There is a story I heard awhile back that speaks of the family patterns that we get into and I’d like to share it with you as a Monday morning musing.
A wife went in to see a therapist because she was getting increasingly frustrated with her spouse and that he wasn’t helping around the house. She explained to the therapist that every night when he got home from work, she was in the kitchen cooking and instead of her husband coming in to help her, he would go and hang out with the kids. The wife would then start complaining about her husband’s behavior and how frustrated she was. This pattern seemed to happen every night. So instead of the therapist asking the wife why she thought the husband behaved like this and what could be the reasons, the therapist asked the wife to “do anything different” when she started to notice herself repeating this pattern. So that night, while she was cooking supper, the husband came home and like always went to be with the kids. The wife started to complain and then remembered the therapist’s words to her “Do anything different.” She was froze in the moment. She realized that she could not think of anything different to do. Yet, she was determined to come up with something. Finally, the only thing that popped into her brain was to start dancing. So that’s what she did. She started dancing around the kitchen. Well, her behavior caught the a en on of her husband and her kids. And the husband came running into the kitchen, turned o all the burners and said, “Kids, grab your jackets, we are all going out to eat!”
Now maybe this sounds a bit contrived, but I would argue that it has a message for all of us to consider. We are all creatures of habit and patterns. And we get into these patterns of behavior with our kids, spouses, neighbors, etc. Sometimes the patterns work well for us. But sometimes they don’t. And even when our patterns don’t bring about the behaviors that we would like in others, we still continue in these same patterns. So the advice, “Do anything different” can be very helpful to all of us when we find our- selves entrenched in negative patterns.
For instance, when a child continues to not comply when we ask them to, and after a few warnings, we have sent them to a time -out, and we experience this over and over again, it may be me to consider the phrase “Do anything different.” Maybe after the first warning to the child, the parent comes to the child and sits next to them and engages with them. Maybe, the parent starts to sing a song, maybe the parent dances around the living room, maybe the parent tells a funny joke, maybe the parent says a simple phrase in another language—you get the idea. The challenge is to tap our creativity and come up with alternative behavior responses that we can engage in and see what happens. Part of the difficulty in doing this though, is that we get so serious in our thinking about the situation that we lose our ability to think outside the box. But if we can bring down our anxiety about the situation, and not see it in such a serious way, we will be able to see these moments as opportunities to move in a different direction.
This is also wonderful advice to consider in our relationships with our spouses, parents, co-workers, etc. The phrase “Do anything different” beckons us to ask ourselves, “How am I keeping this problem going?” When we see that we have a part to play in the problem, we can begin to think of alternatives, even playful ones, to bust up the negative patterns.
Do anything different. What might that be for you this week?