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Crying over lonely people at the movies & old dogs in driveways

Have you ever thought that you knew why someone was behaving in a certain way and you were all worked up about it...only to find out you were totally wrong (and got upset for nothing)?

Me too. Our minds are constantly generating stories to fill in the gaps and those stories have a powerful effect on how we feel and behave. 

For example, if someone cuts me off on the highway I can tell myself the story that they're a jerk and I'll feel anger, complain, and probably feel annoyed long after the event has passed. 

Of I can tell myself they're racing to the ER with a sick pet (as I've done) and I'll feel empathy, take a few deep breaths to calm my activated nervous system, and get on with my life. 

I don't know why they cut me off, but the story I tell myself about that event will shape how I feel about it. 

 

Here's a funny example of how this happened to me over the holidays. 

We celebrate Jewish Christmas at my house aka we go to the movies on Christmas Day and eat Chinese food. 

This year, I was looking at movie showtimes at one of those theaters with the reclining seats; the kind where you have to choose your seats from a chart.

And here's what I saw: 

The lighter spots are 3 unavailable seats. 

 

What story are you telling yourself about this image?

My mind made up a story that there were 3 single people who'd reserved seats for themselves on Christmas Day.

I wondered if they were lonely and suddenly I felt sad for them (which is odd for me because I love doing stuff by myself). I got a little teary.

 

Later that day, I went back to purchase tickets and thought:

That's so weird that 3 different people choose seats in the middle of the rows. When I go to the movies, I always choose a seat at one end of the row or the other. 

That's when I put on my best Benoit Blanc cravat and did some snooping. 

I clicked on all the showtimes for that movie, playing in the same theater on Christmas Day.

I immediately saw my error. 

The same 3 seats were unavailable for every showing.

So either there are 3 people in Southern Maine who REALLY love Puss in Boots 2. 

OR those 3 seats were broken. 

I'll stake my reputation as a gentleman detective on the second theory.

 

Which meant I had felt a big surge of sadness for 3 lonely people who exist only in my imagination

The story I told myself about the seating chart was wrong and had created emotions that, frankly, we're not helpful (I can get sad all on my own, thank you very much!). 

This isn't the first time I've done this. 

I once got choked up over a duffle bag that I thought was black Lab. 

And every day that I worked at the animal shelter I made up stories about the people who came through our doors. 

If a person didn't seem sad or was rude when they surrendered their dog, I told myself the story that they didn't care. Then I felt angry or sad and it drained me. 

But if I told myself a different story about that person - that they were ashamed or heartbroken and their behavior was abrupt or detached so they could get through the intake process - then I felt compassion and it sustained me. 

 

Look, we experience a lot of hard, painful things in our work and personal lives. There's no getting around that.

But sometimes, in addition to that unavoidable pain, we add a layer of totally optional, unnecessary suffering via the stories we tell ourselves. 

 

In the end, we saw Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on Christmas, in a different theater, so I'll never know what was up with those seats. 

Were the seats really broken? Or are there 3 Puss in Boots mega-fans who made a pact to break up entire rows by reserving the middle seats on Christmas Day?

Here's what I do know: I FELT a whole lot better when I told myself the story that the seats were broken. 

 

What stories are you telling yourself lately that create more stress, sadness, anger, or disconnection? 

Are there any other stories you could chose or alternate interpretations that will help you feel better (or at least neutral)?

 

It's ok to choose different thoughts if that helps you stay energized, connected, calm, or joyful.

We need to feel as much of that stuff as possible if we want to sustain ourselves, so that we have the capacity to cope with the many challenges we face everyday.

This isn't about toxic positivity. It's about skillfully working with our thoughts to keep ourselves afloat, so that we can keep showing up and doing hard things. 

 

What's Coming Up

I'm telling myself the story that a few of you might be thinking about taking a class with me. If that's true, you might be interested in a new class I'm teaching with One Spirit Learning Alliance.

Join me for 4 live classes on Tuesday evenings, February 28th through March 21st, to learn how to practice compassionate badassery as a helping professional through cultivating calm, clarity, courage, and connection.

The class is open to anyone and it's the most affordable way to work with me as an individual in 2023. You can learn more here!

 

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