about why this bothered me. What thoughts did it make me think? What was I assuming about the situation? What conclusions was I drawing versus what was actually real? And, how did all those thoughts make me feel?
I could have called the other person selfish, but instead I got super selfish (in a different way) and made it about me, rather than about them. I believe that taking the time to look within rather than rashly react to circumstances allows us to show up in a much more mindful way. A lot of what we talk about at Live Your Legend is making your moments more meaningful, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel particularly good about myself or my life if when I feel like I am going to (or worse off, do) explode with frustration.
This simple step is like putting brakes on a car that’s about to go out of control. That car will eventually come to a stop, but putting on those brakes makes it a bit more of a graceful stop.
Write Down Exactly What Bothered You
We have shared over and over the power we believe exists in getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper (or keyboard). This is why we suggest writing as a tool for self-discovery, self-awareness and self-compassion.
Did the person act out of line with your expectations? If so, is it possible that you can reassess upon your expectations of others (and yourself, I might add)? What caused these expectations? Perhaps something in your past made you feel hurt… but the person that you are dealing with is not a part of that past, so it’s really unfair to project that on them.
When we write down our thoughts it forces us to make sense of them rather than let them circle in a never-ending loop around and around in our heads. It gives us time to pause, to notice and make a choice of how to respond. It takes you out of being the victim of your circumstances and gives the power back to you, because while you have some (but not very much) influence on the things that happen to you, you have 100% ownership in how you respond to those things.
In my scenario, I realized I had a personal belief that led to my feelings. But that belief was my belief, not a universal belief. My past life experiences are what created that belief, but of course not everyone has those same experiences and therefore will come to that same conclusion. Realizing this was my belief (and likely not the other person’s) allowed me to see that projecting that belief on another person without hearing their side of the situation actually made me kind of an a**hole. This realization gave me more room to see the situation from outside of myself and have a greater understanding of another’s point of view.
Get Aligned With Your Real Outcome
Just as we will rationalize our behaviors, we also get what we seek out. So if you want to prove that someone is wrong and you are right, you are either going to:
- Continue to disagree
- Get a forced versus genuine apology (which we all can feel from a mile away) and only builds resentment.
- Any number of other outcomes, such as becoming frenemies, writing people off, etc.
But the point is, if you are dealing with someone you care about and you truly have checked your ego at the door, then ideally you want to find a greater sense of understanding between one another.
Being the recovering ‘avoid conflict at all costs’ and ‘keep the peace’ maker that I am, over the years my best friend has taught me a great lesson in the power of having a discussion where you don’t agree. A disagreement doesn’t have to be a fight if you approach it with the right mindset. When you come to a disagreement from a place of ‘being a student’ rather than a place of defending your stance, you create the space to remain connected to the other person, even if you don’t have the same view of the world. We can learn a lot from the people who think differently than us, so it’s a growth tool to hear why other people think how they think. If your outcome is to better understand a person’s point of view, rather than trying to change theirs (or yours), you set yourself up to not have to agree with why people do what they do. And by taking the time to hear others out, you gain a lot greater insight and compassion for others.
Because, let’s get real, no one wants to be that crazy uncle that can’t get through Christmas without storming off in a cloud of fury…
So, are you willing to have a discussion? Are you willing to see the other person’s side and hear what they have to say? Do you want to get closer or create more space? If it’s not the former, that is what you’ll get. While it may look a million different ways, if you are only trying to prove, rather than understand, it’s probably not gonna be pretty. So if that is really where you are, it might be wise to think a little deeper about it—or think a little deeper about the relationship at hand.
Replace You with I
To tack onto our earlier example: Imagine being on the receiving end of this statement from someone you care about:
“You didn’t call. You are such a jerk.”
The walls go up. The defensive responses start. The desire for peace goes out the door. And you likely start thinking about all the ways the other person is a jerk!
Now imagine being on the receiving end of this statement from someone you care about:
“I felt really worried when you didn’t return my call because you always do such a good job of letting me know if you are too busy to talk.”
This opens up the opportunity for a much more pleasant discussion doesn’t it. You are taking the blame off of them (which is fair because at this stage you might not really know what is going on), and explaining what you thought and how that made you feel. If you are speaking to anyone that wants to have a half decent relationship with you, this will likely encourage them to help you understand rather than defend their point of view.
To some this might sound like a manner of semantics, but it can truly make all the difference in that graceful slow down rather than the chaos of simply waiting for the car to finally come to a halt.
So, that was my little take away from allowing myself to look at how I might be the a**hole, rather than simply assuming the other person was.
It’s not necessarily the easy thing to do to look within when you want to scream about what’s going on around… but as we have talked about time and time again, the easy stuff isn’t always the most fulfilling. So when we can learn to embrace the things that educate and guide us, rather than seek the shortcuts, we start to find meaning in the things that challenge us and often discover a deeper richness in these experiences.
So in short, this was a really long way to encourage you to not take the people you love for granted by wasting time battling it out with the blame game. This only creates distance between people and builds walls for that distance to grow. Taking a little bit of time to explore that pause between stimulus and response can turn what could easily be a negative situation into a positive one. It can manifest an opportunity to grow closer rather than push each other further apart.
So, here’s to owning up to the fact that there might just be more than one a**hole in any given situation!
Cheers from London Town,
– Chelsea Dinsmore
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