One of the phrases I use daily is “Maybe there’s something I don’t know.” Introducing this hint of doubt, this intellectual pause, into a stressful situation helps to reduce anxiety.
Think about the last thing that stressed you out. Let’s say it was a technology problem, one you know exactly how to correct. This can certainty escalate distress. You’ve tried each strategy that has worked previously and you’re stuck. Maddening, right? You KNOW how to do this! Why is it not working? Well, maybe there’s something you don’t know. That moment of doubt can make you receptive to solutions that haven’t occurred to you previously.
There are a thousand ways this can be helpful.
- You’re in slow moving traffic and you need to get to work soon. Infuriating! But maybe there’s a wreck ahead in which someone is seriously hurt. Maybe they are working to extricate the victim from the car–a child or an elderly person. In that case, most of us want them to take their time and get it right. We don’t want them to rush. We’d rather be a bit late to work than for this victim to be further injured. Another benefit–by the time you tell this story to yourself, traffic is moving again.
- You’re in line at a store and the cashier is smacking gum. It’s loud and grating, so distracting that the sound of it takes over your brain. But maybe he’s trying to quit smoking and the gum is helping him achieve this objective. You know how hard it is to quit smoking and you want to be supportive not judgmental. And boom! You’re through the line and you’ve been kind to a person who was originally getting on your last nerve. Give yourself a pat on the back!
- You’re at work and a coworker responds to you in a disrespectful manner. Your first response is to think she doesn’t value you and you’ve had enough of her attitude. But maybe she is dealing with a toxic situation at home. Maybe she has an undiagnosed medical condition, or an illness she’s not ready to share with coworkers yet. Considering her (possible) difficulties, you can be more generous in response.
Of course, there are some situations in which you should create boundaries and or avoid altogether. I’m not talking about those. I mean those little irritations that can commandeer your brain and derail your day. If one of those moments crops up, say to yourself, “Hmmm. Maybe there’s something I don’t know.”
Consult Brene Brown’s work on generous assumptions for more insight.