A few days ago I stepped in it with a friend. I inadvertently hurt her feelings, and after she expressed that to me, I apologized. In explaining why I had upset her so much, she told me that she was COMPLETELY humiliated. I tried to put my coach ears away (they are often not helpful when interacting with friends and loved ones) and simply offer my regret at the way things went down. My intent clearly was not the same as the impact here.
When the conversation was over, however, I had to cycle back to that feeling that she had, humiliated, and to consider what it has to tell us about our thoughts and our feelings. Let me start at the beginning. A lot of folks think that their feelings come from an external event. Something happens, and then we have a feeling about it, and then we have thoughts that come from those feelings or are about those feelings or something like that. But that model has the steps all mixed up. Truth is the feeling about an event comes from our thoughts about it, what we make it mean. The event is facts that we could all agree on. And then we think things about it. And then we have feelings because of those thoughts…. Yeah, okay Julia, so what. Who cares?
Well, I care, and if I tell you why, you might care too. The notion that our feelings come from our thoughts means that we have some say in how we feel. If we are simply reacting to external events all of the time, there’s not a lot we can do. We often can’t change external events; we certainly can’t change other people, so if we’re reacting to them all the time, we don’t have much wiggle room. But the thoughts that we have about things that happen? THOSE we can change.
So if we feel humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed – there is a sort of family of feelings here – are we simply reacting to the event? No, we are reacting to what we think about the event. Stuff happens and then we think, what? For humiliation, maybe something like: “I look like a fool. I look like I don’t know what I’m doing. People think I’m not good enough.” It’s all about how people perceive us. And maybe, if we’re really practiced at humiliation, embarrassment or shame, we skip the other people part and go right to some ugly thought about ourselves: “I’m not good enough. I’ll never get it right. I always mess up.” The bad feeling comes from the thought.
In addition to being a life coach, I am a musician. I know a lot about that humiliation/embarassment business. I used to be a total perfectionist about preparation and performances because I was terrified that I would make a mistake, that I would look foolish, that I would be not good enough to perform in front of other people, much less get paid for it. I was sure that the level of scrutiny they were giving my performance was similar to my own, that they were judging each note, each phrase, every strum. I was sure that their attention was solidly focused on what I was doing, rather than on their food, their drinks, their date, their friends.
What I found over time is that if I allowed myself to relax into it, if I stopped worrying so very much about what they thought about me, if I released my version of their assessment of my performance, I could actually enjoy myself much more. This is the moment where making music for me becomes about more than the actual music. It becomes magic and it involves the way that I feel, the way my singing partner and I feel together and the way I see THAT experience float out into whatever audience might be there. It feels entirely different. When I make mistakes from that space, they seem such a small thing, a brief millisecond that passes almost as soon as I notice it. When something doesn’t go as planned, it’s within the creation of this new thing, this new moment that will never happen again.
And here’s the really cool part, when I stop worrying so much about what everyone thinks of me, I feel more joyful and THAT makes everyone have a better time. I am humiliation-proof AND I create an experience that everyone can enjoy. THAT is the magic of paying attention to what you think. That is the magic of minding your own business.
Do you. Engage with it. Be there in the moment. What they are thinking about it is none of your business, and likely is nowhere near as bad as you think it is. What moment could you make if you stopped worrying about it?