In a discussion today, I heard one explanation of assertiveness as: the sharing of “what I think, what I feel, and what I want”.
I really like this. I like the difference between that and, what I would now consider, aggressiveness. Aggressiveness in this light, is the attempt to convince or even force someone else to think/feel/want something or to try to “win” a battle of opinion.
I haven’t always been the most assertive person, often because I have made the (erroneous) assumption that to be assertive, I must be certain I’m right, before I make a statement. But when it comes to sharing what I think, feel or want, there really aren’t absolute “rights” and “wrongs”. (Of course, I can be mistaken about matters of fact, but by communicating what I think, I can be corrected and learn.)
When it comes to what I feel and want however, those are entirely up to me. Being assertive now doesn’t sound quite so scary. It’s just a statement of what is true for me at that moment, and I can easily stand behind that. It’s sharing who I am, and without sharing who I am with the people in my life, I won’t make connection. And my life without connection is not healthy.
I’ve spent so much of my life trying to stay “off the radar” — afraid of offending someone with a point of view I may hold that is contrary to theirs. I don’t think that’s a viable strategy for me going forward. It’s quite possible (and likely, even) for people to think, feel, and want different things without necessitating that one is more right or wrong or invalid. The live and let live idea. Or better yet, “live and let live and maybe even learn”!
Sometimes I get really stuck in my head. It’s like my inner dialog starts becoming an echo chamber with lots of fear based word fragments that just get louder and more confused. This may be a by-product of anxiety, I’m not sure. Usually, it happens when my brain knows there’s a problem, knows it’s important, but hasn’t been given the time nor space to work through it.
What I need most when this happens is a patient listener who doesn’t automatically jump to problem solving mode. I’m actually very resistant to advice during these times because it just adds to the word salad in my brain and adds shame that I can’t figure my problems out on my own. (This is especially distressing when the topic is work related.) What I need most is to be able to just start talking and to randomly spit out things as they pop up in my thoughts and then evaluate them for truth and clarity, and then I can start to organize the bits into actual topics and needs.
I’m super lucky to have a spouse that is willing to play this role with me when I ask. (Of course it takes speaking up skills to ASK for this kind of listening favor, but that’s a different topic.)
Sometimes speaking up is just saying the good things that pop into my head.
Passing the same woman, wearing an adorable sweater, for the 3rd time as you zig zag back and forth at the grocery store – and finally saying “Hey! I really like your sweater!” That’s speaking up.
Noticing a super-NON-drama-queen friend subtly mention a struggle – and catching them in DM to say “Hey – how are you?” That’s speaking up.
Not all verbal and written contributions need to be big or dramatic or up front or public or loud. What if we just took the leap and quietly said all the good things to people when they occurred to us? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Speaking up is hard for me. Whether it’s due to fear that I don’t have all the right facts, or my thoughts aren’t cohesive enough, or maybe it’s just not my place — I often keep my mouth shut.
It’s not an entirely bad thing, of course. Not speaking allows me to listen. It allows me to practice my “intake” skills. Collecting information. Tucking it away for rumination and analysis. Always keeping my eyes and ears open for patterns and connections.
But sometimes, it would behoove me to speak.
I have taken on a writing challenge to write for 31 days on a topic. My topic is “Speaking Up”. It will likely be some combination of thoughts on how to speak up, and other times simply instances of me speaking up on some topic or another that I really need to get off my chest.
It’s time to say no to autopilot “shoulds”. If I can rephrase the “should” thoughts into “could” thoughts, I will open up my options and can see the “suggestion” in light of my existing priorities.
“Shoulds are hard to eradicate, since their origin and function is actually adaptive. They are simple rules to live by that have worked in the past. They are templates for survival that you can access quickly in times of stress. The problem is that they become so automatic that you don’t have time to analyze them, and so rigid that you can’t modify them to fit changing situations.”
— Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of your Moods & Your Life — by McKay, Davis and Fanning, p. 19
I have finite time and emotional energy. Why waste them on autopilot when I have all this freedom to choose?!
So, I did a big thing this weekend. I got my hair shorted. Big time.
This is the shortest my hair has ever been. Likely since birth or shortly after. I am happy. It’s only been a day, but it’s just so freeing. Slowly but surely, change is happening. Choosing alternate paths. Trial and error. It is good.
You see, I’ve been really working, for the past year or so, on doing the hard things. I’ve made some pretty significant changes in how and where I do a large part of my life. I started experimenting with being super honest about my views and beliefs, and I pulled up stakes, and after 10 years, started a new job. These have been exceptionally difficult, and overwhelmingly healthy things for me to do.
There has been one place, however, that I have just been unable to make any progress. My physical health. Let’s face it, I’m past my P.Y.T. years. And the way fitness and health is so frequently portrayed, it’s all about how you look (flat abs, thigh gap, big boobs, round butt — on and on ad nauseum). I know for a fact that even if I devoted all of my free time to diet and exercise, I would not reclaim my youth, and I would not look 20 years old again. I accept that I am the age that I am. It doesn’t really bother me. And since I have had a kid, and carried a lot of excess weight for a long time, even with significant weight loss, I would not return to pre-fat form without assistance of some kind of surgery.
So, I’ve just about given up on trying to do anything. I’ve been in an all-or-nothing sort of place. Once I’m locked down on an issue like this, it’s near impossible to push me into action.
However, I have also known that there would come a time when I would change my mind. That someday, my desire for longevity (I have a 9yo that I want to see grow up and become independent) would push my brain to find another path — another way of thinking that would free me from the trap of “if I can’t do it right, I won’t do it at all”. I need hope. I need to have a goal that I can see is actually achievable. Something that I, in my future, could actually attain. Something that would be genuinely worth hard work and different choices.
In comes Beth and her wisdom. In essence, she has put the idea of fitness into a perspective that I have always believed. Form follows function. I deeply respect usefulness. Functionality. I couldn’t give a crap what something looks like if it does the job well. Seriously. Somehow, I hadn’t made the transition in my thought process to myself in the realm of physical fitness. Midway through her post she asks,
“What are you building? Do you want to be able to run and jump and play with your children – your grandchildren? Do you want to be able to work a construction job? Are you planning on competing in any specific sport? Do you have a sport that you love so much you want to condition your body for that? Why are you building your body at all? Then I suggest the most CRAZY notion: …what if you let that dictate what your body looks like?”
I almost started crying. You mean I can pick something ELSE, something FUNCTIONAL, that I want to be/do that doesn’t depend on a completely muffin-free top and flat abs (that I know are impossible with this body of mine without surgical intervention)?? I can totally skip the magazine-photo-clipping-vision-board stage of this and just pick some thing I want to be capable of, and work towards THAT?!?
“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”