The Key to a Healthy Relationship

Self-awareness starts with a simple but powerful shift in questioning.

Most of us are familiar with the now famous commercial: Jake, from State Farm. Jake (actor, Kevin Miles) is helping a married man (actor, Justin Campbell) get affordable insurance through State Farm in the middle of the night. His bathrobe-clad wife, (actress, Melanie Deanne Moore), grabs the phone from her husband’s shocked hand and with air quotes asks:

“What are you wearing, ‘Jake from State Farm?’”

The dumbfounded Jake answers honestly, “Uh, khakis.”

What is it about this commercial that we find funny? A wife’s assumption that her husband is getting stimulated by some form of infidelity when the audience knows he IS getting excited, but by State Farm’s insurance policy.

Off screen and unscripted, we make assumptions in our relationships. Those assumptions are based on our inner dialogue, our inner stories. The key to rewarding relationships, whether intimate or work-related, is self-awareness. 

But what does that mean? What does it mean to be self-aware of our inner dialogue and inner triggers? 

According to psychologist and author (INSIGHT), Tasha Eurich the key to self-awareness is a shift in questioning: Ask WHAT, not WHY.

So, if we were to take the wife who happens upon her husband at 3am talking in hushed tones to Jake from State Farm, her current inner dialogue seems to be assuming the worst. We can see this when she yanks the phone from her husband; we can hear it in her clipped, accusatory tone and her anger disguised as sarcasm. Her inner dialogue goes something like this:

“Why isn’t my husband in bed with me? Why doesn’t he love me?”

Instead, this fictional wife can ask empowering “what” questions such as:

“What is making my husband speak to someone in a hushed tone in the middle of the night? What can I learn from his body language? What can I learn from this moment? What can I learn about myself from my reaction?

The shift from “why” to “what” paves the way from victimhood to insight, from a sense of failure to a sense of purpose.

The most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. So, it behooves us to understand ourselves and our reaction to others. Relationships offer a spiritual mirror to who we are. When we get into an argument with a loved one or a colleague, we are given the opportunity to learn who we are. When someone “rubs us the wrong way” or makes us feel uncomfortable, we need to ask, “What is this feeling trying to teach me?”

Asking WHAT instead of WHY fuels our growth, dispelling anxiety and depression while strengthening our inner compass. We can’t change others, but we can work on ourselves. And when we are in a place of greater self-awareness, our relationships become healthier.

The Illusion of Memory

Psychological scientist and author, Dr. Julia Shaw, studies what she refers to as “false memories” that “corrupt our identities, politics and justice system.” It is our perception of the past that forms our emotional story and sometimes, even facts.

My father is just shy of his 8th decade on earth. He’s “been around the block,” filled with a lifetime of experiences that has caused him to grow, like all of us, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Yet ask him about his collection of baseball cards from the 4th grade and he’s still there, sitting in Mrs. Kofkin’s class, watching the thin, pinch-faced woman snatch his cards away from him.

“She never gave them back,” my father says, a flood of emotion in his voice.

Psychological scientist and author, Dr. Julia Shaw studies what she refers to as “false memories” that “corrupt our identities, politics and justice system.” It is our perception of the past that forms our emotional story and sometimes even facts:

“Everyone thinks that they couldn’t be tricked into believing they have done something they never did, and that if someone were telling them about a false memory, they would be able to spot it. But we found that actually, people tend to be quite susceptible to having false memories, and they sound just like real memories.” (Dr. Shaw, UCL Psychology and Language Sciences)

This idea that we can falsely believe something that didn’t happen to us or that we never experienced directly fascinates me. So, I asked my father recently to share his well-told childhood experience with Mrs. Kofkin again.

“What did Mrs. Kofkin look like?”

“I don’t remember. But she took those cards from me. They were my cards. They weren’t hers to take. She just grabbed them from me.”

It occurred to me that the details of his memory weren’t important; what mattered was the feeling provoked—after so many decades—from the memory itself.

It was the feeling of the event that made all the difference, that kept his childhood “violin song” playing. I thought, this isn’t even about a stack of baseball cards from 7 decades ago. There’s something more here.

“Was Mrs. Kofkin mean to you?”

“No…she was just doing her job.”

“Who are you upset with then?”

(And here it came.)

“My parents. They knew how much those cards meant to me. I begged them to speak to my teacher and get them back. But they said they didn’t have time.”

So, there it was: my father’s memory that stirred a feeling of pain wasn’t about Mrs. Kofkin or the baseball cards. The teacher and cards were an illusion, preventing this almost 80-year-old man from seeing the source of the hurt: the message from his parents that his needs and wants didn’t matter.

We talked more about his parents not realizing they were hurting him, that they were busy running a store and doing, like most parents, the best they could. The pain they caused their son wasn’t personal or intentional.

One childhood memory and a world-altering perception to digest.

Yes, our perceptions create our reality, but our past perceptions do so as well. Our memories are like the wake of a ship, offering a trail of perceptions that buoy us along to the ever present. We have the power to consider that trail and perceive it through a different lens and by extension, shift the course of our present and future.

So, the next time you find yourself beating the drum of a past unpleasant or even traumatic event, dive into that memory until you unearth something you didn’t notice before. You just might find a perceptual treasure to steer you in a more peaceful, promising direction.

Sources: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200408085517.htm

A Latent Choice

The words and images in our minds render powerful consequences in our lives.

We are all familiar with the word choice and how it applies to our everyday lives. We make choices every day, hundreds of times a day, deciding everything from what foods we will consume to the time we go to bed, and everything else in between.

But there’s an altogether different kind of choice we make just as many times a day that plays perhaps an even greater role in our lives: The choice to heed or change our thoughts. That’s right—our mind seems to want to run the show of our lives, making decisions that are not always in alignment with our heart, our inner knowing. These choices occur, if we aren’t mindful (no pun intended;-) in subtle, often unspoken ways. And if these moments of disregarding our inner knowing are said aloud, they’re often done so out of habit, without reflection or even awareness.

As a secondary English teacher, my ears often hear a barrage of self-proclaimed negative statements from students:

“I hate reading.”

“I’m just not a good reader.”

“I’m not good at writing.”

“I’m a procrastinator.”

“I’m lazy.”

Adults often share their own list of self-ascribed truisms:

“I hate exercise.”

“I have a sweet tooth.”

“I’m a spender.”

“I’m not relationship material.”

“I can’t live without my morning coffee.”

Obviously, the list in both cases could go on ad nauseum. Their minds have created these pejorative statements and, receiving no argument from their inner knowing/heart, believe them. The mind is a neutral repository, offering up whatever information you feed it.

According to Rapid Transformational Therapist and TED talk speaker, Marisa Peer (author of Ultimate Confidence): “Your mind does exactly, specifically what it thinks you want to do….It does what it thinks you want.” If we aren’t experiencing what we, in our heart of hearts wants, we need to consider the words we are saying or thinking.

What if we tell our mind a different story? What if we start priming the cognitive pump, using words we think and say that will garner a pleasurable outcome?

Marisa Peer states that our brain only responds to two things: the pictures we make in our head and the words we say to ourselves.

When we make a choice to collaborate with our brain, we are altering our lives in the direction our hearts want to flow. This is not positive thinking; this is proactive thinking.

There’s a famous quote by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” Your mind is listening to your thoughts; it’s up to you what you tell it