If I’m tired, stressed, sick, or otherwise unhappy, I have a propensity to be a jerk. And not just like a “you seem off” jerk, but like a “you’re a straight up a*shole” jerk.

Oftentimes it’s the people I care most about that take the brunt of my worst side – my family, my wife, my kids. We humans are good at camouflaging our worst selves around people we don’t know well and people we need to perform for, like our co-workers. But with the people we’re most intimate with – the camo comes off.

I know all of us struggle with this to some degree, but my a*shole episodes appear to be getting more frequent the older I get. So rather than pretend it isn’t there, I’m hashing it out on paper so I can look back in 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years, and view myself as a still-have-that-side-to-me-albeit-much-less-frequently jerk than I am today.

In observing the “why” behind my worst moments, it seems to boil down to two things – humility and positive intent.

Humility

Humility, or rather a lack thereof, might be the single most common source of mental anguish in our world. Without humility, it’s nearly impossible to let gratitude in. And without gratitude, we’re incessantly unhappy.

Without humility, we tend to materialize a belief that we’re owed something, whether that’s in our work, our relationship, or in social validation. When we feel like the world isn’t giving us our due, it’s driven from a lack of humility in the situation.

We can only control our effort in life – how hard we work, the things we choose to work on, the words we say, the relationships we engage in, and the way we respond to each moment. What we can’t control is just about everything else – how our work is rewarded, other people’s actions, and other people’s words. Humility focuses on the effort, while a lack of humility focuses on the reward.

Positive Intent

Words matter. But not in the way we might think.

Many of the “wrongs” we feel day to day, whether in our work or at home, revolve around the words of other people.

A significant other asks a seemingly ambiguous question.
A co-worker says a seemingly calculated remark.
A friend posts a seemingly passive aggressive comment on social media.

Oftentimes our natural inclination is to jump to the worst possible conclusion about the words that were said. When we do this, we take something out of our control (other people’s words), assume negative intent behind them, and take the burden of their hurt upon us, regardless of whether or not that intent was valid.

If we instead assume positive intent in others, we remove the opportunity to be hurt and we take back control of our emotional responses to the day to day communication we have at work, home, and online.

Words matter, because it matters how we respond to them. Without assuming positive intent, we have a target on our happiness with other people holding the arrows. But with it, we can see the words for what they are and not for what they aren’t.

I have many jerk moments. And I’m sure I’ll have plenty more in the future. But the next time I start to have one, if I pause for just a moment and ask myself if I’m using humility in the situation and if I’m assuming positive intent in others, those moments will hopefully be lessened in both duration and frequency.

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