What’re You Making Up?

You do it. I do it. We all do it. (This is one the birds and bees don’t do!)

My friend Dawn does it.

Last weekend as we were out walking, I asked about her new job as President of a small organization. “I’m finally excited,” she told me.

Knowing how enthusiastic she was when she accepted the position, I was surprised to hear she’d spent her first few weeks wondering if she’d made a mistake.

Her boss, who’s in a different location, had been responding like molasses to a series of important emails. A few times, he hadn’t even replied. With each slow response, her frustration around his lack of engagement grew – not a surprising reaction.

But that’s not what was really going on.

While it’s true he was slow to respond, she made up disinterest as the reason.

After stewing for several weeks, she finally decided to adopt a “why wonder when you can ask” approach. When she and her boss talked by phone, she learned he only uses email for non-urgent matters, relying on phone and in-person meetings for all the real communication. It was his assumption that she would somehow know this.

In this case, no lasting harm was done, but she sure wasted a good deal of emotional energy during those first few weeks.

Dawn’s not unusual; it happens to us all. We make up assumptions and stories, and we do it all day long.

One of my prior clients coined the acronym IGMU as a handy way to refer to hers. Since it sounds funny it makes her laugh and that helps her take her assumptions less seriously. It stands for “I got made up”…and then she fills in the blank. (I got made up that my friend Grace is recoiling in horror from the bad grammar.) The point isn’t to demonstrate mastery of the English language, but to help keep assumptions top of mind.

Next time you find yourself reacting to words, facial expressions, actions, or whatever it is that has you feeling mad, hurt, or worked up into a snit, start with a deep breath.

Then separate fact (she’s frowning) from assumption (she’s mad). Once you know what you’re making up, you can decide if you want to create a different story. For instance, she’s having a bad day. Or she just came from the dentist and is still numbed up. And if it really matters to you, go ask.

Once you start watching your stories and gathering your facts, you’ll find yourself saving energy and living more days the way you want to live your life. And who knows. You might even make up a fun word along the way.

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