Watch Where You’re Thinking

Watch Where You’re Thinking

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This morning I was walking to the subway (light rail really but who says “I was walking to the light rail”?), listening to a podcast on my iPhone.

A young kid was running across the street with his two older brothers and he was focused on his feet rather than where he was going. He was heading straight toward me and didn’t know it. At the last moment he looked up and saw me and dodged to the right.

At the same time, comedian Jim Gaffigan was talking on the Think Big podcast about Trump supporters. His (very good) point was that the tendency to dismiss people who have a different opinion than you as idiots rather than engaging with them is really dangerous and not productive.

Blind spots.

So I see people walking or running without looking where they are going all the time. People are looking at their phones or at a cute dog across the street or at their feet. More often than not it’s younger people. They probably haven’t run into enough telephone poles yet to learn to watch where they’re going.

It seems like dismissing people who are different or think different is a similar kind of dangerous foolishness that might end up in a painful collision of some kind.

These two things brought to mind a friend of mine who I’ve known for years. He is constantly making declarations like: “we all have to stop eating red meat!” or “I’m going to get up every morning at 4:30 am and write.” These are perfectly fine things to say but the problem is that this friend NEVER follows up with these kind of sweeping plans and, in fact, one day after the “no red meat” decision he was eating a hamburger.

The end result is that I don’t believe him when he says he’s going to do something.

He doesn’t know this about himself.

He’s running across the street without looking where he’s going.

Now of course I must have blind spots as well. It seems to me that they are caused by a focus on the story I tell myself. I think also that self-righteousness is a huge blinder. I know that when I was eating too much I had a story that went like “this is a temporary lapse, usually I eat healthily.” I remember realizing that my characterization of myself as someone who works out was based on six months in college and that I hadn’t been to the gym regularly in 20 years.

So how can I take off the blinders?

The key is realizing that being wrong is not so bad.

Most people choose being right over being happy all the time. I know someone who believes that being successful and happy is only possible if you’re evil.

I need to pause for a moment and point out that I was careful not to use the word “think” in those sentences. People don’t think that being right is better than being happy and don’t think that successful people are evil. These are, for the most part, unexamined choices and unconscious beliefs handed off silently from parent to child or from our culture.

But if you think about them you can see that they don’t really work and they are keeping you unhappy and unfulfilled.

So here’s my challenge to you, dear reader. Think about what you are completely right about and consider what that righteousness may be costing you. It may be undermining relationships or keeping you from taking important actions.

Here are some things you might think.

  • My boss is fool.
  • My child is lazy.
  • People who support (fill in blank) for president are idiots.
  • I’m too busy to exercise.
  • I deserve to play video games/have some ice cream/have a glass of wine
  • It’s selfish to take time to take care of yourself.
  • People who are (fill in blank) are (fill in blank).

Try this and tell me how it goes:
Pick a negative belief you have about someone you see every day. Act as if you don’t have that belief.

Advanced:
Try to act as if you don’t know anything about them.

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