“He hates me,” you think to yourself.
Roll the inner YouTube clip. And the clip does roll—an instant replay of everything we did and the possible reactions, like some torturous, pick-your-own-ending story. This is a very human approach, very different than, say, your golden retriever’s. He happily drools, rolls around in dead things, and can’t understand why you won’t give him a hug when he smells so delightful. He is not plagued by your apparent disgust of his aroma. He might be confused or disappointed by your reaction, and perhaps a little fearful when the doggy shampoo comes out, but he is not wandering the house at night wondering if he ruined his relationship with you forever. He’s not wondering if you’re going to break up with him, fire him, or think less of him.
No, he is in the present moment and accepts that it is what is—and sleeps soundly. It’s us humans who roll around in bed like a rotisserie chicken, trying to stop our thoughts and get some rest. This kind of worry can be a group sport, too. It happens a lot over coffee, Sunday brunch, and drinks—wherever two or more friends are gathered. People dissect one another’s words, looks, and deeds like biblical scholars searching for meaning behind another’s words to possibly explain actions or reactions.
Unfortunately, most of us do not have “the gift.” We are not so good at reading each other’s thoughts and motivations. We forget one very important ingredient when reconstructing our story of events: us. As writer Anais Nin is quoted as saying, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” And that’s the first step in living with this kind of worry. We can’t possibly know what is in another person’s mind. We don’t know if their words, expressions, and actions match their thoughts. We only know what we think they think. It’s conjecture. We cannot control other people’s thoughts. We can only accept that they have a right to have thoughts—even if we don’t agree with those thoughts.
Here are three ways to think through this kind of worry that may help calm the mind:
- Test your hypothesis. Consider if it seems like a situation where you could simply ask the person how he or she thinks things are going. To do this, make sure you are prepared for bad news, good news, and everything in between.
- Accept that your hypothesis might be right, that you’ve read the situation correctly. Mr. X is going to dump you, fire you, or is disappointed in you. Consider the pluses and minuses of the situation. You won’t have to give that dreaded presentation, but you will miss the free coffee; you won’t have to find dirty socks all over the house, but you will miss having the person in your life.
- Reject your hypothesis. You were having bad day, and saw everything with a negative lens. In fact, you may be getting a raise and a promotion.
Life events often seem to happen on a continuum. Draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper. List your responses to No. 2 on one end of the continuum, and your response to No. 3 on the opposite side. Consider the middle ground.
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