April 25, 2024

Be your own best observer

Have you ever seen yourself? In my experience it doesn’t happen very often; but every once in a while I catch myself behaving in some embarrassing, or emotional, or offensive way.

It’s like catching a video of myself on social media. I can choose to ignore it, or I can face-palm myself in immediate self-criticism. Those have been my two “go-to” reactions on the rare occasions when I recognize—too late—that I’m doing something I see as not in my best interest.

Until I learned something at the feet of an old mentor.

That recognition—that you’re behaving in some way you wish you weren’t (because you’ve discussed this with yourself multiple times in the past)—is key to eliminating that embarrassing behavior in you.

When you see yourself reacting emotionally, or interacting with another in some relationship-detrimental fashion, I suggest that you’re not actually present in that behavior; rather, you’re observing yourself in it.

If I watched you in this same behavior and offered up “advice” about it, it may do you little good. And even though you might benefit from modifying your behavior, I doubt you’d react well to my input.

Now imagine instead that it’s YOU observing you. You know you’ve told yourself that your repeated pattern isn’t beneficial for you, the other guy, the team, the mission, etc. Normally you just keep on reacting the way you always have. You justify with “It’s just who I am.” But this time the reactive, emotional you is hearing from the rational you that knows to ask “What do I really want from this transaction?”

This can really be one of those  “angel on one shoulder and devil on the other” moments if you let it be so. When you observe yourself, you’re not the you involved in the fracas. (Yes, you may need to read that again.) And this moment of presence can allow you to make an important choice. In Viktor Frankl’s astute words, “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.”

You (the emotional reactor) can either ignore the rational-observer you and dive back in, or you can try something different. (I can’t count how many individuals I’ve introduced that phrase to in the past 15 years: “Try something different.”)

I suspect it’s not often that we get this graceful reprieve. As I mentioned earlier, once I’m on the rant, it can be a self-fueling fire. It feels like no choosing is involved. It’s total reaction, emotional and frequently self-damaging.

But when it does happen, I offer that it is a sign from the rational you to the emotional you that you CAN do this dance differently. In that moment (between stimulus and response) you CAN choose to do something different. Laugh. Be quiet. Tell them they’re right. Apologize. Sneeze. Offer your hand. Wink. Ask a question. Do almost ANYTHING but what the emotional, reactionary you had in mind for the next move.

And watch the whole dialog change. It can be mind-bogglingly powerful! The rational YOU has that power. Hopefully you’re more prone to listen to that you than I am to mine!


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