October 2019: Inner Compass
The other day I was asked a very simple question. Which in the moment, I answered quickly and equally simply. But upon further reflection, I realized my glib response was just the tip of the iceberg. It was a truthful answer; but little did I know the depths my response represented.
The question was simply, Why did you do that? My response: because I was frustrated. End of conversation with the inquirer—but not in my head. I had made an imprudent and impulsive choice which subsequently required the aid of the questioner. And a very fair question given the circumstances.
I am not prone to impulsivity; but evidently my frustration got the better of me. Hence the prolonged conversation in my head. Why did I make that particular decision given the context? The answer surprised me—old entrenched patterns. I reverted to worrying about someone else’s opinion (mind reading) rather than focusing on the real situation at hand. Had I stayed the course (not distracted by the perceived thoughts of others), I would have spared myself and the person who came to my aid (the poser of said question) a lot of hassle. Ironically, it was the imagined criticisms of the questioner that waylaid us further. I got frustrated with that perceived pressure along with the slow progress I was making that led to the question, Why did you do that?
So I was frustrated initially with my slow progress. But later I realized my frustration was compounded by the albeit incorrect belief that someone was impatiently waiting for me and already questioning my choices long before the question was actually verbalized. And now I ask, in my ramblings have I lost you?
Suffice to say I fell into a common thinking error or trap: mind reading—where we assume we know what others are thinking and make our choices based upon imaginary input. I have lived most of my life anticipating criticism and trying to avoid it. Obviously there must have been some sort of success rate to reinforce this behaviour. But there has also been much unnecessary heartache, suffering, anxiety, and trouble because of it.
I can make excuses like time pressures, stress, etc. All valid factors, but in reality I forgot to practice mindfulness—paying attention to the present moment without judgement. In a nutshell, I lost myself. My inner compass went off course. I slid into default mode—people pleasing. This default mode can appear harmless—even masquerade as a redeeming quality—but it isn’t healthy and in fact can be quite harmful.
Fortunately this most recent situation resulted in embarrassment and inconvenience. But my people pleasing tendencies have gotten me into much trickier situations. It’s like I get tunnel vision and can no longer see the big picture. If only there was a way to zoom out to interrupt default mode before making harmful decisions. However, on the bright side, I’m learning how to be mindfully present—keeping my inner compass on course and grounded in reality—which prevents many of these awkward situations I tend to find myself in. Hence the conundrum of self-discovery: holding the unhealthy pattern in tension with celebrating the successes.
There definitely is a theme in my life lessons: putting others first at all costs. And sometimes those costs are quite high; but without the costs there wouldn’t be lessons. And without celebration of success, there isn’t reinforcement of lessons learned.The challenge of countering people pleasing, criticism avoidance, and the need for mind reading, is that one has to start putting oneself first—or at least on par with everyone else. That’s hard to do because it requires resetting one’s inner compass. The “north star” that guides all processes has to be adjusted.
Kind of like all those settings in our newfangled, digital gadgets. We have to set the parameters for our devices to function optimally for our particular preferences. But don’t get me started on setting up my new internet connection and “smart” television! That was an obstacle course I don’t wish to repeat.
Now hopefully I’ll remember all those dang passwords and security codes. Word of advice: never over think or over simplify! 🙂
“I am not lost, I am just working out my way, no longer following the signposts outside but instead following the compass within me.” ~S.C. Lourie