Years ago, prior to re-finding me at our 10 year high school reunion, my dear husband was having a rough patch with women. He’d had a few relationships end (as most people do in their 20s) and was feeling sort of mystified as to why this kept happening. He was having a guys’ night with his older brother, and I imagine complaining about women at large – trying to sort through the mysteries of the Mars/Venus interaction by blaming it on the completely confusing THEM. I imagine he expected an empathetic nod and a refill on his beer. Instead he got some straight up wisdom that we still refer to on a pretty regular basis. And that wisdom that he got was a version of a fundamental principle of my life coaching practice.
What his brother told him in that moment of male bonding was something like: “You know, dude, these women were all different and maybe they are ALL messed up in some way, but the common denominator in all of these situations is YOU.” Boom. There’s nothing quite like someone you respect calling you up to a higher level of emotional maturity. And there’s nothing quite like that moment when you’re faced with your own responsibility in a situation.
The thing is being the common denominator doesn’t just apply to times of romantic turbulence and serial monogamy. Being the common denominator may be the single most important realization you can ever have and it is one that will save you SO much time and trouble. Let me tell you how.
If you are dissatisfied when you look at your life, you can likely give me a bunch of reasons why that is so. I can do it too – believe me. I spent the better part of my weekend being dissatisfied and giving myself all kinds of reasons why that was true. We’re on week 3 of my husband’s January term and the novelty has long worn off. I got sick. My kids got sick AND we had an injury to boot that was close to sending us to the ER during the height of flu season. Every plan I’ve made for the last 5 days got screwed up by some level of logistical nonsense. And these things all got added to my list of why I was grumpy and dissatisfied, why I was grouchy to the kids and impatient with my husband when he checked in. But the truth is that my dissatisfaction was coming from my very own brain and I was NOT managing that nonsense. My thoughts were the common denominator. My thought, that was something like: “I never get to do what I want,” (which sounds very 4 years old when you say it out loud) was what was getting to me and I could shift things around, ask for help, but as long as I hung on to that thought, I would still be miserable.
And that’s the thing that is always true for everybody. Every person I know, when they’re feeling miserable, can provide LOTS of reasons for why they are miserable. And we do all kinds of stuff to get less miserable. We change jobs. We get married. We have children. We get divorced. We move to new places. And there’s nothing wrong with doing any of those things. The problem is doing those things thinking that those changes are what’s going to make the difference in how we feel. I know people who’ve gone through more jobs in 5 years than I’ve had in my lifetime. And each time, they’re sure that THIS position is going to be the one with the good boss. Or that being able to telecommute is going to fix it. Or that living in that new neighborhood is going to make them happy. And don’t get me wrong, changes CAN make us feel better, but so can staying exactly where we are and looking at the common denominator: what we are thinking about our situation.
Whenever a client talks to me about wanting to leave a job, I say the same thing: “what if you could stay there and feel better and THEN decide what you should do next?” Because here’s the thing about decisions we make when we’re thinking crappy thoughts: generally they’re pretty crappy. Crappy thoughts, crappy feelings, crappy choices. It’s one of those garbage in garbage out moments. So we go through all of the trouble of making some huge change and then we discover that really we’re exactly where we were before. “Wherever you go, there you are.”
Instead of pulling the trigger on all of that logistical effort, what would happen if you could change your mind? What would happen if you could get to where you’re thinking in ways that are productive, healthy, and that move you forward so you can see everything much more clearly and are far more capable of imagining a better situation for yourself?
If you’re sitting there feeling miserable and you’re tempted to change the job or change the spouse or change the house, I want to ask you SLOW DOWN and check in on that common denominator. What’s going on in that head of yours that’s got you feeling so bad? And then I want you to remember that those thoughts you’re having, you’re choosing them and you get to unchoose them any time you want. I can help.