Learning the Lessons of (Personal) History/Herstory Part 2
In my previous post, I began a story with you about the difficult time I had dealing with an unruly group in an audience at a melodrama for which I was master of ceremonies. When last we spoke, I was telling you about how the unruly group of drunks turned its attention to me, and how battered I felt from their personal attacks.
Halfway through the show, feeling stung and humiliated in front of the audience by my inability to deal with this bad behavior, I walked out on stage and managed to angrily sputter these words “I don’t need this kind of abuse. I’m a professional!” and then I just left the stage, got in my car and drove home, my last words to the audience ringing in my ears. Have you ever had something bad happen to you, and you played it over and over in the privacy of your own mind, so you didn’t miss out on any of the badness in the experience? By the time I got home, I had successfully used repetition of the event to turn this bad experience into a nightmare.
Fortunately, I understand what it means to be resourceful.
As I sat in my car, parked in my driveway, I asked myself ‘What else could I have done? What would have made things different?’ Nothing came to mind. Then I thought ‘Who do I know that would have known what to do with those rude people?’ and instantly I thought of my little brother. Gary is someone who rarely takes anything personally, and sees the humor in most situations. I could recall more than one occasion where Gary had responded to public insults. The difference between us? He knew how to give as good as he got. And when I thought of Gary standing on stage dealing with the drunks, I could imagine the ease and grace with which this problem could have been solved. Inspired by this mental movie, all I needed was some good Gary-like ‘heckler material.’
I got myself a book at the library, and memorized 20 rotten (*yet funny) things to say to people behaving badly in public. (I actually created an online archive of those kinds of things to say, and you can visit the archive here.) Now, armed with some funny responses, I imagined myself back on stage, dealing with those drunks, only this time armed and ready. After several such mental rehearsals, I knew I could deal with this situation if it ever came up again.
How do you know when you’re ready to face a situation that used to be difficult? It’s called eagerness, the wanting to actually try out your new learnings and get a new result. I called Florence and asked for a second chance on her stage. She said ‘But you left the stage!’ After numerous apologies and a promise never again to leave the stage before the show was over, she agreed to give me one more chance, the following weekend. And when the weekend came and I drove to the theater, all the way there I prayed for hecklers.
Got what I asked for, too. When a loud guy in the front row tried to heckle me, I turned to the audience, pointed at the heckler, and said, “I don’t know if you can see this guy! He’s wearing a plaid shirt and glasses, here in the front row. He’s angry, that’s why he’s acting that way. And he’s got good reason to be angry. Turns out he was abandoned by wolves as a child and raised by his parents!” The audience laughed. That was all the encouragement I needed. I went ahead and fired off nineteen more insults while keeping my wits about me. The audience now roared with laughter. And the funny thing was, the heckler seemed to be enjoying it as much as everyone else. In fact, I think he was writing down my jokes to use them on his coworkers the next day!
As you preview doing new behaviors, you must imagine yourself doing them from the inside out, rather than seeing yourself as an observer. Look through your own eyes, as if you are there in that past experience, and feel yourself doing the new behavior. Repetition and intensity will lock this in to your nervous system and change the way you think and act. Once you’re comfortable doing the new behavior in the past, project it forward into the future. Imagine a new situation where the new behavior will be useful. The more real you make the fantasy, the more likely it is that the change will take hold. Positive review, and positive preview make it possible for you to change your mind and develop options that might otherwise be unavailable to you.
Do this often. Every time your mind tries to show you an undesired rerun of the past, see it as an advantage waiting to be taken! Remember it the way you would have wanted it to be, as if you are there. If you get into the habit of reviewing the past and previewing the future the way you want them to be, you’ll be making the kind of useful associations needed for a life by design.
One thing is certain: Those who fail to learn the lessons of their personal history (or herstory) are doomed to repeat them. To let go of the past, you must learn something about yourself both in the past and in the present. Those learnings can inform your present as you design your future. Frequently, I hear my clients say “If I would have known then what I know now, things would have turned out differently.” Well, you can know then, right now, and learn new responses for the future. Because your past gives you perspective and advantages if only you will learn from it, let it go, and move on.
I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with using your mind and your past as a rehearsal hall for your future performances.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.