Suppose you know you have to face this person who’s been bothering you for a while. You have to tell them what’s on your mind, but you don’t know how to put it yet. Do you find yourself imagining the whole conversation in your mind? Then this is a piece of advice for you – coming from an experienced ‘mental fighter’.
Do you have conversations in your mind sometimes? I’m very good at it, especially when I’m really angry or frustrated. I sharply make my point, tackle my opponent’s arguments, I’m on a winning streak. In the end, I come up with the ultimate point. The other person says passively: ‘Yes, of course you’re right. I’m an idiot.’
After I have won in this very elegant and effective way, I feel as wired up as if I’ve really been in an argument. What happens in my mind, feels very real to my body. Everything responds to it: my heartbeat, my level of adrenaline, my muscle tension and facial expression. The body can’t tell fantasy from reality. In the meantime, reality hasn’t changed a bit: the disagreement or injustice keeps going.
After an internal discussion, there’s nothing I can do but actually start the conversation I’d already experienced in my mind. I confront the other person, only to find out that conversations are always so much different in real life than in my mind. It frustrates me even more: no matter how much I ‘practice’, it’s useless.
The only thing that’s helpful is to be my own witness during all this furious day dreaming and ‘mental fighting’. If I start a serious discussion in my mind, I put a step back and observe. I observe myself standing, sitting or biking (for some reason I always do this on my bike), caught up in a proficient mental fight. I might continue my brilliant inner word game for a while, but soon enough it’ll feel ridiculous and it makes me laugh.
Instead, what I do nowadays is this: I write down what I want to achieve with a negotiation or discussion and put some arguments under it in key words. I also resolve to listen to what the other person has to say. Because instead of firing arguments – no matter how brilliant and well rehearsed they are – that’s what turns out to be most helpful in the resolution of a dispute.
And I could never have thought of that.
Text: Susan Smit – Photo: Nick Karvounis
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