I love that I’ve been on the planet almost 40 years and yet I can still have “aha” moments about how to go about my life. There is just so much learning to do! I was talking with my dear sister in law, Lindsay Poelman, who is a life coach as well as a super intelligent, kind person. She taught me something that I think could be an absolute game changer in terms of interactions with close family members who are less than perfect (as much as we wish they were). In every situation we get to choose what story we tell ourselves about what is going on. We can choose to be annoyed or offended or bugged. Or we can choose compassion.
Here’s how she explained it to me. Say I really, really want my son (or husband or daughter) to take out the trash. I ask him to, and he doesn’t. I wait to see what is going to happen and guess what? He doesn’t take out the trash. Here’s where I have a choice. (As Stephen Covey puts it, what makes us different from animals is that between stimulus and response there is a pause.) What story will I tell myself? This one: “He is so lazy! He never listens! He expects me to do everything!” Yeah, I’ve been there. I hate to admit it but I have. I believe that’s sort of a natural, self-preservation gut reaction. But here is the other option: compassion. I could tell myself this story: “Poor guy. He must be stressed. He must have a lot going on. I wonder what is on his mind.”
Did you feel the difference? If I can respond with compassion, that can change everything. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t take out the trash when they are supposed to. I am saying that I get to be in charge of my reaction. Lindsay told me about how she learned to respond to her husband (who was going through severe depression and anxiety) with compassion instead of resentment. That tweak helped put her on a path to free herself to be her best, most successful self. It also allowed him the freedom and love to start healing as well. I give her huge props for her strength and love and compassion. At the end of the day, we can’t control the people around us. And we shouldn’t try. What we can do is love them and help them to be the best they are capable of being, in their own way and time.
I am not perfect at this approach, but I’m trying. I had the opportunity to test the theory out the other morning. Scott had said something to me when he was in a hurry to get to work and my first reaction was to be offended. Then I told myself to practice compassion. “Poor guy,” I said to myself. “He must be really stressed at work right now.” Amazing the difference. Sure enough, just a few minutes later he apologized and told me he had a lot on his mind and was super stressed (with a crazy busy business to run and a scoutmaster calling that keeps him hopping). What freedom this new approach could offer! Talk about saving energy–I would so much rather give the benefit of the doubt to the people I love than waste time letting my pride get a grip on my emotions.
So going forward, I challenge you to stop before you react when someone has done something you dislike and ask yourself, “How can I react with compassion?” That’s my plan. I’ll probably get it wrong a lot, but when I get it right, it’s going to feel great.