So my Mum has bought herself a shiny new badge....
There we were, on the phone, having a nice chat about her recent trip to Morrisons when she casually dropped into conversation she went shopping wearing her new "I Love Donald Trump" badge.
Here is an artists impression of my facial reaction:
On reflection I think I initially went into shock. I mean, while I have always been aware we have VERY, VERY (and once more time just to be clear) VERY different views, this came as a shock because:
a) She has never been to America
b) She taught me not to drop litter and be kind to old people and cats, so how can she support his policies?
c) We share DNA so how can our views be so different?
So while my face was still stuck in shock mode, my brain frantically tried to make sense of the situation and it quickly came to the question many of us dread...
We have all been there haven't we? Okay so maybe not the bit about your Mum owning a 'I love Donald Trump' badge, but the moment when you realise someone has a very different view / perspective / opinion and you think....
Do I say something or not? Of course it's not just politics where we find ourselves asking this question, we often have this quandry when we don't like someones behaviour, have differing needs or are in a position where we should be giving feedback.
So why do we dread the question "Do I say something or not?"
Well those six little words breathe abject fear into most humans as we often foresee CONFLICT and us humans aren't too fond of conflict...
How does our brain and body respond to potential conflict?
To be fair to us humans our survival brain is super unhelpful when it comes to navigating conflict. As we discovered in my previous blog our survival brain gets first dibs at responding to a situation and it has two responses: AVOID or FIGHT.
So if I let my survival brain rule the roost and respond to my Mum's love for Donald and Boris (yep Boris too) this is what it would do:
Okay so truth time, over the years I have tried both these strategies! Eek, yes it's true, my teenager self went for avoidance and my twenty something year old self went into fight mode. I can confirm no milkshakes were thrown but it wasn't pretty and neither was the impact on our relationship.
What is the potential impact of avoiding or fighting conflict?
When I avoided conflict I felt upset and distance from my Mum and when I responded with fighting talk it quickly eroded our relationship. Turns out avoiding or fighting are only really helpful when the situation is life threatening and when it isn't the cost can be high.
So is there a healthy way to manage conflict?
In times when tensions are high and there are a lot of differing opinions how do we navigate our way through conflict without being too passive or too aggressive?
Well I glad you asked. 10 years of working in the counselling room, as well as many more years finding a healthy way to navigate those big political differences in my family, and I have come up with 4 steps to navigating conflict.
STEP 1: Reframe CONFLICT as a DIFFICULT CONVERSATION
This quick shift in perspective can help your survival brain chill out. As a general rule, if it's a genuine life threatening situation it's conflict otherwise it's a difficult conversation. For example, I recently witnessed two people carrying out a crime and I had to quickly assess - Do I say something or not? Even though I wanted to intervene, I knew as a 5ft (okay 4ft 11 & 3/4 inches) female my safety would be at risk so I instead called the police. In contrast saying something to my Mum about her different political views is not going put my safety at risk. Yes it may be VERY uncomfortable but it is not life threatening.
STEP 2) Is it worth having this Difficult Conversation?
Avoiding a difficult conversation because you are fearful is very different to not having the conversation because either the person will not engage healthily or it will impact your wellbeing or relationship.
To work this out, ask yourself these 3 key questions:
STEP 3) Learn how to express yourself
If you decide to go ahead then when, where and how your express yourself is key to having a constructive conversation:
1) WHEN to have a Difficult Conversation
2) WHERE to have a Difficult Conversation
3) HOW to have a Difficult Conversation: The Don'ts:
I know it's tempting to let rip on Twitter or call Mr Farage a nasty word but if your goal is to be heard, or even attempt to change minds, then its not going to happen if you do the above.
Do the Don'ts and your conversation will turn into this...
3) HOW to have a Difficult Conversation: The Dos
If you want your opinion to be heard and if you want to influence the person then think about the following:
STEP 4) Set Boundaries - know when to walk away
Setting boundaries is key to keeping yourself emotionally safe in these conversations. It also teaches people how to treat you, let someone get away with verbally abusing you once and they will try again. So start by thinking about what behaviour is okay and not okay in a difficult conversation and how you will respond. For example it may be:
It's okay to: Be upset, angry, frustrated and express that to each other. It's okay to say you need some time to think about it
It's not okay to: Threaten me, be aggressive, passive aggressive, sarcastic, mean or deliberately hurtful. If this happens I'm going to:
SUMMARY: So how do you navigate conflict when your Mum loves Donald Trump?
