Try­ing to be your best self even in dif­fi­cult mo­ments

The Modesto Bee - - Explore - CAR­OLYN HAX

Dear Car­olyn: I think it’s im­por­tant how I am treated and how I treat oth­ers, but I’m not per­fect, es­pe­cially when I’m an­gry or frus­trated. How do I bring my best self for­ward even when it’s a dif icult mo­ment?

— Anony­mous

I think all of our best selves get el­bowed aside by our worst some­times, and so aim­ing for per­fec­tion is not re­al­is­tic. But con­tri­tion is re­al­is­tic, and it’s es­sen­tial. If you be­have poorly when an­gry or frus­trated, then you ad­mit to it the mo­ment you

rec­og­nize it, whether it’s while you’re still snark­ing or an hour later or a day later or a year or when a witness asks you, “Are you OK? Your re­ac­tion was pretty harsh,” and it oc­curs to you that s/he’s right.

This is for the oc­ca­sional lapse.

If you reg­u­larly snap dur­ing dif icult mo­ments, though, or if more mo­ments are dif icult than not, then it’s time to up­grade your re­sponse — be­cause an apol­ogy for snap­ping is in­ad­e­quate when it’s for the wrong trans­gres­sion. Once it be­comes a pat­tern, then the apol­ogy you owe is not for the par­tic­u­lar in­stance but in­stead for the pat­tern it­self, for your not deal­ing ef­fec­tively with gen­eral anger or stress.

And the ac­tion you owe is both to ind and ad­dress the source of the stress, and to iden­tify ha­bit­ual re­ac­tions that are un­kind and/ or coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. For ex­am­ple: A prob­lem you’re afraid to face can be faced; an un­com­fort­able or un­sat­is­fy­ing life rut can be re­placed with a dif­fer­ent path; a ten­dency to act out re­flex­ively can, with aware­ness and ef­fort, be re­placed with pa­tience and mind­ful ac­tion.

How can you know when you’ve be­come this an­gry per­son and need to change? Two steps: (1) Be able and ready to ad­mit fault; a de­fen­sive self is not your best self. (2) Read the peo­ple around you. Are they avoid­ing you? Tip­toe­ing around you? En­gaged in repet­i­tive bat­tles with you? Grov­el­ing to avoid tick­ing you off? This sec­ond part might seem sub­tle, but the irst one is the tallest hur­dle to clear. Email Car­olyn at [email protected]­post.com, fol­low her on Face­book at www.face­book. com/car­olyn.hax or chat with her on­line at noon Eastern time each Fri­day at www. wash­ing­ton­post.com.

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