We call it the hospital game. I came up with it when my kids were little to help me cope with rush hour traffic.
It turned out to be a life-changing experience.
It started when somebody cut me off at an exit ramp. I was about to
curse, but then realizing that I’m a mother and my kids are in the
car, I decided to act like the person I want them to become. Instead of shaking my fist in the air, I said, “Oh well, he’s probably on the way to the hospital. That’s why he’s in such a big hurry.”
I didn’t know it, but I was starting a family tradition. The next
time it happened my kids said, “Oooh, another person on the way to the
hospital. I wonder if they’re bleeding?”
From there we started to make up stories about everyone.
A clerk was rude to us; she probably just found out that her mother
had cancer. Probably colon cancer, probably fatal, oh my word, poor
A teacher lost her temper. I bet she’s been up all night with a sick
baby. The kid probably has typhoid or polio.
A neighbor makes a snarky comment. Maybe she just found out her
husband is having an affair. With her sister!
Accidents, death, affairs, we created our own little Peyton Place
inside our minds.
Then a funny thing happened, I suddenly realized that I was spending a
lot less time annoyed with people. What started as a joke had become
my new default response.
Instead of jumping to anger when someone did something irksome, I
created an outlandish story to explain their behavior. It might not
have been true, but I sure felt better.
By trying to keep from cursing in front of my kids, I actually
succeeded in rewiring my own brain.
Our brains are made up of millions of neural pathways. They’re the
mental maps that take you from point A to point B without you even
realizing it. That’s why certain smells trigger vivid memories, and
why you respond to certain situations the way that you do.
The typical auto response to stress, criticism, anger or negativity is
to push back with more of the same. Your brain develops a pathway and
it’s hard to break the mental habit.
Behavioral studies have shown that if you do something 300 times, your
brain remembers how to do it. If you do it 3,000 times it becomes
ingrained as part of who you are.
Without realizing it, I created a new mental pathway. After several
years of playing the hospital game, my brain’s auto response to
annoyances was to give people the benefit of the doubt.
If I can do it, so can you.
It’s easier with strangers than with family. Start simple, play the
hospital game in traffic. The more you exercise your compassion
pathway the stronger it will get.
Over time, you’ll feel a shift in your heart. It will become a mental
habit for you to give people credit for good intentions.
Are the crazy dramatic stories true? It doesn’t matter. They make
you feel better, and that’s the whole point.
A cynic might say this is letting people off the hook. But I’m not offended.
If you’re rolling your eyes at this Pollyanna attitude, I bet it’s
because you just got some bad news about your mother.
Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod specializes in sales force and leadership development. A sought after speaker, she is author of The Triangle of Truth, a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book.
Web site – www.TriangleofTruth.com
Copyright 2011 Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.