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Knowing what others think and feel: you don’t Oct 15

Him: “My boss doesn’t like me.

Me: “How do you know?

Him: “I know it. I can tell.

Me: “Really? How?

Him: “I just can. It’s a gut feeling.

Me: “So you’re a mind reader now…

It amazes me how confident people are when it comes to telling what other people are thinking and feeling from subtle behavioral cues. Especially if it’s about them, and it’s negative. Even the people who otherwise are not very confident.

I used to do this. When it came to other people, I prided myself on being a very good “mind reader”. Over time, I changed my perspective about that. Sure, there are cues, there are non-verbal signals, there are readable emotions. But the bottom line: mind reading involves a lot of guess work passing as skill.

Why do we generally trust our ideas about what others think and feel so much? Personally, I blame it a lot on trusting to much our feelings/ intuition. We say to ourselves “This person doesn’t like me” or “This person thinks I’m an idiot” and we get a feeling of certainty associated with that thought, a subjective validation. Then we say to ourselves “I know it!

No you don’t! Your intuition about this kind of stuff can only be trusted if it’s very well in tune with the objective reality around you. Which most probably, it’s not. Because more probably, your intuition filters your judgments through a couple of deep routed irrational beliefs such as:

  • People don’t like me.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • People are bad and mean.

So what comes out as your intuition about other people’s thoughts and feelings is based more on what’s inside than on what’s inside: your beliefs, your need for certainty and for an excuse regarding various aspects. Intuition can be a powerful thing to have and to use, but only if it’s not “polluted”.

The human psychic is a complex system of thoughts, wants and feelings, which manifest externally in a complex system of behaviors and subtle cues. Reading them accurately is just as complicated. This is why I’m a skeptic when it comes to good “mind reading” skills. The fact of the matter is, there are exactly 3524 things a person might be thinking or feeling in a certain situation, half of which have nothing to do with you.

So next time, instead of guessing what someone is thinking or feeling, try letting go of the need for certainty and admitting you simply don’t know. Or better yet, just ask her. You may actually get an honest answer.

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Self-improvement is masturbation Oct 09

In one of my favorite movies (Fight Club), at one point, Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) says: “Self-improvement is masturbation”. You have to see the scene and the movie to get the full meaning of this line, but even if you haven’t, you get the idea…

This quote sticks is my head like glue. Here’s the thing: I do believe in personal development and improving constantly as a person. Hell, I make a living out of it! But, I also believe that a lot of the people who are into personal development have a skewed vision about it and an ineffective approach.

Some of my best friends are into personal development and I really appreciate them for that. But at the same time, some of the people who are into personal development simply weird me out. These people read a lot of books on personal development, they go to trainings, they quote Dale Carnegie, Michael Jordan or somebody in almost any conversation. And there is this strange, negative energy about them.

Here’s why: they come into personal development from a place of not accepting themselves. They believe they are bad because they have weaknesses (big or small, plenty or a couple), because they are imperfect. They have no concept of self-worth as people beyond their strengths and weaknesses.

Coming from this place, a lot of personal development lovers feel very uncomfortable with whom they are and they project that all around: in the way they walk, they talk, they behave. You feel the need to stay away from them or you’ll catch whatever they have. This is the negative energy I’m talking about.

I wanna make it as clear as possible: wanting to improve because you cannot accept yourself, even if you have major weaknesses, is in my perspective a very, very bad motivation for self-improvement. Here are some of the major reasons:

  • It makes personal development a hard, frustrating journey to somewhere;
  • It makes you look for shortcuts and magic solutions for their transformation, which rarely work;
  • It makes you try to change a lot of things at once, it makes personal development disorganized and ineffective;
  • Very often, even if you’ll improve a lot, you still won’t like yourself or be happy.

It’s very important that first, before anything else, you learn to accept yourself as you are. It doesn’t mean you don’t wanna improve anymore; it only means that you realize you have an intrinsic value as a human being and that imperfection is actually very natural.

Only after you accept yourself and become comfortable in your own skin, do you move on to improving yourself, one step at a time. Think of accepting the status quo as the first major step in changing it. This, to me, is mature, effective personal development.

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Avoid manipulation by understanding your emotional buttons Oct 03

One thing I’ve been realizing with a lot of clarity in the past few years is how people can easily manipulate you if they’re capable of pushing the right emotional buttons. They seem to get you to feel bad if you don’t do things their way. You feel without choice, you feel trapped and you’re looking for a way out…

Your emotional buttons are closely related to your social needs. We all want to be loved, accepted, approved by others. These are normal, healthy human needs. But when these needs become very strong, very intense, they’re no longer healthy and they take over our lives. They become strong emotional buttons other people can push to manipulate us.

One client of mine was constantly manipulated by her boss when she had a request of him. Whenever her boss anticipated that she wanted to ask for something, he made her feel selfish and bad for it in advance. By saying things like “You always want something! Everybody wants stuff from me around here!” She often felt so bad that she ended up ignoring her wants and not making her requests, even though they were justified.

Her very strong need not to be seen as selfish, her dependency of other people’s approval was one big red emotional button for others to push. As she became more aware of this, she started recognizing the situations in which this dependency was getting the better of her and stared actively fighting it.

If you can think of situations with various people in which you feel trapped, than it’s time to ask yourself: “Which are my emotional buttons?” Look carefully at these situations one at a time, notice your emotions in each one and try to understand what specific words and behaviors the other person uses seem to trigger them. Analyze the data like a detective and look for the patterns.

In time, this exercise of observation and introspection will make you more aware of your emotional buttons, you very strong social needs and how they can be used in manipulating you. Maybe you’ll discover that:

  • You have a strong, dependency-like need to be approved by those close to you;
  • You can’t stand to lose someone’s respect, no matter who that person is;
  • You feel intimidated by people with a high social or professional status.

For every person, there is a specific combination of specific needs and vulnerabilities relating to others. Knowing and understanding them is the first important step in avoiding manipulation and getting more control over your own life.

Then comes the second important step: addressing and gradually changing your emotional reactions, your communication style and your behavior. It takes time, the right tools and consistent effort, but the options it gives you definitely make it worth you while.

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The Gestalt prayer Oct 03

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.

- Fritz Perls, 1969

My way of saying… party time!

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