“Man is so imprisoned in his type of thinking that he is simply incapable of fully understanding another standpoint.”
How many ways do you think there are of seeing the same thing? At least as many ways as there are people looking at it. No, that’s not a bad Christmas cracker joke, it’s one of those important universal Truths (with a capital T) that we could all benefit from being more consciously aware of.
Last time we learnt about Limiting Beliefs, our ideas or beliefs about the outside world that somehow limit us. Today we focus on the second of big four energy blocks, known as Interpretations.
At iPEC interpretations are defined as:
“An opinion or judgment that you create about an event, situation, person or experience and believe to be true.”
Rather than being the story that others tell us, interpretations are the stories that we tell ourselves about what we think is going on. The above image is a wonderfully fitting illustration.
As with limiting beliefs, interpretations are neither good nor bad, unless they are blocking or inhibiting us in some way. But be warned, if unhelpful interpretations are occurring unconsciously and are left unchecked, they have the power to destroy lives, careers and relationships in a heartbeat.
Here are some typical examples:
- When I raised my hand in the team meeting today, my boss didn’t call on me. He must not like me;
- My boyfriend hasn’t been picking up the phone all day and has been more distant than usual; I bet he’s thinking about breaking up with me;
- I sent that email to my client over a week ago and they haven’t responded yet. Maybe they were unhappy with the work I did for them.
Some key signs that you’re likely making an unhelpful interpretation are:
(1) Something or someone seems to really push your buttons and causes you to become reactive; and/or
(2) You are making up a reason or explanation for something that causes you to feel bad.
In my experience, the two usually go hand in hand; number (1) is the emotional reaction and number (2) is the rationalisation, judgment or story that we are telling ourselves about it.
Brene Brown, a well-known TED speaker, tells a lovely story about this in her ICF (International Coach Federation) keynote address. She shares that she was swimming in the lake one day with her husband and she was flirting with him but he wasn’t being responsive. She got upset, feeling insulted and rejected. She thought to herself that he probably didn’t find her as attractive in a swimsuit now that she’s in her 40s as opposed to her 20s. Being somewhat more conscious than most, she checked herself and then calmly shared her internal dialogue with her husband. When she voiced it out loud she discovered that it was his insecurities about his ability to keep an eye on the kids at the lake that was really on his mind. And there we have it – unhelpful interpretation exposed!
As you can see, interpretations tend to more personal because they so often lead us to believe that someone is making a judgment about us, our behaviour or our character that funnels neatly into questions about our own self-worth. Notice in each of the examples above that it’s only a baby-step into the “I’m not good enough” message.
So, given that we all experience interpretations……… how do we combat them?
Since a person’s interpretation is only ever based on their individual perspective, the simple act of realising that there are other ways of looking at something swiftly lessens the power of an interpretation.
The key is to expand your viewpoint, open your mind to the other possibilities and raise your awareness of other potential ways of seeing the same person, event or situation.
Some typical coaching questions might be:
- What’s another way to look at that?
- What would someone else (your spouse, your friend) say about that?
- What would someone who had a completely opposite viewpoint to you say about that situation?
If you do catch yourself feeling short-tempered, reactive or in story-telling mode, the formula below can be used very effectively to help manage our own interpretations:
- Ask “How emotionally reactive are you to this situation?”
- Ask “What might be the interpretation or story that caused the upset?”
- Ask yourself “What’s really going on here?”
- Consider “If this situation comes up again, how will I handle it?”
So before next time:
- Observe how interpretations affect you and the people around you;
- Take ownership of your buttons. Know that if you’re reacting, an interpretation is most likely coming up; and
- Find out what story you’re telling yourself, try the exercise above and see how that changes things.
Until then I invite you to check out our Facebook page to learn more about ways you can cultivate your self-awareness and increase your level of consciousness. Stay tuned for the next post on Assumptions, the third of the four Energy Blocks.