A Tale of Two Backpacks

30 mei 2018

Life isn't perfect, people aren't always nice, bad things do happen.

What do you do with those experiences? 


You can’t ignore them: our brain has a tendency to register everything that ever happened to us, and to give meaning to it. 


So do you put the experience in the backpack with tools or the backpack with stones?


The backpack with tools, is where we put our lessons learned, where we look at the past to learn for the future.

'I was a bit too direct with my colleague in that meeting, I'll tread more carefully next time',

'I wasn't prepared, next time I'll consult the others first'


The backpack with stones (and we all have one, it's part of being human) is where we store those experiences that we have been unable to learn anything from besides: 'never again'. It's where we store the pain, the anger, the powerlessness. 

'I'll never involve him again in those discussions, if he can't take a bit of feedback'

'Next time, they can get someone else to do the presentation, if they won't listen to me, I won't bother again'


This process of where we store our experiences is largely subconscious, it just happens. But it does influence our daily life enormously.


The experiences that you have stored in the backpack with tools, will be a gift for life: they have made you smarter, wiser, stronger, more mature.

The experiences that you have stored in the backpack with stones will weigh on you, they might keep you from being the best version of you. 


Again, there is nothing wrong with having stones in our backpack - it's part of being human - everyone has them.


But it helps to be aware of them. If we know that we are a bit more sensitive to certain things than other people (that is the weight of the stone we're feeling), then we can take ownership for it. Eg: if you have had multiple negative experiences with a dentist, you may be more scared for your next appointment than the average person. If you have had an extremely negative experience with online shopping, you may have deciced to never shop online again. If your parents didn't allow any heated discussions when you were young, you might be avoiding any conflict of opinion.

As long as you realize how these experiences - and the stones related to them that you are still carrying in your backpack - influence your reality. And that other people have stones in their backpacks too. 


Why is this useful to know?

  • When someone else overreacts to something, there probably is a stone in their backpack (so don't take it personally, help them to deal with the feeling).
  • When you overreact to something, it's probably related to one of your stones (so don't blame it on others).
  • You can always re-examine a stone: once you are aware of this pattern in your thinking, your feelings and your behavior, you can recognize it for what it is (just a reaction to a specific situation, that you have turned into a habit), you can decide whether you want to move it to your backpack of tools, or not.
  • You can take ownership for your stones: you no longer have to blame someone else for being too argumentative, you can own your own sensitivity to discussions, and invite the other to another way of communicating. 


We sometimes call the stones 'red buttons' - those buttons that when they get pushed, make you uncomfortable, sad, frustrated, angry.

We sometimes call the tools 'green buttons' - those buttons that when they get pushed, make you feel in charge, in control, on top of things - because you have been there - and you know how to deal with it.


The better we know ourselves, the easier it becomes to understand others.

The better we understand others, the easier communication becomes.

The easier communication becomes, the more successful we all can be.


Get to know your green & red buttons - re-examine your backpacks - because  they are like a women's purse: full of things you didn't remember putting in there.


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