A muffle hum cues my tear ducts into action. Instinctually, the soles of my feet plant themselves into the carpet as temporary paralysis floods through my body. I scan for the nearest exit – a door, my desk, an excuse to leave the room. But its too late. The oh-so-familiar sensation of tears sprinkle down my face while questions spin through my head. Why am I crying? What did the person say? Oh this is so embarrassing. Now stop, please.
“Don’t take it to heart.” “Toughen up, will you.” “Stop being so defensive.” I’ve heard it all.
As a child, I was a cry baby. Not because I was constantly sad, but because crying became my go-to expressive form. If someone hurt me and I felt angry, I would cry in frustration of not having the courage to confront them about it. If someone gave me constructive criticism, I blamed my flawed performance of not being skilled enough as an individual, and cried for being imperfect.
My innate drive for perfectionism created standards which I expected myself to reach. If I did, I thought, Good, I should have, and if not… well, I assume by now you know how I reacted. However, I didn’t want to react this way. I knew it was not only often immature and unwarranted, but also prevented me from building the resilience needed to bounce back every time a tripped. I wanted to strive for optimal growth, but the reaction of crying seemed so ingrained in me that I was unsure of how to change.
During my summer between the end of high school and beginning of university, I became intrigued by the idea of Mindfulness. Namely, because it claims to be able to rewire your brain and in turn your thoughts and emotions. After reading my fair share of Mindfulness related books, a few favourites being James Doty’s Into the Magic Shop, and Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, I checked myself in as a Mindfulness Guinea pig to test these theories out (summarised below).
On the last day of my summer internship this year, my supervisor and I had a wrap-up meeting to evaluate my performance. Due to having received minimal constructive criticism on my performance thus far, I assumed I had done alright. However, unknowing to me at the time, my supervisor thought otherwise.
As the meeting progressed, and a generous handful of constructive feedback flowed my way (some which I agreed with, others which I strongly did not), many thoughts slipped through my head. First, the initial shock from being caught off guard by all this not-so-positive feedback, a sudden trigger for the self-erecting defensive wall in my brain. Yet in the split second before over-drive kicked in, I found myself consciously slowing down my breath and loosening my posture. I tried imagining myself as an outsider, recognising both the feedback given and my own thoughts without giving either the satisfaction of a reaction. Instead, I released the best fake genuine smile my cheekbones could muster and soon, the meeting was finally over.
Although I’m still finding the optimal balance between my inner perfectionist, and the ability to apply resilience through Mindfulness techniques, I know one thing for certain – that if this situation happened a year ago today, the outcome would be very, very different.
A few pointers I gathered from Doty, Grant and Sandberg. They aren’t revelationary ideas, but set-in-stone phrases for the reason that they may actually really work.
P.S. I recognise Mindfulness isn’t for everyone, but hey, who’s not in for a little personal growth?
1.You’re in control
I’ve noticed that in between receiving a trigger from the external environment and expressing a reaction, my mind pauses for a split second while it processes the new information. This is the time when you have the power to decide how you’re going to react.
2.Its not personal
Often, we’re so caught up on how we’re feeling that we forget about others. What other people say or do is swayed by factors like how they’re feeling at the time, and their personal beliefs – its not always about you.
3.Take a step back
In heated moments, I like to take a step back to see a situation from an outsider’s point of view, Often, the situation isn’t as magnified as you play it out to be. It helps put things back into perspective.