Today I want to talk to you about the time I was kicked out of the quiet room at the library, and what my hilarious faux pas can teach you about how to handle any awkward situation, and help prevent you from replaying events over and over after the fact.
Fair warning: in this story I am not the hero, I am the villain…
1:02 PM We take the elevator up to the 5th floor, where they have study rooms, periodicals, and the quiet room. The quiet room is designed so that people can work and study in peace.
1:03 PM We settle into the quiet room, we’re the only two people there.
1:03:30 PM Thinking that the room was soundproof, and also wanting to make my wife laugh…I devise a (to me) hilarious plan to play 5 seconds of gangster rap.
1:04 PM I press play. My wife quoted me as whispering “This is what I think of your quiet room.”
1:05 PM I sheepishly grab my bag and we walk to the meeting room.
Quiet Room: 1 Jeff: 0.
What can we learn from this?
A. I clearly did not respect the nature of the quiet room.
B. I have a strong aversion to being a obedient rule follower.
C. I love gangster rap.
Looking back, I realized something interesting…
If something socially awkward happened to me years ago, I would have gone through a familiar cycle:
- Obsess over the event. “What the hell was I thinking?!”
- Second guess myself. “What I should have said was THIS!”
- Internalize my actions to my identity. “I am so stupid.”
The most important takeaway is: Separate your actions from your identity.
How many times have you talked with someone and:
- They didn’t get your joke.
- There was an awkward pause.
- You ran out of things to say.
Worse than that…you started to meld that interaction into who you are, and associate it with your identity.
So what’s the fix?
Realize that this type of negative overgeneralization of events is a form of cognitive distortion known as “labeling”. Labeling is insidious because it fuses actions (which are tiny samples sizes of behavior) with our identity.
Author and researcher Brené Brown has a philosophy:
Guilt = I did a bad thing. Shame = I AM a bad person.
Once we separate our actions from our identity, we become free.
So the next time you do something awkward…like playing gangster rap in a library quiet room, or telling a story in a group and people don’t react quite the way you expect:
Flush it. Destroy the link between your actions and who you are. Delete all thoughts of “What do these actions say about who I am as a person?”
Fix it. If there is anything about the situation that is within your control, mentally adjust your approach for next time. (For me, that means not playing gangster rap in the quiet room)
Forget it. Move on. Close the book. Replaying an event is counterproductive and will almost certainly lead to “because that’s who I am” thinking. Often the biggest key here is simply giving yourself the permission to move on.
Cultivating the skills of flush, fix, and forget is a classic example of a growth mindset.
Links to help you dominate this area of your life:
- Derek Sivers on fixed mindset vs. growth mindset.
- Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s TED talk on growth mindset.
- Brené Brown on handling shame and being vulnerable.
I’m curious, have you had an experience where you could’ve used flush it, fix it, and forget it?
Leave a comment below and tell me about it. I read each one while sitting in my non-quiet room at home.