How many times have you heard it?
"She makes me so mad!"
"He knows just how to push my buttons!"
"My boss is getting on my last nerve!"
"My coworkers are about to make me lose my religion!"
If you are fortunate, somewhere along the line someone has told you that it is not what happens around you that is decisive, but what happens inside you that shapes your attitude more than any external influence.
That said, if you are like me and most other people wandering the planet, there are times when you lose your cool and give into impulses that are more reactionary than thoughtful and measured. There's a reason for that. I love the way Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler talk about this in their book, Crucial Conversations. You really should read it.
In this graphic, the first set of images represent what we see and hear. This is the input that comes into our minds. We can't do much about most of this. It just happens.
The second set of images represent what we think and how we feel about what it is we have seen and heard.This is where we sometimes get confused. We think that what we think or feel is a direct result of what we saw or heard. That would be a mistake, albeit an almost universal one. But you will notice there is a gap between these sets of images, as though something is missing. More about that in a minute.
The final set of images has to do with how we speak or act as a result of what we think or feel. Again, we justify our words and our actions by erroneously giving credit to the original stimulus of the thing seen or heard. This is when we say, "What she did made me so mad!"
But in so many instances, no one made you feel or think or say or do anything. Those things were prompted by the piece missing between the first and second set of images. You may have already looked ahead and seen it, but here it is...
Once you see or hear something, before you have any mental or emotional reaction - before you think or feel anything, there is a story you tell yourself that interprets what you have seen or heard.
My co-worker asks me to design a graphic for the promotion of an upcoming project to be used in our in-house promotions. I think to myself, "I don't have time for that. She knows better than to ask me to do a thing like that. She has absolutely no respect for my time. She must think I'm her servant and that she's too good to do it herself or ask someone from Communications to do it for her. She just pawns it off on me because she clearly doesn't consider my time valuable at all. What arrogance and cluelessness!"
This of course leads to feelings of anger, resentment, hostility, and turns a co-worker into a sworn enemy. And it's all because of the story I told myself. I made all kinds of assumptions about her intent, her thought processes, her views of our relationship, her view of me and her view of herself.
But what if she was thinking, "I saw the graphic design work Alan did on that project in the spring, and I think he could nail the graphic for this project. He understands it well, knows what we want to accomplish and has a passion for making it a success. I think he would knock the design work out of the park."
If I knew these things, how I thought and felt about her request would obviously change, and so would the words I spoke and action I took. And it all hinges on what story I tell myself between seeing and hearing, and thinking and feeling.
Here's the fool's mistake that I have made an embarrassing amount of times. I tell myself a story that assumes the worst in others. I tell myself a story that assumes the most negative reality imaginable. And usually, it is nothing but misguided fear and ignorance serving a disturbing human need to feel morally superior to others by making ourselves the victim. We can tell ourselves some pretty dark and bizarre stories.
Allow me to give both you and myself a little advice born from experience on this. Stop it!
Stop assuming the worst. Stopping telling yourself stories. When something hits you and causes your thoughts or feelings to go to a bad place, make sure you are not just telling yourself a story that turns you into a victim for cathartic reasons. Find out what the real story is behind what you see and hear.
Think about this. You have the power to change your attitude and your entire outlook on life simply by changing the stories you tell yourself. Of course you don;t want to lie to yourself either. But make sure that you know the truth, and where you cannot learn it, give people some grace and the benefit of the doubt. Those optimistic, hopeful and grace-giving stories will make you a much healthier and happier person.