What Happy People Know That You Don't
I once worked with a woman who vacuumed her house every single morning -- before she left for work. Now I knew this about my colleague only because her young daughter dropped it one day in casual conversation... her attitude being one of "Doesn't everybody?" Well, no, everybody doesn't... but neither does it matter. Still, my colleague considered her cleaning addiction crazy enough that she kept it her little secret. The truth is, every one of us has crazy behaviors and beliefs.
These are what one character in the movie "The Family Stone" referred to as a freak flag. And how much easier it would be, the movie implies, if we all carried around "freak flags" that announced our personal craziness for the world to see.
WHAT IS YOUR FREAK FLAG?
Life coach Lauren Zander of the Handel Group (www.handelgrouppc.com) agrees completely with the concept of flying personal freak flags. Being upfront about our crazy quirks is not only truthful, she says, it also acknowledges that everyone has a variety of them. They belong to and brand us and are the interesting things we do that make us human. She notes that a giant realm of personal craziness includes the category of food and eating -- from chowing down behind closed doors to never co-mingling foods on a plate.
Sexuality is another big area of personal quirks and preferences. Although universal, most people feel too weird about their sexual attitudes and ideas to speak honestly about them. Professional athletes have their crazy secret beliefs about what will help them win a tournament. Children have rituals, objects or imaginary friends they use to help them feel safe. Grown-ups have a wide variety of behaviors or harmless biases they cling to for a bevy of reasons. Example: Ask pack rats why they insist on keeping all that "stuff" with no obvious worth or value.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN
As human beings, we are all in the same interesting and weird boat, Lauren observes, trying to grow up and deal with our small vices -- but at the same time wanting to be "normal" and look good to others. Let it go, she says. Claim the joy to be found in admitting to your quirks. Fessing up to the crazy quirks is funny and freeing and endows people with a new sense of control about their behavior.
Accepting your own quirks also provides an opportunity for a whole new understanding of the quirks and freakiness of your spouse, kids, parents and friends. A huge percentage of marital squabbles involve one spouse's intolerance of the other spouse's quirks -- remember the classic toothpaste tube argument? Everyone around you has his/her own set of quirks that you can either learn to love as part of who that person is... or you can let them drive you crazy. I have a friend who never sends thank you notes -- not even for her wedding or baby gifts. I know that she is a loving and generous and devoted friend. So, I accept that she is not wired to send thank you notes. Some people might sever a relationship over not being thanked and sacrifice all the great things that are part of that lifelong relationship.
FINDING YOUR OWN
It is possible that crazy quirks are so well hidden they are hard even for the individual to find. To find yours, Lauren advises looking first for any behavior or attitude you don't want other people to know about. That is certain to be a freak flag candidate. Another place to look: At your grievances and annoyances about other people. If certain things about others really bug you, chances are strong that there is a little personal freak flag in there. As an example, Lauren notes that arrogance in others makes some people furious, but probably they carry around arrogance themselves, just better disguised. Because people are not generally bothered by behaviors that don't exist somewhere in themselves, being upset is a big signal to go looking at that.
Identifying it and accepting that bit of freakiness will loosen the steam you have built about your grievance and annoyance about others, Lauren says.
It may feel scary to fly a freak flag at first, but be brave. It won't take long to start experiencing the rewards. By admitting to your own craziness you bring a fresh openness in your dialog with others. By acknowledging, for example, that my husband is right in telling me that I sometimes forget things if I don't write them down allows us to have fun with my "forgetful-ism" and also creates a structure in our relationship that supports my need to write things down. It's now a big family loving joke about the notes I leave for myself for fear of forgetting.
Being honest about yourself, stripped of spinning and lying, gives people around you permission to put up their flags as well. Flying the flags breaks down the boundaries between you and the barriers to real human nature -- at last, everyone starts to be who they really are.
What Happy People Know That You Don't
* Meredith Haberfeld, co-founder and CEO, and Lauren Zander, principal, Handel Group Private Coaching (www.handelgrouppc.com).