I love hacks. Shortcuts that make my life quicker and easier. Most of the time they seem to involve something in the kitchen or household to-do’s that are simple and effective.
Think of this question as a major hack for your emotional health and well-being. It actually has two parts and becomes a process with amazingly powerful, positive results.
I have used it extensively when I find myself in a snit. When I need to “come down from the ledge”, re-calibrate my thoughts, to re-center my “cra-cra” and become rational again.
THE QUESTION: PART #1
WHAT IS THE STORY I AM TELLING MYSELF?
THE QUESTION: PART #2
IS IT TRUE?
This one question is such a biggie for me. I can go down some gnarly rabbit trails and become quite the twisted sister when my creative inner stories of being maligned and misunderstood are flying their flag at the top of the pole.
So, when this happens, I’ve learned, with lots of practice, to:
1. take a deep breath,
2. go within, and
3. find out WHAT EXACTLY I’m telling myself in vivid detail. I even make a written list, when I find myself “out there”.
4. Then I do a reality check about the truth of my version of events.
This technique, I learned from a terrific therapist. It has consistently provided a total relief in neutralizing the sped up thoughts and twitching anger.
When I shared it with a girlfriend the other day, who was a melting mess of a human….and experienced with her, the revelations she eventually found from trying it, I realized it might be a great idea to share it with you too.
And, by the way….If you are wondering what happened to being Miss Positive On Purpose……here’s the deal. I AM HUMAN. I go off the rails regularly about life and its harsh realities. AND/BUT, I am committed to seeking to find my way back on the positive path, no matter how much stinky brown stuff hits the fan. I absolutely DO NOT believe in being a victim but I can ruminate with the best of kvetchers. After a good throw-down of a wallow, it’s on with life, asking what I need to learn from a flare up of upset, out-of-control negative thinking.
Negative thoughts are part of living. They are gift-flags, waving in our faces to course correct and seek a purpose for future thoughts and actions. What do I need to learn and discern from this experience? What role did I play, if any, in this situation? Positivity breeds Positivity. And peace.
Here’s what I mean…..
Several years ago my husband was being nationally honored for his many years of service to the Boy Scouts of America. His sons were Eagle Scouts. And, he fostered the completion of the Eagle Scout program for many other young men throughout a twenty-five year period.
There were going to be 400 or so attendees to this awards evening. In addition to receiving the highest honor the Boy Scouts give, he was going to be called up on the stage to receive a plaque, along with a medal, and he was asked to make some motivational remarks about his life-time involvement in scouting.
My husband is NOT a motivational speaker. He is known for being quiet and shy. If he can answer your questions with one word, that suits him just fine. He’s a determined doer, committed to his goals….but he finds people like Tony Robbins obnoxious. To be tasked with producing a “motivational message”.
Ugh. No way.
We were supposed to arrive early for a pre-event cocktail hour, followed by a seated dinner and the program. My husband was a nervous wreck.
And, my flight home from three, very long business days, was late.
I dashed in the door with just enough time to brush my teeth, add some lipstick, powder my nose, tame my fly-away hair and throw a sparkly scarf over my all-day, travel weary “Dress for Success” suit. I just had one more thing to do….and I knew I could handle it on the way in the car without even looking.
This is probably too much information, but here goes. I have wild eyebrows.
Unlike my hair, they grow like weeds in all directions. They’ve always needed taming. So, I found the perfect “wand” with a clear liquid that I could just brush on my brows to create something presentable. Any of the glue-like stuff that might get sloshed above my brows would dry clear and without shine.
So, I was brushing up the brows on the way, while talking my husband through his jitters.
When we arrived, the cocktail party was in full swing, hundreds of people in the hotel ball room, glad handing and networking the crowd. Truth be told, I had also downed an extra large Red Bull on the way in addition to the “taming” procedure. So, as the extra energy boost kicked in, I was shaking hands and saying hello as if I were trying out for Miss Congeniality. My husband had been scooped up by “the powers” hosting the event, and was clear across the room, surrounded by well-wishers.
Even as I was being my friendliest, people were looking at me sorta funny.
According to my mother, there were two kinds of FUNNY. And one should always be aware of discerning the differences…….
Was something “funny HA-HA or funny WEIRD?”
