Don’t Be the Rule – Be the Exception!

At this time of year, during the holidays, one of my favorite activities is to play Christmas music. I especially love this silly song that my youngest child listens to from a cartoon about Santa. In the song, there is a “despicable” guy who is trying to change from bad to good. The little elf who is coaching him tells him that “changing from bad to good is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other,” and then he goes on to sing a great little tune where he tells the guy who is changing “don’t be the rule, be the exception!”

Given the work I do, I find myself singing this song at the very top of my lungs as we drive along. It’s such an uplifting idea to me that as hard as change is for most people, it CAN happen – but often it takes one step at a time. Each day we are given the chance to do something differently in our approach to others. It’s so easy to fall into the same patterns as we get triggered, but we can experience the exception and try something different each time we choose to.

Remember that the five secrets I write about in my book “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior” are really about becoming more aware. It isn’t possible to read something, or hear something, and from that moment on behave in a different way. We have all taken years to develop the approaches we have – whether they serve us or not! Becoming aware of how we are triggered, and what our common reactions are to others, is a first step on the road to change.

As many years as I’ve been doing this work, I will still fall into certain patterns with certain people. It’s only after I’ve been triggered that I recognize what I’ve done, and then have to make a choice about what I will do next – one foot in front of the other… The triggers are deeply ingrained, and when we are tired or stressed or otherwise weak in our resources, we will find that “changing from bad to good” takes us more effort and more energy. So, instead of setting an unreachable goal, take one step to put you closer to a new place.

As an example, I have had a very difficult time with a neighbor that I’ve written about in my blogs. She hates my dogs, but instead of talking to me, she calls the police or walks by me on the street without speaking. I find myself choosing to simply avoid her rather than deal with the behavior she displays. This week I was invited to a “ladies luncheon” by another neighbor whom I simply adore. She is one of my favorite people, so I feel strongly that I would like to attend. The “difficult” neighbor will also be there so this week, for me, one foot in front of the other means going to the luncheon and spending time with someone who has been very hurtful toward me. I had to make a choice to do something I wanted to, in spite of the uncomfortable position it will put me in. Dealing with people who challenge us in one way or another is complex, and it isn’t easy at times but putting one foot in front of the other means we will not turn away or choose not to examine what’s happening. As I spent some time in Interested Observer mode, I realized that this woman makes me feel guilty about not knowing she was bothered by my dogs. Realizing that I am not a mind reader, and would not have had a way to know that, allowed me to be released from the guilt. Recognizing this dynamic overall has given me a new sense of confidence to go into the luncheon and say “hello” to everyone – including this neighbor.

This week, think about one step you can take with someone who challenges you, even if the step is just spending some time in Interested Observer mode to see why they challenge you. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make a wholesale change; just do one thing you might not have done before thinking about these ideas. And wish me luck at the luncheon!