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کتاب: قانون 5 ثانیه / فصل 17

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

ENRICH YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

There are only two words of advice you need to improve any relationship.

Say It

I was speaking at a sales meeting for a retail brokerage firm in Florida and afterward a tall man named Don approached me. He was in his late 50s, had a beard, and was wearing a sport coat over his madras shirt. He said he wanted to share something with me about “my 5 Second Rule.” Don had “his own version of it that had changed his life.” He had “made a decision a few years ago, that nothing important would be left unsaid.”

Then he shared a story about how, acting on instinct, he pushed himself to share something with his daughter that had completely changed their entire relationship. Over the years his daughter Amber and her husband had taken in family members who had fallen on hard times. They also volunteered every weekend in their community and had completed several service trips.

Don told them that he admired them. He admired how they lived their lives and the example that their lives provided the world. He added that he was so proud of the young woman Amber had become. And then he told me this: “Right before I was about to say it. I was so afraid. Imagine that. I was afraid to say something because I was afraid to get emotional.” He said that after that conversation, his relationship with his daughter was never the same again. They are now closer than he ever imagined and the experience inspired him to live by this rule: Leave nothing important unsaid.

Intimacy takes courage. Risking getting emotional or upsetting someone so that you can express yourself is scary, but the result is magical. I experienced that same magic in a simple conversation with my father last fall. I was on my way to the airport having just finished a speaking engagement in Miami and I saw a text from my dad: “Call me as soon as you can.” That’s odd, I thought to myself. I called the house, and my mom picked up the phone.

“Hi Mom, I just got a text from Dad asking me to call. Is everything okay?”

“You should talk to him, let me get him for you…”

She set the phone down, as I tried to catch her

“Wait, Mom! What’s going on?”

I could hear the kitchen door creak as she opened it and yelled for my dad, “BOB! Mel’s on the phone!”

I had no idea what was going on. At first, I thought that I was in trouble. I sat in the back of that cab feeling like a 10-year-old who was about to get grounded. Isn’t it amazing how quickly your mind can take you down the rabbit hole that something is wrong?

Uncertainty had triggered my habit of worrying and now I was inside the mental “What-if Loop”: Did grandma die? Did I do something wrong? Is he in financial trouble? It must be me, what did I do?

Did you catch what happened? The uncertainty triggered my habit of worrying. In less than five seconds, I had convinced myself that my grandmother had died, that I had done something severely wrong, that my father was deeply disappointed in me, or that I was about to get in major trouble.

I heard the back door open and him walking toward the kitchen. He picked up the phone and was as nonchalant as could be, “Hey Mel, thanks for calling, where are you right now?” I was freaking out on the other end of the line.

“I’m in Miami on my way to the airport, your text scared me to death, did I do something wrong?”

He chuckled and said, “No, it’s not about you, Mel. It’s about me. I didn’t want to tell you and your brother until I was sure.”

I almost dropped the phone. “Are you gonna die? Oh my god, you have cancer.”

He interrupted, “Will you let me talk…I don’t have cancer. I have an aneurism and I need open brain surgery to remove it before it kills me.”

He went on to explain the whole story. He had had a bout of vertigo and collapsed while he was playing a round of golf. That lead to an MRI, which revealed this aneurism. They found it by mistake. He was having surgery at the end of the week at the University of Michigan.

I sat frozen on the other side of the phone. My father-in-law had died from esophageal cancer. Within seconds of hearing my dad’s story, I immediately thought about the day of my father-in-law’s surgery. It was just a moment. The nurses were wheeling him off to surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan and just before they pushed him through the double doors, he looked back at all of us.

He smiled and gave us a little wave. We all smiled and waved back, and I remember giving him a “thumbs up.” I remember feeling a pang of fear right at that moment. Then he disappeared through the swinging doors. We had no idea that his surgery was about to go horribly wrong and that the complications would eventually kill him.

I snapped back into the present moment, in the back of the cab and listened to my dad. I pictured my father waving goodbye from a hospital hallway, and I was afraid. I don’t know why, but I really wanted to know if my dad was scared too. I had an instinct to ask him and immediately hesitated. I started think.

“Don’t ask that, it’ll upset him. Of course he’s scared, you moron. Keep it light and positive. Don’t stress him out, that aneurysm could explode.” That was the push moment. Leave nothing important unsaid.

5..4..3..2..1..

“Dad, are you scared?”

There was silence on the other end. And I started to regret asking the question. I was not expecting to hear what he said next:

“I’m not scared. I am nervous, but I really trust my surgeon. You know, Mel, I actually feel kind of lucky.”

“Lucky?” That’s not what I expected to hear.

“Yes, I have an opportunity to try and fix this thing before it kills me. And at the end of the day if something happens I have no regrets. Watching my mom take care of my dad after his stroke or watching Susie die of ALS was horrible. Quality of life is very important to me. And the quality of my life has been more than I could have ever wished for. As a kid I always wanted to be a doctor, and I became one. Your mom and I have had a wonderful life together. You and your brother turned out. I’ve basically done exactly what I wanted to do with my life. And that’s all you can ever ask for…that and more time to enjoy it.” It was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever shared with my dad and without the #5SecondRule, I wouldn’t have found my courage to ask the question. I just sat there in the back of that cab and took it all in. And then he added this: “Actually, there is one thing I want to do,” he said, “I’d like to see Africa. And if I make it to 90, I want to jump out of plane like George H. Bush did on his 90th birthday.” I laughed. “You will dad, you will.”

