All in my head

Posted by Doc
Jan 31 2009

Does this ever happen to you? It usually happens to me when I’m doing something that doesn’t require a lot of my attention – showering, washing dishes, ironing (yes, I do those things 😉 ).

I find myself thinking “I did X. I didn’t do Y. Debbie* will probably be upset that I did/didn’t.”

Do you do that?

When I catch myself, I stop, take a breath, and think “When’s the last time Debbie got upset about that? Hmm. Never, maybe? So why are you getting yourself all worked up about it?”

This ties back to the idea that we all live in our own heads, and interact with the world through behaviors – speech, action, results. I define results as the things I observe that can reasonably and rationally be assumed to be the result of someone’s behavior. Like coming home and finding that the bed is made. I didn’t make it, so someone must have. My wife was the only one home, so it was probably her. “Thanks for making the bed, Sweetie!”

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Patterson et al (yes, I’m going to keep referring to this work – I think it’s seminal) talk about the Stories we tell ourselves, and understanding our Paths. In the example above (I did/didn’t whatever), my Path was the thinking that led me from what I did or didn’t do to assuming something about Debbie’s feelings, with no evidence to support that.  Assumptions – you know about assumptions.  Once I recognize my Path, and I can see my Story: “Debbie will probably be upset.” What happens when I tell myself that story? I feel angry/defensive/upset/hurt. That leads to me stepping out of the shower/kitchen/living room and acting on those feelings towards Debbie.

Poor Debbie is then sitting there wondering what she might have done to lead me to feel that way, or what kind of an ass am I for treating her that way, or…

The thing is, for a moment – just a moment – whatever is in my head seems to be real. What I expect, what I think someone else has/does/will feel, and therefore my emotional, mental, and physical reactions are based on that pseudo-reality that exists only inside of my head.

The challenge, therefore, is to stop and think in STATE terms: what has actually happened. Not what I think will happen or interpret, but what has actually happened. Has Debbie actually gotten upset? Do I have evidence to expect that she will feel upset? If so, I can choose my behavior, informed by what I know of her.

But thus far, it’s all in my head. Reacting based on what is in my head is something I can take control over. Now. Right now.

* Debbie is my amazing wife of 32.5 years. She hasn’t killed me or dumped me yet, so I’m hopeful that is’ going to last. 🙂

7 Responses

  1. Inês says:

    Great posts! would be great to see this blog aggregated to TWPlanet. It would make us all look good ;o)

  2. Inês says:

    thanks 🙂

  3. I do this! But I didn’t even realize it.

    When I read this article, I thought to myself, “Man this guy is crazy, I certainly don’t do crazy things like this.”

    Except last night, when I did. After half an hour of stewing about someone’s theoretical reaction to something I was going to do, I remembered reading this post, and realized I was a moron.

    When presented with the actual situation the other party didn’t care about what I was going to do, and the massive theoretical argument I had convinced myself would take place never materialized.

    So thanks for saving me from an argument. And sorry for thinking you were crazy. Apparently I’m crazy too.

    • One man’s crazy is another man’s wise. 😉

      I respect and applaud you for being able to think it through. You’re not a moron by any means – you showed unusual maturity in being able to get there. I’m both delighted and impressed.

      Thanks for sharing this with me.

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