Hey, I heard this hilarious joke the other day...a man, a dog and a fish walk into a bar. No, that’s not right. How about: Geo told me another groaner...a man, a dog and a fish walk into a bar. No, not that either. How about just: So a man, a dog and a fish walk into a bar...
AARRGGHH! Constant mental self-editing...why do I do that to myself? Before every phone call, every meeting, every Facebook post (okay, almost every one – sometimes I respond in haste, and usually regret it), I compose and edit and rethink what needs to be said and how to say it. And then of course there’s the constant replay after – why did I say that?!
I’m a writer, so when putting together a formal piece, be it correspondence, an essay, or fiction, I want to choose my words carefully. Then of course the editing and rewriting process takes forever because I’m constantly second-guessing those choices, but at least that’s on the computer screen. The only criticism I face at that point is my own.
Mental self-editing is a real drag in conversations. It’s (one) the reason I’m not so good at social chit-chat. What if I say the wrong thing? If I disagree, I may offend someone, or start an argument. I hate confrontation, so I tip-toe around delicate issues. What if my obscure Classical references lead someone to think I’m being condescending? I’ve been accused of that more than once, but it’s completely unintentional, I assure you.
Today’s DailyOm calls this kind of behavior a defensive mechanism. My earlier paragraphs seem to bear that out. I’m afraid – of offending, of being misunderstood or ridiculed, of eliciting scorn. So I edit, and over-think, and hesitate, and often avoid any such communication until the last possible minute, sometimes beyond. How many opportunities have I lost by being timid? How many great people have I missed connecting with because my brain freezes when I try to speak?
I’ve been rereading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are for a book discussion group at the Yellow Springs Dharma Center. It’s about mindfulness, being in the moment, being aware of each second of life instead of wallowing in the past or fretting about the future...all those things my self-editing is not.
Maybe now that I’m aware of my self-defeating practice, I can get past it and leave the editing in my writing, where it belongs – mindfully, of course.