I’m at a bar in Alaska, nursing an eight-dollar screwdriver, when the bartender asks if she can change the tv channel. I’ve been absorbed in picking apart my cardboard coaster so, no, I don’t mind.
She surfs through the channels, skipping Fox News and a fishing show, till she finds what she wants: a live broadcast of a poker game.
I know less than nothing about poker. How many cards do you get? How much are those little plastic coin things worth? Why is it fun to watch a bunch of dudes play cards?
I pick at my coaster and half-listen while the announcer says “Now, that’s a common tell. We’ll have to see how this plays out.”
And my former English teacher ears perk up because TELL IS NOT A NOUN WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???
So I do what anyone in 2017 does: I google “poker tell.”
In poker parlance, a ‘tell’ is “a change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that is claimed by some to give clues to that player’s assessment of their hand. A player gains an advantage if they observe and understand the meaning of another player’s tell, particularly if the tell is unconscious and reliable.”
There are huge listicles and even entire books devoted to spotting these tells. Experts have written thousands of words about unconscious behavior changes that belie someone’s belief about their state of mind.
I thought about the ‘tells’ in my own life, the things I unconsciously do when I’m tired, frustrated, or unhappy.
I remembered grad school and how my roommate would joke about my “depression pasta” – the bowl of noodles, butter, and cheese I’d always eat when I was overwhelmed by juggling coursework and two jobs.
She’d come home and if she saw a bowl in the sink that had clearly contained noodles and cheese, she’d wander out into the living room, point at the bowl, and ask “Are you okay?”
I thought about my tendency to bury myself in busywork – answering emails, formatting photos – when I have a big, intimidating task on my plate. Any time I find myself checking (and rechecking) email, it’s usually because I’m avoiding something.
We’ve all got tells. Most of us have a specific set of things we do, eat, or say when we’re feeling overwhelmed – and we might be completely unaware of them.
Our voice gets high when we’re saying yes to something we’re uncomfortable with. We eat comfort food after every interaction with a specific friend. We fall down a Netflix hole anytime it’s rainy or overcast.
3 ways to Be More Self-Aware Of Your Knee-Jerk Bad Habits
Notice what you do when you’re overwhelmed or upset
I mean, obviously, right? AND YET.
When we’re in the midst of a terrible mood, it’s rare that we take the time to notice how we’re dealing with it. We’re often so busy trying to feel better, we don’t take time to step back and consider that maybe pizza rolls won’t solve this problem, Sarah?
We’re so busy self-medicating with social media, food, shopping, alcohol, or gossip we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing.
Next time you’re feeling bad, allow your usual coping mechanisms to run their course. This time observe your behavior with objectivity, love, and curiosity. When you do this, try speaking about yourself to yourself in third person. It’s been proven to help control emotions!
“Hmmm, looks like Chris is avoiding returning that call by flipping through Instagram. Interesting!” “Ooop, there she goes making pasta she’s not hungry for because it’s dark and cold and she has the house to herself.” “Talking shit about a professional peer after getting a snarky client email. Interesting choice, Jesse!”
Ask someone close to you if they’ve noticed any go-to behaviors when you’re clearly unhappy
Did you know that only 15% of people are truly self-aware? That means most of us are completely unaware of our behavior and how it’s interpreted by those around us.
If you’re feeling brave/emotionally solvent, ask your partner, best friend, or roommate if they’ve noticed you doing specific things when you’re upset.
And, uh, be prepared to be surprised and/or hear things you didn’t necessarily want to hear.
For example, I recently learned that when Kenny (lovingly) calls me out and I’m uncomfortable because I know he’s right, my tells are:
a) tickling him
b) hiding inside my scarf
c) literally pulling a blanket over my head???
In summary, I am very cool and super fun to be married to.
When you find yourself doing these things, say to yourself “I’m [insert thing you’re doing] because I’m [how you feel]”
These tells matter because they’re unconscious. We’re not actively choosing to peruse Facebook when we’re feeling lonely. I’m not thinking “I feel exhausted from working too hard today and I know pizza rolls will make me feel better.”
If we can acknowledge our behavior and notice how it ties to our emotions, it’s easier to choose a different reaction.
You can say:
“I’m pawing through the sales rack at Target because I’m bored.”
“I’m binge watching Will & Grace because I’m sad about the state of the world and I want some escapism.”
“I’m eating this third piece of cake because I don’t know anyone at this party and I’m feeling socially anxious.”
Of course eating three slices of cake or buying a $23 sweater isn’t the end of the world! And you should absolutely do those things – if you really, actually want to do them.
But if those behaviors are your bad mood tells and you’d like to change them, it’s totally possible.
Once you notice how you cope with challenges, you can choose to cope differently. Click To Tweet
I want to hear from you! What are your ‘tells’? Are you aware of them? What ‘tells’ do you see in the people around you?
P.S. This is exactly the sort of thing we talk about in my free, private Facebook group Money & Happy. Click here to join us!