Sunday, May 8, 2011

More of What's Good vs. Less of What's Bad

For most of my life my strategy for doing anything better has been to identify what I'm doing WRONG and DO IT RIGHT.  Sounds good, doesn't it.  After all...it's what's wrong that keeps someone from living up to their potential, right??  If I made a 95 on a test, then I would look at the questions I missed in order to figure out how to do them right "next time".

As I'm writing I'm remembering when I was a little girl.  My parents divorced; my mother remarried.  I used to think all the time about what I would do in my next life.  "The next time I get to be a little girl I'm going to keep living in my old town and keep going to my old school and keep taking dance classes."  Silly, right?  It took me several years to realize you only get this one life.  I think that's when I began to anticipate mistakes and agonize over decisions.  If I only had one chance to make a right decision, I better not make a mistake because there would be no "next time" to correct it.  My focus was not on making a good decision, it was on not making the wrong one.

When I met my (current) husband, slowly my mindset began to change.  He and I had (and still have) many discussions about this very thing.  I slowly released the agony I would have over making decisions (well, for the most part).

However, the natural tendency for my mind to gravitate toward the negative, toward what's wrong, remained.  This is the tendency that would cause me to mentally scream at myself on a run for slowing down, or GASP walking.  This is the tendency that's responsible for pointing out all the ways I failed to live up to a goal or expectations.  This is the tendency which will not allow me to be happy with any given outcome because there's always room for improvement--meaning there are always ways in which I failed at any given task...All under the guise of helping me do better "next time".

When I was married to my first husband, he was "between jobs" when I was working full time.  I asked him one day if he could clean the house while I was gone to work.  When I came home I found a little pile of dust/dirt on the front porch (we had all hard wood floors, this was obviously from him sweeping the house).  My first thought wasn't, "oh look, he must have swept the house!!"...it was, "why couldn't he have swept this off the porch??"  When I went in the front door he was standing proudly in the middle of the room holding a remote to a car he'd been playing with in our freshly cleaned house.  He quickly picked up the car and put it on a chair.  My first thought as I surveyed the "spotless" house was not, "WOW--he really did a great job cleaning the house!!" ...it was "why couldn't he have just put that car up??"  Worse than just thinking it...I looked at my proud husband who had worked hard to please me, doing the very thing I had asked him to do, and allowed my thoughts to spew out of my mouth like venom.  I vividly remember the air coming out of his sails.  At the time I thought I was being helpful!  I only wanted to show him how to do better "next time".

Imagine your best friend having a PR in a race and having your first thoughts (and words) to him/her be, "you know you could have shaved off a whole minute if you had only just....."  If you're like me, you would NEVER say that to, or probably even think that about, anyone else.  Do you have those thoughts about yourself??  I know I have.  It's like, "yeah, yeah, that was a PR, but it could have been even better if only..."

I'm not so much a glass half empty kind of gal, but I'm also not a glass half full thinker either.  I've been more of a "the glass could be/could have been FULL, if only THESE THINGS were changed/different."  (If you hadn't spilled it/drank it/stopped filling it/filled it too fast and let it overflow so fast you lost some of what you had; if the glass were smaller; if you would just add some filler-ice or golf balls work nicely....)

I have slowly been working on changing my thought pattern from identifying what's wrong and looking for ways to change to just working on doing what's right.  Doing more of what's right and working on doing those things better.  There's a very subtle difference.

Let me give you a scenario, one I've stolen from a dear friend's blog post, The Smoke Out of '98 (great story by the way, you should read it).  A little girl has been running around the neighborhood with the boys all her life, and can beat all the kids her age.  Her parents take her to a one mile race.  She runs as fast as her little legs will carry her but is passed by quite a few kids in the end.  As she runs across the finish line....
Old me as her mother:  WOW, you almost beat those kids.  They were older than you because I put you in the wrong race by accident, but you almost beat them!!  If you had just started out a little slower and build up speed instead of running so hard in the beginning--you could have BEAT those big kids!!  You're so good!!!
The me I'm trying to become wants to respond more like her own parents did:  "...my daddy grabbed me up and said, "Way to go get 'em, Tiger!!  Speedy Gonzales!!"  I'd never seen that cartoon; to my knowledge, it was his original name for me.  I was THE Speedy Gonzales.  I ran fast and made Dad proud of me, and Mom too, because she said, "Good job, honey!" ((her: "Those kids were so...fast!")) "We put you in the wrong race, honey."  
Can you see the difference??  They were proud of what she had done RIGHT, not telling her how she could have done better.  Again, it's a subtle difference, but I think it returns big dividends.


Thanks for stopping in; come again soon!  I fill up your glass with lemonade! :D

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