8 Ways to Play Kind Games, Not Mind Games


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If you follow me on Instagram, you might've seen this recent post, where autocorrect changed my caption from "mind games" to "kind games." Not surprisingly, this led me to think about what "kind games" might consist of since, even if you're not intentionally playing mind games with those around you, most of us do some game-playing. Anytime you're not clearly and effectively communicating with others — intentionally or unintentionally — it's a kind of game (at the very least, a guessing game!).

No matter how much you might aim for healthy, communicative relationships, it's hard to always get it right. No matter how well you know someone, it's challenging to convey yourself accurately (particularly if you don't even fully understand how you feel which, let's face it, happens sometimes!), and it can be a daunting task to comprehend others, even when they do their best to share how they feel. 

Communication is a kind of kindness. The better you are at expressing yourself (and understanding other others express themselves), the better your relationships will be. But if you're anything like me, knowing that isn't the same as doing it. I know how valuable good communication is — in work, in socialization, in romantic relationships — and still I struggle greatly with it because it requires bravery, vulnerability, and a self-awareness that sometimes I just don't possess.

Effective communication has been an issue for me in almost every relationship I've been in, and, much as I hate to admit it, I've been guilty of playing a mind game or two. Often it's not calculated or mean-spirited, but, regardless of the intention, mind games are unkind (and very unproductive!). Here are some of the ideas that came to mind when I started thinking about how I could turn mind games into kind games...

 

COMMUNICATE HOW YOU FEEL

Telling someone else how you feel is one of the kindest acts. It's also one of the hardest sometimes. But if you want to be kind, you've gotta be brave and just do it. (Bonus: it's also one of the best ways to be kind to yourself as well, helping you cut down on a lot of unnecessary drama!)

 

ASK ABOUT HOW OTHERS FEEL

If you don't know how someone else feels (if you're not 100%, absolutely sure!), ask. I know it can be awkward sometimes, but just think of how many conflicts you could have already avoided if you'd just asked instead of assuming. Assumptions seem like they save time, but they often make things way more complicated, which isn't kind for anyone. 

 

APOLOGIZE WHEN YOU'RE WRONG

If you mess up, say you're sorry. Actually say it. Don't offer an explanation and leave it at that, assuming the other person knows you're sorry. Apologize out loud (or in writing if that's not an option) and mean it. (Advanced version of this game: apologize to, and forgive, yourself, too.)

 

EXPRESS WHEN YOU'RE HURT

When someone's hurt you, let them know. You can be honest without being dramatic or hurtful. (It's not easy, but practice helps!) You can set your ego aside and express how you feel without shame or fury. It's a tough game to play sometimes, I know, but remember: communication is a kind of kindness. 

 

SAY YES / NO WHEN YOU WANT TO

If you want to say yes, say yes. If you want to say no, say no. You don't need an excuse. You don't need a reason. The more often you practice saying yes/no to what you do/don't want, the better your life gets. (And the more everyone else will get you, which is a winning strategy for making the most of all your relationships!)

 

RECOGNIZE SIGNS OF CONTROL

Pay attention to how you feel, and if you feel like you're trying to gain control of someone or something, take some time to figure out why you're seeking control (hint: usually it's about you and not them), and knock it off. Most of us don't want to control or manipulate others, but do so without realizing it. Recognize it, then stop. 

 

DON'T JUDGE SO HARSHLY

Don't judge yourself or others so harshly. Everything — everything — is so much more complex, so much more entangled, than we realize. One thread tugged and everything is shifting ever so slightly. It's happening all the time in a million different ways so don't be so hard on yourself or anyone else. We're all doing what we can with what we're given. 

 

TAKE A TIME OUT WHEN UPSET

How many negative interactions might you have avoided just by pausing before reacting? It only takes a little bit of time but if you wait before reacting to someone else when you're upset, you'll be doing both of you a great kindness. A deep breath, a walk around the block, a day alone. Take time to chill out. 

 

There are so many ways to practice kindness, of course, but one of the most important (albeit most difficult) is communicating in a loving, open-minded, and thoughtful way. What else would you add to this list? What kind of kind games would you like to play? What kind are you already playing? 

 

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How to Stop Black-or-White Thinking

 

Positively Present - Black and White

 

It's normal for us to want to categorizing things, to label them so we might make sense of them, but as soon as we start identifying something — as good, bad, or any other descriptor — we're limiting our understanding of the thing. (Yes, there are quite a few things that are easily and unequivocally defined, but the list of such things is likely shorter than you'd think.) Attempts to label or categorize are attempts to understand, to provide clarity for ourselves in a world that often doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, unfortunately, these sense-striving attempts often take people away from common sense, leading them down an all-or-nothing path that ultimately limits understanding. 

