UNDERSTATED

Today’s inspiration comes from an unusual source and the journey to my point is meandering, so walk with me. This morning at the gym I saw something that made me chuckle. A woman was “climbing” her heart out on the treadmill at a steep incline while reaching for the handles in front of her, her body tilted awkwardly backwards and grabbing on for dear life. She was really into it too, believing no doubt that she was challenging her body. But here’s the thing: By putting her body in this position (or in other words by remaining perpendicular to the treadmill), she may as well have been walking with no incline. The whole point of a climb is to lean in to the movement. That’s what makes it such a killer workout for the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and lower back. So here she was overdoing it for essentially no reason at all.

A few hours later I received a text from a friend that read, “Hi!!!! How are you?!!!!!” She’s a notorious over-exclaimer (one who incorrectly uses two or more exclamation points when one–or none–will do), which drives the grammarian in me wacko(!!!!!). If you suffer from this affliction, read Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

A few hours after that, an acquaintance called to give me her unsolicited opinion on something. She’s always doing that. In fact, a lot of people around me are always doing that. When did giving our opinion too freely, too vociferously, and usually without request become a desirable behavior? Is it because our opinions–much like our selfies–have become synonymous with our identity?  To selfie or not to selfie? To not be opinionated is to commit the modern crime of being (insert dramatic sting) inauthentic (insert gasp of horror).

Jim Rohn wrote, “Better understated than overstated. Let people be surprised that it was more than you promised and easier than you said.” There is wisdom in that notion, don’t you agree? In our culture of overstatement, oversharing, overdoing, and over-exclaiming, understatement might be the porcupine of ideas: a hard notion to embrace.

Let’s get into the prickly spines of understatement, a term associated with subtlety. I’ve often heard it used with elegance and sophistication, but rarely with much else. I know from my French language and culture studies that linguistically the French prefer understatement (He’s not bad looking) to hyperbole (He’s drop dead gorgeous). Subtlety itself can often carry negative undertones, perhaps being confused with indirectness, timidity, inefficiency, or passive aggressiveness. Maybe that’s why we tend towards overstatement.

Two antonyms of understatement are ‘to amplify’ or ‘to exaggerate’. Yet, I find subtlety to be one of the best approaches to amplification, like using a bit of coffee when making brownies (coffee makes chocolate taste more chocolatey), shadow when painting light (darkness makes light brighter), or silence when talking (quiet makes space for conversation). Understatement is the white space of communication. It’s the last idea that carries significant weight when it comes to self-development and development of relationships (which is after all the entire point of my blogs).

When you next have a chance, give the gift of the ultimate understatement to yourself and to others: silence.
Before going overboard in your mind about something, talking yourself into or out of an idea by playing it out to the worst potential outcome, the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do, or the dumbest idea you’ve ever had, try silencing your mind by understating the negative.
Before you speak, listen. And listen completely. Don’t interrupt the person you’re talking with.
Before giving your opinion, ask if the other person wants it. Don’t assume that’s why someone is discussing something with you. Maybe they just need to be heard. Take note that a common unintended result of this is that over time people will begin to seek your opinion more. Something to do with silence being akin to intelligence, insight, and wisdom.

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