As I was moving through the room, greeting and shaking hands….definitely something “funny WEIRD” was happening. People were looking at me just a little longer, sort of doing a double-take. I was thinking, “Oh God, my suit must have been much more wrinkled than I imagined. I bet I actually look like an unmade bed. Or maybe there was a booger I couldn’t see or feel, hanging in obvious limbo.
Just as I was pondering these hideously human possibilities, the lights flashed to indicate the event was about to start, so I raced off to the restroom before being seated.
I discovered the reason for the quizzical expressions.
Staring back In the restroom mirror, I saw the wildest, thickest, jet-blackest eye brows the world has ever known. JET. BLACK. Wildly random, above my natural brow line. I had actually thrown black, waterproof mascara into my purse and had brushed a heavy dose of what I thought was the clear taming liquid on both brows…..the brow brush jell was in a colored tube, just like my mascara. I had been too rushed and distracted to take notice.
I looked like a CLOWN. My eyebrows were a dead ringer for two big fuzzy black caterpillars in a race across my forehead. The JET BLACK mascara was even called BOLD BLACK. It stood up to its claims of being waterproof. A rapid, panicked scrub with soap and water didn’t phase the effect. And, I was supposed to be in my chair next to my award-winning husband in 3 minutes.
Humiliation soon turned to fury with the story I began telling myself……
1. How could my husband NOT have seen me….and warned me before we ever hit the ballroom door?
2. My husband never pays any attention to me. I could have been wearing a live animal on my head as a hat, and he wouldn’t have noticed.
3. My husband lives on another planet.
4. My husband is so selfish. Everything is always all about him.
5. My husband just laughed AT ME when I made him actually look at me….at the end of the evening.
6. My husband has no empathy, whatsoever.
7. I knock myself out, all the time, to make life nice for him. Does he ever notice or appreciate me? Hell no.
The list got even longer. I think I even included my attorney’s phone numbers…but these are the high points. I was seething, engulfed in my story.
The next morning after a walk, that started as a stomp through the park, suddenly THE QUESTION popped up.
WHAT IS THIS STORY YOU ARE TELLING YOURSELF?
IS ALL THIS VITRIOL REALLY TRUE?
It’s important to note that this question needs asking in a voice of curious compassion…..not the inner accusatory, sarcastic blow torch which can also live large within. For me, it is a strange truth, about the exhaustion that comes after a bout of fury. After the fury has subsided, self-compassion and introspection seems to come a bit easier now.
Stepping back, asking both parts of THE QUESTION, wiling myself to be neutral and curious about the “real deal”, I landed on this evening with a much broader picture and a lot more empathy. For my husband and myself.
1. My husband was a nervous wreck that night. Being the center of attention is his least favorite thing in the world. I was too stressed and rushed to remember or acknowledge how hard this was for him.
2. Speaking in front of hundreds of people was his worst nightmare. Dreams of standing on stage, forgetting his clothes, had plagued him for weeks leading up to this. I forgot that too.
3. My delayed flight was an additional “freak out” for him…..He hates it when I am late. Early in our marriage I admit I was “a little late” an awful lot. It infuriated him, to the nth degree. I had to clean that up, but the old angry feelings flared up in him that evening…”Peggy is going to be late, AGAIN!” Past fears and irritation were added to his giant ball of nerves.
4. He counts on me to be our “cheerleader” and his “buffer” in these high energy evenings. And, he counts on me to calm his nerves and offer my encouragement and support. The truth is, I really love that aspect of our partnership in life. It is something I am naturally good at and love to be “that person” for others. But this particular evening I was a bundle of nerves too. My usual upbeat support was scrambling to get in the car and settle myself down. My focus was on myself at a time when he really needed me.
5. Circumstances were not in our favor that night.
6. Grabbing the wrong tube of make-up was 100% MY mistake.
7. I looked hilarious. Really. Really. Hilarious. Lucille Ball hilarious.
8. To this day, I laugh out loud at how I must have appeared to other people. I am laughing, out loud, right now, to the point of barely being able to type.
9. Shit happens. We are all buffoons at times.
10. My husband is one of the really good guys. He dedicated a huge chunk of his life to mentoring young men in their pursuit of excellence. Actually I had a good laugh when he shared his nightmare dreams with me. Where was MY empathy, leading up to this evening?
11. I like myself self much more when I am being kind, loving, and supportive.
There is truth in both of these versions.
Do you hear and feel the difference?
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