Recently, we travelled to Southern Alberta to visit with Carol’s side of the family. Are they in-laws, out-laws, or maybe some of both? Regardless, I love them all.
As we approached our destination, we chatted about our expectations of how the landscape would look, based upon our memories. We tend to expect it will be the same as we’ve experienced it before, which creates a familiar feeling.
But it was different. Each time we go there, we see more houses in the countryside and expansion in the towns. The growth is not necessarily right or wrong, it is just different. And the feelings created are not necessarily good or bad, they are just different – they are not familiar.
My son, Jamie, chimed in, “Memories are our mental landscape. We have perspectives and expectations based upon the way we experienced the world in the past.”
Not only does this apply to geography, exactly the same thing occurs in our relationships. Our memories of interactions with another person programs our brain for expectations of current or future interactions.
This can be really positive.
I remember when Carol and I were courting. We lived an hour apart and saw each other on weekends. We would both be at our best. Heck, I even put on clean underwear. I knew that Carol would look gorgeous, smell wonderful, and we would have a fantastic time together. It felt great. I expected it.
I remember cuddling Jamie and Brad when they were babies – the look of the tiny toes and fingers, the feel of their soft skin, the freshly-bathed baby smell. I love that memory. That’s how I expected babies would be.
And then … and then … sooner or later, our interactions don’t match our expectations. On one end of the scale, our interactions become even more wonderful, which enhances our expectations and good feelings – cool deal, better than expected!
On the other end of the scale, our interactions don’t meet our expectations and we have not-good feelings, which could be labelled as disappointment, frustration, anger, or eventually depression. Because of these not-good feelings, we look for, and find evidence of more unmet expectations. The negative cycle continues with each interaction and the mental landscape changes for the worse.
In every interaction with that person, or even the thought of an interaction, we drag forward our mental landscape and contour the interaction according to our expectations of how it will look, sound, and feel, even before the interaction occurs. Guess what? We get what we focus on most intensively.
Have you ever contoured your interactions based upon memories?
If you say “no,” I’m guessing you lie about other things too.
If this “mental landscaping” is going to happen anyway, why not consciously use it to our benefit; to vastly enhance our relationships and build greater trust, rather than tearing them down? We’ve proved to ourselves that we know how to do it – we’ve been doing it unconsciously all of our lives.
My question for you is this: how wonderful and amazing could your relationships become if you used best-ever memories as your mental landscape?
If you’re willing, here are some self-questions and hints to make this happen for you.
• Choose to make your interactions a conscious communication rather than a reactive foray, regardless of anything that has happened in the past. Think, speak, and act accordingly.
• What is your intention for your interaction? Do you want the conversation to be respectful, positive, proactive, solution-oriented, kind, and loving – or the opposite of these values? Think, speak, and act accordingly.
• Can you search the hard-drive of your mind for memories of really wonderful and synergistic interactions where you felt great feelings? Employ these powerful positive memories as your mental landscape. Think, speak, and act accordingly.
• Eliminate ALL expectations. Take each wonderful fresh moment as a new adventure. The past is past, the future never comes, and now is all you have. Think, speak, and act accordingly.
• Be curious. Ask good questions and listen to understand the other person’s wants and perspectives. LISTEN – it is far more effective that telling. Think, speak, and act accordingly.
• Offer possibilities, ideas, and solutions rather than whining and complaining. Be eagerly willing to enhance ideas to benefit everyone. Think, speak, and act accordingly.
• What is the best possible outcome for all? Set aside your own ego, agenda, and “right way.” Think, speak, and act accordingly.
Are you up to these challenges?
This is not a game of win and lose. The goal is to re-contour your mental landscape so you look forward to every interaction and continually improve the landscape with each visit.
How will you know if this works?
Pay attention to how you feel. Your feelings always indicate whether you are getting the results you want (good feelings) or the results you don’t want (not-good feelings).
I guarantee you’ll get that which you focus on the most: effective relationships or not-effective relationships.
Consciously create a wonderful “now”. It’s all you’ve got.