My friend was telling me about how he was doing a diet with his sister. More importantly, how he was suppressing his excitement about the new diet’s effectiveness so that his sister would be more excited about it. This is the first time he has consciously done this and it is born of past diet attempts when he was very excited and his sister was not. He was wondering why that was the case? Why did he have to dampen his excitement to avoid killing other people’s excitement and motivation to do things?
In the past, I had tried to speak with my friend about this very same subject, though not very well because I had not figured it out myself. Telling him how his excitement affected me didn’t really help him to understand because he is not wired that way (he is a thinker type). So I was very glad when he broached the subject because it meant that he is ready to learn. As they say, when the student is ready, the master will teach?
I explain that he tends to get extremely excited about things. He admits that he has cultivated the ability to pump himself up to atmospheric heights, to motivate himself to achieve. I reply that it is a great skill to have; but unfortunately, some (if not most) people don’t have that ability and their excitement (and motivation) usually builds slowly. And that his way can kill their way. Some people build their excitement like a small campfire and he, in turn, is the forest fire sweeping down on them. They are not going to keep nursing their fire, they are going to abandon it and get the heck out of there.
To further clarify, I reminded him about how we spoke about a first date I had a couple of months ago. I told my friend that the date went well, that I felt attracted to her, and was excited to go on more dates to get to know her better. My friend commented how wonderful that is and as he spoke more about it, he got visibly more excited in voice tone (faster and louder) and more expansive in body language (waving his hands about). My friend talked about how my date was a great match for me, pulling in details (that I had told him) such as how her teaching job gave her the summer off so she could travel and how I loved to travel. And when I married her and had kids, we could travel as a family in the summer because the kids would also get summer off from school. And since Valentine’s Day was coming up, my friend told me that I should plan a weekend trip as a test run to see how well we would travel together. Within a few minutes, my friend was at least 10 times more excited and pumped up about my date than I was. Suddenly, I wasn’t as excited about my date anymore. In fact, I was not feeling much of anything about the subject beyond a growing annoyance at your friend. I wasn’t sure why I was getting irritated; I only knew that I was. Why did that happening?
As far as I can determine, the loss of excitement is caused by the large dissonance between my excitement and my friend’s excitement. His extreme exuberance made me want to protect my small kernel of hope by going numb. I ended up feeling, well, not very excited at all. Because do you know who was really, really excited? My friend was. Maybe he should date the woman, I thought. This feeling and thought dampened my excitement down to zero.
I think this comparison happens for most everything (though I’m training myself not do it). Say that you are great at tennis; you enjoy it and love playing it. Then you meet a new friend who is 10 times better than you. Suddenly, you’re not feeling so good about tennis and don’t think you are great at it; actually, you think you’re a horrible tennis player. You feel bad. Even though you are better than most people, the comparison makes you feel that you are worse.
My friend says that he doesn’t react that way to the dissonance. That he wants to meet very excited people because he wants to become even more excited. I think there is truth to that. When someone is a little more excited than you, you can become more excited by association. However, when someone is 10-100 times more excited than you, it can serve as a dampener. Because he constantly pumps himself up so much, I doubt that my friend has encountered anyone who is 10 times more excited than him about anything that he wants to be excited about.
My friend is a brainstormer and problem solver. As I’m sure most women know, men generally will interrupt with solutions when all you may want is a friendly sympathetic ear. (This is why when a friend tells me about something troubling; I try to ask first, do you want suggestions to fix the problem?) I believe this focus on fixing is the cause of my annoyance above. His excitement is causing him to plan out my future. He means well. Unfortunately, the end state is that he is “telling” me what my future will be and what I should do to realize that future. His excitement makes him very forceful in tone, like he is commanding me. Nobody likes to be told what to do. I know he means well so my rational mind attempts to suppress the irritation while my subconscious is reacting very badly.
To help my friend, I coined the term “supportive excitement”. I told him that I believed that supportive excitement is what he should have as a goal and what he is aiming for with his sister. (D’oh! Here I am, telling him what to do.) He quickly objected, “But that’s what I do. I pump up other people’s excitement.” I replied, the emphasis is on supportive, support comes before your excitement. He asked me what that meant.
It means don’t be more excited than the other person. Be just a bit less excited and at worse, a little more excited. You want your excitement to reinforce theirs, not overwhelm. This is not a battle of attrition; you are on the same side. You want to give that person the gift of motivating himself. In turn, by trying to increase your mutual, supportive excitement, he will increase his own excitement and motivation.
And it means not dreaming or brainstorming more than they would. If they are dreaming up one or two good outcomes in the near future (like a second or third date), while you are coming up with 50 good outcomes spanning from the near future to the distant future (when they are married with kids), you have effectively overwhelmed any small hopeful dreams they may have. Again, the emphasis is on “supportive”. You want to re-enforce what small dreams they have, not overwhelm and kill off all their hopeful buddings. Rather than coming up with a vision of their life (can you see how assuming and offensive that is?) and throwing out your ideas on what they should do, you should ask them to expand on their small dreams. Give them the gift of cultivating their own hopes and dreams.
I think supportive excitement is what my friend is attempting to do with his sister concerning their new diet. I hope that I at least helped him to understand what he is trying to do so that he can be more effective at it. I can see that if he drops into his normal, volcanic, pumped-up excitement mode, it may just kill whatever motivation his sister has. And that would not be good for either of them, because in the end, he also needs her to maintain his own excitement and motivation.