Mirror, mirror….

January 2014 Newsletter

Dr. gloria wright

It is so easy to judge and criticize – especially others. And what we see in others can irritate us and sometimes infuriate us. One, we can take those things personally. That’s the first “don’t” we need to learn. Don Miguel Ruiz puts it simply in his book, The Four Agreements. His advice:  “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality….”

Here’s a bit of news for you: when we judge and criticize, we are projecting too. That’s right, the fault we see in others are perceptions of our own faults. If we didn’t have it, we couldn’t see it in others. This isn’t a new philosophy but it is a sound one. The next time you find fault, look inside and acknowledge that the trait is yours – or was. Sometimes we see things that we have modified in ourselves but may still be sensitive to. But own it and realize that you don’t like it in yourself.

When we react negatively to the behavior of others, there seems to be three possible reasons:

  1. A projection of our own behaviors that we don’t like.
  2. We have already modified that behavior in ourselves and believe others could and should do the same.
  3. We need to add more of that behavior to our repertoire.

The last one can be the most challenging to spot. I can remember not liking stinginess in a family member. Then I realized that if I managed and invested my money better (which could be seen as stinginess), I’d have more assets to leave my heirs. Food for thought….

Acknowledgement of these inward faults is the first step toward a positive experience. We all know we can’t change others, but we can change ourselves. It is futile to beat up on ourselves for our shortcomings, so what can we do? Look at our strengths. (Previously I suggested we all should take Rath’s “Strengthsfinder 2.0” inventory.) Then see how you can use your strengths to compensate for what you don’t like in yourself. Use your strengths to help find a way to compensate in a constructive way.

Work on yourself, don’t take others personally and your life will be more productive and much less stressful.

Constructive criticism is an oxymoron. I don’t think it’s possible. Blaming and shaming doesn’t help anyone and just makes us feel bad afterwards. (Or at least I hope it does.) However, constructive feedback can be an immensely valuable tool. I wish all managers and parents and teachers used the skill. Stay away from “you” statements. Give your perception. “I noticed that when you correct other people’s mistakes they don’t always learn from them. Take a little more time and teach. Ask them questions that lead them to finding their own mistakes.” It will be a win-win.

A common phrase is “criticize the work or the behavior, but not the person.” There is a difference. To encourage the development of critical thinking, ask open-ended questions: “How can I help?” “How might you do it differently?” “What would it feel like to you if someone said your same words to you?” “Let’s brainstorm some alternatives and see what we come up with.” “Have you ever thought about…?” “Would you like some of my ideas/suggestions?”

So we’ve worked on ourselves so let’s move on to another skill for relationships: what happens when we see the best in each other. In researching long-lasting happy relationships, the researchers found some interesting correlations. A significant one was that the people in the relationships saw each other through their strengths. Sometimes the mates saw their mate in a more positive light than they even saw themselves. Isn’t that a wonder! A wonderful wonder. I’m fond of an American Indian saying, “I salute the highest in you!”

As we strive to improve the highest in ourselves and we seek out the highest in others, then we are focusing on strengths and positive aspects of our life. Even if it doesn’t improve the relationship, it will definitely improve your day!