So after my survival brains avoid and fight strategy failed miserably I had to try a different approach and the four steps above really helped (and still do).
STEP 1: I reframed conflict as a difficult conversation
Firstly reframing these conversations as difficult conversations rather than a full on war really helps to keep me calm.
STEP 2) I realised it wasn't always worth having the difficult conversation
I realised my need to have a healthy relationship with my Mum was much more important than my need for her to vote a certain way so sometimes I let it go. There have also been times when I haven't been feeling too fab or when it just wasn't the right time so again I let it go. I'm not saying this is easy but I am saying letting it go can sometimes be the smart choice.
STEP 3) I learnt how to express myself
In my twenties I didn't feel particularly proud of myself for how I expressed myself so I began to listen more and tried to understand why she has these views. Over the years I really do have a better understand why has certain views. I still don't think the same, I still believe Donald's policies and behaviours are incredibly harmful to certain people and I feel sad about this. I do respect her and those who have different views and I try and put across my views as best I can in a respectful manner. So you won't find me hurling a milkshake at Donald, or even Boris and you won't find me calling my Mum a harmful words, however you may find me at a peaceful protest.
STEP 4) I set boundaries, I know when to walk away
Setting boundaries keeps me emotionally safe and has helped me teach my Mum how to treat me. My 'It's okay to' and 'It's not okay to' statements are:
The above steps help us to maintain a relationship and express our views safely. It also means I have learnt more about my Mum and why she has her views and, while it is still really uncomfortable, I can tolerate this because it means I can behave within my integrity and maintain a healthy relationship. Is it easy No, is it worth it, yes.
Well I'm writing this at a time when Donald has just been to London so I will be practicing the above steps again the next time I chat to my Mum. I hope the above has given you some guidance on how to manage conflict a little better in your life. If you need some extra help navigating difficult conversations in your life then get in touch at ZoeHinett@gmail.com
Thanks for reading.
I thought I didn't have a problem but then this happened...
So there I was having a well deserved lie in, the pooch was all curled up next to me and I had a cuppa tea in one hand and my phone in the other. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, my phone decided it was time for a heart to heart and announced exactly how much time we'd been spending together lately...
I'm not going to lie to you, my initial reaction to this wasn't "Oh wow, 3 hrs 22 minutes, that's interesting information", nope, it was tad more on the defensive side....
In hindsight I think I was a tiny bit shocked by the amount of time, because it meant some days I spent more time with my phone than my other half! So after a little rant, "Bloody software update, why would someone make that functionality??!!", and more tea, I had to admit that I was increasingly spending more time with my phone. However, it wasn't until a few days later that I finally got the message I needed to give this more attention.
I was watching a talk by Esther Perel, the relationship therapist of TED talk fame, and she turned to the audience and asked:
"Stand up if the last thing you stroke at night is your phone"
"Stand up if the first thing you stroke in the morning is your phone"
The Result... 95% of the audience stood up.
Comforted by the fact that it wasn't just me, I decided I couldn't deny this any longer, it seemed like the majority of us were in inappropriate relationships with our phones and I was curious to understand how those 3hrs 22minutes were impacting me.
So over the next few days I started to ponder how I used my phone. I had previously justified my usage as I was using it more for work stuff but as I looked further at the stats (oh yes the iPhone Screen Time service gives you stats!) I found that much of my 3hrs 22hrs a day was actually spent buried in social media platforms and reading the news (bloody Brexit).
Whilst my phone was clever enough to tell me how we spent our time together, it wasn't able to measure the impact it had on me - so that's how Experiment 1 was born.
Experiment 1 a.k.a The Epic Fail
I decided to limit my amount of screen time, so to do this I used my phones functionality to:
Experiment 1: The Results
Sounds like an awesome plan huh? So why was Experiment 1 an epic fail?
Well a week later I was sat on sofa at 9pm scrolling through Brexit comments on Twitter when my ever so patient other half asked:
"Erm, I thought you weren't able to be on your phone after 8pm"
To which I replied:
"I've been overriding the limits!"
There was no need for a response, the lift in eyebrows said it all.
So while the experiment itself was an epic failure it did provide one piece of unescapable evidence: My mobile phone habit was a lot stronger than I realised!
What is a habit?
