It’s Not You, It’s Me by Jeff Nischwitz

It’s Not You, It’s Me©

 

If that phrase sounds familiar, then you’re a regular watcher of the television series Seinfeld. If you immediately knew that the line belongs to George Costanza, then you’re a Seinfeld aficionado … or perhaps even an addict. It’s from a memorable episode in which Gwen, a woman George is dating, is breaking up with him. George vehemently protests her strategy:

 

Gwen: I’m sorry George.

George: I don’t understand! Things were going so great. What happened? Something must have happened.

Gwen: It’s not you, it’s me.

George: You’re giving me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ routine? I invented ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’ Nobody tells me it’s them not me; if it’s anybody, it’s me.

Gwen: All right, George, it’s you.

George: You’re damn right it’s me.

Gwen: I was just trying to …

George: I know what you were trying to do. Nobody does it better than me.

 

Just another example of George’s disingenuous approach to life and relationships? Perhaps, and that certainly is consistent with George’s hapless and helpless character on the show. But amidst George’s insecurity and dysfunction is a golden nugget of wisdom for all of us, because George is actually right: when it comes to life, communication and relationships, it is always about me!

 

The Blame Game

 

In a world where so many people want to be in control of their days, their work, their relationships, their career, their business, and their life, we seem to do just the opposite – we give up control by blaming others for our emotions, our circumstances, and our outcomes. Before I started to pay attention, I doubt that I went through a single day without blaming someone else for what I was experiencing. Think about it for yourself …

 

  • My spouse made me late
  • My boss makes me so mad
  • That person who cut me off in traffic made me angry
  • My son made me feel bad
  • My daughter made me feel guilty
  • My co-worker kept me from getting the project done on time

 

Does any of this sound familiar? It can often be easy to believe that someone else is always responsible for every emotion, situation, or outcome that we experience. Yet this belief alone completely leaves us powerless and at the whim of circumstances; a far cry from maintaining the control that we seem to desire. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

 

A Shift in Thinking

 

In the past couple of years two things have hit me:

 

  1. My belief that other people made me feel certain ways was not true. In fact, others do not do (and cannot do) anything to me or make me feel anything … what I feel, experience, and achieve comes from inside me.
  2. The only way to truly be in control of myself and my future is to accept full responsibility for my life, including accountability to myself for my emotions and my circumstances.

 

Wow … what a shift this has been, especially in a world where blaming others is not only easy, but the apparent preferred mindset in our culture. This attitude is pervasive even in our personal relationships and our business teams.

 

Before you give up on me and stop reading, I am not suggesting that other people do not have an impact on our lives, our emotions, and the results we achieve. They certainly do. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.”  It also takes two to ruin a relationship – and a team to mess up a project. The fact is, we do not have the ability to control others, but we do have the ability to change ourselves, our perspectives and our behaviors … but only when we accept full responsibility for our lives, our emotions and our results. In the wisdom of George, “it’s not you, it’s me.”

 

The Sponge and the Ink

 

As I share this message with others, I regularly encounter objections. People are hesitant to believe that other people are not the cause of their emotions or outcomes. Of course, it’s very logical to conclude that someone else must have made me angry, but let me invite you to see someone else’s words or actions as merely the trigger for our own inner emotions. I was recently presented with an effective visual for this idea. It’s called the Sponge and the Ink. Like a hand squeezing a sponge full of ink, the words and actions of others only help release emotions that are already inside of us. While others can trigger things in us, the reactions and emotions we feel inside are our own. In other words, the ink that comes out belongs to the sponge, not the hand doing the squeezing. The reaction or the emotion is our ink.

 

My personal transition to living by the belief that my emotions, reactions and outcomes are my own came to me a couple of years ago when I was very upset with son, Kyle. After several weeks of not being able to see him because he was very busy with the things going on in his life and his schedule, my emotions were bubbling and boiling over. I felt a combination of anger, disappointment, incredulity (“How dare him?”) and sadness. When I finally had the opportunity to see him, I told him that I could not spend time with him then because of all of the emotions rolling around inside me. I unleashed on him a torrent of all of the foregoing emotions with harsh words, tears, and intensity. I finished it off by saying, “You’ve made me feel like a piece of crap.”

