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November 2, 2016

Better Choices For Better Results

If all your problems are caused by other people and circumstances beyond your control, then you will never be able to solve them. You will be trapped in a miserable world of victimhood and blame.

It's true that sometimes events and circumstances work against us, and sometimes other people do things that have negative effects on our lives.

Even so, most of us live in a world where we have some choices. And those choices can make a huge difference in what happens to us.

One guy I know has been fired from just about every job he ever had, not because he's incapable, but because of his attitude. He makes no secret of the fact that he thinks he's smarter than everyone else, that he knows more about the job than the boss does, and that everyone should just do everything his way. Nobody can stand to work with him for long, and so he's chronically unemployed.

What a difference it would make if he would just keep his opinions to himself and do the job he's hired to do. With a steady income, his life would be a lot more pleasant. If he stayed at one job long enough to make a good impression, he might have a chance at a promotion and the opportunity to put his own ideas into play.

I recently saw a post by a teenager who was disgruntled because her father wouldn't buy her the expensive iPhone she wanted. The satirical picture she posted with earbuds stuck in an actual apple was pretty funny, until she captioned it by referring to her father as a "cheap [obscenity]". I bet her father works hard for his money, and being cursed by a bratty ingrate probably does not motivate him to buy her pricey toys.

Imagine how much happier this girl would be if she appreciated the things she already has. If she thanked her father for all he does for her, and graciously accepted the fact that she can't have everything, her father might feel more inclined to indulge her now and then.

And then there are the people we married.

We all know that our spouse's behavior influences us. Unkind and unfair treatment is likely to make us feel hurt, angry, resentful, and unmotivated. Someone who is constantly ignored may decide to completely withdraw. Someone who gets nagged naturally resists. A person who is presented with a long list of complaints may respond with his or her own list. Someone who gets yelled at is likely to yell back.

What rarely occurs to most people is that their spouses probably feel the same way. Just as we react to the way our spouses treat us, they are reacting to the way we treat them. If we keep doing the same old stuff, they'll keep doing the same old stuff. If we want different results, our best hope is to make different choices.

In many cases, the bad choices we make would be just as obvious to an outsider as the choices made by the unemployed worker and the greedy teen. Just like them, if we think that the other person is to blame, we will never be able to change the dynamic. But if we step back and analyze what is going on, we have a chance to do something new.

It's usually easy to see what your partner is doing wrong, but harder to see your own contribution to the problem. Even so, with some honest self-reflection, it is possible to understand how the things you say and do trigger certain responses in your partner. No matter how justified you feel, if what you are doing isn't working well, it's time to give it up. Maybe it's a habit, like always being late. Maybe it's certain words you use that sound sarcastic or insulting to your partner, even if you didn't mean them that way. Maybe you insist on correcting the other person's grammar, or interrupting their jokes. Maybe it's something you aren't doing, such as saying thank you, giving compliments, or pitching in with chores.

No matter what it is, if it's part of the pattern, then changing it will change the pattern. Trying it once is probably not enough. Change takes place gradually and requires consistent effort. The good news is that it's just as easy to form a good habit as a bad one, and once we start getting positive feedback, it will be easy to continue making better choices.

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