Warning: In this story, I am not the hero, I am the villain.
On a Sunday afternoon, my wife and I arrived at the library, ready to get some work done.
We take the elevator up to the 5th floor, where they have study rooms, periodicals, and the quiet room. The quiet room is designed so that people can work and study in peace.
We settle into the quiet room, we’re the only two people there.
Thinking that the room was soundproof, and also wanting to make my wife laugh…I devise a (to me) hilarious plan to play five seconds of The Notorious BIG’s Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems.
I press play. My wife quoted me as whispering “This is what I think of your quiet room.”
After five glorious, rebellious seconds, a library employee opens the door and politely tells me that the quiet room is (shocker) meant for being quiet. She asks if we might rather use one of the nearby meeting rooms. My wife thinks this is a fantastic idea.
I sheepishly grab my bag and we walk to the meeting room. My quiet room revolution fizzles out like a wet sparkler. Biggie would be disappointed.
I was kicked out of the quiet room at the library.
Learn what my hilariously awkward moment can teach you about how to handle any uncomfortable situation, and help prevent you from replaying events over and over after the fact.
You know the events:
“I can’t believe I called the client by the wrong name all meeting!”
“Why didn’t I talk to anyone at the party last night?!” (Here’s my fix for that)
“…Did I just hit reply all?” (Sorry, no excuse for this one, you’ve got box seats in hell.)
1:04 PM: I press play. My wife quoted me as whispering “This is what I think of your quiet room.”
What can we learn from this?
After that, I realized something interesting.
If something socially awkward happened to me years ago, I would have gone through a familiar cycle:
The most important takeaway is: Separate your actions from your identity. How many times have you talked with someone and:
And later you replayed the conversation in your head.
Worse than that…you started to meld that interaction into who you are, and associate it with your identity.
What’s the fix?
Realize that this type of negative overgeneralization of events is a form of cognitive distortion known as “labeling”. Labeling is insidious because it fuses actions (which are tiny samples sizes of behavior) with our identity.
Author and researcher Brené Brown has a philosophy:
Guilt = I did a bad thing. Shame = I AM a bad person.
Once we separate our actions from our identity, we become free.
So the next time you do something awkward…like playing gangster rap in a library quiet room, or telling a story in a group and people don’t react quite the way you expect:
Destroy the link between your actions and who you are. Delete all thoughts of “What do these actions say about who I am as a person?” This is the most difficult step. I do a couple of deep breaths to center myself and move on to the next step.
If there is anything about the situation that is within your control, mentally adjust your approach for next time. (For me, that means not playing gangster rap in the quiet room) The wisdom here is knowing the difference between what you can and can’t control.
Move on. Close the book. Replaying an event is counterproductive and will almost always lead to “because that’s who I am” thinking. Often the biggest key here is simply giving yourself the permission to move on.
By flushing and fixing, you’ve earned the right to forget.
Cultivating the skills of flush, fix, and forget will help you rebound from any awkward moment.
Use it often. Focus on what you can directly control, and discard the rest.
(Unless you hit reply all.)
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Originally published at medium.com