Is it for you? Or them?

Running is one of my favourite forms of exercise. It’s a great physical and mental outlet. We live near the Bow River in Calgary and I’m fortunate to have excellent access to amazing running routes. I can practically run indefinitely East or West along the Bow. When I’m in Toronto, I typically stay with my parents and also have great access to running routes in the Cedarvale ravine and along the Kay Gardner Beltline. Both these routes are typically quite busy with other runners, people walking, and some cyclists.

There’s a generally followed, unspoken rule of running etiquette, which is that when you pass by another runner, you give them a short nod and/or a smile and a small wave.* It’s a nicety, for sure. I am definitely a regular ‘waver’ along the trail. So, what do you do when you give someone a polite small and wave… and they completely ignore you. Direct eye contact was made for sure. But they just keep on going. As insane as this sounds, this used to piss me off. My self talk would be something along the lines of… “what is fucking wrong with this person? They can’t wave back?”.

One day, after getting no response to a smile and wave, I was reminded of an important principle: you can’t control someone else’s actions. You can only control your own. Am I waving at someone because I need a wave back? Or because it feels like a nice thing to do when I’m out for a run? Is the wave for me? Or is it for them? Once I remembered the wave is for me, I stopped caring about whether I got a return wave or not.

This is a micro-example of an important theme. A lot of time and mental energy can be exhausted worrying about someone else’s response or actions, which you can’t control. Sometimes it helps to ask yourself: are you doing it for you? Or are you doing it for them? So long as you feel good about your own actions, you can feel less emotionally invested in the response (or lack thereof).

Here are a few other common, perhaps more relatable, examples: You send out a well thought out note on a topic you care about. No one responds. You make a post online. No on ‘likes’ it. You give someone advice or feedback. They ignore it. You request a meeting with someone. They decline. In each case, you can choose to be upset with the response (or lack of), or you can be satisfied with your own actions.

*Amusingly, in Calgary, this occurs probably 75% of the time based on my non-scientific anecdotal observations. In Toronto, that number is probably closer to 50% or maybe a bit below.