This weekend we were at Wal-Mart purchasing a new microwave. The cashier was having a hard time ringing the appliance up – every time she scanned in the bar code and serial number, the register gave her an error message. At first the cashier decided she was scanning in the wrong bar codes, so she tried different ones on the box even though the ones she were scanning were clearly labeled. It wasn’t long before she got frustrated and after each error message on the register, she’d go back to the machine and start hitting the clear button furiously. She was hitting the button so hard it apparently sent a notification to the front line supervisor who came out with a portable device in hand to remedy the situation.
The supervisor saw the cashier beating on the register and yelled out, “Nancy! Don’t hit the keys so hard! You’ll break the register.” At this point, I got the giggles. I actually spent the rest of the day periodically mimicking the supervisor by yelling out, “Nancy!!,” for no good reason. Each time, I would crack up laughing at the incongruity of the whole situation at the store earlier.
The next day, though, it dawned on me: I’ve certainly been guilty of “being a Nancy” in the past. It’s easy to see where I’ve used brute physical force repeatedly in misguided attempts to make something work. I’m not the most mechanically-inclined person in the world, so I’ve definitely had my share of those actions. But there are other emotional behaviors I saw paralleled when I took time to reflect on a deeper level.
The main idea, of course, is the whole definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. How many times have I tried a diet thinking this was the one that was going to work? How many times have I tried to change people by repeatedly saying the same things to them? How many times have I procrastinated, telling myself that it would be no big deal to get it done later? Lots and lots and lots of times. Thankfully I’m engaging in those behaviors less and less these days and my life is being restored to sanity.
As an outsider, it was easy to see Nancy’s behavior as insane. She clearly was not going to get a different result the next time she scanned both bar codes then went to her register to abuse the keyboard again. I’m not sure how much longer she would have kept trying the same method if a supervisor didn’t intervene, but I think she would have stopped and reassessed the situation to think of a new solution before long.
It’s not as easy to see when we’re engaging in this type of insane behavior emotionally, though. Especially when we’re the ones doing it. I can spot this pattern pretty quickly in others, but not always immediately in myself. It’s not fun or easy to notice ugly behaviors about ourselves – and I think that prevents a lot of honest self-appraisal. Who wants to admit they’re participating in emotional insanity? It’s not usually one of my favorite things to do. Thinking about the metaphor of Nancy banging on the cash register, though, makes it a bit easier for me to admit my own faults. I can catch myself trying to control someone through my words or actions and then visualize Nancy attacking her machine to make me smile. For me, it’s a kinder, gentler – yet powerful – way to remind myself to take a step back.
Today’s lesson for me is: Don’t Be A Nancy. I want to recognize when I’m trying to force an outcome or repeating a behavior that is clearly not beneficial to me or anyone else. I don’t want a “supervisor” to have to come and correct my actions, so I’m going to hold the Nancy image close to my heart as a loving reminder lesson.