113: What Are You Making Things Mean?

How often do you take a struggle, a negative emotion, a mistake, or something difficult and turn it into data to prove how wrong, bad, or stuck you are? If you have a conversation with someone and there is silence, how often do you make this mean that they don’t like you, or you have annoyed them, or that you must have done something wrong?

When you draw conclusions, you place something in a context and give it meaning, often based on past events and circumstances. Sometimes this meaning can be useful but other times it will weigh you down and make you feel stuck. So how do you go from meaning-making that is not useful yet has been repeated for decades to meaning-making that actually serves you?

In this episode, I show you how to start paying attention to what you’re making things mean and why doing so will help you be more deliberate about how you feel, show up, and experience life. Discover the difference between meaning-making that is useful and meaning-making that makes things harder for yourself, and learn how to pay attention to the conclusions you draw about yourself and others.

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine | What Are You Making Things Mean?

How often do you take a struggle, a negative emotion, a mistake, or something difficult and turn it into data to prove how wrong, bad, or stuck you are? If you have a conversation with someone and there is silence, how often do you make this mean that they don’t like you, or you have annoyed them, or that you must have done something wrong?

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine | What Are You Making Things Mean?

When you draw conclusions, you place something in a context and give it meaning, often based on past events and circumstances. Sometimes this meaning can be useful but other times it will weigh you down and make you feel stuck. So how do you go from meaning-making that is not useful yet has been repeated for decades to meaning-making that actually serves you?

In this episode, I show you how to start paying attention to what you’re making things mean and why doing so will help you be more deliberate about how you feel, show up, and experience life. Discover the difference between meaning-making that is useful and meaning-making that makes things harder for yourself, and learn how to pay attention to the conclusions you draw about yourself and others.

If you want some structure to help you do the very things I talk about on the podcast, the Habits on Purpose for Physicians (HOPP) Small Group Coaching Program that runs through September 2024 has a few more spots available. Click here to learn more and sign up now!

To better understand habits such as perfectionism, harsh inner criticism, people-pleasing, and procrastination, and to receive practical, deep-dive coaching from me, you can sign up by clicking here! We still have a couple spots left, so join before it’s too late. If you have any questions, email me here or text me on +15412936213 any time.

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • What can happen when you are not aware of what you are making things mean.
  • Some examples of what you might make meaning and interpretations about.
  • How to start unearthing the meaning you give to things.
  • Why you may find yourself jumping to conclusions about things.
  • Some prompts to start looking at things a different way.
  • How to start making a new narrative for your life.
  • How to establish whether your meaning-making is serving you or making things harder in your life.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Powerful Takeaways:

03:28 “Our experience of our life and our experience of ourselves is strongly shaped by the meaning we give to things.”

3:55 “In order to be more deliberate about how we feel, how we show up, and how we experience our life, we have to pay attention to what we’re making things mean.”

05:10 “What we make things mean affects how we feel and how we see ourselves, which in turn affects how we behave and how we interact with the world.”

07:11 “Our day-to-day life isn’t one built on logic. Our body, emotions, and limbic system operate on the tried and true ideas that we have repeated for many, many years, even if these ideas and meaning-makers create so much suffering.”

08:11 “We are meaning-making creatures and by habit, by default, we go back to the classic meaning we’ve made for a long time. But we have agency so we can decide to make things mean something else.”

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Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Episode 113. I'm Kristi Angevine, and today is all about meaning making. Is your meaning making helpful, or is your meaning making, making things worse?

Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now here's your host, Physician and Master Certified Life Coach Kristi Angevine.

Hi, everybody, as I record this I am in the middle of the most fun week with my youngest kiddo. We've had a full week, just the two of us, which is really fun because we don't get a lot of just one-on-one time. Usually, it's both parents, both kids, one parent, two kids, etc. etc. This week, it's just been the two of us.

Before we started, I came up with what I wanted my goal for the week to be. And my goal was for us to not shoehorn, for me to not shoehorn, and for us to maximize fun. So, if you didn't listen to last week's episode, Episode 112, it’s all about shoehorning, go listen to that one.

But my goal was to not shoehorn, and to have as much fun as we possibly could. Did I shoehorn, anyways? Oh, yes, I did. Sometimes it was on purpose, and I was totally fine with that. And sometimes it happened, and I noticed it after the fact, retrospectively. Honestly, I just keep learning what works best for me. And I keep noticing when I default to old ways.

Honestly, that's just how learning is supposed to go. I share this to emphasize that even though I do this work for a living, I look at habits. I look at emotions. I study things that I do repetitively through a lens that I've never had before. I have a lot of knowledge, and I know how to apply it. I know what the obstacles to application are. I know how to get support. I know how to get internal accountability, external accountability, how to process and sit with emotions.

