Strengthening your conflict resolution chops isn’t about learning a new skill and then trying to use it in your most difficult conversation. Just as you wouldn’t (I hope) start running one day and try a marathon the following week, acquiring new conflict resolution habits are about a slow, steady build. You can learn to resolve conflict better in 30-second chunks.
In 2010 I was out for my morning run with my two dogs. It was 5:30 a.m. on an April morning and barely light. I headed down a quiet side street, headed for the park. Distracted by the beauty of one house’s stone walls, I didn’t see the sunken manhole cover in my path but I couldn’t miss the terrible cracking and popping sounds from my foot and ankle as I caught the edge of it with my running shoe and crashed to the pavement, tangled in the leashes of dogs trying desperately to clear the way.
Forty minutes of hopping home on one foot, two years of misdiagnoses, insufficient physical therapy, virtually no running, and one lucky New York Times article later, I found myself in the office of a soft tissue expert who seemed to have performed a miracle on my foot and ankle.
“When can I start running again?” I asked. “Now,” he said and I wanted to hug him. I did hug him, come to think of it. “Go out tomorrow and jog for 30 seconds. Then walk for 30 seconds. Then jog for 30 seconds and walk for 30 seconds. Stop after 5 minutes. No more.”
Wait a minute. Let me take back that hug.
Thirty seconds? That’s not a run. That’s a…well, there’s not even a word for a 30-second slow jog. It doesn’t have a word because it’s not worth inventing a word for something as pathetic as that. But I promised to be dutiful. Skeptical, but dutiful.
Slowly, I built up to running one minute at a time, then 5 minutes. In a month, I could run 3 miles. It’s not that I couldn’t have gone out the first day and run a mile or more. It’s that it wasn’t smart to treat my wayward peroneal tendon that way. I needed to cut it some slack and be a little patient. My mother always said I had all the patience in the world for others and then none left over for myself. I had to change that.
Want to practice getting into their movie? Practice in low-stakes moments and for 30 or 60 seconds at a time. Want to practice the Ok Right Now mini-meditation to stay calm during conflict? Practice it in instances where it’s easier to check out of a conversation for a moment. Want to remember your centering question when you need it most? Practice asking yourself the question out of the blue when you’re on the checkout line at the grocery store or mildly ticked off at your partner.
How do you create mini-moments to practice new habits?