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The Nastiest Habit of All
“The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them,” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
A simple, almost trivial, yet immensely powerful way to empower every relationship you have is to change just one habit. The Habit of the First Meaning. What is the first place that you look for the meaning to understand what people do and say? Compare these pairs of actions and responses:
I smile. - You respond: "Are you laughing at me?"
I speak with a raised voice. - You respond: "Stop yelling at me."
I turn away. - You respond: "Are you ignoring me?"
I hold a steady gaze. - You respond: "Are you trying to stare me down?"
I say: "I want to spend the evening by myself." - You respond: "Are you tired of me?"
to these pairs of same actions and different responses:
I smile. - You respond: "Are you happy to see me?"
I speak with a raised voice. - You respond: "You feel so passionate about this!"
I turn away. - You respond: "Is that the cat joining us again?"
I hold a steady gaze. - You respond: "You are very much interested in what I'm saying, aren't you?"
I say: "I want to spend the evening by myself." - You respond: "You must have worked hard today and need some quite time."
For the first set of responses, you searched for the meaning of actions and words on the dark side. For the second, - on the light side. Most of us have habitual patterns in how we understand things - either we look first on the dark side or on the light side.
If you tend to look first for the dark side meaning using the question: "How can this be a problem?", then it might be really difficult to be in a long relationship with you. People with the dark side meaning habit are high maintenance and use up a lot of energy, their own and everyone else's. Once on the dark side path, you feel vested in it, and it is hard to reverse it. So you might spend hours rescuing the relationship from ever present dark side traps. (Have you ever had it happen when a sincere comment like "You look lovely tonight, honey," degenerated into a three hour ride through the relationship abyss?)
On the other hand, if your first impulse is to look for the light side meaning using the question: "What are just a few positive meanings of this event?", then other people will find you uplifting and energetic. And easy to be friends with and to love. You of course would reserve the right to change the meaning you had chosen as more evidence becomes available. (E.g. if your friend pushes you after speaking with a raised voice, then perhaps he really was yelling at you.)
At this point, a word of caution is in order - you might be tempted to think that the Habit of the First Meaning is obvious and simple. Yet, don't let the appearance fool you - like all in science, the more profound is the truth, the more obvious it sounds. You might think: "Sure, I am on the light side." Truth be told, most people are habituated to getting lost on the dark side.
Why do some people prefer to look first for dark meanings? After asking many people this question, it is clear that the predominant reason is to avoid being hurt. And that does make sense, doesn't it? If I first think of a really bad explanation and imagine it vividly, then whatever happens will be on the bright side. As Mark Twain said: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
So, the habit has served a useful purpose of protecting. And just like an overzealous parent who doesn't yet realize that the child has grown and is ready to step out on his own, the habit built up during earlier formative years is still here holding you back. Some people choose to live forever with their parents never adventuring out into the world - always holding back until the doors of their house rust shut forever. But most of us now find the right time to move on and while honoring our parents search for new ways to express ourselves. Step by step allowing ourselves even if temporarily to test new ways of the light side by asking "What could be the positive meaning behind these words and actions?" And opening up to the delight of immediately noticing so much light in actions and words of others. Wouldn't that be lovely?
Pause for a moment to think now of something that happened to you last week that you didn't like. And ask yourself: "What positive meanings could have I thought of back then?" A seemingly trivial question like that can often immediately heal hurt and anger. Now imagine a similar time in the near future when you will have a chance to practice the light side meaning. Get a good sense for how that will change how you feel and the whole interaction, and how differently people will react to you. And every time you communicate with people now, begin noticing how light the world becomes with one simple question.
While you practice this new skill, in the next article I will take a closer look at another way that we create or destroy our relationships through anchoring.
You’ve just read TIP #77 FOR CREATING AN EXTRAORDINARY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE brought to you by Holographic University. To get the next Tip visit us at:
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May You Be Happy!
- Arman Darini, Ph.D.
About the Author: Arman Darini, Ph.D. is the director of Holographic University, the author of weekly Tips for Creating an Extraordinary and Meaningful Life, and a certified international NLP Trainer. As the leader of a dynamic team of Life Trainers and Coaches, Arman's motto is "I don't believe in your limitations". To learn more about Arman, visit ArmanDarini.com