And despite all this, it is always a work in progress. And, that's okay. The really great thing is that I no longer regularly make my learning mean that there's something defective about me. So, my struggles, my mistakes, my screw ups, they are the very thing that helps me deepen my understanding of myself, not proof of my ineptitude.

I mention this because so many of my clients will take a struggle or take a negative emotion, or take a mistake or take something that was difficult, and they will turn that into data that proves how wrong they are, how bad they are, how stuck they are. This used to be my area of expertise as well.

But I bring this up because this is a great example of the contrast between meaning making that is useful, and meaning making this is really challenging and makes things harder on ourselves. So, before I dive into today's content of meaning making, I would love to just ask you for a favor.

If, once you listen to this episode, you can go and click the ratings, leave a rating, and leave a small review, it would help me more than you can imagine. Things like ratings, and things like honest reviews, from real listeners, help the podcast get into the ears of people who need it most. And it is not something that I can do, it is only something that you can help me do. It would mean more than you realize, so thank you, thank you, thank you.

Let's dive into today. Our experience of our life, and our experience of ourselves, is strongly shaped by the meaning that we give to things. In order to understand ourselves and understand the world we assign meaning to things. To make things make sense, we give them a context.

And when we're not aware of what we're making things mean, we run the risk of letting old lessons, old stories, old narrative that no longer makes sense or serve us dictate our experience. So, in order to be more deliberate about how we feel, how we show up, how we experience our life, we have to pay attention to what we're making things mean.

So, let's talk about this a little bit. We create interpretations and make meanings about all sorts of things. We make interpretations about facts, about our own thinking, about emotions, about results that we have in our life.

We make rain on a wedding day mean “good luck.” We make someone's question at a meeting mean that they hate us. We make somebody else's question at a meeting mean that they're really interested in us. We make our partner leaving their cup of coffee out mean they don't care if we have extra work to do. We make our kid’s eye rolling mean that they're rude, and they're going to become an entitled human who hates us.

When we are early for deadline we make it mean that we're smart and organized. And when we are late, we make it mean that we're a scatterbrained dummy. We make the dollar amount in the bank mean that we're going to be fine, or that we are an abject failure. We make our anxiety mean that we're broken. We make our annoyance with one of our relatives mean that we're not a good family member.

We make the fact that we don't like volunteering at our kid’s school mean that we're a bad mom. We make our desire to sleep and watch a movie mean that we're lazy. We make the number of things we've accomplished mean that we are efficient, or that we're behind.

Whatever it is that we make things mean, affects how we feel and how we see ourselves. Which, in turn, affects how we behave and how we interact with the world. So, if I'm in a dinner party and I'm making small chat with somebody I don't know, and we have a silence in our conversation and I make that silence mean that they don't want to talk to me, you can imagine how I might then perhaps do this:

“They don't want to talk to me. Hmm, why don't they want to talk to me? Oh, they don't want to talk to me because they think I'm dumb. I'm uninteresting. I am difficult to talk with. I don't have anything good to say. I am not very funny. If they think that, what if they’re right? Oh, that would mean that I am uninteresting. I'm not likable. So clearly, I'm not valued. I'm not appreciated. I don't belong here. Everyone here must see the same thing.”

When this is what I make that pause in our conversation mean, I'll feel insecure, self-conscious, anxious, I definitely won't feel like I belong, and then everywhere I look, I'll see more of it. Because of how I feel in the moment, I'm going to struggle to interact. I'm not going to ask people questions. I'm going to withdraw. It'll be easy to interpret benign behavior on the part of other people as more proof about how unlikable I am, and this will snowball.

If we could go back in time we could probably trace this initial meaning making about the silence back to some previous experiences where indeed, silence actually did correspond to an experience where someone literally didn't like me. Perhaps the person even told me so. Think middle school awkwardness, cliques, and that soft bullying that happens in the hallways between classes, right?

So, if we take a lesson learned in middle school and use it as a meaning maker when we're in our 40s, it can be a set of blinders that closes us off from alternate ways of viewing the world and viewing ourselves. Logically, we all get it, right? Confirmation bias, cognitive distortion, cognitive behavioral therapy, ancient wisdom, tell us that our thoughts are like glasses to change the way we experience things in the world and the way we see ourselves.

But our day-to-day life isn't one built on logic. Our body, our emotions, our limbic system, operate on the tried-and-true ideas that we have repeated for many, many, many years. Even if these ideas and these meaning makers create so much suffering.

So, here's the fun part of this. Just because we have a well-ingrained habit of making things mean one particular theme, it doesn't mean we have to keep it up. We could literally decide to make a new narrative. If I wanted, I could experiment with making silence at a dinner party mean that somebody is being thoughtful. I can experiment with thinking that they too feel unsure what to say, and that's normal.

