The One Thing About This Year

Sharyl asked me what was the most useful thing I took out of the last year and I said “that I don’t know what my motivations are most of the time and most people have no idea why they do the things they do.” I don’t know why I’m telling you this.

It has been liberating because for most of my life I accepted that the reason why I thought I did something was the actual reason why I was doing it. In retrospect, this is ridiculous. The decision to accept that my first thoughts about a motive were accurate failed to consider that my initial thoughts about a situation tend to be emotional or reactive before they are logical and pragmatic.

My tendency to accept the first thing that popped into my mind effectively ended the search right as the more logical brain processes come on-line and the most effective problem solving takes place. Since these processes never tackled the question “why did I do this?” my initial assumption never got challenged or balanced with an alternatives. The brain assumed everything was correct and then devoted the rational thought processes to solving or engaging an erroneous assumption. This is why two people can end-up arguing passionately about something they don’t care about. It’s also why a number of people become extremely abusive during conversations or arguments.

For example, the immediate reaction to someone saying “you are asking me to do something that you didn’t do yesterday or the day before. In fact you never do what you are telling me I have to do” tends to be defensive; and sometimes aggressive.

The word “you” triggers something akin to being pointed at. Most people feel singled out when they hear it used in what they interpret as a negative situation. This feeling is automatic and unconscious, and it is chemical – it’s an emotional release in response to a match between the current situation and something stored in long term memory. The chemical make-up of the emotional release will be shaped by the earliest experiences and there is a diminishing marginal impact with further experiences – what happens later in life will have less and less impact on the automatic emotional response to similarly matched patterns REGARDLESS of increasing levels of maturity and brain development. Once the match has occurred, logical thinking will be impaired for as long as the emotion is sustained. NOTE: If ones first experiences of feeling singled out in a negative way were resolved effectively and in a way that allowed the experience to be balanced with facts, they won’t interpret “you” the same way as someone who did suffer abuse from their caregivers in response to being singled out for a negative thing.

So the statement already has them acting emotionally (illogically) and they then need to stew on being called a hypocrite (while it wasn’t said, this is what people hear). This has them become defensive and start looking for reasons why it is fair to ask you to do something that they are have not yet been willing to do.

There’s a lot of bull shit in all of that and it all has to do with trying to stop being the center of attention for negative reasons – in this case that goal is achieved when the other person is wrong in what they are saying. This is exactly WHY seemingly decent people will become raging assholes when confronted with facts about their behavior.

The next thought that springs to mind after the urge to defend (IF it is allowed to come forward) will usually be very logical. It tends to be something like “hey, I just felt the emotions float over and out of me!” then “what do I really want from this person right now and what is the request I am actually making of them?” Then maybe “yeah, I haven’t done that ever. Maybe I shouldn’t expect someone else to do it for me” or “I don’t know what I’m talking about here” and hopefully the words “I’m sorry, it isn’t fair of me to expect you to do that when I haven’t. Ultimately I’m hoping we can agree on the following….” or something like that. It’s a very different conversation.

That’s the big thing I took out of this year. My initial reaction will be defensive, as initial reactions should be. But by not taking action, I’m actual able to figure-out why I’m doing stuff because I’m not trying to dig myself out of an imaginary hole or pummel on someone to get them to say that I wasn’t wrong.