Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (from Random House in October ...Read More
Why do we have cheerleaders?
Don’t rain on the parade.
Let’s say you’ve had an interesting idea or moment of inspiration, or thought of a new project, or felt some enthusiasm bubbling up inside you. Your notions are not fully formed and you’re not really committed to them yet, but they have promise and you like them and are trying them on for size. Then what?
If a family member or friend responds in a neutral or positive way, even if they also raise some practical questions, you likely feel good, supported, energized. But if that same person were to lead with a mainly negative response, focusing on problems, constraints, and risks – no matter how valid they are – you’d probably feel at least a little deflated, and maybe misunderstood, put down, or obstructed. Take a moment to reflect on how this may have happened to you, as a child or an adult.
This works the other way as well. If people come to you with an idea, passion, or aspiration, and you put their fire out with doubts and objections, they’re not going to feel good, period – and not good about opening up to you in the future. Take another moment to consider how this could have happened in some of your relationships.
And this works the same way inside your own head. If you pour cold water over your own hopes and dreams, you’ll live cautiously between the lines, sure, but you’ll never know what warmth and light might have spread if you’d let them catch fire. Do you back your own play, cheerlead your own parade? Or are you too quick with doubt, limitations, cost analyses, reasons why not?
What kind of life would it be, never to rain on a parade, your own or anyone else’s?
The points here apply both to when you’re reacting to the (even harebrained) ideas of others, and when you’re responding to your own inspirations and enthusiasms; you can also use them to stick up for yourself if someone starts drizzling on your parade.
Notice any reflexive pulling back, naysaying, or buzz-killing when you or someone else gets happily excited about something. Be aware of any personal history with parents or others who got into an elevated mood or a bit of grandiosity that led to trouble later – and how that history could be shaping your reactions to people and situations today that are actually quite different.
Remember that you can always still say no. In other words, just because there’s some new scheme on the table doesn’t mean you’re locked into doing it. You can trust in your capacity to explore the idea fully – even if you or others are full of passion about it – while simultaneously knowing that you’re reserving your rights.
It’s OK to be quiet, spacious, even silent. OK to take some time to let things air out and take more shape before you respond. Even if your deep-down view is that this idea is insane, disastrous, or worse – often you don’t have to say anything at all and it will collapse on its own.
When you do communicate – to yourself or to another person – try to start with what’s true and useful in whatever is hatching. It’s often fine to stay with that theme.
If you have concerns, expressing them usually goes best if they’re both timely and wanted. (Ignore this suggestion if there’s a compelling reason to do so.) Keep them relevant to the matter at hand; for example, if the cost of an idea is a few hundred dollars, whatever problems it has don’t include the specter of poverty in old age.
Look at your family and friends. Look at yourself. What parades – what longings of the heart, big dreams, promises deferred, crazy ideas that just might really work – are eager to get started?
What could you do this year to open paths for them?