Saturday, January 26, 2013

Accepting averageness

Recently a friend confided in me that he is having problems with his significant other. He wants him to be more loving, more talkative, more giving, and so on. When I suggested that he was asking his partner to be exceptional, he was surprised by my observation. I reminded him that Dr. Low says we should not expect the exceptional from ourselves and others, and we would forgo much misery if we accepted others (and ourselves) for their average.

This sounds simple but can be difficult in practice. We are disappointed when someone doesn’t meet our expectations, but we need to step back and evaluate whether those expectations were reasonable. In my friend’s case, if his partner was not customarily affectionate, why should he raise his temper and develop angry/nervous symptoms for expecting him to be more affectionate? Dr. Low says we do not need to accept relationships we find unfulfilling, but we will avoid much misery and personal turmoil if we acknowledge people’s averages and do not expect—or demand—them to be exceptional.

We need to apply this concept to ourselves, too. For example, I am usually nervous when an airplane takes off. That’s my average. I would be employing exceptional thinking if I expected otherwise. So instead of working myself up and developing angry/nervous systems over being anxious, I should accept that these sensations are normal—that is, average—for me, remind myself that feelings are not facts, and practice forced objectivity by focusing on a book during takeoff. Over time this practice likely will change my average experience, and I will have a new average in which I don’t give plane rides a second thought. In the meantime, though, why should I get angry at myself for experiencing average sensations? Why should I feel disappointed or angry at myself for not meeting an exceptional standard?

Dr. Low’s concept of averageness is one of his most powerful teachings. It’s counterintuitive to our inclination to want to change people or constantly demand more from ourselves. We do not have to accept abusive situations or relationships that are unfulfilling, and we should strive to improve our long-term average when we are dissatisfied with our current performance. But in the meantime recognizing that others and ourselves generally adhere to average patterns can help us avoid anger and fear that otherwise cloud our lives and disrupt our well-being.