Stop Assuming. Be a Nice Human.
One of the most watched TED Talks of all time was by positivity expert Shawn Achor who shared his Harvard research on how to create more happiness.
Surprisingly, a few years later, Shawn revealed that he had suffered from a two year depression and how he emerged from the fog.
There is often the assumption that therapists, motivational speakers and life coaches are always happy and don’t get depressed because they make a living of supporting others. This led me to reflect on how many other assumptions we make and how this collectively contributes to poor mental health in others.
I also think that we as support professionals in the mental health and wellness fields need to learn how to showcase a better example of our own vulnerabilities at times so as not to project this unattainable illusion of seemingly constant positivity and wellness. It is something we must all work at maintaining and at times, life hits hard and we must all find our way back through the fog.
Social media can also contribute greatly to this false illusion of perfection. Here’s an example of conversations I’ve had with friends:
Friend: ‘So how’s life?’
Me: ‘Well it’s actually been a pretty challenging last few years.’
Friend: ‘Really? How is that, I thought everything was great?’
Me: ‘You did? Why is that?’
Friend: ‘Well you look great and from your posts on FB.
Friend: ‘Well it doesn’t show, you look amazing!’
Friend: ‘What do you mean, you always look so together.’
Friend: ‘Sorry to hear that…’ launches into how their life is worse..
We all talk about mental health, but collectively, there’s a lot more we can do to contribute towards each other’s mental health which begins with not assuming based on what we think we know of a person or their situation.
Here are 7 PIVOTS we can make based on personal experience and 15 years of coaching:
1) Stop assuming that someone else is doing great or feels awesome just because of how they look or how efficient or successful they are. Even people who are considered successful, capable & attractive experience trauma, feel discouraged, insecure, rejected, isolated, depressed and sad. Outer appearance has nothing to do with it. It’s the whole stop judging a book by it’s cover. And if you’re so insecure that you avoid/reject people who are more attractive or capable than you, then maybe it’s time to look within because that’s on you.
2) Stop assuming that social media posts are indicative of someone’s life. Posts are really just snapshots in time, often the best of our lives and often the moments we wish to recall and relive. It’s the modern photo album. Also, some people embellish they profile resumes to appear more successful than they are. And finally, many aren’t into laundering their personal problems online for everyone to see and prefer to share only with a select trustworthy few.
3) Stop assuming that people use social media the way you do. Some use it to keep in touch with friends, family & community. Some of us use it for personal branding for work, to communicate with clients and to grow our businesses to feed our families. Some use it to creep others lives, to date and some as a conduit to express views they wouldn’t have the guts to do in person. Whatever the reason, don’t assume.
4) Stop assuming that your problems are worse than someone else’s. There are levels of trauma and loss considered more difficult to overcome in psychology and you really have no idea whether or not the person in front of you may be experiencing these. If someone was dying of hunger, it would be insensitive to go on and on about a great meal you had but how the service sucked. Just because you can take paid leave, go on a trip or go to the spa because you’re depressed doesn’t mean others can.
Know your audience.
5) Stop assuming that because someone appears functional and isn’t complaining that they are okay. Not everyone crumples into a non-functional heap even when they are distressed. Many can’t afford to take unpaid leave from work or they wouldn’t be able to eat and have shelter. Not everyone goes around complaining or reaches out to unload. Many were taught not to burden others. And many don’t find it helpful even when they do confide in others, especially when they are given well intended yet useless advice, are criticized for feeling down or end up having to listen to the others’ problems instead.
6) Stop assuming that someone doesn’t experience difficulties because of what they do for a living. Plenty of doctors smoke and drink and are stressed. Doesn’t mean they can’t save your life or help you. Plenty of people who work as financial advisors have gone bankrupt. Doesn’t mean they can’t help you make better financial choices. Plenty of good mechanics drive beaters. And plenty of folks in the mental health field, therapists and coaches suffer from sadness and depression. Doesn’t mean they aren’t good at their jobs and at uplifting and encouraging others.
7) Stop assuming you have all the answers. You may not know of all the reasons why someone is in the position they are in. It may be due to love or self-sacrifice or financial or trauma or simply that they aren’t yet ready to grow or make a change. The reason people often hire coaches and therapists is because no one else will listen without judgment or not try and tell them what to do. Professionals are trained to listen and support first and then help find the answers and solutions from within through careful guidance and exercises. But even without this training, everyone can learn to shut up, listen, avoid judging based on appearance and empathize without professional training.
Stop Assuming. Be A Nice Human.