Note: Because the upcoming conversation is substantial, I’ll break it down into bite size pieces. Here we go with PART 1.
A couple years ago, I read “Talk Like Ted” by Carmine Gallo, about the qualities of great Ted Talks. Mr. Gallo helps corporate executives craft unforgettable presentations.
His book was a little daunting (so much to know, so many ways to go about improving), but I read every page, sometimes studying carefully, sometimes flying through. I learned as much as I could absorb. I read things that made perfect sense to me. I read things I know.
I also realized how much I didn’t know. There were details I had never considered regarding coming up with a great 18 minute talk. As it turns out, not surprisingly, there was a pretty big bushel (or two or ten) I didn’t know.
After reading his book, I found myself thinking about how people most likely feel the first time they see me about their relationship. They are “dears in the headlights” (yes, spelled that way on purpose).
They have no idea what to do about their relationship or how to start or why things feel so awful.
Or they think they know how it should work, and the one who knows how it should work has often dragged the other along to get my assistance in convincing the partner. (Always a revealing discussion!)
Some simply want relief. Help. Extra chocolate. Something! They want something sweeter than what they have now and they have a sense that what they want is possible, albeit a mystery as to how to get there.
In beginning sessions, after concerns and wishes are raised, there is usually a defining moment when at least one of the individuals begins to realize how much s/he doesn’t know about getting along.
This moment marks the dawning of all good things.
There is a point where it is realized that getting along requires something entirely different than once thought, which causes a tiny brain explosion. (I’ve watched this hundreds of times.)
Sitting back in their seats, they wonder quietly if they are up for focusing on themselves and making changes in (only) themselves.
(They were hoping to avoid that.)
But you know what? It only takes one person who is willing. If both people jump on board, that’s a bonus, making the process easier, and also truly something to behold.
A “no turning back” point for couples is when they have the same dawning realization I had upon reading “Talk Like Ted” — there’s a different approach or angle to the story than they thought, and any changes made will be completely up to them!
HOLDING HANDS DURING CHANGE
There are advantages to holding hands with an expert while learning something new, that’s for sure.
There were many times I wished Carmine Gallo would leap out of the book (in a superman cape, why not…) and tell me personally how to zero in on information that applied specifically to me and my style of speaking.
It would have been nice to have his one-on-one guidance coming up with a great presentation instead of fumbling a bit clumsily with what he knows. Could his hand perhaps come through the veil of pages and present me with three easy steps to get started? How does one begin a multi-faceted, multi-level change or learning process in a maize of so many improvement trails?
(Cue Julie Andrews singing “Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start…”)
SURE, START AT THE BEGINNING — BUT WHERE IS THAT?
Every board game has a clear starting place. When players place their game pieces in a precise spot, the game begins. It’s easy!
Maybe it’s true with relationships, too, that starting on the same page is helpful. If so, what’s the beginning square in the board game of relationships?
To answer that fully, I’m going to talk about closets. (Don’t worry, we’ll get there!)
THE CLOSET METHOD
One way to improve something in the absence of a mentor is to apply what you know in an area of your life where you’re successful to an area that could use a little help.
Let’s say I was a good closet cleaning student. Now I know how to clean my closet and keep it that way.
Could I apply simple closet cleaning principles to improving my love relationship?
Yes, most likely. Let’s see how that would translate.
Learning to tidy my closet successfully, I discovered, is a game-changer.
Because I had been so sure that cleaning my closet was just, well, cleaning my closet. You know, clean it up! Move things around. Make it look better.
(That’s also what people try to do with their intimate relationship.)
But as it turns out, until recently, I actually had no idea how to clean my closet because I never seemed to be able to clean it in a way that would keep it naturally tidy. My cleaning methods didn’t maintain the beauty or functionality of my closet.
That was frustrating. Tiring. It got old.
(Similarly, the way many people attempt to maintain their relationship doesn’t work, either. Most relationships tend to be a little on the messy side, and people often use duct tape methods to try to get things back in order.)
WHERE YOU START MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE
By reading a simple, short book with a clear approach, I learned to start in a different place. Marie Kondo taught me to take everything out of my closet, handle each item and put back only what sparks joy.
That’s a different idea for sure! But I found it to be simple, straightforward and something I could do.
And most importantly, I did it!
She taught me three easy steps.
- Notice what I have in my closet.
- Get rid of items that don’t spark joy.
- Organize what’s left.
In more detail, to tidy my closet I learned to:
- Notice each piece of clothing in my closet. Take everything out of the closet. Handle each item. Become fully aware of every single thing that’s there.
