Love Can Beat This.

Written by Mauricio Estrella

In the heat of arguing, it’s human nature to do our best to win. However, arguing can get quite irrational when we lose focus of what we’re trying to resolve. If we’re not focused on solving a problem, we’re wasting time and energy that can be diverted into something more positive.

In a bad argument, our empathy for the other person disappears, and we become self-centered and defensive. We basically turn into angry, snappy Chihuahuas or cursing sailors. All that matters is our own perspective on the problem. Our proposal to resolve it. Our solution. Screw everything and everybody else.

But what if we’re wrong?

How do we know we’re right if we’re focused on forcing our reasoning onto the other person? Some people just can’t handle arguments.

For many, a sudden spike of adrenaline during an argument directly proceeds a bout of cursing. It happens right before they throw a plate off the table. Before slamming a door. Before sending an angry email. Or right before physical aggression. Losing control of an argument can end in terrifying ways.

The journey to conquering a problem is tedious enough. I’d rather have an extremely simple shortcut than a deep and detailed run-down of methods and processes to do so. I try to focus on finding paths—and in the case of a heated disagreement, I tried to find a direct path, a shortcut, to resolve conflicts.

To put things in the context: My fiancée is Chinese, I’m Ecuadorian, so cultural differences do make an impact in our lives. Sometimes these differences are funny. Sometimes they’re not.

Here’s my recipe for navigating conflict.

Step 1: Shut up

It’s such a waste of time to spend your energy arguing. Once the discussion reaches the point when you’re irrational, there’s no way in the world you’re gonna end up victorious. Instead, you’re gonna end up sleeping on the couch. Eating some ugly microwaveable food. Watching TV till late. Drinking a beer on your own, pretending you’re reflecting on your brilliance.

Why go through all of this? Just…shut up. Let the silence embrace your anger. Put a pause to the conflict.

Breathe.

Step 2: Turn around

I came up with the idea of sitting (or standing), leaning my back against my girlfriend’s back whenever a discussion heated up and we needed to resolve a dispute over something.

That’s right.

“Stand, or sit down, and lean your back against the other person’s back.” —Me, scientist.

Step 3: Continue arguing

That’s right. Continue where you left. With the same energy. Just imagine you’re still facing the other person, as if nothing has changed, and watch how magic happens.

After a couple of minutes, this always helps to end the discussion. Thanks to this method, we have learned a lot about ourselves and each other. And saved countless moments of angry body language and words bouncing between the walls of our home.

But how?

“What happens is that the arguing immediately becomes more objective.” —Me, scientist.

There’s no better way to realize if you’re right or wrong than speaking with yourself, with honesty. Honesty, however, is hard to achieve when we can’t control our emotions and interactions.

By standing back-against-back, you no longer have another person across the room to argue with. You become vulnerable, because your words are aimed at nobody in front of you. You’re on your own, looking at a corner of the room. Your voice reflects off the walls and yells back at you. You will hear what the other person in the room hears. It’s a wonderful experience.

“You will trick your mind. For your brain, it is illogical to be arguing with nobody. Your mind’s logical self-preservation instinct will fight against doing something as dumb as yelling at the air.” —Me, psycholoscientist.

You will be more clear and objective and think, “Well, I do have a point!” or maybe, “Oh, this is wrong. I am wrong.”

For me and my fiancée, it usually takes a few minutes to end the discussion for good. The best part is when you turn around and you get to face the person who you just agreed with.

Step 4: Turn around again, and enjoy your peace

This is exceptional with couples. It’s a moment of relief and happiness where you go: “Ah! There she is!” or “Ah! There he is!” Feel the beauty of a peaceful moment.

This often ends with a silly smirk, a tiny laugh. Or a slap. Or sex. Or both. Depends. Results may vary.

This post originally appeared at Medium.

MaxCo Advisors, September 2016

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Trying To Make Other People Happy Is Counter-Productive

I really like this article, written by Christine Carter. I’d encourage you to read it completely.


People ask me all the time what the secret to happiness is. “If you had to pick just one thing,” they wonder, “what would be the most important thing for leading a happy life?”

Ten years ago, I would have told you a regular gratitude practice was the most important thing—and while that is still my favorite instant happiness booster, my answer has changed. I believe the most important thing for happiness is living truthfully. Here’s the specific advice I recently gave my kids:

Live with total integrity. Be transparent, honest, and authentic. Do not ever waiver from this—white lies and false smiles quickly snowball into a life lived out of alignment. It is better to be yourself and risk having people not like you than to suffer the stress and tension that comes from pretending to be someone you’re not, or professing to like something that you don’t. I promise you: Pretending will rob you of joy.

