My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Ever Been Stuck Talking to Someone Who Keeps Telling You How Wrong You Are?

ConflictBack by popular demand is the assay I wrote about the “oppositional conversational style.” This post really seems to strike a chord with people.

Which surprised, me at first, because when I identified OCS, I thought I was the only person who had ever noticed it. Turns out that many people have noticed it! From both sides of the OCS-dominated conversation.

A person with oppositional conversational style is a person who, in conversation, disagrees with and corrects whatever you say. He or she may do this in a friendly way, or a belligerent way, but this person frames remarks in opposition to whatever you venture.

I noticed this for the first time in a conversation with a guy a few months ago. We were talking about social media, and before long, I realized that whatever I’d say, he’d disagree with me. If I said, “X is important,” he’d say, “No, actually, Y is important.” For two hours. And I could tell that if I’d said, “Y is important,” he would’ve argued for X.

I saw this style again, in a chat with friend’s wife who, no matter what casual remark I made, would disagree. “That sounds fun,” I observed. “No, not at all,” she answered. “That must have been really difficult,” I said. “No, for someone like me, it’s no problem,” she answered. Etc.

Since those conversations, I’ve noticed this phenomenon several times.

Here are my questions about oppositional conversational style:

Is OCS a strategy that particular people use consistently? Or is there something about me, or about that particular conversation, that induced these people to use it?

Along those lines, is OCS a way to try to assert dominance, by correction? That’s how it feels, and also…

Do people who use OCS recognize this style of engagement in themselves; do they see a pattern in their behavior that’s different from that of most other people?

Do they have any idea how tiresome it can be?

In the case of the first example, my interlocutor used OCS in a very warm, engaging way. Perhaps, for him, it’s a tactic to drive the conversation forward and to keep it interesting. This kind of debate did indeed throw up a lot of interesting insights and information. But, I must admit, it was wearing.

In the second example, the contradictory responses felt like a challenge.

I described oppositional conversational style to my husband and asked if he knew what I was talking about. He did, and he warned me, “Watch out! Don’t start thinking about this, and then start to do it yourself.”

I had to laugh, because he knows me very well. I have a strong tendency towards belligerence—for instance, it’s one reason I basically quit drinking—and I could easily fall into OCS. (I just hope I don’t exhibit OCS already, which is quite possible.)

But I do recognize that to be on the receiving end of the oppositional conversational style—to have someone keep telling you that you’re wrong, over and over—is not pleasant.

It’s wearing at best, and often highly annoying. Even in the case of my first example, when the OCS had a fun, friendly spirit, it took a lot of self-command for me to stay calm and un-defensive. Many points could have been made in a less “Let me set you straight” way.

And in the second example, I felt patronized. Here I was, trying to make pleasant conversation, and she kept contradicting me. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes and retort, “Fine, whatever, actually I don’t care if you had fun or not.”

Now, I’m not arguing that everyone should agree all the time. Nope. I love a debate (and I’m trained as a lawyer, which definitely has made me more comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with confrontation). But it’s not much fun when every single statement in a casual conversation is met with,“Nope, you’re wrong; I’m right.” Skillful conversationalists can explore disagreements and make points in ways that feel constructive and positive, rather than combative or corrective.

What do you think? Do you recognize it in other people–or in yourself? How I love to try to identify patterns in human behavior. Abstainers and moderators. Over-buyers and under-buyersAlchemists and leopards. Etc.

I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

Story: Don’t Let the Desire to Feel “Legitimate” Drive Your Decisions.

This week’s video story: Don’t let the desire to feel “legitimate” drive your decisions.

 

Ah, more words of wisdom from my sister, the sage.  She was so right. There I was, clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and feeling very illegitimate in my work. So get over it, already!

If you’d like to read more about this, check out The Happiness Project, chapter three.  Or you might be interested in this talk I gave about the subject of “drift“–and how I pulled myself out of drift, and switched from law to writing.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Find the archives of videos here.  More than 1.7 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe.

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What John Gregory Dunne Said on the Night Before He Died.

yearmagicalthinknigIn Joan Didion’s haunting memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, she recounts her experiences in the year after her husband John Gregory Dunne died, and the year her daughter Quintana died.

She writes that the night Dunne died, or the night before:

“‘He said that his current piece in The New York Review, a review of Gavin Lambert’s biography of Natalie Wood, was worthless… Why did I waste time on a piece about Natalie Wood,’ he said.

It would be impossible to weigh every decision against the test: “If I die tomorrow, will I be glad I took the time to complete this task?” On the other hand, it’s a question worth keeping mind, always.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Sidenote: Look closely at the jacket of The Year of Magical Thinking. Notice anything? The word J O H N is spelled out in ghostly letters.

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“We Must Be Doing Something To Be Happy.”

william_hazlitt “To do any thing, to dig a hole in the ground, to plant a cabbage, to hit a mark, to move a shuttle, to work a pattern, –in a word, to attempt to produce any effect, and to succeed, has something in it that gratifies the love of power, and carries off the restless activity of the mind of man.  Indolence is a delightful but distressing state:  we must be doing something to be happy.”

–William Hazlitt, “On the Pleasure of Painting

In my First Splendid Truth, in which I lay out my own formula for how to be happy (!), I describe this as “the atmosphere of growth.” It took me a long time to grasp how this element fits into happiness, but once I understood it, I realized how crucial it is.

Agree, disagree?

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Secret of Adulthood: Keep It Simple–But Not Too Simple.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

KeepItSimpleNotTooSimple_124792

 

I often have to remind myself of this Secret of Adulthood. I have a tendency to want to sweep everything away, to toss out, to throw everything overboard, in order to simplify my life. But, I remind myself, many of the things that make me happiest are things that complicate my life.

I tell myself: Somewhere, keep an empty shelf–but somewhere, keep a junk drawer. Keep it simple, but not too simple.

Sidenote: People often ask me, “Gretchen, do you really have an empty shelf?” Yes, I do! Want to see it? Watch this little behind-the-scenes video I made for Happier at Home. I had so much fun making it. The empty shelf is at 6:41.

Do you ever struggle with this — trying to keep things simple, yes, but also not too simple?

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