A few weeks ago, a straggly group of individuals walked into a gas station while I was pumping gas. They seemed to be a family walking from their nearby home, but I’m not really sure. All I know is that they looked like they had had a long day.
As they were walking by, I happened to make eye contact with the person in the front of the group, and I gave him a subtle smile and a head non. Nothing too fancy. Just what I would consider to be a typical nicety.
But for some reason, this guy acted like this little gesture made his day. His eyes lit up, and a wide smile flashed across his face as he nodded back.
In total, the whole interaction probably took two seconds.
But that moment has stuck with for weeks now. In particular, there are two things that struck me.
First is how simple it was. No one made any real effort or did anything difficult. We didn’t even exchange any words.
Second is how powerful that interaction was. I had been having a pretty rough day. I was in a hurry, and I was frustrated that I had to take the time to get gas. But that quick interaction changed the trajectory of the rest of my day, and my guess is that the same thing happened for the straggly other guy.
Overall, we were both better off because I had decided to smile. Incredibly simple.
Hidden within this situation is a greater lesson about life that former professional volleyball player Gabby Reece calls “going first.”
Every day, most of us interact with dozens of people, if not more. And within each of these interactions is a secret.
Every single interaction has the opportunity to brighten your day.
I’m certainly not saying that each interaction will in fact be brilliant, but they have that opportunity. And typically, as Gabby alludes to, the first move from either person determines how the interaction goes.
You can run a simple experiment to see this in your own life.
For the rest of the day, commit to going first. When you see a stranger, be the first one to say hello. When you make eye contact with someone, be the first one to smile. Open the door for someone, compliment something that someone’s wearing.
And throughout the day, pay attention to how others respond to you, and how you feel.
If you honestly put in just a little effort to look for opportunities to make each interaction positive, the reward will be significant. Both for you, and for everyone you interact with.
The key takeaway here is that you actually have the power to dictate the course of most interactions you have.
As Anais Nin puts it, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” And a key reason for this is that we are often treated the way we treat others.
By simply flashing a genuine smile, saying “hello,” or opening the door for someone; you have the power to set the tone for the interaction. Don’t wait for the other person step up. Go first.
Granted, there are of course limitations to this approach. Not everyone will light up and smile back when you approach them. And that’s ok.
You have to be able to accept that.
If someone is rude, or ignores you, don’t assume that the person’s behavior is because of you. Maybe they had a rough day at work, or their dog just died. Or maybe that’s just their demeanor. Who knows? Just because you go first doesn’t mean that the other person is obligated to positively respond.
The key is that you’re going first for the sake of being positive. Regardless how the other person responds, you can brighten your own day by looking to make a positive impact on the world.
And through that, don’t be surprised if people also happen to start being nicer to you.