Last month, I heard a lecturer use a phrase that really resonated with me. It struck me as simple but not necessarily easy to practice. She declared, "For the next three days that I'm standing here at the podium, I will 'Assume positive intent.'" Then elaborated, "If you leave the room, for example, I will assume that you're taking a life-or-death bio break. I will not, on the other hand, assume that you're being disrespectful by taking an 'urgent' work call."
Maybe some of you Suzie Sunshines are thinking, "Well of course. What kind of pessimist automatically assumes disrespect and negativity?" [Insert me slumping down in my chair, tentatively raising hand].
Let me explain. Even though my actions are usually from a place of positive intent (if I do say so myself - ha!), I admit: the glass-half-empty side of me does not expect, nor assume, the same of others. Am I alone in this?
If something happens from the outside that causes my defenses to rise, my instinct reaction is: connect the dots to decipher how the other person intended to wrong me. Then, after some space between me and whatever just happened, I'm eventually able to talk myself out of this negative (and frankly, self-centered) mindset.
As I've written about before, this year is already showing plentiful challenges and not plentiful time to do things that refill my energy and positive state of mind. For me, this is the lethal combination that encourages my inner Sour Sally to show herself to the outside world.
So I've been practicing "Assume positive intent." For example, when that strongly worded email has traveled into my inbox overnight, I force myself to think, "Oh, this person must know more about the situation than I do and is being tough on me to keep us out of trouble. How generous!" Or when that security guard blasted my colleagues and me for using the wrong door, I joked with them, "He really wants to preserve the environment for his grand kids, so it's important for us to use the revolving door." You can see that for me, giving it a silly twist is a coping mechanism, as I warm up to the practice :)
I'm working really hard to embrace this idea as a mantra, and more importantly, a reaction. What do you think? Is this completely obvious to you? It was such a lightbulb moment for me!
PS - This 13 minute TED Talk by Lynn Carnes reveals a story about positive intent that we can all relate to (think: airport security lines).
Photo background adopted from the beautiful french by design.