When you really love something as it is, you rarely spend time thinking about what it is NOT. Especially since the list of what it is not is boundless. But instead we take it in as a totality. And that’s the best way to fully love something, even ourselves. Appreciating it as a whole, and not putting the whole vs the parts in competition with each other.
For instance, when I eat a Chips Ahoy cookie, the only thing I might think about is how delicious it tastes and how nicely the chocolate balances with the rest of the cookie. But mostly, I just think “Mmmm!” I don’t worry about what it could be or what it isn’t. It’s a complete Zen moment, because I’m in the now, mindful of every delicious moment.
Now let’s look more closely at that cookie
What if I start eating that same cookie and notice that it isn’t perfectly round? Or that the color on each one isn’t exactly the same. Or worse yet, what if I focus on every component of the taste? Hmmm … is that a bit of partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil that just touched my tongue? Or maybe it was canola oil. Or palm. Or soybean!
On the label, it says it might be any of them. So let me taste it again more carefully to see if I can figure out which it is. And was that a bit of artificial flavor? Not really sure what that means, but yuck. Now the very same cookie doesn’t taste quite as good as it used to. (And I don’t even want to know what soy lecithin is.)
It’s like that with jobs, too. When you look too closely at anything, you most likely can find some pretty worrisome things. Nothing is perfect. But as time goes on and a job feels less than perfect, the parts start to call to us. “Look at me! I’m so wrong!!” “No, look over here. Did you hear what Mary just said?”
How the whole vs parts compete in our daily lives
Unfortunately, most of us do have a tendency to get caught up in the details of the parts. At least at some point of our lives. Think about the way we obsess on our looks. Have you ever stared into the mirror and noticed things about your face that look glaringly wrong?
Your lips aren’t balanced. That new wrinkle looks huge. The dot-sized blemish on your cheek suddenly looks like a neon sign screaming PIMPLE BOY! When you focus on small parts of the whole, things can quickly look and feel like they are out of balance.
And I’m sure you’ve also had this happen with your mate or a good friend: things are going along fine And then suddenly that person says or does something that drives you crazy—not something HUGE, just some irky little thing. But you find yourself dwelling on it.
And “it” begins to loom larger and larger, dwarfing the other parts of the person you’ve always loved. Replacing the accepting feelings you once had toward the very same irky things. Before you know it, your dissatisfaction with “it” begins to color the rest of the relationship. And that’s what happens to many of us on our jobs.
Be careful about what’s being fed!
Fortunately, most of us catch ourselves and put things back into focus. But sometimes, we hold on to the part we’ve isolated and make that our relationship. And when we do that, we have a problem. Very little may have changed, but the parts have won the fight. They’re in charge now!
What’s important to see is that, although the other person may have said or done something that bugged us, WE ARE CHOOSING TO MAKE THIS INTO A PROBLEM. By focusing on the part rather than the whole and feeding it, we let the part grow huge in our minds.
Now, I can almost hear some of you saying, “But they caused it! It’s their fault.” Yes, they may have done something to annoy you, whether on purpose or not. But even if you’re not fully aware of it, you’re helping to feed it.
As we continue to feed the hurt, anger, or annoyance, it grows bigger and bigger. Eventually, the piece of the person you’re focusing on becomes your whole experience of them. And you lose something important in the process.
How the whole vs the parts start to affect our jobs
This is exactly what many of us do when we think about our jobs. Maybe one of your coworkers gets more attention than you. Maybe your current project is boring even though the last one was pretty good. Maybe your boss said something to you that didn’t sit right.
Whatever it is, the problem occurs if we start to view the job ONLY with that close-up zoom lens we spoke of earlier. And we start to only see the parts. We forget to zoom out and see the whole picture. So while we obsess about the parts that aren’t working, we forget about the good stuff. And we also miss chances to get involved in things that we would enjoy.
When we let our minds get caught up in the parts we lose sight of the whole. And we are out of balance. The good news is that we simply need to recognize what we are doing. And then, with that awareness — plus the choice to zoom back out — we can help re-balance ourselves.
Losing sight of the big game
When we’re trapped in the small picture, we wind up missing out on the big game. There’s so much more we could be adding to our workday. Positive stuff. Even fun stuff.
But hanging out in negativity and frustration are not going to get us anything. Except the chance to really wallow in our own misery. And no one causes that or does that to us. We choose that for ourselves. I know that may feel harsh, but I’ve seen that simple realization turn a person’s life around.
What you can do now
If you want to re-balance the whole vs the parts in your work-life, there are some things you can do:
- When you catch yourself going over a checklist of things that are wrong and people who have wronged you, just stop.
- Acknowledge what you’re doing to yourself. And congratulate yourself for realizing what’s happening.
- Then step back mentally, and see if you can get the whole vs the parts picture back in balance.
- If it helps, remind yourself of all the things you do have that you may have forgotten – or given less weight to.
- And take another look at the most annoying things, and see if you can shrink them a bit — or at least tone down the volume control.
That’s all you need to do for now. Later on we’ll learn some additional techniques. But for now, just stop and see what’s happening. And take a moment to smile at your ability to break a longstanding pattern. Even if it’s only for a moment, you are making progress.
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