Three steps to seeing how mean you really are

Three steps to seeing how mean you really are

Have you seen the video of people, wearing white or black shirts, passing a basketball back and forth? Viewers must count how many times the ball is passed by those in white shirts.

And even though they are concentrating, they completely miss the obvious.

While viewers are looking for the basketball, a woman in a gorilla suit walks into the middle of the players. She faces the camera, beats her chest and walks away. Half the viewers in the original demonstration completely missed the gorilla.

Researchers call it “inattentional blindness.” It’s a type of invisibility. Not based on the eyes, but on the mind. We don’t notice something, simply because we’re not looking for it.

Well, in real life, one of the main things we don’t notice is how unkind and even mean we can be every single day. I discovered that in my latest research study, and it was sobering. Since most of us think we are kind, we completely miss the ways we aren’t.

For example, in the study, we asked people to say how often they praised a particular person, how often they were negative and unkind to them, and so on. They then spent 30 days trying to have no negativity toward that person at all, and being purposeful about kindness (this was the 30-Day Kindness Challenge). At the end, we asked whether their initial guesses were realistic or not.

The vast majority (95%) said they suddenly realized they had been blind before!

In particular, they had no idea how negative and unkind they were, until they weren’t allowed to be. In the survey feedback, most participants said something like this one woman: “This was a little humbling and very eye-opening. I had no idea how often I got exasperated, how much I corrected my husband, how bad my tone could be. How embarrassing. I’m SO GLAD for the chance to finally see that stuff, so I can get rid of it!”

I think it is time for all of us to “see that stuff” so we can get rid of it!

How? Take these three steps:

STEP ONE: Take a simple (free) online assessment of your Kindness Quotient. Now, you could be a mini-Mother Theresa, of course, and truly one of the kindest people around. But for most of us, this assessment is a good wake-up call about those areas we might want to focus on.

STEP TWO: For a few days, commit to saying nothing negative to or about anyone in your life. Nothing. You can’t get exasperated that your son didn’t take out the trash, you can’t suspiciously ask your colleague whether Bob and Nate had that big meeting without you, you can’t post that sarcastic retort on Facebook. You can’t even say to yourself “Why bother even trying this? So-and-so isn’t going to change!” Nothing negative.

If Step One is a good wakeup call, Step Two is more like a head-butt! Once you have to cut out all negativity, you quickly find just how often you do it. Here’s a tip: Do you know what your specific negativity pattern is? There are seven completely different patterns, and we all have at least one that tends to show up in multiple ways in our life. Look at the list in Chapter 6 of The Kindness Challenge to diagnose yours.

Now, as an aside, as Step Two you could go straight to doing the 30-Day Kindness Challenge instead. It is much narrower, but very productive, because it is specifically for one person you want a better relationship with.

STEP THREE: For those few days, every time you catch yourself saying something negative, quickly stop and think, How could I have said / done that differently, so it wasn’t negative? You realized you got exasperated with the kids because they were too slow to turn off their electronics and help you set the table. So after you blow it, you stop and think, I could have calmly said, ‘Kids, you probably didn’t intend to make me do all the work, but since I had to set the table without you, no more electronics today or tomorrow.” (Not saying anything negative doesn’t mean you can’t give true discipline where it is needed! You just can’t do it negatively!) The cool thing about this exercise, is that as you think about the ‘kind version’ of what you just said, you’ll start actually doing that kind version.

Seriously. Try it. You’ve got nothing to lose but a whole bunch of meanness you didn’t know you had.

Want to know how to be kind, when you really don’t want to be?  My research uncovered three daily actions that will transform your relationships – and you. Check out The Kindness Challengenow available!

Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average, clueless people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women OnlyFor Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).

Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge demonstrates that kindness is the answer to pretty much every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit for more.

This article first appeared at Patheos.


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