Learning to Pause Before I Speak: Avoiding Foot in Mouth Syndrome

I have a bad habit of putting my foot in my own mouth.

Usually, my gut reaction to most things is to immediately think about why an idea might be a bad idea. Why do I have a tendency to do this? Am I just a negative person?

This article is my attempt to process my gut reaction and what I’m working on.

As I wrote this article, I realized that I talk a lot about my kids. But I think there are aspects non-parents can take from this, that are applicable to everyone.

Defining the Problem

A recent example of one time when this happened was when my daughter expressed her desire to have her first car be a Volkswagen Beetle. She’s eleven years old and is going into 5th grade this year.

She’s always loved this car, and so it wasn’t a big shock that she said this.

But when she was talking about what she wanted, I interjected that her first car will most likely be the van that we are currently driving, when she is able to get her drivers license. And to do that, she would have to pay for car insurance, which requires money from a job.

I wasn’t trying to be rude or shoot down her dreams. I was just inserting “reality” into the conversation. But after it happened, I realized that I came across harsh and she was just dreaming out loud.

I immediately felt like the asshole of the year.

My intention was to teach her that dreams are great, but sometimes we need a reality check to see if they are realistic, possible and if it is a smart decision.

The last thing I want to do is not let the people around me dream out loud without me having to make them go through a “reality check”.

Hopes and Dreams Are Okay

Sometimes it is okay to dream big. Even if it will never be possible, voicing your thoughts on your aspirations or desires can be a good thing.

The issue with the above story is not with what I said. The problem lies with the following:

  • When I said it.
  • Not letting her fully complete her thought before talking.
  • Realizing that it is okay to think about things you want or may want in the future, without always having to calculate the numbers to see if it is a smart move at that moment.

My concern with dreaming is how healthy is it to always think about things you want that you can’t afford? I get visions of massive amounts of debt because that is what I see a lot of the people around me doing. Dreaming about what they want, going into debt for those purchases, and ending up way behind.

It comes from a fear of my past spending habits. Getting so excited about something, where I am able to justify going into debt for that purchase.

I think it is right for me to be somewhat concerned. But the extreme is not providing a safe place where dreaming around me is okay. So it becomes about balancing when to hold my tongue and when I should speak up.

Teaching is All About Timing

My goal with my kids and the people around me is to create a safe environment where they can be transparent and honest (and vice-versa).

Wanting a new, expensive TV is fine. But if you are serious about having this item, that is when thinking through whether or not you can afford it is key. Understanding that going into debt for these types of purchases has additional costs, more than what is immediately visible at the checkout stand.

Specifically, with my kids, I need to look for the teachable moments where it makes sense in teaching them the principles I want them to understand. That it is okay to dream, and dream big. But when you are serious about pursuing what you want, that is when you need to figure out if you can afford it and if it is a smart move.

It’s about learning to control desires and wants. You can want whatever you want, but not letting these feelings/emotions overwrite what you know is smart and responsible.

I think this is where I failed in the past. I would let my emotions 100% dictate my spending. And this led me down a path of huge amounts of debt and despair.

Showing My Kids My Mistakes

One other way to teach my kids solid financial principles is to talk to them about the mistakes we made in the past.

This does a few things:

  • Shows them that we are not perfect and had to learn as we went through life.
  • Teaches them what we learned through that process.
  • Gives them a better understanding of the consequences of choices.

It is about creating a strong bond so they understand what we want most is for them to be successful. Which includes being financially responsible with their decisions.

Hiding our struggles and our past mistakes from our kids is a mistake. We should be open and honest about our past, so they don’t have to go through the same things to gain that wisdom.

I also want to show them that it is okay to make mistakes, just as long as you learn from them and are cognitive of what is going on. Out of all the mistakes I made, I think this was my biggest failure.

Learning to Listen

Sometimes people just want you to listen to what they are saying. Maybe they are hurting, or don’t have anyone else to talk to. And the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut.

I am not very good at this. But understanding this is an area I struggle with has made me more aware of what is going on.

Part of what I am learning is that not every problem that is brought up in a conversation, isn’t necessarily meant for me to try to help “fix”.

It isn’t that I think I can solve every problem. But my mind is very logical. When I encounter a problem, my natural tendency is to think about how to solve that problem.

But it can come across rude and insensitive when I try to solve a problem the person I am talking with didn’t ask for me to solve. In fact, I can seem arrogant and conceded, which is not my intention.

It becomes about talking much less. Holding my tongue, and processing what they are saying.

I can think whatever I want. But I don’t have to say everything that comes to mind. In fact, this is how I end up usually sticking my foot into my own mouth!

Thinking Doesn’t Have to Mean Talking

I’m learning that I like to process my thoughts by talking.

This is fine, but it can lead me to talk too much at times. Or saying things I don’t really mean because I haven’t thought enough about it before opening my mouth.

Even when I am by myself, I can process more clearly when I talk out loud. I’ll start a conversation with myself about an idea. In the next moment, I’ll bring up flaws in that idea.

My critical perspective of every idea, including my own thoughts, is partly how I’ve learned to solve problems. My negative gut reaction to new ideas is my mind pointing out the risks/negative aspects of the idea right away, as part of how I do a negative/positive analysis.

This methodology works great in my job. It allows me to solve complex problems and work on large projects. But it isn’t as effective in relationships outside of work.

I can apply this technique when working on our budget, creating a business plan, or ironing out a training system for our salon. But I need to push back on this way of thinking when talking about day-to-day situations. Most things don’t need nearly as much of a cost/benefit analysis.

Tapping into my Softer Side

I’m a romantic at heart. When I get beyond my fear of rejection and failure, I am a fun guy. In fact, I definitely lean towards being ultra-weird as far as my humor is concerned.

This version of myself comes out when I’m not overly anxious. I’m able to enjoy the moment and come out of my protective shell.

It’s interesting because I am sensitive about other peoples feelings. Sometimes, this can go too far in that I can be a people pleaser. But I also think it is a good thing, as I have a high level of empathy. I can feel other peoples pain.

The good thing about this is that it means I probably could never become a psychopath. 🙂

However, this habit of always going to the negative right away hurts my relationships. It can make people defensive, and can easily shut down conversations — which is exactly the opposite of what I’m trying to do. I want to bring up ideas and perspectives in a way that welcomes people to challenge my thoughts and ideas. This is ultimately what I’m trying to do, but the way I can say things can make my thoughts come across as “definitive”.

If I can keep my mouth shut and let them finish what they are trying to say, that will give me time to mentally process what is going on. When I give it enough time, I can think about how to word things in a way to continue the conversation. That could mean asking questions, or maybe not even saying anything at all.

In any case, the goal becomes how to word things in a way that makes people feel comfortable and willing to contribute to the conversation.

Being Extra Critical is a Defensive Mechanism

As I learn more about myself, I’m realizing my negative gut reaction comes from a place of fear.

Fear of failure and rejection.

It’s not that I am a mean person, or that I’m argumentative just to make people angry. I just have a natural tendency to think deeply about everything.

This idea includes how I look at myself. I’m my biggest critic.

It’s really my strength and my weakness. I can deeply analyze my own behavior and thoughts, which is great for self-reflection and getting to the core of issues. It only becomes a problem when I don’t cage this passion.

It’s like I haven’t learned how to filter my thoughts. I don’t need to try to solve every problem. Sometimes I just need to take in the moment and understand what the person is feeling when they talk to me.

My guess is that I will most likely struggle with this my whole life. But the fight is worth it. I want to have a deeper and more honest connection with people, and I need to do a better job to make this a reality.

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