An old man was sitting outside the city gates. A traveler about to enter the city struck up a conversation and asked him, “What kind of people live in this city?” The old man responded, “What were the people like in the place from which you came?”
“They were selfish and arrogant, cold and hard to get along with. I’m glad to be leaving the place.” “Is that so?” replied the old man. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in this city.” The disappointed traveler continued on his way, shuffling through the city gates.
A short while later, a couple arrived at the gates and began talking with the old man. They told him they were moving here and wanted to also know about the people in this new place. They asked him, “What are the people like in this city?” As before, the old man responded with the question, “What were the people like in the place from which you came?”
The couple responded, “They were wonderful – loving, warm, hard-working and generous. We’re sorry we had to leave!” “Ah, don’t you worry then. You’ll find the same sort in this city.”
I love this little story and how it sums up so much about our role in relationships. Even if you have this kind of awareness, it can still be easy to slip into forgetting it. In fact, most people walk through life without a clue that they play an active role in the quality of all of their relationships.
Two years ago I wrote a post that included an exercise for assessing your relationships. I try to do this exercise annually and have had beautiful results. Even if you already have a wonderful social life and great relationships, I find it’s still worth doing. What if they could be even better?
Here’s the (updated) exercise if you’d like to try it. It takes about 5 minutes.
Write your name in the center of a blank piece of paper. Draw a circle around it that represents the boundary of your inner circle of people. Begin writing the names of everyone in your life, intuitively placing them all over the page, wherever it feels right in terms of their relationship with you. The closer to you in real life, the closer they will be on the page (inner circle), with acquaintances out at the far corners.
Once you’ve done this, look at each name, and just go with your gut and quickly tune into how you feel about this person. Jot down a plus or minus sign above each name. Plus signs for the people with whom you feel good, positive, encouraged and happy most of the time. Minus signs are for those with whom you tend to feel tired, drained, frustrated or annoyed. Be honest with yourself about this.
Now flip over the page or take another piece of paper and do the exercise again, this time creating the same map of names, but how you would LIKE it to be. Is there anyone lingering in your inner circle with whom you’d rather have a bit of space? Move them out! Any acquaintances or people way out near the edges that you would like to bring closer? Pull them in and write it down. Remember to label and date both maps.
It’s such a simple exercise but reveals so much! When I started using this tool, I realized that I was spending too much time with the ‘minus’ people. I still cared about them, but I knew that it was having an effect on my system and mood. I discovered that I was in a kind of default mode of doing what I was used to. I allowed old, outmoded patterns and habits to cloud my judgment and keep me passively perpetuating some unhealthy relationships.
Once I took a hard look at the difference between what was actually happening and what I truly wanted with respect to my relationships, I knew I had to take a more active role. It was quite empowering. I found it was more fun and easy than I’d expected.
“There are two types of people – anchors and motors. You want to lose the anchors and get with the motors because the motors are going somewhere and they’re having more fun. The anchors will just drag you down.” – Wyland
Over the last couple of years as I have continued to act in accordance with what I really want to create, I have been quite amazed at how accurately and quickly the “how I’d like it to be” map has become reality. Something interesting starts to happen once you’ve worked with this exercise. I think the combination of setting a conscious intention about what you do want coupled with acknowledging what’s not working has a powerful effect.
For me, it showed up in a few important ways.
- The minus sign people and the ones with whom I needed some space just naturally fell away. I thought it would be harder to make this happen, but it turned out that I didn’t really need to do much. Since like attracts like, it seemed the more positive and happier that I became, the less the ‘minus’ people were attracted to me. Our vibrations just didn’t match any longer. It also seemed that as I put my focus on the more positive people and the new situations that I did want to create, it all sorted itself out.
- To my delight, the people that I decided to pull into the inner circle on the map have blossomed into deepening and fulfilling relationships.
- The process of setting these intentions also had an unexpected result. Over the last year or so, without going out of my way to meet new people, opportunities and new connections have been springing up all over the place! It has been so exciting and energizing and I can really only attribute it to setting the intention for surrounding myself with loving, wonderful folks. It works and in ways you may not even expect!
The bottom line is really to foster the relationships you want to grow and deepen. Tell people how much you value and care about them. Release and gently let fade those that are toxic or that drag you down. Life is too short to put up with anchors when you do have a choice! Remember it is all up to you!