I’ve spent the better part of my life as a people-pleaser—trying to meet other people’s expectations, trying to keep everyone happy and liking me. But when we are trying to please others, we are usually out of sync with our own wants and needs. It’s not that it’s bad to be thinking of others. It’s that pleasing others is not the same as helping others.

People pleasing, in my extensive personal experience, is a process of guessing what other people want, or what will make them think favorably of us, and then acting accordingly. It’s an often subtle and usually unconscious attempt at manipulating other people’s perceptions of us. Anytime we pretend to be something we aren’t or feel something we don’t, we lose personal integrity.

And any time we’re doing something that is more about influencing what others think of us than authentically expressing ourselves—even something as simple as a Facebook post that makes it seem like we are having a better day than we actually are—we lose personal integrity.

Losing integrity has pretty serious consequences for our happiness, and for our relationships. Here’s what happens when we aren’t being authentic:

  1. We don’t actually fool anyone

Say you are at work, and you’re doing your best to put on a happy face even though your home life is feeling shaky. You may not want to reveal to your work friends that you and your significant other had a major fight over the weekend, but if you pretend that you are okay—and you’re not—you’ll probably make the people around you feel worse, too. Why?

We humans aren’t actually very good at hiding how we are feeling. We exhibit micro-expressions that the people we are with might not consciously register, but that trigger their mirror neurons—so a little part of their brain thinks that they are feeling our negative feelings. Trying to suppress negative emotions when we are talking with someone—like when we don’t want to trouble someone else with our own distress—actually increases the stress levels of both people more than if we had shared our distress in the first place. (It also reduces rapport and inhibits the connection between two people.)

  1. We find it harder to focus

Pretending takes a huge conscious effort—it’s an act of self-control that drains your brain of its power to focus and do deep work. That’s because performing—or pretending to be or feel something you’re not—requires tremendous willpower.

Tons of research suggests that our ability to repeatedly exert our self-control is actually quite limited. Like a muscle that tires and can no longer perform at its peak strength after a workout, our self-control is diminished by previous efforts at control, even if those efforts take place in a totally different realm.

So that little fib at the water cooler you told in order to make yourself seem happier than you are is going to make it hard for you to focus later in the afternoon. A performance—or any attempt to hide who you really are, or pretend to be something you aren’t—is later going to make it harder to control your attention and your thoughts, and to regulate your emotions. It’ll increase the odds that you react more aggressively to provocation, eat more tempting snacks, engage in riskier behaviors, and—this one is pretty compelling to me—perform more poorly on tasks that require executive function, like managing your time, planning, or organizing.

  1. We become more stressed and anxious

Let’s just call it like it is: Pretending to be or feel something that you don’t—even if it is a small thing, and even if it is relatively meaningless, and even if it is meant to protect someone else—is a lie – and it’s exhausting.

And lying, even if we do it a lot or are good at it, is very stressful to our brains and our bodies. The polygraph test depends on this: “Lie detectors” don’t actually detect lies, but rather they detect the subconscious stress and fear that lying causes. These tests sense changes in our skin conductivity, pulse rate, and breathing. They also detect when someone’s vocal pitch has changed in a nearly imperceptible way, a consequence of tension in the body that tightens vocal chords.

The physiological changes that lie detectors sense are caused by glucocorticoids—hormones that are released during a stress response. And as you well know, stress hormones are bad news for your health and happiness over the long run.

Research shows that people who are given instructions for how to lie less in their day-to-day lives are actually able to lie less—and when they do, their physical health improves. For example, they report less trouble sleeping, less tension, fewer headaches, and fewer sore throats. These improvements in health are likely caused by the relative absence of a stress response.

And that’s not all: When the people in the above study lied less, they also reported improvements in their relationships, and decreased anxiety.

We don’t lie or pretend or perform all the time, of course. But when we do, it’s important to see the consequences: increased stress, decreased willpower, impaired relationships. Although we might actually be trying to feel better by putting on a happy face for others, pretending always backfires in the end. Living in-authentically makes life hard and cuts us off from our sweet spot—that place where we have both ease and power.

This post originally appeared at ChristineCarter.com.

MaxCo Advisors, September 2016