That conversation with my dad reminded me of something important. Waiting for the right time to get real in your relationships is a fool’s errand. There is no right time to have the conversation, ask the hard questions, say “I love you,” or take the time to truly listen. There is only right now.

Sometimes it’s not merely a hard question that you need to ask. It’s actually ending the silence between you. It had been “years since” Cortney let her relationship go with her father, but she had been wanting to make amends. She didn’t “pass out or over think it,” like she would have in the past. Instead, she used the #5SecondRule to trust her instinct and just pick up the phone and call her dad. She just “said out loud 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 and just hit call and did it.” It only takes five seconds to change your life.

Hiding is what Mike was doing in his marriage, until he found the courage to 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 to be “more honest with” himself:

“I am talking to my wife again about subjects I would have rather just been ignored (not like they were going away because my head was in the sand or anything). And I am being more honest with myself. And most of all I like that. I may not be perfect, but I am worthy. I’m surprised by just how damn good that feels – to be worthy.” —Mike

Mike just shared a very powerful secret. To feel worthy, you must first make your own instincts worthy of your attention and your effort. And Anthony was surprised that “something so simple” as having the courage to “lean into what I normally shy away from” could create such “enormous change” in his marriage, helping him to be “closer to my wife” and get his needs met.

“That something so simple could create such enormous change. That was surprising. I used to expect people to know my needs and would harbor resentment when my needs were not met, mostly with my wife. I thought all wives could read minds, imagine my surprise.

By using the Rule to simply lean into what I normally would shy away from I’m making great strides in a few areas of my life. I’m smiling as I type this. I’m closer to my wife and my needs are starting to be met. I had no idea that my silence was the problem.” —Anthony

As Anthony said he “had no idea that my silence was the problem.” Silence is always the problem. Deciding not to say what you feel creates what researchers call “cognitive dissonance” between what you truly believe (in your heart) and what you actually do in the moment. Those problems build up and, over time, they can break your relationship.

That’s what happened to Estelle during what she described as “an ordinary moment in time.” A seemingly stupid argument with her husband “cracked a branch in a silent woods” and her response was immediate—“I asked him for a divorce.” Here’s how she described it: “My mind was suddenly crystal clear and I used the #5SecondRule to say it. It was now my choice to do it, or allow my brain to “pull the emergency brake.” I chose in that moment, to act. I asked for a divorce. In retrospect that decision catapulted my life in the direction I knew I wanted to go, but always held myself back from.

This is not to say it was easy. It absolutely has not been easy, but I have never for one second doubted my decision. In that pure moment of action, of truly choosing to act on what I knew was right and authentically me, I have found myself. There have been dark and sometimes lonely moments, but what surprises me is that in those moments I never regret my choice to divorce.

We all have moments throughout our day to act or to choose. We sometimes hold ourselves back, we choose to be cautious and not act and to not risk. I choose to act. And it is in these moments that I feel most alive, have found my soulmate and more importantly my true self.” —Estelle

I said from the beginning that the Rule was simple. I never said it “saying it” would be easy. The truth is the shortest distance between two people and it may very well save your relationship. Silence creates distance. Truth creates real connection, as Natasha discovered.

Natasha was “overwhelmed with life” after her mother died suddenly. Her optimism “evaporated” and she could “only see more negatives” in the future. She was worried about her relationship with her boyfriend and used the Rule to 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 to “speak from the heart” about how she felt, for real—that their relationship “was unsustainable.” She spoke how she really felt and the outcome was amazing. Instead of blowing up the relationship, the truth brought them closer. They’re now engaged.

We often fail to appreciate the profound power held inside the smallest moments of our relationships as our days race by. I recently had something happen that reminded me of the importance of slowing down, being present, “saying it,” and tuning into your heart when it speaks to you.

A man sent me a Facebook message after hearing me speak, and asked me to check out a memorial page for a family friend named Josh Woodruff. He felt that Josh was the epitome of a person who lived his life to the fullest, and embodied the #5SecondRule.

On an instinct, I clicked on the link to the memorial page on Facebook. The first thing I saw was a post from a woman named Mary. It was a beautiful post about the intimacy and connectedness we all want in life and how we pull back from it for the silliest reasons. A week before Josh was killed by a hit-and-run driver in New Orleans, Mary had seen him in the grocery store but “didn’t say anything to him.” I’ll let her tell you the story:

Mary’s post is an incredible reminder for all of us. Sometimes there is no next time. When your heart speaks—say it. I reached out to Josh’s mom, Caren, and she shared a story about Josh with me: “Josh was not afraid of other people’s emotions. When he was a teenager, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I knew we were losing her. One day, I sat in the family room by myself to think and to cry. Josh came in and asked me what was wrong, and then “eye locked” me. He didn’t look away or fidget. He just sat there and listened. From that day we started moving from just a mother-son to a friend-friend relationship because he took the time to listen to me as a human being.” I’m sad that I never got the chance to meet Josh. He sounded like an amazing man. As Caren described him, “Josh was the epitome of doing. He took his intentions and acted on them. After his death, we said that he lived life without hesitation.” She closed her email to me by attaching a text that Josh had sent to her and her husband on New Year’s Eve, just hours before he was killed. As Caren put it, “He thought it, he sent it. We will treasure it for the rest of our lives.”

Leave nothing important unsaid.

5- 4- 3- 2- 1 go ahead and say it.

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