- Sort/purge. As I pick up each item, I ask myself, “Does this item of clothing spark joy?” If it does, I keep it. If it doesn’t, I set it aside to give away or sell.
- Then, and only then, I organize everything that remains.
Now it’s easier to get dressed. My closet feels good when I walk in.
Also, my choices are clear. There is no thumbing through to find something acceptable because every piece of clothing was deliberately and consciously chosen by me. What’s there makes me happy, so any choice is a good one.
My clothing is hanging freely (it’s not crowded) and the line up of what I’ve got is easy on the eyes. It flows by color. I have room left over, too, and I enjoy the feeling of breathing space.
What’s most amazing, is that I find new combinations that I’ve never worn. It feels like I have a new wardrobe. Never in a million years could I have predicted that.
How would this translate to my relationship with my husband, let’s say, if I did the same process?
First, a sidebar hint.
Don’t start improving your relationship with your partner by practicing with your partner. Start with someone else, preferably with someone you don’t know. It’s easier.
(Similarly, it’s easier to clean a friend’s closet than your own.)
To take what I know about cleaning my closet and apply it to getting along better with my husband, how would I use the three steps I learned? Here’s the overview.
- Today, I become more aware of my interactions with other people (not my husband) — what I say, do and think.
- Sort and purge. As I speak, I filter my words through my heart, noticing how my words make me feel. Does what I’m saying feel good? If it does, I keep speaking. If it doesn’t feel great, I change course if I can. (There is much more to this step, which I’ll cover in another blog.)
- I organize what’s left. (Again, more about this step in another blog.)
Eventually, I weed out assumptions, interpretations, and responses from me that don’t result in a more joyful me. I remove them from my available choices. I simply “don’t go there.”
Then, because I’ve got fewer (but more enjoyable) choices, I have room to breathe. More clarity. Less clutter. I am able to make better choices for me (not for anyone else).
This causes a “holy-moly” moment.
I notice a pattern of mine begin to change.
Instead of defending myself, I pause before responding. Instead of yelling back, I breathe and consider.
Instead of speaking so much, I listen more. Instead of telling or preaching or talking over someone, I ask questions.
Instead of repeating my past or reciting what I’ve been taught, I am curious. I learn new ways of being.
I take a road less traveled.
As much as possible, I consciously set aside what I used to say that caused stress in me and take a moment of breathing space to see what else I’ve got instead. I sit in the wide open field of possibilities and learn about myself.
I practice curiosity.
SOME GOOD NEWS
After eventually completing the first two steps, what remains practically organizes itself and what’s there makes me happy. My available responses also match, blend easily and create a natural flow from me to others. I feel freer. Because I’m more natural, my relationships brighten.
I know, easier said than done.
(Here’s where we all need someone leaping out in the superman/wonder woman cape to help us with the hard parts…)
To be effective and real and authentic, every cell of my body and soul must come along for the ride, not just my mind. Changing a habit of response is not a “one and done” decision. It’s a process and often it takes longer than I might prefer.
Compared to cleaning my closet, cleaning up my role in a relationship is a graduate course for sure. Working with my relationship is deeper, more complicated, and more multi-faceted than the simple act of removing a pair of shoes from my closet that I don’t wear and giving them away.
(But go ahead, start with your closet! It’s good practice and prepares you for something bigger.)
STEP ONE, I NOTICE
“I’m reacting strongly here.”
“This conversation makes me tired. I want to go to sleep.”
“I’ve lost my patience.”
“I think he needs to change his ways.”
“I don’t like you…at all.”
“I’m mad as a wet hen about this.”
“I want to quit. Give up.”
For Step One, I don’t do anything about what’s hanging in my relationship closet. I simply start to notice what’s there — the “good, the bad and the ugly,” as well as the compassionate, the loving, the open-hearted.
Everything. Notice everything. Make notes.
In upcoming blogs, I’ll talk more about noticing what’s in your closet.
I’ll also talk about the game-changing twist to the tidying principle that messes up relationships fast. And, oh by the way, understanding this twist is no small thing — it can single-handedly save a partnership, work relationship, friendship, or family connection.
Alright, everyone, put your “noticing” glasses on, and begin to be more aware of your reactions, responses. This includes words, thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry about what to keep or what to throw away.
Have fun with Step One and feel free to ask questions or report how it’s going.
PS There’s always more to the story. At this point, there are 3 more installments to this story, but it depends on what you say back, what questions you have, what you want to know. Keep me posted if you’re willing.