I can certainly be a knob. A recent example is the following exchange when going through domestic airport security:
Aviation Security Officer: "Do you have a laptop in your bag sir? "
Me: "No, only a Surface Pro"
Aviation Security Officer: "You'll have to take that out sir"
Me: "But it's a tablet and one of the reasons I purchased this was so that I won't have to take it out of my bag when going through airport security. This is the only airport in the country that asks me to take it out of my bag"
Aviation Security Officer: "I'm sorry sir, but this is an airport committed to security and I need you to take it out of your bag"
Me: "Are you suggesting that other airports aren't concerned about security?" (As I grudgingly take it out of my bag for the scan).
Almost immediately after this exchange I felt embarrassed by my behaviour. They had simply tried to follow their procedure for scanning electronics. I had responded like removing a tablet from my bag was a major hardship and affront to my dignity!
I have noticed that I often show up as a less desirable version of myself when traveling. I have come to think of this character as Frustrated Paul. Frustrated Paul gets unhelpfully annoyed and frustrated at the slightest provocation and then proceeds to act entitled, special, judgemental, and petty.
Frustrated Paul is just one of the many versions of the person I am and can be. In fact, we are often different versions of ourselves at different times of day, in different situations, and with different people. There are certainly many ways in which I am different when at the airport, at work, and at home.
These different versions of ourselves generally develop when learning to navigate the terrain of our childhoods and adolescences. The behaviours that define these various characters become habits because they assisted us in some way in the past. Yet most no longer serve us as well as they once did.
Fortunately, we can choose to rewrite the script for these characters and show up as better versions of ourselves. This is quite a liberating idea, that we can choose to be someone other than who we feel we are or become at our worst.
While we are all different in our own way, psychology recognises several common default characters that often emerge when people are at a low emotional ebb or triggered in some way. These include the Attacker, Avoider, Victim, Hero/Enabler, Judge, Pollyanna, Child, Super-agreeable, and Catastrophiser. The first step in being a better version of ourselves is to identify our defaults.
Once you have identified your default character(s), the next step is to choose to show up as a more aspirational alternative. For example, the Attacker can become the Coach or Explorer, the Avoider the Engager, the Judge the Acceptor, and the Super-agreeable the Authentic.
Instead of Frustrated Paul, I now choose to show up as Unfazed Paul when traveling. Unlike Frustrated Paul, Unfazed Paul is completely unfazed by minor inconveniences and even anticipates and avoids potential frustrations. Hell, Unfazed Paul takes his Surface Pro out of his bag before even asked!
Because I know Frustrated Paul often appears when I am traveling, I can pre-emptively choose to assume the character of Unfazed Paul. At the outset, this requires conscious consideration, but like our less desirable defaults, over time this will just become my new habit of how I behave when traveling.
To identify your default character, I recommend you capture three short narratives of situations in which you aren't being who you want to be. These narratives are to be written in the third person (i.e., rather than "I was thinking..." I would write "Paul was thinking...") and briefly capture what transpired in a situation. The reason for writing in the third person is that it creates emotional distance and increases objectivity. Review these narratives to identify common character themes. Also look for clues regarding the types of situations in which characters appear. The common elements of these situations could be reflected in who, what, and/or where triggers the response. This insight allows you to predict when you need to pre-emptively start playing the part of your aspirational character.
Showing up as a better version of yourself is a journey of progress not perfection. There will be times when your default appears despite your best intentions, but over time you can more effectively rewrite the script and show up as a better version of yourself. I choose to be Unfazed Paul, who is it you'd rather be?
Key Take Away Messages:
- You can choose to become a better version of yourself through identifying your emotional defaults and choosing an aspirational alternative.
- Once you recognise your defaults and have an aspirational alternative to aim for, identify the situations in which your default shows up and pre-emptively play the part of your aspirational character.
- Becoming a better version of yourself is a journey of progress, not perfection. You won't get it right every time and your goal should be getting better, not being good.