Positivity (Part Three!)

(Parts One and Two, if you missed them.)

You can tell when I’ve gotten excited; I write novels.

What I have to get across to you, though, is that I’m not just getting your regular run-of-the-mill excited. I’m getting these-ideas-can-really-HELP-people excited. I moved to Austin knowing that I would be joining a community of people more intensely interested in communication and understanding, more concerned about the welfare of another person, more inclined to find out exactly what’s going on in someone else’s head. But I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be putting myself in a position to learn such amazing things about myself and other people. I don’t think I had any idea what was about to happen to me. And I would never want to go back to being the person I was before—who knew and understood so little. Who knows what bridge I crossed? I’m here. And there will inevitably be more bridges.

Would you like to rephrase that more positively?

You might not even believe what a difference this makes. You might not get it until you try it. I’m just warning you now, because I didn’t quite get it either. Until I tried it.

Now, I hadn’t really bothered to try it until this point. I had read plenty of books on the subject—thinking positively, using optimism, creative visualization and all that. And it’s all good stuff, I’m a huge fan of these ideas. But the thing that has worked the best for me so far… with the least effort, in fact!... has been this one. Right here. The one I’m going to explain to you now.

It has to do with obligation.

I wrote a post about obligation not long ago. I was reading a great book by Dale Carnegie and there were just too many great intersecting ideas for me to be able to keep my mouth shut. And I’m going to go so far as to quote my own post, so that we’re clear. This is what I’m talking about:

The first thing I’ve done is implement a Usual Error technique(...): language reform! If I express obligation in any way, one of several potential helpers (including myself) may say, “Would you like to rephrase that more positively?” And immediately the landscape of my brain is changed, and I do not say “I have to do this thing… I should do this thing…” I instead say, “I want to do this thing! I would like to do this thing!” And then I find out if I really want to do it.

And sometimes I don’t do it.

But most of the time, I do do it. And when that happens, it takes on a completely different feeling, not a feeling of obligation and entrapment and inevitability, but instead this feeling of control, a feeling that I hold power over myself and my destiny and, well, my work day! Even the ickiest responsibility is transformed because I have actively made a decision to do that thing, I have decided that I want to do that thing.

This idea has actually made a really big difference in the way I feel on a day-to-day basis. I don’t know that I really expected that kind of a difference when I started. It certainly sounded like a great idea. I hoped it would change something in a positive way. And it was easy to implement, so there was no reason not to try it. It did make a difference. I am happier and calmer and less prone to upset because I feel like I do the things I want to do—I no longer feel blackmailed into being unhappy. Even when my hormones have kicked up, the last two weeks, I still mostly feel in control of who I am and what responsibilities I take on. That’s a big deal!

You can do this, too. It’s so easy to start. Just start replacing words in your everyday conversations! “Should” changes to “Want”. Must, have to, need to… it all changes to want, would like. You might find out that you don’t really want that thing, but that’s important! If you really don’t want to do it… if there is nothing indirectly causing you to want to do it… why on earth would you do it!? This can go pretty deep, and we can talk about it for ages, but think about it. Some of those things you’re dreading, you want to do them, even if the very idea of tackling them makes you cringe. There’s a reason you want to do them. If we come at it from the wanting… instead of the shoulding… we can be so much happier.

These things really do stick, especially when you’re not expecting it. For instance, when you’re balancing the books. Yes, my accounting was the last place I expected to be implementing a Usual Error tweak. I can’t tell you if it helped—I’m still short on cash. But it made me feel better. It made me feel less panicked, less driven. And that was the point. When Kyeli said that the purpose of the Positivity workshop was to teach people ow to be “obnoxiously happy”, she was not kidding. I love being obnoxiously happy!

Teasing is an interesting example of how negativity can get out of hand.

When the triad went through these points in the workshop, I didn’t get the impression that they meant the teasing section as a sub-category of positive rephrasing… but I can’t help thinking of it that way. (My brain is squirmy like that.) Much of the time teasing is just teasing, and not a big deal. But sometimes, we use teasing to say something negative that we wouldn’t get away with otherwise. And that’s not okay.

The triad’s examples were really good at showing us how teasing can really turn negative and harmful, and things like that happen all the time. Sometimes it’s better to put yourself in the other person’s shoes before you say something that’s “just teasing”. Calling it teasing doesn’t change it, in many cases—it just helps you avoid the consequences. (And not even that, a lot of the time!) So if you’re going to tease someone, come from a positive place. It’s safer, it’s happier! And there’s less scary undercurrent. I know you’re familiar with the scary undercurrent!

...And they all lived happily ever after!

We remember endings. We remember them so well that we will often forget how wonderful or difficult something has been, just because the ending might be different. Because of this we have a special trick we can pull, and you never know when it might come in handy! The trick is in controlling the end—making the end happy.

The last day of your vacation. The commute home from work. Conversations before bed. We can make them good, and they’ll be extra sticky because endings are already sticky.

I have some other things to say about endings. “Endings” was at the end of the workshop, appropriately. It’s little but it’s good. And ending the workshop—the whole series, actually, because Positivity is the last section in their setup—reminds me how good I feel about the whole thing. Which makes a kind of funny point.

This last workshop was an incredible beginning to my weekend of learning new things at SXSWi. It happened at exactly the right time for me, even though I was tired from my first day at Interactive. I was reminded that obligations and limitations are unnecessary to a human being who is powerful and limitless, and capable of doing or making whatever she wants! We give ourselves less credit than we are due. It’s not that my week sucks; it’s that my week is interesting because it’s challenging. The phrasing makes an amazing, believable difference. Openness, honesty—with others, with oneself—a diaspora of polite social fictions, canned responses, thoughts that come from Out instead of In. Our language affects our thought. And effort does not equal value! What we do becomes who we are. You’re not really pretending anymore. It all matters in wonderful ways. We can take our toxicity in hand and heal ourselves. We can do whatever the fuck we want!

Isn’t that bizarre!? And… does it make you feel as good as me? Because, wow. Someone handed me a comment sheet at some point; I wrote like a madwoman all over the thing. I feel strongly about this. I want us to really pay attention, here! These things are important. And they make me happy! I love solutions! I even love problems, when I think about them under these circumstances! Problems are so… solvable!

You can go to these workshops, too. They’re really nice. Informal, relaxing, exciting! The next set is happening at the Human Potential Center in Austin, and there’s more information here. They have a $20 sliding scale. If you’re dead broke, go anyway! They want an audience, they want feedback, and they want people to benefit from these ideas! If you can afford to send some cash their way, please, please, please do. What they’re doing is incredibly valuable to you and me and all of us. They are worth our time and they are really worth our support.

And, hell! You could even write about them in your blog. ;}

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