Open Mouth, Insert Foot
Let me give you an inside glimpse into the mind of a therapist. Well… mine at least. I’ll tell you now that I am by no stretch of the imagination a perfect person and I occasionally encounter “foot-in-mouth” disease.
Yep, just like this pup (but probably not quite as cute).
I don’t always say what I mean. It’s something I’ve worked really hard on though and I’ll tell you my three-step secret if you have a similar struggle:
Slow the f*** down
Seek to understand
Seriously. That’s the big secret.
Do you ever find yourself going over a past conversation that could have gone much differently depending on word choice, attitude, tone of voice, etc.? Or maybe you fall into assuming something about the other person or filling in the gaps about a conversation that may have turned into either a conflict or a disappointment? I’ve done this many times. Too many to count. But in recent years, I find myself doing it less and less. It’s mainly because I’ve begun to implement this three-step process into each interaction I have.
When I become aware about my mind racing to respond, to plug in the missing pieces and make up my end of the story, or merely running 1000 miles per hour, I make myself stop, take a deep breath, and refocus. I start to notice how my mind is already jumping to conclusions and my thoughts tend to take on a negative tone and word choice. By being mindful about this part of my process before any words even come out of my mouth, I’ve done most of the work. Simply stopping to notice what your mind is doing is a huge step in having more successful interactions.
You can even take it a step further and notice what feelings or emotions might be coming up for you. Are you feeling angry, frustrated, anxious, rushed, overwhelmed, scared, worried, etc.? Identifying and naming your emotions gets you more connected to your experience and helps slow down the process as well.
Moreover, you could also recognize the behaviors and body reactions you’re currently experiencing. Are you tense in your shoulders? Is there a burning fire in your belly? Are you clenching your jaw or your fists? Is your breathing shallow? Are you rushing around trying to do a million things at once? Physically stopping yourself in the moment will allow you to acknowledge where you need to slow down even further.
Once I’ve slowed down and taken a good ten to twenty seconds to breathe and refocus, I try to stop myself from automatically assuming what the other person’s experience may be. Instead, I get curious and ask questions. Now that I’m calmer and more relaxed, I can be more open to another person and what they have to say. I can listen with an open mind more easily and learn about their understanding of the situation. I’m already aware of what my understanding is, but an interaction takes at least two parties so I really only have half the picture to start. Without a clear view into the other person’s experience, I’ll never have the whole picture.
Next, I incorporate steps two and three simultaneously by being curious, asking questions, and seeking to understand the other person’s point of view. As soon as I begin attempting to respond with my side of things before fully understanding the other person, I remind myself that it’s not time for my side yet. I need the full picture first. By listening attentively, with an open mind, and in full respect of the other person, I find that I rarely get into many conflicts AND I usually manage to avoid “foot-in-mouth” disease. Win-win!
This three-step process is still a work-in-progress for me, especially with my toddler who is just as emotionally passionate as I am. But I’m telling you it works way better than what I’ve done in the past and I bet it can for you too. Try it the next time you feel yourself getting out of control and nearly stick your foot in your mouth. Test it out on your spouse, your kids, a co-worker, your boss, or a family member. I’d be curious to see how much your interactions shift after making this change.
If you would like more peaceful and mindful interactions in your relationships, please call me at 720-381-2755 or email me at tradewindstherapy at gmail dot com. We can set up our first appointment today and begin shifting the way you communicate with yourself and others and train your brain to work at the speed of your mouth!