“You want to quit what!?” I said to my ten-year-old son who sat quietly quivering as he delivered the news that he didn’t want to continue karate lessons. “You have to be kidding me,” I shouted back, along with some other choice words that I regretted at the time but have conveniently forgotten.
My shoulders shot straight up to my ears, and I swore I felt a a knot only known to sailors suddenly appear in my gut. I couldn’t comprehend how he could train for five years and then quit, only a month after he received his red belt (one belt level below the much coveted black belt). In retrospect, I now recall the many afternoons he cried and pleaded not to go, while convincing myself that he was just tired or lazy.
“Why was I so upset?” I pondered. I went through all the intellectual reasons why quitting was a monumental mistake and seriously considered whether I should force him to continue. Maybe he would be one of those kids that would tell me twenty years later how happy he was that I didn’t let him quit, just like those piano players who now blame their parents for letting them off the hook and how amazing their life would be if they could just play a tune on the piano.
As I recall this experience, it reminds me of the very issues around which I coach my clients. Much of our pain and suffering comes from the manuals that we have for other people. We have manuals for our kids, our partner, our mother, our cousins, our friends and even our employers. You may have them for your pet parrot, your favorite feline, or even a distant relative.
So, what is a manual?
A manual is simply an unwritten set of rules, conditions or behaviors we inflict on those around us. Often, these folks don’t even know that we have a manual for them, much less what’s written in it. Just this weekend, I pulled my manual out for my husband. My manual says that my husband should either fix things that break around our home or at least call someone to do the job. What actually occurs is this: “Jackie, it looks like there’s algae growing in the pool... better call the Pool Man.” Or “Jackie, the fan isn’t working, you’ll need to call the electrician tomorrow.”
Clearly, he wasn’t abiding by what my manual says: “My husband should take care of this stuff.”
Nor was my ten-year-old son abiding by my manual when he decided to discontinue karate lessons. This is what my manual says for my kids:
“Finish what you start. You’ll be sorry if you quit. You don’t know what’s good for you.”
When we have manuals for others, we end up hurting ourselves and those around us. Our manual really has nothing to do with the other person. The reason we have a manual is to control another person’s behavior. What really happens is we attempt to take their freedom away. We essentially hold them hostage until they change their behavior. We say, “You have to behave the way I want you to so I can feel good.” Wayne Dyer says that no amount of behavior from someone else can keep us in alignment with ourselves. So, if you are feeling any type of pain or stress around someone else, stop trying to control them (you really don’t have any control anyway).
The idea here is not to throw the manual out the window. The idea is to be conscious of its presence. Then you can open it up, read it, and notice that your manual is really made up of old or outdated belief systems that not only don’t work, but also make you feel crappy. Simply noticing when you refer to your manual actually alleviates your drive to control your spouse, your child or even Aunt Sally.
I am happy to report that after realizing I was using my manual to control my son, I let him quit karate. He found his passion and is currently a highly ranked high school tennis player hoping to secure a spot on a college tennis team. See, isn’t it better to let others lead their own lives?