Breaking Up with Your Worst Habit

“Breaking Up with Your Worst Habit,” MORE Magazine, 2015 (link to full article here http://www.more.com/relationships/attitudes/breaking-your-worst-habit-going-straightforward )

My mother has always been a huge supporter of my love of books. A devoted reader and former librarian, she always made sure we had books to read. Every week when we were children, she dutifully drove us to the library (or walked us to the BookMobile) to pick up stacks and stacks of books. At one point when my four siblings and I were young, I remember the library giving my mother a shopping cart to push around the library so she could “carry” all our books easier. Talk about committed!

Currently, my mother has been trying to support my love of magazines while helping me keep costs down by collecting magazines from her neighbors on my behalf. She regularly delivers huge bags of magazines to my doorstep, regardless of their topic (Time and Good Housekeeping, but also TV Guide, Active Living for Seniors, Romantic Country Inns.)

Recently while reading a back issue of More magazine, I found myself quite moved by an article entitled, “Breaking Up with Your Worst Habit.” In particular, I was drawn to a segment of that article written by Jacquelyn Mitchard about her habit of being sarcastic.

I have long been interested in the topic of habits — I love collecting strategies and methods for forming good habits and revamping bad ones. In fact, I am a die-hard fan of Happiness and Habits Goddess, Gretchen Rubin, and have read, and re-read, all of her books on the subject. I also read every column she writes and listen weekly to her podcast on the topic. (Find more about Gretchen Rubin here http://gretchenrubin.com/) (You can also read the three part blog series I wrote about Rubin’s books here https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/gretchen-rubin-part-1/.)

In the More article, Mitchard writes that she had long-cultivated her sarcastic personality, wielding it as a tool she thought enhanced her sense of humor and offered proof of her intelligence. She was always quick to point out others flaws and mistakes with a sharp retort until the day she she realized her stinging comments were not humorous. Her comments actually hurt her loved ones and made everyone around her wary. They were always holding their breath, waiting for her biting commentary of their every mistake. Mitchard writes, “Being good at sarcasm, I’ve come to realize, is like being good at torture: It’s a skill everyone notices but no one admires.” She began to see that she had held her family hostage with her harsh comments, each one waiting for her not only to recognize their faults, but to make fun them as well. She admits she never failed to hand out a “nice work” for a dropped cake or failed test, until the day she decided to change.

Nothing was more shocking to her than how terrified her friends and family were when she stopped! She noticed they seemed to hold their breath, wondering if she was saving up her criticisms to really zing them later? Was she going to wait until there was a larger group to laugh at them in front of? Mitchard was forced to see how her sarcasm made her someone to be avoided, someone no one wanted to admit mistakes in front of, someone around whom they had to walk on eggshells to avoid her attention.

I had never quite examined my own acute discomfort around people with very sarcastic personalities, but reading her piece brought it to my attention. Yes, I thought, it is very scary to be poised on the edge of my chair in a meeting, wondering — while talking to a boss well-skilled in sarcastic comments — if his “good job” was praise or a joke about how unsatisfactory my work actually was. Where did I stand? What was the truth? What was I supposed to take away from the conversation?

Changing the habit changed her life. Mitchard finds herself forming better, more honest relationships with those around her. Others can be vulnerable, and so can she. Mistakes can be made and then commiserated with, rather than laughed at; hard work recognized and truthfully appreciated.

After all, what most of us hope for are honest interactions with others that lift us up. From our loved ones we seek support when we are in need and praise when it is due. We do not have to accept less than that from others. We can speak out, ask for kindness, and make it known when someone is hurting us so that we can all get more from one another, not less.

Small changes can change lives.

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