Learn to Interrupt Your Thoughts Or Else You'll Start to Believe Everything You Think––And That Leads Nowhere Fast.
About fifteen years ago I made a conscious decision that radically transformed my life.
When I was in my car, if another driver did something that annoyed me – e.g., entered the freeway in front of me going 30 mph, failed to use a turn signal, cut me off, etc. – I chose not to look at the person.
That's it. That's all I did. I no longer looked at people when their driving decisions annoyed me.
And I immediately began to experience a liberating freedom.
I realized that by not looking at the person, I dropped any judgment of them. And then the feeling of annoyance was gone as soon as the incident was over.
But the freedom didn't end there. No. After putting this approach into practice for a little bit, I began to notice that by not looking at the person who annoyed me, I stopped being annoyed by the person's driving decision in the first place. I came to realize that no judgment or reaction to their driving decision was needed – that it wasn't the person or even the person's action that caused me to be annoyed and suffer; it was my reactionto, and judgment of, the person that annoyed me and brought about my suffering.
In other words, it wasn't about them at all. It was about me. It wasn't "those people" that needed to change. It was me who needed to change. And I did change – by learning to interrupt my thoughts.
In her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change Pema Chödrön says:
The fact of the shifting, changing nature of our emotions is something we could take advantage of. But do we? No. Instead, when an emotion comes up, we fuel it with our thoughts, and what should last one and a half minutes may be drawn out for ten or twenty years. We keep strengthening the story line. We keep strengthening our old habits.
Before my breakthrough, that's exactly what I was doing – strengthening my habit of being annoyed, angry, frustrated, in a bad mood. I would curse and yell and flip people off, and then I would keep thinking about how I cursed and yelled and flipped people off, and I would carry the anger and righteousness of having cursed and yelled and flipped people off with me to wherever I was going, and then I would talk caustically with other people about how I cursed and yelled and flipped people off, and then that person and I would revel in our shared understanding of how great and necessary it was to curse and yell and flip people off, and then I became the guy who was the curser and the yeller and the flipper offer. . . for like ten years. . .
I would perpetuate any number of untrue and unnecessary narratives that just had to be true and were absolutely necessary because I was attached to the story line that I should be angry at people for what I judged to be poor driving decisions. It had become a part of my identity. I reveled in the sarcasm of putting them down and the righteousness of my superiority. And I fitted these incidences into nice and tidy stereotypes that I had built up about specific groups of people based on their age, race, gender, class status, etc.
Until I didn't.
We suffer because we want things to be different than they are. And, we can choose not to want things to be different than they are. And that's the freedom. Choosing not to choose.Freedom from choice.
When I stopped looking at drivers, and stopped being annoyed by drivers, and stopped carrying around the anger that I had mistakenly attributed to drivers, every aspect of my life was radically transformed. I applied this new and improved to other areas of my life, and I became a more authentic version of myself. I eliminated the unnecessary choices like whether to be annoyed at drivers, which freed me up to focus on what mattered to me. I noticed a big difference in myself. And so did others.
So why am I posting this on LinkedIn? And what's this have to do with the work I do around belonging and inclusion? Well, everything.
You see, people are constantly perpetuating inaccurate and harmful story lines about individuals they don't know and about groups of people with whom they have very little familiarity. People are choosing to do this. Why? Because it's much easier to keep alive the stereotype rather than drop the unexamined story line that, for example. . .
I hope the absurdity of these examples is plain to see. But the reality is that far too many of us who are in positions of power and authority perpetuate these narratives – consciously and unconsciously – which then maintains the status quo, with the same people in power and the same people marginalized.
So, please don't recycle the same story lines. Please don't strengthen your biases by leaving them unexamined. Please don't perpetuate inequities. Please don't be that guy who's so certain he's right that there's no way in hell he can't be wrong. Like I was.
Instead, I challenge you to interrupt your thoughts – to be the person who seeks to fully understand, who listens, who is always curious, who is open to possibilities, who is empathetic, who is compassionate, who validates others' experiences as true, who builds trust, who forges connections across perceived differences, who is humble, who makes the world a more inclusive place where people feel like they belong, and thrive.
Can you do all that for me? And for others? And for yourself? Thanks.
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