I feel like before/during/after tougher moments – whatever those are to you – we tend to want to IGNORE and/or IMPROVE them. We may even be trained to choose one of these methods because we hear them SO often. In this post, I will define the IMPROVE and IGNORE methods, explain their consequences and introduce you to the ACKNOWLEDGE method to tougher moments.
Disclaimer: the ACKNOWLEDGE method is not ALWAYS the way to go – sometimes the other two methods are ideal for that situation! The point of this post, though, is to introduce the ACKNOWLEDGE method and give it some love.
The IMPROVE method
Say you had a huge speech for your public speaking course – and you bombed it. You meet a friend for coffee after. When she asks how you are, you decide to be honest (!). “Well I just bombed a huge speech. It really sucked. It was literally the worst.”
And your friend says,
“Aw, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad! Remember, we’re our own worst critics!”
Your friend really is trying to make you feel better. She’s trying to put your tougher moment into perspective for you. She’s coming from a good place.
But do you feel better? Did her trying to IMPROVE the tougher moment help? At all?
I mean, maybe. But most likely not. We are trained to always push forward after hard times and I think that’s stunting our empathy for ourselves and others. Because the improvement angle uses phrases like “you’ll get ’em next time, tiger,” that can be taken as oh, yes I will try to get them next time b/c I will have to work harder. This can also translate to ‘I didn’t work hard enough this time.’ That may not have been the case, but the IMPROVE method makes it seem like it’s entirely your fault. (And maybe it is your fault with your speech, if you only prepared the night before, but there are all kinds of tougher moments, for example people on the subway being mean for no reason! Or break-ups! Or getting the short end of the stick. Ain’t your fault.)
The IGNORE method
Let’s look at another example, this time of the IGNORE method. This time you are the self-perpetrator.
This time you were at work, you made a mistake, and you had to face your boss. You HATE confrontation and one of your worst fears is getting in trouble. You never want to disappoint anybody.
Your boss chewed you out. In a meeting. In front of three of your peers.
You know that that was insensitive of your boss and that he had blown your mistake entirely out of proportion. But you don’t admit that to yourself. Instead, after the tough moment, you try to IGNORE it. For the rest of the day, then the rest of the week. You try to push it out of your brain. Even when you get home and are overly sensitive to innocent comments your roommate makes, you don’t admit to her or to yourself what happened, why you are irritated and hurt.
Consequences of the IMPROVE and IGNORE methods
The IGNORE method and IMPROVE method have consequences extending into the future, into future jobs, our personal lives and relationships, etc. If you ignore a tougher moment, or move right past it to improve for next time, you won’t properly and thoroughly process it – which many times tougher moments need.
If you could have acknowledged to yourself that that confrontation was insensitive and uncalled for, or that you bombed that speech and that sucks, you can have some closure on the event. Closure can wrap up the event in your brain and allow your brain to categorize its takeaways and ultimately MOVE ON.
Why you should use the ACKNOWLEDGE method
- it can feel good and is a relief
- it can feel SO good if you acknowledge others’ feelings when they confide in you – you validate their feelings instead of minimizing them
- you will be more in touch with your emotions, triggers, self
- you begin to understand what helps you cope or feel better after tougher moments – what to do, for how long, who to talk to, etc.
- you will be a better friend and listener – your friends will think, SHE/HE/THEY/etc. is the friend I want to tell, be on my side b/c she/he/they ACKNOWLEDGE my feelings and don’t make me feel crazy
- you could help a stranger / acquaintance / classmate
For a personal story on this topic, please check out my newest YouTube video on You Seem Normal:
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Don’t be normal!