Feeling successful in work and life often comes down to the quality of our relationships. Misunderstandings and conflict zap our time and energy and can leave us feeling unheard, unseen, frustrated and even angry (the opposite of successful!). When these emotions come back again and again in the same relationships, it can lead to depression and even chronic physical pain and illness. As humans we are meant to connect, and doing so can increase our overall health and happiness.
Human beings are interconnected. We rely on one another (whether we believe it or not) to survive. When we are in conflict with another person, it’s often due to our thoughts of separateness which is the result of labels and automatic, knee-jerk thinking patterns that we then, well…believe. Our brain loves shortcuts and it works hard to be efficient. Efficient thinking uses less energy and it’s faster so it’s much more useful in terms of survival. It’s helpful to remember that an apple is safe to eat without having to investigate it each time. What’s not helpful is when we store shortcuts in our mind about who people ’are’. When we default to the shortcuts in our minds about people, we often lose real connection because people aren’t as predictable as apples.
We put post-its on people as they come into our field of awareness:
‘Oh, that’s the funny guy.’
‘She’s the one that’s always organized.’
‘They are always so negative!’
‘I can’t believe he’s wearing that shirt. We aren’t going to get along.’
So what about when he isn’t funny? When she’s not organized? When they have something positive to add to a conversation (but you didn’t include them in this meeting…)? What about that opportunity you missed to engage with him on that hot button issue and you missed a whole new perspective? You’ve created division and separateness in your mind and acted on it without giving connection a chance. He’s like that and I am not, so we have nothing in common.
Is anything (or anyone) that clear cut?
We get frustrated when our post-its are wrong. It’s confusing and it challenges what we know. It challenges our ego. When the post-its are wrong, we are forced to challenge the story we have in our minds about that ‘person’ and that takes time and energy which can be very stressful.
So now that we know how we create stress for ourselves and others – how we separate with labels and assumptions, what can we do about it? Mindfulness is a powerful tool in breaking down these invisible walls we put between us and others. When we can notice the post-its and choose to set them aside, we can also open ourselves up to the present moment. The thoughts on the post-its are created from past information and predictions of the future, they aren’t here now. When we stick labels all over someone, we aren’t giving them the chance to be anything different. We aren’t actually seeing the human being standing right in front of us right now. We aren’t connecting.
Next time you notice the post-its flying onto the person walking towards you – ask yourself to pause. They are real thoughts, but remind yourself – they may not be true. Then allow yourself to set them aside and practice ‘beginner’s mind’, practice connecting with this person right now in the present – not the past or future. Maybe he wants to be serious instead of funny or maybe she’s distraught because she lost that important document. Can you ask yourself to show up with compassion and an open mind – meeting this human being right in front of you where they are at this moment? When we make room for true connection at work and home, we are cultivating spaces where not only the people around us get to show up in an authentic way but we ourselves can too.