If we truly want to understand someone or something, we're going to have to make some effort because, like it or not, our minds just want it to be easy. Our minds want quick and easy answers and, tempting as those might be, they're not truth. Some, admittedly, would rather have a false sense of understanding than truth, but, since you're reading this, I assume you're trying your best to have an honest understanding of the world (or, at least as honest as our little human brains can make it, given our many mental and emotional limitations). So if you really want to do your best to avoid all-or-nothing thinking, to resist the temptation to label something black or white rather than looking for the shades of gray, here are some ways to combat that natural urge to take something and paint it a single color: 

 

  • Open your mind to new ideas. Keeping an open mind seems like an obvious first step, but it's not always (in fact, it's rarely) our default mode, particularly as we get older and have experience and feel as if we know what something might be like. Not only should you strive to keep your mind open to ideas when discussing a specific topic, but it's also important to try keeping an open mind generally, as it'll help you hone your open-mindedness skills. When you strive to remain open-minded, you're likely to perceive a situation as it is rather than how you think it should be. Of course, we're all doing the best we can and we're limited by what we already know, but the more you practice seeing the world from different perspectives, trying to put yourself in others' shoes, and attempting to be mindful of the world around you, the easier it will become to keep an open mind. 

 

  • Let go of your expectations. Expectations are one of the main reasons all-or-nothing thinking happens. We think something "should" be a certain way, so we're either eager to accept the situation as normal when it happens as expected or we're quickly disappointed when the situation doesn't meet expectations. Letting go of expectations is one of the keys to ridding your mind of black-or-white thinking. Expectations — those little "should" and "should nots" in your mind — often force you to think in all-or-nothing. They set you up for mistakes, for assigning meaning where there might be none, for making judgments without truth or wisdom. Releasing expectations (particularly related to experiences you've had many times before) is a challenge, but it's a vital aspect of quelling black-or-white notions. 

 

  • Look for the myriad of colors. It's tempting to fall victim to seeing things in black or white, which is why we must practice being vigilant in looking for the various hues and shades of every person, situation, or idea we encounter. It's important to constantly remind yourself that there many different ways of looking at whatever situation you're in. One way to keep this in mind is by practicing with an everyday object. Take, for example, the sky. Try looking at it from different points of view — sitting on the ground, standing, atop a roof, from your car window. It's all the same sky and, while it's likely to look relatively the same regardless of where you are, there are differences you'll notice based on where you are. Likewise, try looking at the colors of a cloud. At first glance, it will look white, but if you look closely, you'll see shades of gray and pink and yellow. Try to remind yourself of the sky and the cloud when you encounter something you feel all-or-nothing about. Consider your perspective. Consider looking more closely. 

 

  • Try to see things as they are. Much as we might hate to admit it, most of us tend to see things the way we want to see them rather than the way they actually are. This distorted thinking causes us to see the "black" or "white" in a situation not because it is clearly one color, but because we want it to be that way. After all, it's much easier to understand "black" than it is to understand "dark gray with a hint of blue that looks somewhat purple in the right light." So we try to make it easy on ourselves. That's fine for certain things in which a quick decision is necessary — like determining if a stove is too hot to touch — but when it comes to understanding complex topics, such snap judgments won't benefit us in the long run if we're seeking truth. You're much more likely to avoid extreme thinking if you do your best to look at how things are rather than how you'd like them to be. Objectivity is a skill and it's not an easy one to master, but the more you practice, the better you'll become at seeing something's true colors. 

 

  • Avoid labeling with a single word. When you think of something in terms of one word, you're limiting it immediately. Think about it like this: if someone asks how your day is, you usually respond with words like "Good!" or "Terrible," but neither of those words are likely to accurately describe the entire day. Even the worst days have decent moments and even the best days have their struggles. Recognizing that everyday is more than "good" or "bad" is a great way to start realizing that situations, just like days, are nearly always more complex than a single descriptive phrase. Do your best to start describing things, like your day, in detail, and you'll be practicing the act of avoiding one-word labels that hinder open-minded thinking. 

 

Combatting black-or-white thinking is challenging, but with these tips — and lots of practice — hopefully we can all learn to focus a little bit more on the nuances of ideas, situations, and people and move away from the limitations of an all-or-nothing mentality. Let me know in the comments below if you have any additional tips for conquering black-or-white thinking!

