Yesterday, TL noticed that I had gotten several lights in our son’s room repaired. Several days before that she had specifically asked me not to do so. The reason is unique to our house. Our son needs a nightlight, and the number of non-functioning bulbs in his room had reached the perfect balance for use as a nightlight: not too bright but not too dark. I told TL, as I had told myself, that the bulbs burn out so quickly that the repaired light would soon return to the balance she sought. Of course, that was not the point. The point was that TL had asked me to do something a certain way, I had said I would do so, and then I did the opposite.
What happened? How did I make such a poor decision, and how can I do better in the future? First, faced with a choice between my commitment to do what I had told TL I would do and my neat-freak, checklist-driven compulsion to have everything repaired, I chose my compulsion. Second, I think that when she originally told me not to have it all repaired, I heard her and acknowledged her without truly listening to her. I still listened to that crazy voice in my head that insisted it would be just as good if all the bulbs were repaired. Third, I think that I did disagree with her original suggestion about not repairing the light, but for some reason I failed to verbalize it and discuss it. Yes, I can think of other examples, in my youth, and even in my professional life, when I disagreed silently, failed to discuss the issue out loud, and then just acted unilaterally. It seems to be a very bad habit I have.
What should I do about all this? I welcome suggestions. Here are my ideas. Perhaps by the time I was standing in that room with the repairman it was already too late for me to take preventive measures. By that time there was about a fifty percent chance that I would decide to do as I had told TL I would do and a fifty percent chance that I would do the wrong thing.
Perhaps my best chance to prevent a bad decision was back when TL originally suggested not repairing the light. So, I should have listened. But, how? How can I do better at making myself listen in such situations? Certainly, I need to make listening a big priority in my efforts to improve myself. But, is there more I could do?
What if I focused on summoning the courage and energy and investing the time to have a real discussion about a suggestion such as the one TL made? Perhaps my habit when I disagree with a suggestion is to quickly and subconsciously tell myself something counterproductive such as: “Expressing my disagreement will take too much time and energy. I’ll just rush past this point and deal with it later.” I think that’s part of it. I have a tendency to rush from one to-do list item to another without taking enough time to focus on quality, especially the quality of human interactions and human relationships. Perhaps I am comforted by schedules, checklists, and routines and uncomfortable with meaningful human interactions. I remember such feelings going way back to childhood. My habit is to rush through human interactions and assign them little value.
That’s the habit I need to break, I think. How? In the past few days I have been making a renewed effort to put spending time with my family, be it one of them or all of them, before doing other things. I was feeling good about my progress, but I was aware of the mental discomfort I still face, with my to-do list calling me like a seductress. Back when TL told me her thoughts about the light, I failed to see that even such a mundane topic was an opportunity to invest in a human interaction with her, to invest in our relationship. With my efforts to focus on values, perhaps I need to specifically focus on the value of human interactions and the value of investing in relationships with my family, even through seemingly mundane topics or relatively brief interactions. Let’s see if that helps.