As complex beings, our cognitions, emotions, and perceptions stem from multiple sources. Our views of ourselves, how we see others, and our individual thought processes are based on experiences (to give us affirmations or challenge our way of thinking), how we were taught to process emotions (most of which is taught during childhood development), and what we are aspiring to (usually in the form of career progression or what milestones we set for ourselves in adulthood). Amid all of this, we also create meaningful relationships, memories, and must endure unforeseen hardships. In short, A LOT goes into who we are and how we react.
Keeping in mind that our views of situations stem from various sources, we begin to perceive many events and interactions based on our “tunnel view.” In this tunnel view, we are quick to make assumptions and associations because we have been through similar events and interactions. What if I told you that every SINGLE event and interaction was unique? How you see it can be an opportunity for you to challenge your thinking process. When you challenge your thinking process, you learn something new about yourself and you empower yourself through growth rather than complacency.
For example, maybe you are a person who is uncomfortable in social settings, especially when you do not know most of the people you are around. Let’s say your normal thought process and actions sound something like this:
- You keep to yourself and make small talk when someone initiates–and you aren’t a fan of small talk to begin with. This puts you in the position to be reactive in social settings rather than proactive.
- You make quick assumptions about the people at the event based on what they look like or how they carry a conversation. Due to these assumptions, you make the decision that you do not want to engage and close yourself off to potential connections.
- You find a way to ease your discomfort, such as passively watching something in the background or focusing on your smartphone. At social events, there are going to be natural lulls where you can absolutely take time for yourself to enjoy the scenery and practice mindfulness. Be conscientious that it is very easy for complacency to set in and get stuck in that mindset.
Based on these actions, there is a good chance that you felt neutral about the event. This is not a terrible outcome, but it also doesn’t push you forward or alter your way of thinking or perceptions.
Let’s take the same example and switch up the thought process:
- You introduce yourself to the people around you and find a commonality to talk about (“Hey! My name is Diana. Great food, right? How do you know Suzie?”). This engaging approach empowers you to take social initiative with a no-pressure topic AND there is the opportunity to share a few laughs while helping to ease discomfort.
- Instead of making assumptions about people, you develop a curiosity instead. Remember the assumptions we make are coming from our “tunnel view”. Like you, these individuals are very complex and are more than what they portray themselves to be at a party. They may also be nervous (like you) and have had plenty of experiences that you know nothing about. Developing a sense of curiosity takes the pressure off because you are coming from a humble point of view while also being reminded that everyone at this event is here for the same reason. Rather than being focused on the assumptions, we focus on the commonalties we share.
- You ease your discomfort by using mindfulness or usefulness. In our quick way of trying to ease feelings of discomfort uncomfortable, it’s easy to whip out our phone and scroll through Facebook or Instagram. However, I challenge you to fight that urge and find ways to make connections in person rather than through social media. Maybe take a moment to go outside and make mental notes of gratitude, ask the host how you can help, or take note of someone else who looks out of place and strike up a conversation. The worst that can happen is that the host says no thank you or that the conversation you have with that stranger lasts about 5 minutes. To me, it’s a win-win because you are making the effort to channel your nervousness into something that can have bigger pay offs. Say the host accepts your help and this eases their stress. Or say the person you talked to has a lot in common with you and would like to meet up for coffee later in the week. My point is, you’ll never find out the payoff if you don’t take the opportunities to challenge your habitual thinking and actions.
Every day brings new opportunity to add more elements to our “tunnel vision.” We can get so preoccupied with our to-do lists, responsibilities, and life’s curveballs, that a lot of the times we don’t tend to our humanistic nature. Our humanistic nature thrives on connectivity, being in tune with our feelings, and giving grace to ourselves and other people. Identify what complacent thinking you may have and I encourage you to find those opportunities to engage, initiate or challenge yourselves so you can live moments consciously and show up like you were meant to be there. Chances are, you may be starting a process toward something worthwhile.
Diana Nesko, MS, LGMFT provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to schedule your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Diana.