눈치 Quest Part 3: Self-Reflection

At this point, after having defined 눈치 and researched the science behind it and how to go about doing it, the next step is to take a look inward and see how and why I have succeeded or failed in the past. This is always the toughest part, but also the part that allows for growth.

I will start with the positive. One area I feel fairly confident in my abilities is as a parent. While I certainly make mistakes, I have always felt pretty dialed in to my daughter. I can usually tell why she’s upset before she tells me, and when she’ll get upset (or happy) before it happens. We were at a birthday party recently and the person running the party started a game where if you messed up and didn’t follow his instructions, you were “out.” Of course, my daughter (who is 3), being the free spirit that she is, was the first one “out” but continued playing despite the man’s efforts to . It was then that I saw what was about to transpire in perfect clarity, but before he even spoke, I was starting to get up to tell him not to do what he was about to do. Sadly, I wasn’t fast enough and was only able to comfort her in the tear-filled aftermath, after he forcibly excluded her from the activity. In fact, the ultimate reason 눈치 is such a critical skill is for when you are raising a child. From infancy and for several years, the child cannot effectively verbally communicate what she needs to you, and in many cases does not know herself, but she still has needs that need to be fulfilled or nurtured by others. It’s amazing during the first year of life how much you can attune yourself to the needs of a baby who can only make a few sounds and gestures. I’m sure this is why women are naturally better at 눈치than men are.

So now to the negative. I realize now that there are three main causes for my shortcomings in this area, lack of attention, lack of self-awareness, and fear/anxiety.

As I talked about in the previous post, it is very hard to connect with others if you aren’t paying attention fully. Like most of Americans, my smart phone is a constant distraction, along with TVs in every restaurant and constant noise pollution. Part of being attentive is just having some mind control to focus on the present, and recently I’ve been using mindfulness meditation to help with this. I won’t say the results are amazing so far, but the improvement is definitely noticeable. Mainly, now every once in a while, I check in with myself to make sure I’m paying attention. I also try to maintain eye contact when speaking to others. The other part, external distractions, is more insidious. The only thing I’ve found that works is to make the effort to remove the distractions before starting any interactions with others. Turn off notifications on the phone or even better, put it in another room with the notifications off. In David Rock’s book, he recommends removing temptations while your willpower is feeling strong, so then you don’t have to fight these urges when you are worn down.

The next part is learning and maintaining self awareness. This is really difficult if it isn’t something you’ve done your whole life, which I definitely have not. Part of this goes back to the discussion of the brain being a lens in my previous post. When someone says something to you, your perception of that statement is colored by your past experiences, and if you’re not careful, you can easily misinterpret their statements and react totally inappropriately. This is especially true with systemic biases. Only by being self-aware can we take a step back and question whether our thoughts and reactions are accurate assessments or biased distortions.

The last issue, and this is the one that has always been my biggest hurdle, is fear and anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve connected with someone, read the situation properly, but then that little voice in my head said “what if you’re wrong? What if you offend them? What if you get embarrassed?” And so I did nothing, and later on, I always regretted it. Somehow, that stupid amygdala finds a way to sabotage everything. This doesn’t just affect my interactions with friends and extended family, but also my wife and siblings. Lately, I have been trying to push my boundaries in small ways in order to conquer the fears and quiet the lizard brain, and it has been very rewarding. One way I can do this is to practice things like attentiveness, eye contact, and general openness with random people I interact with during my day like people I meet while walking my dog, other parents at the playground, etc. It’s a low risk proposition because if it annoys them or freaks them out, I likely won’t see them again, or they’ll just avoid me. In general, though, I find people are desperate for human interaction and connection. This is especially true in this area, where people see each other mainly as obstacles they have to get around to get to their next appointment. Initially, when you take the time to connect with people, they are often taken aback, but it’s amazing what people will share with you when they realize they are talking to someone who will actually listen and care what they have to say.

Korean language learning is another place where I am constantly having to push myself past that feeling of anxiety and fear. One issue in this regard is that when stressed, our brain triggers release of cortizol, which impedes learning and memory. When I am doing a language exchange, it’s amazing how when I’m happy and relaxed, I retain so much more information than when I’m stressed and anxious. So by pushing myself to do these exchanges, I train myself to overcome the anxiety and become comfortable, so I can take advantage of these learning opportunities. Like the other thing I practiced before, I have always practiced more with people I don’t know well, as my anxiety level is much higher with my in-laws and family friends. I also find group language exchanges like language exchange Meetups incredibly intimidating because there is always the anxiety around how my skills compare to others. These are areas I’m going to push myself in to allow for greater growth.

So the quest continues. I have a lot of work to do, in a lot of different areas, but I’m going to keep pushing, keep fighting the fear and anxiety, and keep growing. I’ll try to keep the following posts shorter and more anecdotal, but also pass along any tidbits of knowledge I pick up along the way.

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