Playing the role of “Interested Observer” is not just important when we are dealing with another person and watching our communication and interaction. Interested Observing can also pertain to watching my own thoughts, feelings and “self-talk.”
Driving to a meeting this week, I was reminded of the power of self-talk and how the same words can be turned around to mean vastly different things. I was going to an early morning client meeting. Where I live, rush hour traffic is something to be avoided at all costs. I allowed extra time for my commute, knowing that I would need it.
After driving for about 45 minutes, I found myself stuck in gridlock traffic. I ultimately learned that there had been an accident on a one-lane road up ahead, but as I sat there I couldn’t know what was happening. I found myself sneaking desperate looks at the clock on my dashboard. The meeting commenced at 9 a.m. and I looked over to see the display showing “8:01”.
I became aware that I was saying to myself, “I have only one hour to get there. It is already 8 and I only have until 9 to start this meeting.” I realized that I was beginning to get very panicky sitting in my car and thinking “only one hour,” “just one hour.”
All of a sudden, my Interested Observer kicked in. I realized what I was doing, and I changed the tone and thought immediately: “I have one entire hour. I don’t have to be there for one whole hour. I have an hour left to go only a short distance.” As I changed my self-talk, the “short” one hour turned into a long period of time.
Whether it is “only an hour” or “a whole hour” makes a world of difference. The hour is the same, but the two different interpretations make that hour the shortest one in the world, or the longest one.
This incident reminded me how powerful words can be depending on how we apply them and how we use them – for or against ourselves. I could have continued to use my self-talk and made myself more and more agitated as I sat there unable to move, or I could turn it around and calm myself by feeling confident and taking life a second at a time. Becoming agitated would have made that ride so much more difficult. Calming myself down and using the time to become an Interested Observer of my own thoughts and responses was much more useful to me!
In the end, I was able to get to the meeting with 10 minutes to spare. That hour was ample time. It’s a great reminder though to watch the self-talk and to err on the side of positive whenever possible. As one of my colleagues likes to say, “If you’re going to make something up in your mind, you may as well make it good!”