I asked a friend if she makes New Year’s resolutions. She doesn’t, but she sets a theme for the year. Hers for 2015 is “New”: new places, new activities, new patterns.
The idea of a theme resonates with me. Having never excelled at the “This year, I will ABC” (or, more commonly, if I’m being honest: “This year I will not XYZ”) style of resolution-making — an efficient way to set oneself up for disappointment and guilt — a theme seems gentler, more like a guideline, less like a test to pass or fail.
To that end, my theme for 2015: Questions. And not just asking more of them — asking them instead of talking about myself.
I have the regrettable habit of hijacking conversations. A friend will tell me she’s going to Costa Rica; my instinct is not to reply “How exciting! When? What are you planning to see?” but to announce that I’m going to Belize. A coworker will IM that her cat is an asshole; I’ll volley with a story about my asshole dogs.
It’s shameful. Not to mention a real conversation killer. I might never have noticed, were it not for the way this communication style can shut down otherwise potentially fruitful discussions. What else is there to say when a programmer assists with a challenging case, and rather than ask how he arrived at the solution, I mention this reminds me of another challenging case I once had? Nothing. I learn nothing. And possibly come off as a narcissist.
The “questions” theme requires actual repression of a real instinct. I’m OK with that; it’s a lousy instinct. The idea is that by catching myself often enough, asking questions first will become the new habit.
I’ve already started experimenting with it: biting my tongue when I start to prattle on, asking a meaningful question instead. When a teammate brought up her issues with dairy, I fought the impulse to talk about me and wheat. And whaddaya know — I learned something new about lactose intolerance, and gained insight into the life of a person I care about.
Beats being an ignorant narcissist.