One of my favorite self-coaching questions, and one I have asked every client at some point, is “What are you making that mean?” Some folks are stumped by the question, as if the circumstance they just described was an indelible truth with only one possible interpretation. Others can’t even take it in, continuing along with their story as if I never spoke.
It’s such a powerful question, and it gets to the heart of how we see the world through our eyes only. (I’ll use a culinary illustration, because if you’ve known me for five minutes, you know I love to talk about food, eat food and talk about food while eating food.)
Let’s say you’ve just spent all day cooking a special meal for a special someone. As you’re serving the liver-flavored jello, your personal favorite, this someone says to you, “No, thanks.”
How do you react? Do you think, “OMG, he doesn’t like my cooking!” Or, “I did something wrong–I cooked something he doesn’t like!” Or, “He thinks I’m a geek because I love liver jello!” Or, do you simply say, “Hmm. He must not care for liver jello. Didn’t know that.”
I have found a thousand ways to misinterpret the smallest comment, making it mean that I’m somehow not measuring up, or that I must be an idiot, or that I don’t deserve to take up space on this earth. I’ve since learned that if a thought like that causes me pain, it must not be true, and I can redirect my thinking by exploring what I am making it mean.
It reinforces the truth that I can never know what anyone else is thinking (unless, of course, I actually ask), and that whatever judgments others make about me don’t really matter. What matters is how comfortable I am in my own skin. The more comfortable I am, the more true to my essential self I am, the less likely I am to assign negative interpretations to the actions or words of another. Sometimes people do or say hurtful things, but by exploring what I’m making it mean, I can easily decide not to take it personally.
The flip side of “What are you making that mean?” arises when we choose to make a judgement about someone else. In our jello example, if your reaction is, “He’s got such pedestrian taste. I don’t know why I even bother,” you’ve made it mean that something’s wrong with your someone. Better pony up for another session with your coach!