Here’s a handy little idea to reduce your general frustration and stress level. And who wouldn’t like that?? Ever find other people who really get on your nerves? Of course you do, you’re human! You know folks are getting on your nerves when you ask yourself, “Why is she SO slow?” in the grocery checkout line, or at the intersection, “The light is GREEN! Why won’t he GO?” Or, the pernicious stress of “She didn’t even say hi in the hallway. Is she mad at me? Or just stuck-up?”
Notice what these examples have in common? We’re judging what the other person’s thinking…and taking the logical leap that they aren’t thinking the way we are (so they must be wrong). Of course we’re right and the other guy’s wrong! Really? The truth is this: We never know what someone else is thinking, or doing, or dealing with unless they tell us.
Imagine, will you, that the woman at the grocery store who is so slow is actually doing quite well considering the stroke she had six months ago. Would you still be so impatient if you knew that, or would you give her a break — realizing she’s doing the very best she can? At the stoplight — the minute the light turns green and you go ballistic — what if you knew the other driver was delaying because he was trying to help his choking child in the backseat? Would you still be so impatient? And the woman who didn’t say hi? Would you take that perceived snub differently if you learned that she’d just found out her father’s cancer diagnosis was terminal?
As my dear friend Ashley famously said, after she was widowed in her early 30s, “Once you’ve got something, you find out EVERYONE’S got something!” And it’s true. Everyone has something. And liberation comes when we recognize that the vast majority of us are really doing the best we can given our circumstances.
And it’s not OUR best their doing — it’s unfair to hold them to what we consider “best”. I’ve had so many clients say, “If I put in my best effort, I should get straight As!” or, more judgmentally, “If they only put in their best effort, they would do what I want them to do!” Can you say, “Control Freak?” (Stay tuned: That’s a whole other blog topic!)
What’s the deal with “best effort”? Is the underlying belief: If I put in my best effort, I will definitely succeed? Honey, even if I put in my best effort, I will never go to the NFL Pro Bowl as a linebacker. Ain’t no way. My best there might be Not Getting Killed. My best in any case is mine alone — and yours is yours. It’s all relative. Relative to our skills, strengths, talents and interests, that is.
So here’s what you do: In that very moment when you feel stressed and frustrated with someone else, try taking a step back and saying to yourself, “I have no idea what’s going on in that person’s life, but maybe there’s something I don’t know about — and he’s doing the very best he can.” Bet you this: bet you your stress level goes way, way down.