Seeing the Big Picture

By David Ryback, Ph.D.

You ask a new employee out to lunch, hoping to establish a link with someone who has an expertise that is very useful to you.  She turns you down without any specific explanation and without reference to a future lunch date.  You might end up feeling at least some sadness, no matter how mindful you are in the habit of staying aware.  So you spend the free moments of the afternoon contemplating how she really isn’t that important to you, or why she might have turned you down.

Now, what if she couldn’t make that lunch date but would have if she didn’t have another appointment?  She just assumed another lunch date would be forthcoming and didn’t bother mentioning it then and there.  All that post-rejection fussing on your part was wasted time, and may have impaired an otherwise productive relationship.  The most effective response to this would be a survey of how often you feel such rejection.  If, after honest appraisal, you come up with an inordinate number of times, then it’s a good guess that the rejection has more to do with your overactive feelings of rejection than of others truly rejecting you.  In such a case, you need to be more wary of initial feelings of rejection in the future.  On the other hand, if they occur rarely, then consider that life has uncertainties that sometimes cause unwarranted negative feelings. 

A very dysfunctional choice occurs when some negative emotion causes us to pay more attention to something that matters little in the long run while ignoring more important items.  Some negative emotions can have an obsessive quality if we allow them to.  If one project seems to be failing and we assign it a high priority just because we want to avoid failure when a more objective perspective would reveal that this project is of minimal importance when compared with other high priority projects, then a reassessment is in order.  We need to be wary of emotions leading us astray just because of fear of failure, for example.  Sometimes comparing notes with others can be of great help in overcoming the urgent quality of certain negative emotions.  Mindful reflection and “picking others’ brains” can give us the distance needed from the false priorities given because of the urgency of emotions.

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