One of the side effects of a mindfulness practice is a greater awareness of the inner dialogue that runs through your mind day in and day out. I’ve talked about it before, but as the months go by, I find myself noticing patterns of thinking that influence the way I perceive the world and how I act.
For example, often before I walk into a meeting or potentially fraught situation, I ask myself a question: Who do I need to be?
The point of the question is to think about how I can best “show up” for the people I’m with. For a business meeting, I may need to be a leader and drive an agenda. I may need to listen carefully and coach somebody. I may need to be a creative, critical thinker to make ideas better.
When I pause a moment to consider what role is best for me to play, I can be more effective in a business setting.
In relationship with others, I’ll also ask myself a variant of the question. Instead of “who do I need to be,” I’ll ask “what does this situation need?”
Does my friend need a listening ear, a boost of confidence or a bit of advice? Do they need to be distracted from their woes or called on the carpet?
I don’t always gauge it right, and the situation can change over the course of a conversation, but pausing to assess the situation can help me adapt to other people and create a deeper connection.
All that is good. But I’ve come to realize that I ask myself that question (“Who do I need to be?”) all the time.
Before heading into a social situation, at the dentist’s office, while buying a car… I’m unconsciously trying to decide what role I need to play. It has two negative consequences.
- It exacerbates my people-pleasing tendencies. I like people to be calm and feel good. And I will just about kill myself to make that happen. It also means that I deliberately change my energy to match the situation versus bringing my own energy into play.
- If I don’t know what role to play, I’m deeply uncomfortable. Put me in a room full of people that I need to make idle chit chat with, and I’ll be wrecked in minutes. I can’t read that many people and adjust to each of them that quickly. Or, if their personalities are strong, I’ll be completely cowed. And I’ll shut down. Either way, I’ll escape, either literally (making a polite excuse and leaving) or figuratively (retreating behind a polite smile and noncommittal small talk).
The next logical question is, of course, why not simply be myself? Why do I need to “be” anyone in particular?
I suspect there are people who walk through life, fully themselves at every moment. I suspect it isn’t always easy. They may not mesh in certain situations and will be ill-equipped to hide it. But, at the same time, they aren’t always trying to change their own interior landscape in anticipation and adaptation to others.
Lately I’ve taken pains to listen for that bit of internal dialogue, consciously changing the question from “who do I need to be?” to “am I really here?” Instead of stepping into a role or hiding behind a facade, I’m instead endeavoring to simply be present. I am learning to accept that I can’t fix everything and that making others comfortable is not my job.
The only person I need to be is myself.
Picture of clouds reflected in the
Willamette River taken by me with an iPhone.