The word habit got me thinking, I often help people understand and break their habits so I started to think about the 3 steps needed to form a habit:
In order to understand my habit I needed to understand the 3 steps:
Experiment 2 a.k.a Cold & Coldish Turkey
Part 1) Cold Turkey - I was about to go on holiday so I decided to put my phone away and go cold turkey for two weeks: No social media, no news, no nothing.
Part 2) Coldish Turkey - Then on my return, over the following two weeks, I would gradually reintroduce my phone and monitor:
Part 3) Based on my findings I would then decide if I needed to change the habit, and if so, what I needed to do to make the changes
Experiment 2: The Results
The Triggers: When was I reaching for my phone?
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder but I found my two cold turkey weeks blissful. Most notably my mind was calmer, I was more in the moment and I was feeling fantabulous. (Hmm is that a word?) Anyway moving on....
I know what you are going to say..."Of course you felt like that you were on holiday!" Okay, fair point but what this period did do was help me work out some of my triggers:
As I returned to real life and started to slowly reintroduce my phone (coldish turkey) I began to identify even more triggers:
The Habit itself: What was I actually doing on my phone?
So I don't know about you but when I drive I don't think about what my hands are doing. I think our brain is pretty cool for that, rather than waste our conscious brain space the subconscious does it for us. Well, I did think it was cool until I realised, rather horrifyingly, my hands knew how to drive my phone. As soon as one of the above was triggered my hands went through a routine, I would open, scroll and flick through each of these:
How was I being rewarded / impacted. i.e Why did I keep doing it?
At the start of this experiment I had a sneaking suspicion there were negative impacts on my wellbeing, but holy moly I was not expecting so many.
Firstly I cannot stress enough how much social media is a minefield for those who overthink and feel stressed or anxious
Even as a recovered overthinker I noticed how my poor brain had to work hard not to get caught up in negative thoughts loops especially on social media.
As we discovered in my previous blog, there are many different types of unhelpful thoughts and the ones that start screaming in our heads on social media are:
Secondly, the checking of messages and emails overloads our attention span, impairs our concentration and increases stress and anxiety levels. Reply to this person, that person, oh hang on the first person has replied so lets reply and, oh hang on I've got a WhatsApp message, and, argggghh I've forgotten what I'm doing! I found when I checked and replied to my personal, work email, texts and WhatsApp my brain became overloaded with all sorts of thoughts and to do lists. I could literally feel the stress rising in my body!
Thirdly, reading the news is an assault course for the brain and can lead us to overgeneralise. This unhelpful negative thought type brings our mood down like a ton of bricks. Does this sound familiar?
I found reading the news once a day was informative and kept me up-to date. However, refreshing my News app, reading it again and again during the day delivered the final blow to an already overloaded mind and stressed body!
Of course such an assault on our brain can only lead to an assault on our emotions and our body.
Lastly I noticed that my phone helped me keep connected with friends, peers and family and that, finally(!), was a very good thing BUT the irony is I was more present in my relationships when my phone was out of reach.
So with so many negative consequences why did I still stay in the habit?
As I looked for an answer to this I stumbled upon a book called "How To Break Up With Your Phone" by Catherine Price. Here she talks about our phone being like a slot machine in our pocket, people get hooked on the intermittent rewards. We don't know what we might get when we pick it up, maybe we will be rewarded with a new like or maybe X has emailed or maybe Z has happened or maybe nothing but if I check again in 5 minutes who knows eh? What we do receive each time we check is a big dollop of dopamine meaning our brain gets chemically rewarded for checking. It's this hit that seems to keep us betting even though there are so many negative consequences.
So did I change my habit and, if so, how did I do it?
The evidence was undeniable, I found my habit had far too many negative consequences so I made the decision to change my habit. In order to do this I made some key changes within each of the 3 habit steps. To help you smash your habit I've popped them all together in this hands infograph here:
So lastly, has the new habit stuck?
Yes! Two months later I've reduced my phone usage by 60% and the time I do spend is much more intentional and productive! I have definitely noticed a increase in my wellbeing, my mind is calmer, my attention span longer and I feel much more in the present. I no longer reach for my phone first thing in the morning or last at night and I keep it tucked away so I can be more in the moment.
Need help changing a habit or stuck in overthinking, stress or anxiety?
Gaining awareness of your thinking styles, stress levels and habits is the first step to change. In counselling I can help you work through changing these so please get in touch if you need some help at: ZoeHinett@gmail.com or fill out the contact form below.
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