Saturday, January 12, 2008

Don't believe everything you think

Recently, I was scheduled to give a talk on homelessness to a group of police officers. The first time I spoke to a group of officers I anticipated it would be just like all my other talks. I wasn't expecting hostility, which in the case of a couple of individuals in the room, is what I got. That experience shaded my thoughts as I began my presentation to this new group. Having already experienced an adverse reaction from another group of police officers, my expectation was set that the possibility existed the same would/could happen again.

I had a choice -- let my fear masquerading as nervousness undermine me, or acknowledge my fear and let my courage draw me into excellence. I was determined to give my best presentation yet, but as I began to speak, I noticed one man in the second row whose face was set in a scowl. His arms were crossed against his chest, his body leaned back in his chair, away from me.

In the back of my mind a dialogue began while I continued to speak. "Oh no. He's going to be hostile. He's not hearing a word I'm saying...." While my inner dialogue didn't ruin my presentation, I did feel less focused, less fluid than I normally do giving this presentation.

At the end of my presentation, someone asked a question which lead to a lively, sometimes heated, but always respectful dialogue about homeless individuals. Several of the attendees jumped in with comments and ideas and more questions. And still the man in the second row remained silent. I was conscious of him but kept reminding myself -- I can't please everyone. I can't change anyone's mind. At least he's staying silent and not being rude.

At the end of my presentation, I was packing up my computer and getting ready to leave. The man from the second row approached. I steeled myself for the worst. He came up to me, thrust his right hand forward to shake mine and said, "Thank you. You've given me a new way of seeing people I've struggled to help and had given up on. I really appreciate your perspective."

And he walked away.

I expected the worst and got a stunning response.

My perceptions are filtered through my experiences.

Marci Shimoff outlines 7 steps for becoming "Happy for No Reason", in her book of the same name. In Step 3, she states, "Don't believe everything you think."

How true. And what a paradox!

There I was believing this man was hostile when really, he was listening intently.

Scientists have determined that the average person has about 60,000 thoughts run through their mind everyday. For most people, 80% of those thoughts are negative.

Oh boy. Do I have some re-thinking to do on my thinking!

When I began my presentation to the police officers, my thinking had me conditioned to expect hostility. I'd received it once. The possibility of receiving it again was there.

When I saw a man whose body-language said to me, "Hostility", I bought into my own negative thinking. And because I believed my thoughts were right, I undermined myself. I set myself up for failure.

Fortunately, my predictions did not come true because I was confident of my material and myself, I did not let one man completely get me off track. But, I knew it wasn't my best presentation.

Fortunately, that man came forward and gave me insight into my human condition.

The question is: Where does believing what you think is true, keep you from seeing the truth?

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