 

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F.A.C.E. Your Feelings: How to Cope with Mixed Emotions


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On the last day of the year, I've found myself reflecting on the past twelve months and, in particular, the ebb and flow my relationships. While reflecting, I realized I was trying to fit my relationships (and people!) into neat little boxes, labeled "GOOD" or "BAD," and it just wasn't working out. Because, as I'm sure you know, relationships are complex. They don't always fit clearly into boxes. They can't always be labeled clearly.

My feelings about most people, even those I love dearly, are mixed. For someone like me, who really likes to identify and label things in order to better analyze and understand them, this can be tricky. So, I decided to do what I always do when confronted with trickiness: write about it! I sat down this morning to write about the idea of mixed feelings and realized, ultimately, that it doesn't have to be a negative thing. Sure, it would be great if we could identify every person in our lives as "good" or "bad" so that we'd know who to surround ourselves with, but life -- and people! -- don't work like that. 

Like it or not, mixed feelings are a part of relationships, so we might as well learn to deal with them the best we can! I came up with a little method I like to call F.A.C.E. that can help you (and me!) cope with the complicated mess of mixed feelings. This is especially useful for people you love and interact with often (as those are the people we often have the most complex relationships with!), but I bet it can work pretty well for new relationships as well as a way to figure out how you really feel about a person you're just getting to know! 

 

FIGURE OUT THE FEELINGS

First and foremost, you have to figure out what you're feeling! This may sound obvious, but when you spend a lot of time with someone or have known them for a long time, sometimes we don't even pay attention to how we feel about them. Figuring out precisely what you feel is essential for coping with the mixed emotions. There are many different ways to feel about others, but here's a list of some emotions you might consider while figuring out your feelings (note: lots of these words aren't technically considered emotions in the psychological sense, but I find these words helpful when trying to figure out feelings):

  • Admiration
  • Affection
  • Amusement
  • Anger
  • Awe
  • Bitterness
  • Bliss
  • Boredom
  • Calm
  • Comfort
  • Contentment
  • Desire
  • Disgust
  • Distain
  • Distrust
  • Envy
  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Gratitude
  • Happiness
  • Hate
  • Hope
  • Hurt
  • Interest
  • Irritation
  • Jealousy
  • Joy
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Lust
  • Peace
  • Pity
  • Pride
  • Rage
  • Relaxed
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Safe
  • Secure
  • Serenity
  • Shame
  • Surprise
  • Tenderness
  • Trust
  • Unsafe
  • Wonder

 

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EMOTIONS

Next, it's important to pay attention to what's happening when you're actually interacting with that person. It's one thing to sit down alone and consider how a person makes you feel, but it's quite another to tune into it in the moment. Here are three questions to consider when contemplating mixed emotions: 

  1. How do I feel when I think about spending time with them? 
  2. How do I feel while I'm spending time with them? 
  3. How do I feel after I've just spend time with them?

There is likely more than one answer to these questions depending on the day and circumstances, but paying attention to these three questions frequently will give you a better sense of how this person makes you feel overall and can clue you into nuances about the relationship that you might not have otherwise realized. 

 

CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS

After you've given consideration to how you feel about the person generally and how you feel in specific situations, before, after, and during interactions with this person, now it's time to go a little further and consider the big question: So what? You've now got a pretty good idea of what you feel about this person, but now you have to consider what this means. Understanding the mixed feelings you have usually will lead to one of three conclusions: 

  1. This person is no good for me and I should spend less time with them. 
  2. This person is good for me and I should spend more time with them. 
  3. This person is both good and bad for me and I should be mindful of the time spent with them. 

Those are pretty much the options you have when dealing with a relationship, which leads us to the last step...

 

EMBRACE CHANGE OR ACCEPTANCE

Recognizing your options (see 1-3 above) doesn't mean that you're actually going to take action, which is where this next step comes in. You have two choices: embrace change (if necessary) or accept things as they are, for better or worse. Sometimes, after going through these steps, you might come to the conclusion that someone is no good for you but you still might want to spend lots of time with them. That's up to you, but if you choose that path, you must accept the consequences of it. On the flip side, if you find that change (spending more or less time with someone) is necessary, it's up to you to embrace -- and perhaps initiate -- that change. Whatever the situation, it generally comes down to one of two options: change or accept. 

 

Most of us probably run through the F.A.C.E. method in our subconscious without even realizing it, but taking the time to really deal with mixed emotions and actively choose an outcome is empowering, even if we don't always choose the thing that's best for us. There's something powerful about making a choice -- even the wrong one -- rather than just floating along and waiting for something to happen. Yes, there are two people in every relationship, but the only one you can control is yourself, so you might as well take charge of your feelings and actively make some choices, especially as we're heading into a new year! 

 

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