What Role Are You Playing?

At a recent family dinner, my 13-year-old daughter taught me the value of mental energy and how it can relieve stress and increase emotional engagement.

If you have lived with a 13-year-old – or if you remember being a 13-year-old – then you know how silly and often inappropriate they can be. At dinner recently, my daughter made some sounds that are more suited to the barnyard than the dinner table. As I threw her a fake-stern “mom” look, I suddenly realized that I had fallen into a habit of playing the serious parent. That moment of awareness led me to reassess how I interact with my daughter, who will not be a child for much longer. The habit that serves me well when she needs boundaries is not as effective when the time is ripe for playfulness and sheer enjoyment of each other’s company.

So now when she makes crazy faces, sounds and gestures at dinner, I recognize the childlike playfulness in her behaviour and allow myself to relax and go along for the ride. Dinners are much more enjoyable now, and having played the serious parent for so long, I know that I can trust her to behave appropriately in restaurants and other public places.

Do you ever find yourself playing a role in your life, maybe at work? Perhaps you are the team player? The high achiever? The perfectionist? These are all great roles to play, but there may be times when 80% will be good enough, or it’s better to do some background work on your own before getting together with the team. Here are a couple suggestions for identifying those times when your habits may be misplaced.

1. Be mindful. A few times a day, take a few minutes to breathe and reconnect to how you’re feeling. You’ll begin to develop an awareness of your reactions throughout the day. Start by closing your eyes, noticing the feeling of your feet on the floor and your body on the chair, and take a few deep breaths as you tune in to any feelings you have. Don’t try to change the feelings, just notice them.
2. Notice others’ reactions. Usually we get kudos for playing the roles we play. But if you notice that conversation is shutting down, or others are getting frustrated, it might be a sign to assess the usefulness of that role in that situation.

Developing the mental focus to notice your own reactions and behaviour, and to tune in to the reactions of others, can be a powerful way of increasing your engagement with the people around you.