You can change your mind

Not one time.

I’m not kidding, there wasn’t one time I can think of when I heard something positive out of my dad’s mouth.

My mom would spend hours creating a dish and it would taste out of this world. And believe me some of the greek dishes take a lot of work.

And we’d all sit around the table, seven of us and we’d get to eat things like Pastitsio, Egg-lemon soup, dolmathes, (grapevine leaves covering meat balls), and it didn’t matter what she made, the response was never a good one.

After I grew up and had a family of my own I discovered one trait I picked up of my dad was his critical tongue. It’s taken years, but I have learned how to be more accepting of people and less critical. So I thought I’d share it with you.

Let go of perfectionism

This was a hard one for me. I learned if it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t count. I did things like remake my young daughter’s bed, rebuke her if she folded the towels wrong. You didn’t know there was a right and wrong way, did you?
I didn’t either, till my mom pointed it out. Yes, she was critical too.

But I learned in counseling that we are human beings, and human beings make mistakes.

I remember my look of surprise when the counselor told me we have the right to make mistakes. Obviously she never met my family of origin.

But that was then, and one thing I learned is we don’t have to be what our parents were, and we don’t have to do what they did.

This was one pattern of many I would be breaking.

So, I took her advice and started writing out the statements I wanted my brain to register.

I have the right to make mistakes.
I have the right to make mistakes.
I have the right…

I did it 5x and then a few times a day for a couple of weeks.

At first, it felt funny, but the great thing is, it worked. At least for me.

And when I gave myself the right to make mistakes, it opened me up to the possibility that others also had that right. Something I didn’t believe before. It was almost as if it was my self-appointed task to point out when others made mistakes. That was even hard to see in writing.

It was a spring day and we were visiting my husband’s aunt and uncle.

“Let’s stop across the street on the way back from our walk,” Lois suggested.

She really knew me. I loved garage sales.

I spotted it right away. The game Rummicube, a game I used to have years ago.

Getting out a dollar, the sweet woman said to me,

“You’ll like that game, it’s with letters.”

“I used to have this game,” I smiled back. “It’s with numbers.”

The woman smiled as she handed me by game and we walked away.

Lois was someone who loved me. She always spoke truth to me, though sometimes truth stings.

“You just had to do that, didn’t you?”

“What?I asked.

Isn’t it funny when we ask questions we know the answers to?

“You just had to correct her,” Lois spelled out clearly.

“But she was wrong, I had that game and I…” I argued.

And then Lois asked something that stuck in my mind and remains there as a gentle/strong reminder.

“What difference did it make?”

So that’s what I ask myself anytime I am tempted to correct.

Having to be right

As I stated, I was from a dysfunctional family. That was my reason and through the years I used it as an excuse till I heard Joyce Meyer’s one day.

“We can learn a lot of wrong behaviors when we are growing up. We can learn them in our dysfunctional families. But we should never let our reasons become our excuses.”

And before long, I saw this illustrated beautifully.

I was a returning student and we were in a Biology lab, about to get our quizzes back.

There was a woman, Barb, who began arguing with the teacher’s assistant.

Around and around they went. And what was the issue. It was a two point question that Barb got wrong. And for those five or ten minutes there was no conceding whatsoever. And right there, I looked at Barb, but saw me.

Note to myself. You do not have to be right.

And it led me to a question I ask: “What if I’m wrong?”

Just asking myself that question opens up my mind which has been referred to at times as a metal door that slams shut, not letting anything in. Courtesy of my husband.

Truly, I stretched the day I heard that. Okay, maybe a few days after I was angry. Metal doesn’t stretch easily.

Learning I did not have to be right has been SO freeing.

And once again I realized if I don’t have to be right, that means no one has to be right.

Black and white is for old movies

I realized I had black and white thinking. It had been my way, or no way.

It was wrong or right, nothing in between.

And learning that there were tons of shades of gray really helped me as far as my thinking.

It meant I could introduce another word that would be more appropriate, the word “different.”

When I began to see that there could be differing views, it opened my narrow thinking even more.

It seems when we are critical, we can also be harsh. I had seen harsh for years growing up, I did not want that in my life.

I was excited to share with my Aunt Jeanette that I had received my degree. So what that it had taken me years to get it, I still did.

“Aunt Jeanette, I got my degree. I graduated with honors.”

I waited to hear her congratulations. I waited and waited.

“She looked at me and said, “That’s good, but you could have done it years ago.”

Once again, I saw a vivid illustration. One I did not want to emulate.

Whenever we give a positive statement to someone, don’t add the word, “but.”

I sat with this counselor and shared my life with her. At the end of that session she said, “You sure have a lot of rules in your life.

Rules

I live my life by many rules
all written down in stone.

And I feel so exhausted,
and often times alone.
The rules I’ve made keep driving me,
and though I’ve kept so few.
These rules are not for me alone;
there’s also some for you.

—Anne Peterson

I thought about it. And now that I didn’t quickly dismiss it. Instead I let it dance around in my head for a while.

She was right. I did have rules. I guess I didn’t know how to live without them. But I’d learn.

Little by little, I learned things that would help me break patterns.

If I wanted to change how I acted, I must first change my thoughts. And that’s what I set out to do.

Now if I’m writing an email or something of importance, I get my daughter to give it a once over. Is she checking for errors? Actually, she’s checking my tone. Because sometimes I’m not sure if I come across harsh.

The other day I got one of the most wonderful compliments. Someone said I was gentle. And I just sighed. That would have never been said to me years ago. Mission accomplished.