I was leaving Whole Foods with my roommate yesterday. My hands were full, but I could sense someone coming through the door behind me. So, I kicked back my leg to make sure I held the door open for her. My roommate said, “Woah, quick reflexes. How did you even see her there?”
This is one of those really weird things about me: for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been hyper conscious of the people around me. It’s a good and a bad thing.
Good, because I think it allows me to care for other people well. I can read others’ emotions or states quickly, and thus, can better adjust how I interact with them to be as supportive and useful as possible. It also helps that I think confrontation for the sake of solving problems is a fantastic thing, so I’m not afraid to confront people when I feel like something needs to be discussed, air needs to be cleared, or an open and vulnerable conversation needs to take place. Being honest and candid has almost always led to a great outcome.
Bad, because I think in the past, I’ve relied heavily on feedback from others to validate my own self-worth. What I’m learning as I get older, of course, is that it works in quite the opposite way. You teach others how to treat you by validating your own self, and building the standards and rituals that match that higher sense of self-worth.
Let me rewind for a moment.
That conversation with my roommate about my lightening-speed hold-the-door-for-a-stranger reflexes took a turn. We began talking about the things that irk us, and the first thing on my list of irks is when I hold a door for a stranger and he or she just walks right through it without saying “thank you,” or even making eye contact.
Don’t lie—I know some of you are reading this right now like, “Yes! Me too!!”
But what usually happens is that I immediately get annoyed at myself for being annoyed at someone else for something so small. “Did you genuinely want to hold the door open for the stranger, Melissa? Or did you just want the validation that you’re a good person?”
I mean, writing about that kind of internal dialogue is as honest as it gets. But it’s true—it feels crappy to not be acknowledged, doesn’t it?
I think it’s so important to spend time thinking about what irks us, and then asking ourselves why.
And I think it’s important because the things that irk us say a lot more about what we have to work on then what other people have to work on.
For me, I realized a while ago that when I hold the door and someone doesn’t say thank you, it triggers in me this sense of not being appreciated. Of course, it’s easy to pin the blame on the stranger and say, “What a horrible, thoughtless person.” But the reality is, I have no idea why that person didn’t say thank you. Maybe he or she was thoughtless. But maybe he or she was just really tired. Or preoccupied. Or hungover. Or dealing with a huge family emergency. Or just lost a job. Or is struggling with depression. Or grew up in a culture where saying “thank you” to those who hold doors just isn’t a thing.
I can’t predict why strangers do what they do. But I can certainly strive to better understand why I do what I do. Also…
I’m a firm believer that every moment is an opportunity to learn.
When you’re always looking for the lesson, you begin to see things about yourself and the world that you never noticed before.
For me, I realized that I do really want to hold the door open for strangers, regardless of what comes back to me. I honestly believe it’s a human responsibility to be kind and loving toward others, from our closest relationship to a total stranger. That doesn’t mean “let people walk all over me”—it just means I want to give with an open heart, knowing that when I live out of a state of kindness and humility toward others, I can’t help but feel that same way toward my own self. It inherently changes my perspective on life in the best way.
My reaction—the reason it irks me—isn’t what it is because the stranger is a horrible person. It’s because I’m looking outside of myself for feedback, for self-validation.
We all do it, and I am a firm believer it’s one of the primary reasons why we settle for boring jobs, mediocre relationships, toxic friendships, a below-average salary, etc.
Are you ready to be done with that bullshit?
Here’s a very simple plan for stopping that weird looking-for-validation-from-others problem that pretty much all of us struggle with to some degree.
5 Steps to Getting Over the Stuff that Irks You
1.) Write down a complete list of everything that irks you, big and small.
2.) Write down the “story” you tell yourself and others about why each of those things irks you. (Example: “That person is so selfish for not saying ‘thank you’ when I held the door open.”)
3.) Write down the true, underlying, personal reason why you think each of those things irks you. (Example: need for validation, lack of confidence, jealousy, etc.)
4.) Figure out how you want to react to future situations that come up with the things that irk you. (Example: “Remind myself that I don’t need validation from strangers. I am enough and whole as I am.”)
5.) Create a very short script you can say you yourself when those situations arise. (Example: “I’m not reacting to the stranger; I’m reacting to a false belief I’m carrying around about my worth based on my perceptions of this stranger’s behavior.”)
Behavior change at it’s simplest and finest.