How to skip the small talk

How to Skip the Small Talk: What’s Your Personal Project?

Every time you’re at a party or any other kind of social gathering, you bump into someone new and almost invariably, they’ll ask you some variant of the following question that has formed the backbone of small talk and the bane of existence for many of us:

“What do you do?”

Talk about a loaded question.

Depending on your answer, this person is going to decide whether or not they’re going to bother pursuing a conversation with you, or listen to you with their eyes glazed over before politely having to attend to a life-threatening emergency.

There are so many possible implications that may arise from this question. They’re deciding if you’re of a high enough status, how much attention to give you, trying to determine your net worth, your ideas and values etc.

People making small talk

I’ve always had trouble answering this question, because I’m never doing the same thing for very long. Sure, I’ve been a student for many years on end, but I certainly don’t want to be defined as a student!

Now, let’s create an imaginary member of our society, Generic Jimmy.

Let’s give Generic Jimmy a profession that sounds quite dull on the surface, or perhaps one that really is quite dull.

Let’s make Jimmy an accountant.

While he doesn’t usually jump out of bed, excited to go to work, perhaps Jimmy has played a vital role in protecting the endangered species of birds in his area, or maybe he enjoys tinkering with classic cars in his backyard in the evenings. What should he say when asked about what it is he does?

There’s a lot more to each person than what they’re (usually) forced to do in order to survive in our society.

So, what should we do instead?

What to Say/Ask Instead

If you are the one asking:

I’d suggest that you skip the “what do you do?” and use this question instead:

What are your personal projects?

It’s an elegant question that does two things.

  • One, it allows the recipient of this question to talk about the things they love doing, especially if it does not relate to their professional life. It gets to the root of what they are truly interested in, rather than forcing them to talk about what they have to do for work.
  • Two, if they don’t know what you mean, they’ll probably ask you, and that leads to a conversation in itself!

I’ve tried this a few times myself and it works wonders. Instead of the dreaded small talk, this question shifts the conversation into an engaging and interesting topic, where both participants are able to understand and get to know each other, and get to the heart of what truly interests them.

If you are the one answering:

Now for the tricky bit. If you’re on the receiving end of this question, you can turn this to your advantage and pose a counter question. So it’ll look something like this:

A: So uhh.. (staring into wine glass, attempting to come up with an innovative question) What do you do?

You: Well, I could talk about work, I’m a/an (fill in the blank), but that’s quite boring. I do have a few personal projects that I’m involved in.

I’m willing to bet that they’ll ask about your personal projects.

But What About That Other Question?

There’s a chance they’ll ask you “What do you do for a living?“, in which case you’re positively screwed.

Okay, not really. For almost any question, you can be creative and try to sidestep the question, but my suggestion is to simply answer the question, and casually redirect them later by asking them about their personal projects instead. That way, you steer them to a topic in which you both actually have an interest in.

Your Turn!

What about you? How would you like to be defined? Or better yet, what are your personal projects? I’d love to see your answers in the comments!

 

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258 Days of Tracking My Happiness

What Happened After Tracking My Happiness?

Read Time: 6 Minutes

A curious thing happens when you start tracking your happiness. In fact, for me, it was more than that.

It began with a simple routine of recording my happiness levels every day. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but soon enough (and I’m not exaggerating when I say this),  my life started changing.

I’ve now been tracking my happiness for exactly 258 days.

What’s happened in that time?

1. I Became More Mindful Overall

As a person, I tend to be inside my head quite a lot and I often find myself lost in my thoughts.

After I started writing about my daily habits, my emotional state, and my daily activities, I noticed a couple of improvements:

  • First, I became aware of changes in my mood and what was causing the changes.
  • I started dealing with people a lot better. For instance, I realised that sometimes I would get snappy at people because of something completely unrelated, so when I felt that happening, I could dial it back.

Once I became aware of this, I was able to manage my response in most situations and remind myself not to make any rash decisions or say something I wouldn’t be able to take back.

2. I Could Learn From My Mistakes

Around the time I started tracking my happiness, I was trapped in a toxic relationship. I didn’t realise it at the time though, so I kept trying my best to fix things, not realising that my girlfriend did not want our relationship to improve.

