A good friend of mine made up an acronym, ROB. He dropped it on me earlier this week, for good reason, and it gave me a little pause. He was right, I was. In fact, I’m so good at ROB one might think it was my full time job. People should pay me for that shit. Actually, well, they kind of do, but that’s beside the point.
The point is – I hadn’t realized I was doing it, often, again. See? There we go again with failing. Fortunately, I’m comfortable enough with myself and I know my thought patterns well enough to be okay with recognizing this. Actually, calling attention to it is simply part of being mindful.
So, who is ROB anyway, and why is he so problematic? ROB is Rationalizing [Your] Own Bullshit, and it is part of human nature. Everybody does it and it starts early. When we experience discomfort, we start to look for explanations, excuses, reasons, rationales, even others to blame. We want to clarify why it is or is not okay for us to accept or not accept, deal with or ignore, the thing that is causing the discomfort.
What does this look like in my life? Well, for starters, when things don’t my way I immediately throw on my detective hat, grab my glue (you know, so I can FIX IT) and go into “why” mode. I want to identify the problem as quickly as possible, strategize on what I can do about it, and remedy it. Bing, bam, boom, done (insert emoticon of me washing my hands of the problem here).
However. . . this works about, oh, 10% of the time. Maybe less. Work problems, sure, easy, plans and strategies are super helpful. My average is quite a bit higher in this domain because problem solving is a major bonus and practical skill set in the workplace. Life problems, not so much.
What usually happens, is I get into the why, I realize how and why I’m at fault, and then shit gets real up in here (and just for the record, yes, I am now singing to myself, “ya’ll gonna make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here, ya’ll gonna…” yikes. Squirrel!!). So when I’m faced with the reality of the situation, especially when I don’t know how to resolve it, I start to rationalize why it’s okay, why it happened, whatever I can think of to temporarily make myself feel better about it.
Now, having an optimistic attitude- great. Looking at things mindfully, trying to find a positive side to a bad situation- awesome. But that’s not what I mean by rationalizing. I mean, like something didn’t go as I planned and I am unwilling to accept it so instead, I make excuses for why it happened or why it’s okay that I don’t go along with it. Instead of leaning into the discomfort that the change brings, I pull back and start listing reasons why: a) the change is dumb, b)”they” or “it” is wrong, and c) I (or my plan), am right.
This is not productive behavior. This keeps me from growing. It keeps me from embracing change. It prevents me from experiencing new joys, new layers of happiness, new discoveries. Being unwilling to swing away at the curve ball thrown my way and instead standing there like a five year old demanding that I be given the pitch that I was prepared for, gets me, well, out. I miss out on some really amazing things because I climbed aboard ROB airlines again and I’m racking up my miles searching the globe for my lost plans.
My kids are also members of this frequent flyer club, as they regularly try to explain themselves out of a situation. For example, I ask them to stop doing something, and instead of stopping, they tell me why they are doing it. Sometimes, this is helpful, like when I ask my daughter to please stop singing that song over and over again and she explains that actually, her class is performing it and she has been asked to practice. Okay, fair enough. The explanation would have been helpful up front, but it is satisfactory now.
However, most of the time, it’s something like “you may not run away from me in the grocery store” and the response is a variation of “but I wanted to go and look at that toy in the other aisle.” Well, duh. That part I knew, smarty pants. That explanation does not excuse the behavior. In fact, explaining behavior very rarely ever excuses it, a saying I used when I was a classroom teacher. Knowing where behavior stems from is useful, insomuch as it results in your changing future behavior. If you acknowledge it, then do nothing to prevent it from happening again, it’s useless.
So what’s the takeaway here? How shall we deal with ROB? I would say first, call yourself out when you do it. When you experience change, notice your reactions. Breathe. Try not to react immediately. Take a walk, get some perspective. If other people are involved, ask how they are feeling. If your kids are around, now is a good time to articulate to them how you are working through this problem. Watching you manage change will assist them in doing it in their own lives.
The next step is, to be blunt, get your head out of Arkansas and deal with it, player. Stop making excuses, identify the antecedents to the behavior, if there are any, take a look at your role in the situation and what the implications of that are, and then decide how you are going to embrace the change. Or not. But either way, accept it for what it is.
As a parent, model this for your children. Talk through situations positively with them, help them to see how their actions shaped their choices, then strategize with them about what they can do differently next time. Basically, hold them accountable for their own actions.
If you’ve seen the Eduardo Briceno Ted Talk on growth mindset, you’ll know what I mean when I say to you could suggest adding the word “yet.” If your child is frustrated because they can’t do something and is ROB about it, try having them say “I can’t do ____, yet.” That one little word makes all the difference. Really. Today, my statement is “I haven’t stopped ROB, yet. But I’m working on it, and…” Crap. There I go again. Damn.
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