Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou.
Can you relate? I was next in line at the express check-out in the grocery store. The cashier, an older woman was moving painlessly slow ringing in the guy’s groceries – sloth like. I actually wondered if the sloth was her spirit animal. I was getting annoyed and thought to myself, “come on, really?!”
I was giving into my negativity bias. I stood there and looked at her, this older woman (who is probably my age) was shaking slightly. At that moment, I remembered my favorite Maya Angelou quote and all I’ve learned in positive psychology and leadership studies. Tell a different story. Be kind. Be curious. Challenge your mental models.
And I thought, where do I need to be in the next 5 minutes? Maybe she’s doing the best she can. Most people don’t go to work thinking “how many people can I piss off today?” or “I’m just going to bring my worst effort”.
Because our brain will naturally go to the negative, (ANTs – automatic negative thoughts as Dr. Daniel Amen calls them), we have to make a conscious effort to change our negativity bias. Thanks to neuroplasticity, the more we practice kindness, positivity, and compassion (towards others AND ourselves), the easier and more automatic it becomes. In the case of my slow grocery clerk, it wasn’t about just thinking positively, it was interrupting the negative, judgmental thoughts. Instead of being harsh, be humble. Instead of criticism, choose kindness. And that goes for the negative self-talk that swirls all too often – give yourself a break and some self-compassion.
Humans have evolved to have a well-developed prefrontal cortex (the brain’s focus, forethought and judgment), unfortunately our emotional systems remind us we still have connection to our primal roots which perceive threats at every moment – even in line at the grocery store.
By the time it was my turn at the till, I greeted her with a smile and asked how her day was. She returned the smile. We chatted briefly and ended with “have a great day!” I left happy and in a better mood. Wouldn’t I want a bit of grace if it were me at the till? It takes minimal effort to be kind. Who are we being when we aren’t living in our values and with integrity?
In the big picture, isn’t is just better to show a little kindness and compassion?
 Change your Brain Change your Life, (2013, revised)., Amen, D.