Looking back, there were many warning signs: The verbal abuse, the deception, irresponsibility and lack of mutual respect. I ignored many of these signs because I wanted the relationship to work.

During this period, my happiness data indicated that I was at an all time low. Even though it was clear that it was this relationship that was causing it, I couldn’t bring myself to leave.

You can see it quite clearly in these two charts of the the worst two months:

Happiness chart Oct 2017Happiness chart Nov 2017

The charts of the worst months of 2017

average happiness nov

Quite a number of bad days in November.

Those huge dips were very significant periods and are actually the reason I became more aware of the problems in my life, and that I needed to deal with them.

You can also see how erratic my emotional state was at the time. Certainly not what you’d want to see, and are clear warning bells.

Those high points on the chart occurred only when I was staying elsewhere or hanging out with other friends and didn’t have to deal with the strain of my relationship.

Eventually, I reached my breaking point and left her for good. I had also been living in an extremely pessimistic environment up until then, and I left that too. My happiness levels started shooting upwards and began to stabilise.

Take a look at the difference in the months immediately after I made these changes – December, 2017 and January, 2018:

 

It’s quite clear that the levels have stabilised in comparison to the previous months.

Looking back on my journal from that period, it astounds me that I allowed myself to stay in that situation for so long. I could see from the way I was writing about my experiences at the time that I was completely blind to the real issues in my life and wasn’t thinking rationally.

The ability to look back and review my own thoughts provides a unique insight into the workings of my own mind at a certain point in time, and enables me to see how much I’ve changed since then. It’s almost freaky, how different I was back then.

I think if you attempt this, it will be very interesting to look back on your past self and be able to read about your own thoughts. You might be surprised at the fact that you can hardly recognise yourself.

3. I Could Better Understand Other People

It’s strange, but I’ve found that the key to understanding other people, is to first understand yourself.

Yeah, I know that sounds like I pulled it out of a fortune cookie, but noticing my own behaviour helped me become more in tune with how other people might be feeling.

If people were behaving strangely or being short with me, I was more aware that they could have many things on their plate, and that almost always, their behaviour wasn’t personal at all.

Just recently, I was having some trouble with a close friend. Our friendship had taken a strange turn and we hadn’t spoken to each other in a while although nothing obvious had happened to drive a wedge between us.

It took me a while, but I eventually decided to give them a call and find out what was going on. In just two minutes, the entire issue was cleared up! It turns out that our friendship wasn’t the problem at all, it was something personal that they were going through, so I did what I could to support them and our communication significantly improved.

Most of all, I think I learned to be more understanding and patient with others, rather than taking things personally and unnecessarily escalating things.

4. The Process of Writing Helps Me Deal With Issues

A lot of the time, people tend to find themselves in a chaotic head space when they have a lot on their plate, and I am no exception.

I found that writing about my emotional state and describing issues in detail forces me to confront them and take the time to deconstruct each problem. This usually allows me to understand the issue, and that calms the chaos in my head. It’s almost like clearing the RAM in your system.

Observing a problem seems to have the effect of making it lose its grip on me. I’m not the only one who believes this: Jordan Peterson, a well-known clinical psychologist, talks about this phenomenon and encourages the process of writing as a way to deal with unresolved issues.

I also noticed that meditation helped a lot in maintaining balance in my life. When I took a long break from meditation, my happiness levels were a little lower and tended to be more erratic.

The Strongest Link to Happiness

I started looking into the factors that affected my happiness and noticed that for me, idleness is a major cause of unhappiness. I don’t like spending my day watching tv shows, for example. I’m far happier when I’m engaged in various activities.

This is why I’ve started working on so many experiments and challenges. They are engaging and make me feel much happier. In fact, I’ve written about My Blueprint to Happiness as a result of these observations.

A major factor that leads to happiness for me is the quality of the relationships I have with people. The number of people do not matter as much as the strength of the bond I have with them.

I’ll leave you with this study conducted by Harvard and you can tell me what you think! In fact, I encourage you to try tracking happiness yourself and see what your findings are.

 

Here’s One For You:

As time passes, do you think we’re essentially the same people? Or are we completely different individuals? What is it that makes you, well, you?