I could experiment with making silence mean that they're distracted, and they're recalling something earlier in their day that was kind of difficult. Or I can make their silence mean that maybe they just have gas, and they're worried about public flatulence. Who knows, right? I can just pick, and then experiment and see how that goes.

We are meaning-making creatures, and by habit, by default, we go back to the classic meaning that we've made for a long time. But we have agency, so we can decide to make things mean something else.

So, how do you go from meaning making that is not useful, yet has been repeated for decades, to meaning making this more useful, that actually serves you? We have to start with first unearthing the meanings that you give to things. And the way you do this is you start paying attention to the conclusions you make during the day.

Now, most of the conclusions that we make are so fast, they're essentially backstage in the proverbial backroom of our consciousness, so it takes a bit of effort to identify these conclusions. But the way you do this, is you just ask yourself: What are the conclusions that I make a lot of the time? Is there a theme to what I make things mean? Just ask and you'll start noticing.

And then, the next step, is just ask: Is the meaning I'm giving to this experience, is it useful? Does it weigh me down? Does it make me feel incompetent, overwhelmed, and wrong? Or does it lift me up? Does it make me feel sturdy? Does it make me feel determined? Does it make me feel confident? Does it fuel me towards making decisions and moving forward? Or does it keep me stuck?

This week, I want you to start noticing what you make things mean. You're going to have a clue if these meaning makings are useful by how they make you feel. And then, after you have a good sense of what you make things mean, just consider the following: What would be different about your narrative if you always gave yourself the benefit of the doubt? What would change if you removed the self-criticism? What would shift if there was less cynicism in the meanings you gave things?

Now, to help you brainstorm on some intentional ways that you can look at yourself in the world, I'm going to offer you some of my favorite ways looking at things. You're going to notice that these are not whitewashing, they are not finding a silver lining, and they are definitely not denialism.

I find those things really to be essential for me. Although I'm an optimist, I really bristle at things that sounds syrupy sweet, where they flirt with kind of whitewashing or glossing over things to make them seem peachy keen and perfect, when they really, actually, aren't.

So, my favorite meaning-maker prompts are usually pretty neutral sounding, which makes them so much more accessible to me. First, for any struggle, challenge, mistake, disappointment, or fail, I find it so loving to think, “I did the very best with what I knew at the time.” The other variant is, “There was no possible way for me to know anything differently then. But now, I know better.

For self-compassion, it helps me to think, “What I went through was exquisitely difficult. No wonder it felt like it did. Experiencing XYZ is no easy task, so it's understandable that I felt… and did…”

For compassion for others, it really helps when I think, “I have no idea what this person has been through.”

For perspective, “I'm in the thick of learning so many new things right now. And learning is not supposed to be easy.”

For persistence, “On the other side of discomfort, learning and growth are inevitable.”

For curiosity, I love the phrase, “Isn't it interesting that...?”

So, this week, just to recap, I want you to start paying attention to the conclusions that you draw about other people, the conclusions you draw about yourself, and how these make you feel. When you're drawing conclusions, you are placing something in a context and giving it meaning. And sometimes this meaning is really useful. And other times, this meaning is just going to weigh you down, make you feel terrible, and make you feel stuck.

Consider, are you making things mean something that is useful? Or are you making things mean something that turns into a big obstacle for you? Remember, you can decide what you want to make things mean, and you don't have to swing on the pendulum all the way from tremendously negative to overly, fakely positive. But you get to find a middle ground that feels solid and sturdy for you.

So, consider the prompts that I gave you for some of my favorite ways to look at things, and let me know what works for you. If you're not already on my email list, please go to HabitsOnPurpose.com and you'll see a little box that says, “Join the email list.”

If you're on the email list you'll get emails from me that include really practical tips for how to change habits, ideas that I'm learning about, concepts that I'm thinking about, and really thought-provoking tools that I use in my coaching groups. It's a way for us to stay in touch, and for you to hear about all the different offerings that are coming up in the world of habits.

Enjoy the rest of your week, and I will talk to you next time. Take care, bye.

I hope you found this episode to be useful. I want to just let you know, if you listen to this in April of 2024, the Habits on Purpose for Physicians Small Group Coaching Program, that runs through September, has a few more spots. So, if you want some structure to help you do the very things that I talked about in the podcast, join Habits on Purpose for Physicians Small Group Coaching today.

The group we currently have is really amazing. The way you can learn more about it, and see when the dates for all the calls happen, is by going to HabitsOnPurpose.com/HOPP. On that page, you can not only listen to the Q&A, read through all the philosophy and the process of this program, but you can also sign up for a partial or full scholarship. So, finances and money need not be a hurdle for you to change your life in a way that really makes you feel significantly better in a sustainable way.

I hope you'll join us, and I can't wait to see you inside.

Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.

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