One of my favorite columns by writer Martha Beck is “You Spot It, You’ve Got it!” It appeared in the July 2004 issue of Oprah Magazine.
The article describes a cognitive phenomena that psychologist Daniel Wegner calls IMP: ironic monitoring process.
In essence, IMP is our powerful tendency to recognize our own faults in others.
We need to feel good about ourselves–it’s human nature. To do so, we often tend to overlook our own flaws and shortcomings.
But since our brains also tend to think about the things we’re trying not to think about (“brass monkeys!”), this “blind spot” makes us hypersensitive to the same flaw we’re trying to repress, in others.
The result is a dynamic of “you spot it, you got it.”
Hence the artist who reamed me out a few years ago (“for your own good”) about me being stuck with “same tired old techniques and the same tired old designs”…whose own work had not changed in 20 years. Hence the hypercritical teacher who, it turns out, was battling the same demons I was.
And hence my impatience with people I see making the same mistakes I struggle with.
There are some people who take this tendency to extremes. Their cognitive dissonance about what they’re doing makes them difficult to even be around. Once we recognize what they’re doing, we can take steps to avoid them.
But there’s also an interesting flip side to this tendency. And there’s something positive to be gained by recognizing it.
Sometimes, I find that the people who are the most aggravating in my life have much to teach me….about myself. It’s an opportunity to work on the same tendency in me.
And sometimes, I find the people who are hounding me the most about some perceived “lack” on my part, are simply looking for me to be their hero.
In their mind, if I can overcome this flaw, this adversity, this setback, this roadblock….
…then maybe there is hope for them.
Maybe they can overcome theirs.
This actually happened to me recently. There was someone who seemed to be pushing me about overcoming injury, who seemed determined to not take my age into account when it comes to my abilities.
It turns out that person needs to know they can overcome their injuries. And they are hoping age will not eventually hamper their efforts.
The artist who thought I was stuck, made huge creative leaps forward, and is enjoying huge success from it. (I wish I could claim credit, but she did it on her own.)
Sometimes we are the very demon we fight against.
And sometimes, we are someone else’s angel.