Do you have areas of your home that need purging? If you don’t, I’m not sure we could be friends! Everyone has at least a junk drawer…right? The first time I went through a home purge was before minimalism or KonMari was a thing. I had looked around my apartment after a separation and realized that I didn’t need half of what I saw. So, I decided to get rid of half of it. Half of everything in the house. With a few exceptions. The kitchen. My bookshelves. And my shoes. Those three things were exempt. They got a get out of jail free card. I went through each room, each drawer, closet and shelf and got rid of at least 50% of what was there. It was liberating. That was in 2008. Since then, I’ve gone through several more rounds of that and I’ve lifted the exemption on the kitchen, books, and even shoes. Yes, I’ve purged my books and my shoes. Shocking, I know.
Sometimes, we only need to tidy up. But, every so often, we need to do a deep dive and purge things. We’ve been talking for the last few weeks about what belongs in your change-making toolbox. I did a gadget-n-gear episode two weeks ago and last week we talked about people, about what kind of people you need around you. This week, we’re going to talk about people again, but switch it up a bit. Let’s talk about the kind of people you don’t want in your toolbox. The kind you might need to deep clean or purge.
Last week I asked you to take a look around you at the people in your social circles and begin to think about who does or could fill the roles of mentor, cheerleader or friend. If you did that, you might have noticed that there are probably other people in your life that don’t fall into those categories. Some of these people have a negative effect on your ability to make changes in your life.
First, there are the obvious enemies. Do you have people in your life who actively sabotage things? Or, they would if you tried to make a change? Maybe they feel threatened by you, maybe they’re jealous of you, maybe they don’t like the color of your skin or the clothes you wear. Maybe you’ve had a conflict with them. Maybe they’re an ex-spouse or a family member. Maybe you have no idea why they seem to oppose you every time you turn around. But, they’re easy to spot. They’re the obvious and overt opposition.
Then there are the silent ones. They may not be actively opposed to you, you might not even notice them. But, they affect your perception of what’s normal. Let’s pretend you’re part of a work or social culture that eats a lot, drinks a lot, and doesn’t move around much. You all have jobs that park you in front of a computer and after ten years of this you see a photo of yourself and it shocks you into the realization that you’re really overweight. Seriously overweight. But, how did this happen? Why didn’t you notice? Because those around you determine your norms and they were all gaining weight at the same rate as you were. You don’t have to follow the norms around you, but if you aren’t actively working against the ones you aren’t interested in, the odds are in favor of the norms.
Another way those around us affect us without even speaking is to fail to call us out on poor choices and behaviors. We tend, often out of politeness, to sanction poor behavior of others. I read a story recently of an anesthesiologist who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s and it wasn’t until a patient’s life was endangered that co-workers admitted having seen the signs of Alzheimer’s in his work for a long time. But, no one wanted to bring it up. This wasn’t a bad behavior on his part, but silence can be unhealthy in many situations.
People can sabotage your change-making situationally too. What if your circle of friends participates in a habit that you’d like to change, but that’s what your social interaction is based around? Maybe it’s drinking. Maybe it’s shopping. Maybe it’s complaining or gossiping. You might really like the people and want to spend time with them…but time with them inevitably involves over-drinking or over-spending or over-speaking. In this case, it may not be the people themselves that are the problem, but the behaviors they lead to.
I remember vividly sitting in a small group in the early ‘90’s talking about habits that led us to choices we didn’t want to make. I remember realizing that if I wanted to get my spending under control, that one of the fastest and easiest ways to do that would be to stop looking at mail order catalogs. If I didn’t know something existed, I wouldn’t “need” it. How could I feel like I needed it if I didn’t even know about it existed! Shopping is a recreational activity for many women. If there’s a group of women who get together to shop, I need to think seriously about not being a part of that group. It’s way to easy to either feel pressured to buy things I shouldn’t or to unintentionally spend more than I want to. Similarly, if you’re part of a crowd that builds social interactions around a behavior you want to change, you’re going to need to take a hard look at changing your social circle.
And lastly, what if you have someone in your life who actively holds you accountable to a bad habit? I have had friends who felt like my refusal to do something…shop recreationally, make copies of music, writing or art against copyright laws, or do drugs was an attack or a judgment about them. So, they’d go out of their way to put me in situations where I’d feel pressured to act in a way I didn’t want to.
Who are the people in your world who will be working against any changes you want to make? Maybe overtly and maybe in subtle ways. Ask yourself who’ll speak up or criticize if you start acting differently? Who are you afraid of disappointing or receiving criticism from? Who might get angry if you start making changes? These are the people you do not need in your toolbox. You don’t even need them in your workshop if we’re sticking with the toolbox analogy.
Once you identify them, then what? Do you need to get rid of all of them? What if you can’t? What if they’re relatives, co-workers or close friends? Here are some ideas.
First, try elimination. Maybe the people you identify as unhealthy for you can be eliminated from your toolbox. If so, do it. For the relationships you can control, you choose whether to spend time with them or not. Be your own gatekeeper and if a relationship is unhealthy and you can remove it, then do. It may not be easy, it may not be comfortable, but healthy isn’t always easy.
If you can’t eliminate the relationship, can you put as much distance between you and that person as possible? If they’re a co-worker, how can you change your routines, habits, or meetings to avoid that person as much as possible?
What if you have a relationship you don’t want to lose or can’t eliminate, but it’s unhealthy? Try turning that person away from the dark side. Have a frank discussion with them about the effect their behavior is having on you (don’t assume or label their intent, just talk about what the effects are for you) and explain that you’d like the relationship to be healthy and discuss what that would mean. I’ll admit, this won’t always work. When it does, you’ve gained an ally in your toolbox. A strong one. And when it doesn’t, at least you’ve tried.
There’s a lot of emotional immaturity floating around us and the more we can act like adults ourselves, model it for others and expect it in our relationships, the healthier we’ll all be.
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