 

I stormed out the door. By the time I’d taken the 30 steps to my car, I’d had my epiphany. As I sat down in my car, the truth and clarity hit me like a lightning bolt: he could not make me anything. Not mad, sad, scared … not anything. Yes, I was feeling all of those emotions. Yes, he had been a trigger. Yes, he had been rude, had ignored my desires to spend time with him, and in my estimation, had been inconsiderate in his communication. All things that he could change (and I believe he should change) and which are within his control.

 

At the same time, my emotions came from inside of me. I immediately began to assess why I was feeling sad, angry and disappointed, which I traced to the parts of me that were already feeling alone and unloved. Certainly, I could have “justified” my emotions as logical and appropriate, but in doing so I would have put all of the “blame” on my son. In that scenario, my emotions could only improve if he changed. Talk about being out of control. Sound familiar? Perhaps a recent experience with your work team? You’re waiting for someone else to change in order for you to feel better, be less stressed, be more productive, etc. But in choosing to look inside for the source of your emotions and disconnects, you have the empowering opportunity to work on and through whatever is at the core of your emotions, stress, or productivity (and change them in the moment and in the future). Talk about being in control. From that day forward I have consistently (but not always perfectly) looked inside for the source of my emotions and reactions, thereby moving ever closer to the desired control we all seek.

 

Emotions and Outcomes

 

This same mindset applies equally to outcomes in our life. Yes, other people can have an impact on the things that we achieve (or fail to achieve), but one truth never changes: we do not have direct control over other people’s actions, inactions, or behaviors. When I blame others for my outcomes, I give up not only control, but the ability to change the one person that I do have control over … me! The other problem with blame is that it’s awfully convenient and much easier than taking personal responsibility and accountability for my own outcomes. Thus, blaming can be a convenient habit that gives up temporary pleasure since we do not have to look in the mirror and face the things that we did (or did not do) that created the outcomes we have.

 

While some people have argued that they can do both – blame others and look at their own actions – I’ve found that this is an almost impossible balance. After all, if I’m blaming, why would I look at myself? In addition, if I’ve already blamed then will I really see my own role fully and honestly? No; I’ve chosen to invest my time, energy and efforts on the only person that I have a real opportunity to change … me!

 

Dropping the They and Picking Up the I

 

The next time things do not turn out how you planned or hoped, rather than immediately going to blame and finger pointing, consider taking back control of yourself by looking for the inner source of whatever you are experiencing … emotions, reactions, failure, or undesired outcomes. If you are wondering about the good outcomes, the successes, and the “positive” emotions (joy, happiness, etc.), I invite you to take the same approach. Understand that we create these as well and that they are not just the outcome of outside circumstances. While it seems logical that it would be much easier to look inside for the good things, we often rely on and give credit to outside circumstances and situations for the good emotions and experiences in our lives. This removes our power in the same way that blaming others does for those things that are not desirable. As I like to remind myself, I change my life and my outcomes when I drop the they and pick up the I.

 

While George used his “strategy” to avoid telling others the truth, he unknowingly provided us with profound wisdom and direction in our efforts to take control of our lives (and our outcomes). While we may not control the outcomes (see my prior article titled Outcomes Are Irrelevant), we are the only person that we have any control over. The next time you experience an emotion, reaction or outcome that you want to change, avoid or just understand, then think of George and say to yourself, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and watch how things change for the positive in your life, in your relationships, and in your business.

 

Jeff Nischwitz is the Founder and Chief Acceleration Officer of Think Again!TM (www.thinkagaincoaching.com), a speaking, consulting and coaching company.  Think Again!TM helps people and organizations to accelerate their results in four core areas: business development training and coaching, client experience, team acceleration and accountability, and leadership development. For more information on Think Again’s programs, contact Jeff at jeff@thinkagaincoaching.com or (216) 373-7610.