When I started reading Stumbling on Happiness I didn’t expect to have my lifetime of procrastination and last-minute anxiety explained.
I didn’t even think I needed (or deserved) an explanation beyond “Cheri’s a Sanguine, and Sanguines are flakes.”
Here’s a new concept I find compelling, comforting, and challenging:
Gilbert points out that when we see little black specks on a prairie horizon, we recognize them — visually — to be buffalo located far away. We do not look at them and think, “They are tiny; thus, they must be insects.” The fact that they are vague and blurry signals to our brains that they are far away.
Conversely, recognize insects not just because they are small but also because we see the wings and legs; we see details! Visually, we do very well at recognizing that vagueness and blurriness indicate distance while details signal closeness.
When a buffalo comes walking across the prairie toward us, we do not act appalled that it has hooves or fur or eyelashes or other details we couldn’t see when it was far away. We know that the closer it comes, the more details we will see. This is normal for us, visually speaking.
However, when it comes to dealing with time – specifically planning for the future, – Sanguines can go “all wonky” (as my daughter would say)!
When I “see” something on the horizon of my future, it’s all vague and blurry. I have a “feel” for it. This vague, blurry feel is typically the “why” of the future event, and I make my decisions based on that why.
But as that vague and blurry future gets closer, inevitably becoming the up-close detailed present, I am shocked — positively appalled! — by all the details I did not agree to! The myriad details of the how throw me into conniption fits.
Gilbert illustrates this by asking how many times we’ve committed to something a month or two ahead of time, thrilled by the concept of being (for example) a doting aunt and loving sister — “Yes, I’d love to babysit my nephews!” But when the time actually comes, the reality of screaming children, snotty noses, and poopy diapers bears no resemblance to what I initially agreed upon because I agreed to the why of a concept not the how of the details!
Applying this to myself as a (50%) Sanguine, and I’ve got nothing but trouble! I’m a visionary, so I love saying “yes” to new ideas! I love the ideas. I love how I expect I’ll feel when the vague, blurry idea occurs!
But as the commitment draws closer, my (50%) Choleric side knows it should be checking details off a list. Well, Sanguine Cheri didn’t sign up for no stinkin’ details. I signed up for a glorious “why”!
Finally, when disaster is imminent, Choleric Cheri knows she has to take action. Having procrastinated as long as possible (because Sanguine Cheri wants to bask in the glory of the glorious “why” as long as possible before reality comes crashing down around her) I am then stuck trying to execute dozens, if not hundreds, of soul-killing details in an absurdly short period of time.
Three new things I’m going to do when I’m invited to make a commitment that I think might be a good fit for me:
- I will ask for time to think. I will set aside time for quiet and meditation and prayer. Then I’ll set a timer for 30 minutes during which I will brainstorm every possible detail that needs to be handled in order for this commitment to be a success by my standards.
- I’ll take my list to Daniel and ask him what worst case scenarios I’ve left off my list. As a Melancholy, he is well qualified to “rain on my parade” and pre-commitment is when I want (or at least need!) to have my spirits dampened.
- I will then prayerfully consider whether or not I can say “yes” to everything on the list. Not just the vague and blurry “why” of glory, but to all the nitty-gritty details required to get me there.
If I say “no,” thank heavens for all involved!
If I say “yes,” then my next step is to take all of those brainstormed details, prioritize them, and then spread them out on my calendar starting that day so I can chip away at them a little bit at a time.