On the podcast today, Laura and I are discussing “The Line”, a concept she introduced me to a few months ago. The idea is this: there is an imaginary horizontal line running through your life that you can be above or below at any given time.
Below, you’re a lesser version of yourself – jealous, insecure, petty, rude, afraid, playing the victim, feeling sorry for yourself, blaming, whining, moping, criticizing, and otherwise being a small person. Above of course you’re the best version of yourself – generous, kind, compassionate, patient, optimistic, present, helpful, aware, taking responsibility, and acting and reacting gracefully. When you’re below the line, you allow your circumstances to drive and justify bad behaviour. When you’re above the line, you recognize that bad things will happen, but your reaction to them is your responsibility alone.
What I love most about this concept is that it’s so intuitive. I think most people, myself included, can tell when they’re below the line. I personally can feel it almost physically, it’s this sense of guilt or shame or disappointment in myself that I feel in my gut when I’ve acted or reacted in a below-the-line kind of way. And we can also tell when we’ve been above the line, because it feels good to be above.
It’s so normal to be below the line, and so human to have automatic reflex reactions to negative situations based on our fears and insecurities. It’s much harder to act gracefully when bad things happen, to flip your script to get some perspective and practice gratitude. It’s the struggle of our lives, most definitely. We don’t have to stay above the line all the time (and we probably couldn’t even if we tried our darnedest) but we do have to try. We do have to try and stay present and aware to how we’re acting and use our internal compass to tell us which side of the line we’re on. We have to fight against our automatic tendencies and patterns. We have to try and live above the line and only make short visits below. It’s really very hard, but it’s also the whole point if we want to be the best versions of ourselves.
I’ve been finding it so helpful to just have this metaphor and language to use in everyday life. Today as I was running at the track, annoyed over and over again by all the oblivious walkers taking up the whole width, my internal monologue was something like “thelinethelinethelinethelinetheline”. It helped me shift my focus to my funny podcast and the lovely breeze, and reminded me to practice compassion and just do the best that I could under the circumstances.
In the elevator coming home it was sweaty tired me and a pursed-lipped older woman, but as I was avoiding eye contact, already thinking ahead to all the things I had to do before work, I thought “thelinethelinetheline” and looked up at her. She smiled and laughed, mimed running, and said some things in Korean I wish I could understand before getting off on her floor. That’s all, that’s the whole story. It won’t change my day or hers, but it was a little moment we shared, a small pocket of human connection. Both of us were above the line – being open instead of closed, friendly instead of avoidant, kind instead of annoyed.
You can listen to the whole episode, which includes our tips for staying above the line as much as possible, right here.